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Project’s cost included gutting of landmark

By Ron DaParma
Thursday, July 31, 2003

Amid the optimism that greeted plans for a new Lord & Taylor department store in Downtown Pittsburgh in 1998 came voices of concern about the chain’s plan to gut the interior of the once richly marbled former Mellon Bank headquarters at 514 Smithfield St.

Now, with word Wednesday that the May Department Stores Co., parent of Lord & Taylor, will sell or close the Pittsburgh store, there appears to be vindication for those who raised doubts about renovations to the grand stone building once known as the “Cathedral of Earning.”

“We are disappointed that the interior was lost, and we feel it was a high price to pay,” said Cathy McCollom, director of operations and marketing for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The foundation was among those that urged Lord & Taylor officials to proceed with caution on renovations to the historic structure that opened in 1924 with ceremonies attended by government and business dignitaries led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon.

The bank interior featured a large open area ringed by 20 massive marble columns. Only four of those columns were left after the May renovation work, which included the installation of an escalator to carry shoppers to four floors built in what was once an impressive open interior space overlooked by a glass skylight 62 feet above the floor.

“Of course, we are very disappointed that a major retailer (will close) in the city’s Downtown area,” McCollum said. “But as preservationists, we think it was an extremely high cost that a unique interior has been lost forever.”

“Philosophically, what this means to me is validation that when you make a decision to renovate a building like that, you have to think well beyond the immediate tenant that is going to occupy it,” said Rob Pfaffmann, architect with Pfaffmann & Associates, a Pittsburgh-based architectural firm. “These buildings live well beyond their immediate (uses).

“Now we have lost a lot of the architectural fabric in that building, and it turned out that we didn’t have to lose it.”

Nonetheless, Pfaffmann said, Lord & Taylor’s departure could bring a new opportunity for the 79-year-old building, possibly another retailer or law office or financial firm, but with a new approach to the design.

“Let’s see if we can do better,” he said. “I think there still is enough left to bring in another high-end tenant that may be able to create something unique there.”

Ron DaParma can be reached at or 412-320-7907.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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