Preservationists praise rehab plan for old morgue
As a 14-year-old growing up in Oakland, Sam Taylor went to the Allegheny County Morgue at the urging of his friends to see the bodies on display.
It was a tradition for generations of Pittsburgh teens, he said. Some even took their prom dates.
"When you're 14, you think you're invincible," said Taylor, 59, of Mt. Lebanon. "There was this yellowish light, and the bodies were kind of leaned back."
Taylor, the county's principal architect/building manager, is overseeing a $4 million renovation of the former morgue. The building, completed in 1903, was moved the length of a football field in 1929 to make way for the County Office Building.
Allegheny County expects to seek bids for demolition inside the building in late April or early May. That will create an additional 30,000 square feet of office space, while preserving many of the building's unique features. The plan is to reuse transoms, stair railings and courtroom banisters, Taylor said.
A $900,000 project that included installing a terra cotta roof and masonry work was completed in 2006.
Officials haven't determined who will use the space.
"We have a number of departments using leased space, including the Law Department and Economic Development," said county spokesman Kevin Evanto.
Architect Paul Apostolou, who made a trip to the morgue when he was in high school, said a big part of the project will be undoing the "sledgehammer and hacksaw" approach to renovations over the years.
Preservationists praise the effort.
"I think they are trying to treat it very well for a building that no longer suits its original purpose because of modern technology," said Arthur Ziegler, president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. "It's a notable building in the government complex."
The city designated the Frederick Osterling-designed building as a Pittsburgh landmark in 2002. Osterling, one of Pittsburgh's premier architects, designed the county jail expansion of 1904 and Union Arcade (1915-17), which became Two Mellon Bank.
The morgue building was designed to visually match the jail and courthouse, but by 1929, county government needed more space, according to a history of the building compiled by History & Landmarks. Officials decided a consolidated office building on Ross Street between Forbes and Fourth avenues would be the most efficient. That forced them to relocate the morgue.
The move was an enormous undertaking that took about three months. Work inside the building by the coroner and his staff continued without interruption, though. Temporary gas, water and sewer lines were connected and maintained on a 24-hour basis.
Huge timberwork and steel rails were used to move the building, which had to be lifted to the same height at the same moment. That ticklish maneuver was carried out by 100 men from a Balkan tribe -- specialists in moving buildings from the "old country."
They manned screw jacks that they gave a quarter turn every time a whistle sounded, until the three-story building was 27 feet in the air. It then was moved onto a system of beams designed by Kress-Oravetz Co. and slowly, laboriously pulled by cable to the foundation at 542 Fourth Ave.
Once there, Taylor said, they had to "shoehorn" the building between two structures.
In 2005, voters approved a referendum that eliminated the coroner as a row office, returning it to its early roots as an appointed position, now called medical examiner. The medical examiner's office relocated in 2009 to a building in the Strip District.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Computer science students compete for laurels in 36-hour ‘hackathon’ at Pitt
- Alone at controls, Germanwings co-pilot sought to ‘destroy’ the plane
- Steelers notebook: Team seek ease on West Coast travel
- Hit sends Penguins’ Letang to hospital
- NFL coaches weigh in on Polamalu’s legacy
- Mt. Lebanon native, Iraq war hero’s action goes unrewarded
- Downie’s goal, fight spark Penguins to win over Coyotes
- Probiotic bacteria help conquer ‘superbugs’
- 3 venues making Dormont the place to be for live music
- This collector wields Power of the Pens
- Penguins notebook: Johnston stays with team despite mother’s death