Seeing Pittsburgh’s iconic buildings from the inside out is a treat to be taken full advantage of by long-term locals and visitors new to town.

This year’s Doors Open Pittsburgh was a fantastic second time for the event. Bonnie Baxter, the amazing woman behind this non-profit program, managed to pull together over 400 volunteers and from 39 last year to 69 structures this year for the likes of you and me to be educated by and to wander through.

The volunteers/docents were such fun and obviously enjoying themselves that it was infectious. And again, there were too many places to be able to see them all even though we attended both days.

Highlights from this year’s tour:

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Complex

Having never fully walked around the outside of this building, I was surprised by the size of this 1884 courthouse. The inner courtyard, with a lovely functioning fountain, is quite grand. This was the one building with security. It was a surprise to learn that even by the late 1800s, this was the third courthouse the city had. Not sure what happened to the first, but the second caught fire. Although the two courtrooms that were open were about as bland as any seen on Law & Order (yes, even the Gold Room), the Syrian arches, French Gothic dormer windows, and marble stairs make the interior well-worth exploring—when you’re not called for jury duty or other less pleasant reasons.

The former Carnegie Free Library & Allegheny Branch

What a treat to have a docent from the Children’s Museum who was wild about history tour us through this space. She told us about the restoration and changes that will be made to make it usable by the museum and yet rid it of its ugly (sorry, architects who designed it) 1970s redo.

At the former Buhl Planetarium, now the Children’s Museum, I didn’t have the patience to wait for 15 minutes for the pendulum to knock over the little peg, but was intrigued that the earth’s orbit makes it work.

New Hazlett Theatre

Part of the above Carnegie Library, city-owned, but without the community’s involvement and support, this square theatre would not thrive. Check out their winter calendar and pick something fun to attend. The real treat here was the six-year-old girl who asked the best questions and showed us just how great the dance floor was when we went to the practice room.

Dollar Bank Heritage Center

This original Beaux Arts styled headquarters was started in 1869, adding new wings in 1905. The boardroom, encased in walnut and screaming of old money, has been featured in many films including Russell Crowe’s Fathers and Daughters. The outside lions (carved by Nicholas Fairplay and Brian C.C. Baker in 2012) are replicas of the originals (carved in 1871 by Max Kohler and assistant Richard Morgan), which are, thankfully, on display inside. The powerful statues are unique and symbolize the protection of your money.

From our fun guide Sandra, we learned that Neptune, whom we’ve visited any number of times outside the Phipps Conservatory, originally belonged to Dollar Bank. They gifted him to the city in 1896. Pittsburgh really is a small town—even the statues get around.

Frick Building

We popped in here again, but skipped the lobby tour we’d enjoyed last time and went up to the top floor instead. It’s a chuckle that Frick wanted his building taller than both his arch enemy’s, Carnegie, and the city offices. What an ego! While the most interesting architectural details on this floor were the brass, scrolled window handles, some etched glass and marble walls, the city views were captivating.

Nova Place

My husband had childhood memories of this location as Allegheny Center (a mall). It was probably another ugly 1970s building, but these days has been renovated to provide office space for a number of different business from large to sole proprietors. The treat was going to the ninth floor and getting a 360 degree panorama of the city.

Photo is looking east of downtown.

Old St Patrick Church

We’d been outside this church during the St Patrick’s day parade, but it wasn’t open. It is a quaint and plain church, but don’t discount the serenity you’ll find here. The central steps are a notable feature. In respect to Christ climbing the stairs under Pontius Pilate’s orders, you are asked to ascend these stairs on your knees.

St Stanislaus Kostka

This church belongs to the same parish as St. Patrick’s and may be recognizable to Tom Cruise fans from the first Jack Reacher movie. Inside are stained glass windows worth gazing at for long moments. If you’re lucky, a couple of folks will be sitting outside smiling and happily roping you into buying raffle tickets … I’m still not sure what I could win, but it was fun talking with them.

Another great addition to this year’s agenda were Insider Tours. We didn’t take one, but a friend did and raved about walking the city and learning new history about a city he’s lived in his whole life.

Tours included:

  • Classical Architecture in Modern Pittsburgh
  • Crafting Shelter and Crafting Quilts
  • Downtown Foodies (can’t believe husband missed this one)
  • Downtown Safari Family Adventure
  • Lincoln in Pittsburgh
  • Make No Little Plans – Daniel Burnham
  • Many Faces of the North Shore
  • Modern and Post-Modern Architecture in Pittsburgh
  • National Aviary Behind-the-Scenes: Avian Hospital and Guided Tour
  • Re-imagining Iconic Offices for the Digital Age
  • Riverfront Vision on The Strip
  • Strip District Culinary Treasures
  • Taking Liberty, Pittsburgh’s Red Light District
  • The T Marks the Spot
  • The Tower at PNC Plaza Lobby Experience
  • Urban Art and Industrial Legacy

There’s a tour for everyone, whether you want to wander around on your own or join a small group and take a specific stroll. With so much available, it’s definitely hard to pick just one.

If your city doesn’t have a Doors Open program, perhaps you need to start one!

And if you live in western PA, you should plan on attending next year and see the city of Pittsburgh in a whole new light.