By Chris Maggio
Doors Open Pittsburgh will take people inside the city’s skyline this weekend with tours of 66 buildings in the Strip District, North Side, and Downtown.
According to the nonprofit’s website, “In 1984, the Doors Open/Open House movement actually got its start in Europe.” Many of Europe’s buildings may be older, but America’s are no less spectacular. The movement gained popularity in cities like Chicago. Bonnie Baxter, a Pittsburgh native, was working in The Windy City in 2014 when she attended Open House Chicago.
She and her partner took many tours before, but this time they saw buildings they never noticed and visited areas that the public normally couldn’t enter.
“It brought me to the realization that I never spent this much time getting to know Pittsburgh, my hometown,” Baxter said. She understood Pittsburgh was changing and attracting new residents, and she wondered if a similar tour might benefit it.
While home for Christmas, she started talking to people who knew the city architecturally and historically. By January, Louise Sturgess, the executive director of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, was interested as was the city’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
“The message [from these groups] was loud and clear: If you can pull this off, we’ll support you how we can,” Baxter said.
Over the next year and a half, she contacted additional sponsors as well as the organizations housed inside the downtown buildings. She also recruited her friend Paige Beal to manage social media.
The first Doors Open Pittsburgh was Sat., Oct. 1 and Sun., Oct. 2, 2016. One hundred eighty-three volunteers registered as docents and greeters online; not one flaked. Facebook feedback was laudatory: 4.9 stars and nearly 2,000 likes. In response, Baxter, who has since moved back home, expanded the event this year from Downtown to the Strip District and North Side. She hopes to have 400 volunteers.
It will be nearly impossible to visit all 66 buildings, so the nonprofit’s website employs some nifty filters. Interested in amazing views from Downtown that are open Saturday and Sunday, wheelchair accessible, have restrooms, and permit photography? Try COTERIE Company (at the Frick building), Embassy Suites (at the Oliver building), Industrious Pittsburgh (at PPG Place), and Smithfield United Church of Christ.
Every building listed includes a short description and a summary of the experience that visitors can expect.
“It’s not like your grandfather’s walking tour,” Baxter said. “The cool thing about this is everyone decides for themselves where they want to start, how many buildings they want to visit, and where they want to stop.”
Baxter noted the tour emphasises not only architecture and design but also history. For example, the Dollar Bank Fourth Avenue Building, the oldest surviving bank structure on Fourth Avenue, has a team of its own people, who will detail the bank and how it fit into the city’s old-time 4th Avenue/Wall Street corridor. That team opened the bank’s vault last year and will do so again. The original lion statues, which sat outside from 1871 to 2009, and The Heritage Center will also be displayed.
This year, a professionally designed event guide with maps will be available online and on hand. Also look for copies of the guide in the City Paper at distribution sites in and around the three neighborhoods. Restaurants are involved this year and will be listed on the maps.
For those wanting more traditional, thematic tour experiences with clear start and end times, Insider Tours will be announced Mon., Aug. 21. These tours are through other nonprofits and a few select for-profits. Local experts, such as Vivien Li from Riverlife, will lead them. Li will highlight the development plans for the riverbend leading to the Strip District.
— DoorsOpenPittsburgh (@doorsopenpgh) September 29, 2017
“They’re all doing wonderful work getting people to learn more about Pittsburgh via their version of walking tours, and I thought this could be a nice platform to help each other to bring the message forward a little bit more,” Baxter said.
Tickets are available online and are $8 for one day and $12 for two days. Children under 18 and adults 65 and older get in for free, but must still get tickets online.
Volunteers must sign up online too. They will receive in-person training two weeks prior to the event, a free T-shirt, free admission for themselves and a guest, and an invite to the after-party for sponsors and volunteers at the Embassy Suites.
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