Pittsburgh Central Buisness District

The Allegheny County Courthouse (436 Grant St.) rewards a visit not only as a minor Cather setting but as a major work by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.  Enter the building through the courtyard, follow signs to the visitor office, and pick up a brochure for a self-guided walking tour.  This late work, completed in 1888 (two years after Richardson’s death), is a prime example of Richardsonian Romanesque style.  The rhythmic interplay of its rounded arches characterizes the structure inside and out, and is particularly impressive to view from the staircase inside.  Don’t miss the Bridge of Sighs, named after the Venetian original, connecting the Courthouse to the Jail behind it.  In “Double Birthday” (1929), Judge Hammersley presides at this courthouse and encounters protagonist Albert Engelhardt on the front stairs in the opening scene.  The outdoor staircase Cather refers to, added after Grant Street was lowered in 1912-13, once led to a main entrance on the second floor.  It was demolished when Grant Street was widened between 1926 and 1929, and today the front entrance is on street level.

The former site of Central High School (now demolished), where Cather taught from 1901 to 1903, is at 1501 Bedford Ave., on a bluff overlooking the train station and downtown.  More recently, Connolley Skill Center has occupied the site.  From the Courthouse, follow Grant St. north, turn right on 7th Ave, go 0.1 mile, bear left on Bigelow Blvd., go 0.1 mile and continue onto Bedford Ave.  Central High School was the model for the high schools in “Paul’s Case” (1905) and in the “The Professor’s Commencement” (1902), where it is described as “a fortress set upon the dominant acclivity of that great manufacturing city, a stronghold of knowledge in the heart of Mammon’s kingdom.”

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