The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

certain circumstances

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

After eating dinner at one of Pittsburgh’s iconic Primanti Brothers restaurants, one got busy on his evening plans. The camera was rigged up for low light/night shooting, and a humble narrator got to work. Pictured above and below are sections of PPG Place, a 1984 vintage six building commercial real estate complex built and primarily occupied by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass outfit. The main 40 story building, whose ground floor entrances sit behind that fountain, is the corporate headquarter for PPG. The entire deal is clothed in plate glass, some 19,750 panels (over one million square feet of glass) of it, which is why it looks like an early 1990’s CGI background. Wet glass, LED lighting, weird look and feel. PPG has operated out of Pittsburgh since 1895.

The PPG complex sits on six square blocks or one square acre, replaced a department store called Guskey’s, and it’s construction revealed a cornucopia of archaeological finds ranging from Native American to early Colonial and pre industrial uses of the site. The main tower is the third tallest building in Pittsburgh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned several times in the last few weeks, on this particular interval of travel, one felt compelled to record the scene whenever and wherever a fountain was discovered. This wasn’t much of a fountain, in comparison to what I saw in Washington D.C., but there you are. Apparently, during the holiday season and winter months, this plaza is converted over to be an ice skating rink. It’s a fave for Pittsburghers, apparently, with high occupancy rates and several newspaper polls listing it as the voted on choice for “best building” in the City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fourth tallest building in the City of Pittsburgh is nearby, which is called “Fifth Avenue Place” officially, but is colloquially called Highmark Place. 31 floors, and completed in 1988, it’s the HQ for a Highmark subsidiary called Jenkins Empire Associates. Highmark is a non profit health insurance organization which also owns several for profit medical insurance and reinsurance companies. Basically – Highmark is the corporate entity that Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield have reorganized themselves into.

The building was originally meant to be a bit taller, but city zoning officials squashed that. The 13 story tall spire atop the building was an attempt to lay claim to the original height that the architect planned for, and with all the hub bub over the zoning deal it was never transmitted to the City that the spire/mast was designed to sway up to three feet when high winds hit the top. It seems that the first time this sway was observed, Pittsburgh’s First Responders shut the downtown area down fearing that something catastrophic was about to occur.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Developed by the Equitable Life Assurance Society, in 1964, this “caught my eye” structure – with its fascinating load bearing external diagrid and framed tube steel exoskeleton – was built on the footprint of an old Wabash Terminal Train Shed. When it opened as the IBM Building, its principal tenants were the IBM corporation on floors 1-4 and U.S. Steel on floors 5-13. It was bought by the United Steelworkers Union in 1973, and the labor organization’s offices are still housed therein.

A bit of skyscraper trivia is offered here. The same people who designed the external structure of the building also did the World Trade Center in NYC. Just like the WTC, the structure of the building is outside the walls, and within the only structural supports are at the center of the thing surrounding the elevator and plumbing/electrical cores. Neat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My next stop was yet another fountain, this time being Pittsburgh’s “big kahuna” at Point State Park. It’s found at the “tip of the spear” on the river delta formed by the three rivers – Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela. 36 acres in size, this Pennsylvania State Park was opened in 1974. Its fountain is the iconic center of the larger metropolitan region, and Pittsburgh’s reclamation of its post industrial waterfront really started with the opening of this park. The fountain sits where the on and off ramp of two bridges used to be found, the Manchester and Point Bridges.

The park incorporates the remains of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne, which were important fortresses during the French and Indian War (1755-1764) and although I’m largely ignorant about the details of the conflict here at the ‘forks of the Ohio,” there’s a nearby spot referred to as “Washington’s landing” so… George Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The one Allegheny River Bridge between Point Park and the 31st street Bridge I didn’t show you yet is pictured above, the so called “Bridge to Nowhere” or Fort Duquesne Bridge. It carries Interstate 279 (North Shore Expressway) and Interstate 376 into and out of Downtown Pittsburgh and also has a pedestrian walkway in the lower deck. It’s got a steel bowstring type span of 426 feet, and provides a water clearance of 46 feet. It opened to traffic in October of 1969.

Whew. All of this Pittsburgh stuff that you’ve seen here at Newtown Pentacle for the last two weeks was literally captured in one day between 7 a.m. and about midnight. It started raining again while I was capturing the bridge shot above, so I double timed it back to the street and caught a cab back to the AirBNB. Starting tomorrow – Day two. I was just getting started on day one, and had to contend with the weather, and I also had tickets for a boat tour of the rivers nested in my pocket for day two. The things I saw…

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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 28, 2021 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. […] fountain above is the centerpiece of Point State Park, and was discussed in a prior post dubbed “certain circumstances.” When I was here, on Day One of my 72 hours in Pittsburgh, it was nighttime. The shots in […]

  2. […] Orchards, Ancient Walls, Lower Meadows, Choked Fissure, Human Clothing, Other Constellations, Certain Circumstances, Terrestrial Gravity, Needed Form, Without Dissolution, Calculations Would, Grave Doubt, Luckily […]

  3. […] Orchards, Ancient Walls, Lower Meadows, Choked Fissure, Human Clothing, Other Constellations, Certain Circumstances, Terrestrial Gravity, Needed Form, Without Dissolution, Calculations Would, Grave Doubt, Luckily […]

  4. ““Bridge to Nowhere” or Fort Duquesne Bridge” Wikipedia entry is entertaining.


    August 26, 2022 at 9:16 pm

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