The Burke Building
The Burke Building in downtown Pittsburgh, located at 209-213 Fourth Avenue, is the City's oldest standing commercial building. Constructed in 1836 for attorneys Andrew and Robert Burke, it was Pittsburgh's first major office building and a major anchor of the city's financial district centered on Fourth Avenue. Nine years later, the structure was one of the few survivors of the Great Fire of 1845.
Designed by John Chislett, an Englishman who became Pittsburgh's first professional architect, the Burke Building is the city's only remaining large Greek Revival building. At the time of its construction, the building’s design was noted in one of local newspapers for its "elegant simplicity and restraint."
The outer design is accented by a minimum of classical ornament, including a slightly projecting central bay with two pediments, double laurel wreaths and fluted columns at the entrance. The facade walls are made of sandstone that was cut from nearby quarries.
The inside of the building still contains many of the original features, including the central staircase that rises to the three stories, the four fireplaces, and the internal pocket shutters in the front windows. Plank flooring and tin ceilings remain in several rooms. On the second floor is a unique double-door safe. The pine, tulip tree and white oak used for the rafters, floors and staircases is still in good condition.
The building has had many commercial uses over the years, the last two being the Powers School and Arthur's Colonial Landmark Restaurant, located in the basement, that closed in 1990. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and purchased in 1996 by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, who had offices there for the next ten years.
Major renovations were made in 1997 that preserved and refurbished the historic materials and also brought the structure into compliance with 21st Century environmental "green" standards. The Burke Building is now considered a living model of environmentally responsible design.
The 1836 structure occupies the property next to 3 PPG Place, part of the modern PPG Plaza complex, which was built in 1984. The two structures, erected nearly 150 years apart, provide an interesting contrast, and a historic look at Pittsburgh urban architecture, past and present.
The Burke Building is also known as the Meyer Building. In addition to being the oldest commercial structure, it is second only to the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, built in 1764, is the oldest. The building has survived the Great Fire in 1845, both Renaissance I and II, and a fire of it's own in 1900 (the attic rafters still show signs of charring).
In 2010, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy sold the building, and granted an easement to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to make sure it’s never torn down. Valued at nearly one million dollars in 2011, the Burke Building has now stood for 184 years, and will forever be a priceless link to Pittsburgh's past.
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