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11.25.2014

Walk Down Baum Boulevard Part 4: The Former Don Allen Chevy Dealership

We are continuing into part four of our stroll down Baum Boulevard. If you have not already, check out part one (Luna Park) along with part two (Studebaker dealership) and part three (Ford Model T Assembly Plant) As we head down Baum Boulevard, specifically looking at the past, we will go to a place that many Pittsburghers likely still remember, Don Allen Chevrolet and family of dealerships. The organization sprouted during the golden years of automobiles in the 1950s and 60s. The dealership's campus greatly expanded in its urban location, having multiple levels like the dealers of old. It closed in 2009 after it was purchased during a time of dealer consolidation by the big three car companies. The dealer already housed Chevy, Buick, GMC, Pontiac, and Mazda. A plan was in the works to create a space with retail and apartments to replace it. Until this year, the dealership sat in ruin. Today we will time travel to see the history of this former Baum Boulevard dealership.
Don Allen owned and operated dealerships all over the country, all the way down to Miami and up to New York City and Buffalo. He started with his first dealership in 1938 in Buffalo, New York. In 1952 he purchased the Winston Chevrolet dealer He sadly passed away at the age of 57 by way of heart attack in 1959. 

In researching the opening date of Winston Chevrolet, I found this advertisement from 1950 in the Pittsburgh Press. It was not so much what I found with the advertisement, but rather what I found underneath it. Anyone ever wonder about the origin of REO Speedwagon?
There you go! Photo from Wikimedia
Anyways back on topic now. It appears that Winston Chevrolet was in multiple locations. One of them is an empty lot next to Ritter's Diner, and the other is a building that appears to be not in use just up the street.

Ta-da! Got it! Bingo. Finally found an origin for the Don Allen Chevrolet building. Winston Chevrolet moved to a new building in 1947 at 5315 Baum Boulevard according to this Pittsburgh Post Gazette Ad:
When we go back to 1920, there was no building at the corner of Baum and Liberty, just some billboards. Photo from the Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.
Come 1920, a dealership was built by Autocar. Apparently there was a large estate on the property that housed those billboards.
This company was born in Pittsburgh, and then moved to Ardmore in 1899. This company still exists in that it was acquired by White, then by Volvo, and they still make trucks to this day. The perplexing thing to me is whether or not this building was used, torn down, or modified when Winston Chevrolet came into the picture in 1948. This building is very different from the Winston/Don Allen building in that seems to be single level. 1932 photo from the Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection. 
While this photo is a bit distorted from Google Street View, the building appears similar enough that it could be it. It seems that a second level was added at some point.
The view from the other side, circa 1966. Photo from the Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.
So now the origins of the building are starting to look bizarre. I found this tidbit from a 1934 Post-Gazette article, saying that there was a plane crash into the original building. It appears that the damage was minimal, judging by this article. The part in which it mentions someone had died in that same plane in Pitcairn makes me glad that we have strong FAA regulations to protect us.
Whatever the case, the Autocar dealer was triumphant over the plane crash. I found this advertisement to hire mechanics. The "essential services" line at the end is almost chilling to read knowing that 1943 was in the World War II period. I find the shared sacrifice aspect to be fascinating.
Anyways....Don Allen acquired Winston Chevrolet in 1952, after Winston Chevy started operations in the building in 1947. Ad from the Post Gazette in 1952:
Trip to the Waldorf? Sounds so fancy!
 Come 1955 when Marty McFly was in Hill Valley, Don Allen was having record sales and had the largest volume Chevy dealer in the nation. This is a big deal considering how much economic growth was happening in the 1950s. Article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Don Allen would go on to last another fifty plus years....Post Gazette ad from 1989
.........but then with GM dealer realignment and a declining market in that area of town, the dealer closed shop. They announced it in 2008, but then fully closed in 2009. Redevelopment was proposed, and finally acted upon this year in 2014. Unfortunately these plans did not include keeping the historic building intact. 

It seems that the new building alludes to the style and odd frontage of this corner. I am glad when they at least allude to the architecture of a building that they are replacing. They did the same thing with Nordenberg Hall at Pitt after they tore down the 1924 University Office Building. 

The problem with this is that we lose some of the last examples of certain architecture that was important at some point in our history. This is why I get concerned about the former Ford Model T assembly plant. The Model T is arguably one of the most game changing things created in the 20th century. We cannot lose that like we lost this dealership. I am glad that they attempt to allude to the architecture of the old buildings in the replacements, as opposed to tearing them down and building a generic big box store, or an office building that you can find in any city. I am interested in seeing how this project turns out.
On one of the properties, which I believe was a parking lot, but I could be wrong, this set of apartments is having its foundation poured. 
Several of the surrounding properties that were also a part of the Don Allen complex are being worked on as well, and one of the buildings remains dormant, the only reminder of what was once at the site. I was disappointed to see that the graffiti vandals got to this sign as well. They already ruined the outline of the "Ford Motor Company" logo on the Model T factory as well. Knuckleheads. I mentioned Marty McFly earlier. Doesn't this view almost remind you of when he went back to 1985 and everything was a mess?
The future does look bright for the property. I would rather see activity than abandoned buildings in the community. I only wish that these developers could see value in the buildings that are already there. A dealer like this sits in the limbo zone between historic and "just an old building." I argue that the main dealership building should have been kept because it was one of the last remaining buildings of its type. The wide open floors from the dealership could have worked well for many different applications. There are lots of buildings with character like this that I wish would be preserved. Like Gatsby's light, East Liberty Presbyterian stands out there in the distance, always catching your eye wherever it is visible. 

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11.24.2014

Stroll Down Baum Blvd Part 3: Ford Model T Assembly Plant

Today we continue with part three of our walk down Baum Boulevard. At the following links you can find part 1 with a look at the former Luna Park, and part 2 with a look at the former Studebaker Dealership.

In part three we will continue our stroll down Auto Row with a look at the most interesting, puzzling, and threatened building on the drag, the Ford Model T assembly plant. For several decades the storefront housed a party supply store. After that closed, the building has remained vacant. UPMC supposedly has plans for the building, which are noticeable through the installation of new windows and some general exterior care, but the building still appears to be stagnant. This article from 2011, states that UPMC plans to open a biomedical research building by late 2014, which we are approaching and it does not appear even close to be happening yet. The second photo is supposedly from 1910, although most sources say that the plant was not built until 1915.
This Google Streetview shot from 2012 shows the window replacement in progress. During this period that had scaffolding up the sides of the building. Up until this point, the shadowing of the old "Ford Motor Company" cursive logo was outlined in the top section in the middle. Some knucklehead vandal went and put graffiti over the old logo and it was sadly gone after that. I wish I had taken a photo of it. I noticed that old logo when I was filling my gas tank one time at Getgo. That was what initially piqued my interest in this building.
There is not a full on corner view like this in Google Streetview for 2007, but this is how the building looked before the window replacement. The building has definitely seen some love since then. It is slated to be a bio-medical research building, but that information is from back in 2006.
This building was part of a series of factories that Henry Ford built that fit into his production line system. Unlike car production today in which automobiles are assembled in one place and then distributed fully assembled worldwide, Ford utilized a system in which most of the parts were made in Detroit and other places in Michigan, thanks to the resources afforded in that region, and then shipped the parts to different assembly plants around the country to cover the different metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Buffalo, Cambridge, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fargo, Houston, Indianapolis, Long Island, LA, Louisville, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Omaha, and Philly. 

The car as a status symbol. "We are living in a material world!" 
Ad from the Gazette Times, February 13, 1910. I would imagine riding in a Model T in the February weather. When did they start putting heating cores in cars?
A graphic touting the automotive operations on Baum Boulevard in 1932. The assembly line shot is from the Ford Plant. It says that the photo on the right is of people working in the Pittsburgh GM headquarters at Baum and North Craig Street. Is this the building that stands on the Luna Park entrance spot?

Come 1927 and the plant is already obsolete. 
Apparently the plant closed in 1932, and was set to reopen, according to the Pittsburgh Press, November 16, 1936, in the height of the Great Depression. "Employment for 1000 men ready in three weeks" must have sounded pretty good right about then. 

This plant covered the needs for Pittsburgh. Rather than shipping fully assembled vehicles all over the place, Ford built their vehicles in the communities that they were selling them. This efficiency is what made Ford the pioneer in automobile affordability. Here is the adjacent rail line. The road is the Port Authority's East Busway. At one point this right-of-way was all rail. 
The parts were all shipped in by rail. Utilizing a complicated elevator system, they would lift the parts needed to the appropriate level. Below is the view from Centre Avenue. 
 Here is the ramp that goes down to the main level of the building.
 Here is the loading bay
 There you go, where you can pull your truck in for loading.
Oh wait, never mind! I can totally picture this being a cool movie set. With the booming film industry in Pittsburgh, this would make for a cool movie set. This reminds me of a scene like in Braveheart with him running his horse through the building into openings that lead you into a forty foot drop out of a building.

This is where the elevator system took the parts to the appropriate level for production, directly off of the rails. An innovative system, even if it were utilized today. The assembly line system was fully gravity fed, with the process starting on the top floor and then rolling down the factory line to the next stop where another component would be added. 
The car eventually ended up at street level. Here is an insight into the operations at the plant in 1932: The plant closed for three years starting in that year, so it must not have been long after this tour was given. 
The Reidbord Clothier utilized the building as a clothing mill until 1995. I am not certain of when they started production at the plant, or when the Ford plant finally ceased operations. This Pittsburgh Press article from November 21, 1970 outlines a contentious strike at the clothing mill.
The improvements seem to be purely for the facade. This photo shows the back of the building, and the other photos from earlier in this post show the condition of the back part of the building.

I hope that this building finds usage again as something. I have a hard time seeing it utilized for another purpose though since it was built so specialized for that manufacturing purpose. Cincinnati's reuse could be a good example to follow for this similar plant.

They have installed cool murals on the bottom floor windows of the building to show the significance Baum Boulevard's Auto Row. I think this building's cultural value is important. It shows an important part of our nation's history, one in which we should look back to and recreate in the 21st century to create more steady employment. I would love to see this building used for something. It could work for apartments, offices, or maybe even a museum. I hope to see the UPMC Biotechnology Research plan work out, but it seems right now that the building could be endangered.

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11.22.2014

Walk on Baum Boulevard Part Two: Studebaker Dealer

The first part of my walk on Baum Boulevard can be found here on our other blog. It was a nice Saturday morning for a nice stroll, even though it was pretty cold out. I wanted to check out all of the cool things on Baum Boulevard. There are lots of endangered historic buildings in this part of town and I wanted to check them out, see the changes, and possibly raise awareness with you guys about how much potential this part of town has. On the first part of my walk, I checked out the site of the former Luna Park. This section of Baum Boulevard housed a part of the original famed Lincoln Highway. It also housed an extensive streetcar line. The most important part of history with this stretch of road is the importance it had upon auto production. It was so important that it became known as "Automobile Row," housing dealers and even an original Ford Model T assembly plant.

One of the coolest remaining buildings, a former Studebaker dealer, has several occupants now, including the Carnegie Library for their library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. There are also several auto businesses based in this large building that stretches from Baum Boulevard to Centre Avenue.
 This courtyard area was utilized for driving cars in and out of the complex.
One of the more strange apartment building setups.
 Here is an advertisement from the June 10th, 1923 edition of the Gazette Times.

I am leaving you with a view of the Schenley Rail Tunnel from the former Pittsburgh Junction Railroad. The tunnel measures in at 2872 feet long and still in use. It was built way back in 1883. Instead of boring the tunnel, they simply dug a trench, built a structure, and covered it back over. They anticipated growth in this section of town, then one of the easternmost limits of the city. A suburban area would soon sprout up. Imagine that this is like the tunnel on Mr. Rogers for the Neighborhood Trolley and it is taking us to part three of our stroll down Baum Boulevard. I will post that some time in the next few days.

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