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No death knell for our old morgue

By Dan Majors,
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Friday, September 06, 2002

There was a time, a long time ago, when buildings were built of sterner stuff. Not having access to modern lightweight materials, builders relied on bigger, heavier, stronger components. Like giant stones and rocks.

That’s how they built the pyramids. And the Great Wall of China. And, of course, the Allegheny County Morgue.

Our morgue is a Romanesque structure built Downtown a hundred years ago on what was then called Diamond Street, later renamed Forbes Avenue. Even then, it was an awesome edifice.

But after a couple of decades, long about 1929 or so, some local elected officials decided that the morgue had been built in the perfect location … for the new County Office Building.

So Kress-Oravetz House Moving Co. was hired to pick up the 6,000-ton morgue and move it 300 feet, to the other side of Fourth Avenue, where it sits today.

You have to understand that, back then, it was often easier to move a building than it was to tear it down and rebuild it. Not only because of how well they were built, but because there weren’t as many obstructions such as overhead power lines.

Nowadays, if you want to put up a building somewhere, you just level whatever stands in your way and quickly throw up a new one. Remember the B&O Railroad Terminal? Jenkins Arcade? Three Rivers Stadium?

Currently on Allegheny County’s drawing board are plans for a $40.1 million, eight-story office building, the county’s first new such structure since the County Office Building was finished in 1927. It’ll be built Downtown, where the old jail annex stands.

The top two floors will be new digs for the coroner’s forensic laboratories.

But that doesn’t mean that the current morgue will be left to rot. The county is planning to spend $4.3 million refurbishing it.

The City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a recommendation that the old morgue be designated a city historic building.

City development reporter Tom Barnes tells us that the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation nominated the morgue for historic status in February. The city’s Historic Review Commission recommended approval in May, and the planning commission followed suit shortly afterward.

The official designation could be on the mayor’s desk for his signature before the end of the month.

It’ll be nice to see the old morgue get a new life.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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