Why More People Are Moving to The Wall Street of Pittsburgh

Two blocks of historical buildings along Fourth Avenue are drawing new residents to Downtown who marvel at their opulent marble lobbies and elaborately carved stonework.


Five years after trading in their Lawrenceville rowhouse for a condo in the Carlyle, a former bank skyscraper at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Wood Street, Ashley and Adam Brandolph have no regrets.

They love being close to Downtown restaurants and amenities. Going car-free — Adam walks to his job in public relations and Ashley takes a 15-minute bus ride to Oakland for work — has saved money they use for travel.

There is considerably more space for them and their two dogs now in the two-bedroom unit, eight stories above the thoroughfare once known as the “Wall Street of Pittsburgh.” And that history has its own appeal.

“Sometimes I’ll see groups of visitors and tourists walking down our street, looking up at the tops of the buildings and marveling at the architecture,” says Ashley, who manages volunteer and internship programs for the Carnegie Museums. “It’s so cool to hear them say ‘Wow!’ I’m like, ‘yeah, I live here.’”

Pittsburgh Stock Exchange


When their building, with its distinctive rounded granite front, opened in 1907 as the Union National Bank, it was one of two dozen financial institutions on a two-block stretch of Fourth Avenue. That small section also included the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange, then one of the nation’s busiest regional securities markets.

Now the former banking and stock trading nexus is a popular place to live — so much so that noise from major construction projects nearby is becoming something of a drawback. Since the Brandolphs moved in, they have witnessed the conversion of the Commonwealth Building next door into 150 apartments, the Bank Tower across Fourth Avenue into renovated office space, and the Arrott Building (cater-cornered to them) into a boutique Marriott hotel called the Industrialist.

For now, the couple is enjoying a brief respite from the dust and clangor. That will last until construction starts on City Club Apartments, a 24-story skyscraper with 300 residential units at the former YWCA across Wood Street. The project, approved last year by city planners, is nearing completion of its design phase, though a construction start date has not been announced.

Waldrup Jeremy3


“I think that residential density is more important now than it ever has been as we think about the continued evolution and revitalization of Downtown,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

The organization took new offices in 2021 in the Bank Tower, the former Peoples Savings Bank of 1902, at the same busy intersection of Fourth and Wood.

“It’s changing the street life in this neighborhood by bringing new users on nights and weekends, supporting new restaurants, and really breathing new life into these historic buildings,” Waldrup says.

His favorite feature of the second-floor space is an enormous arched window that admits streams of sunlight into the organization’s 5,800 square feet of mostly open floor, which boasts original interior columns and handsome wood paneling. The building also has a dizzying 16-story marble staircase, wrapped in an elaborate exterior of carved stonework and richly textured red brick and terracotta.

Across Wood Street, the Arrott, also from 1902, is even more over the top, with striped walls, false balconies and a cornice 18 stories up with howling faces seemingly overwhelmed by vertigo. The building, which also retains its extravagant marble and bronze lobby, once housed a bank, an insurance company and the corporate headquarters of bathtub manufacturing mogul James Arrott.

Both are among the very first skyscrapers erected in Pittsburgh. Between 1900 and 1910, when skyscrapers radically transformed the city’s skyline, Fourth Avenue boasted more of the new steel-framed structures than any other section of the city.

Fourth Avenue Empty Circa 1905

Not coincidentally, the bank-crammed thoroughfare also was the site of the city stock market. In 1900, when regional exchanges handled trades for stocks and bonds of local companies, Pittsburgh’s annual volume of 3 million shares trailed only New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The Pittsburgh Stock Exchange evolved from an older exchange for petroleum, formed after the world’s first successful oil well was drilled in 1859 in northwestern Pennsylvania. At first pumped straight into open barges, then somewhat more carefully into barrels, the oil was shipped down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh, where seven refineries sprang up within the first year to turn the crude into lubricants or kerosene for lamp fuel. Traders organized a market to set spot prices, options and futures contracts on the hot commodity.

John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil usurped Pittsburgh’s early refinery edge. But the city remained a busy trading hub for petroleum, and its market grew to encompass other commodities, plus stocks and bonds for the area’s numerous industrial concerns, investment banks and trust companies.

The exchange’s longtime home was demolished in 1963, and a reduced operation closed the following decade as regional markets were shuttered and trading centralized in Manhattan.

Like many Pittsburghers, Bill Benter was unaware of the former stock market. That was until the philanthropist and entrepreneur, who made his fortune designing software algorithms to handicap horse races, became an owner in the condominium next door.

“I had no idea, and in fact no real appreciation, that this had been the Wall Street of Pittsburgh,” says Benter, who owns six floors of the Benedum-Trees Building, including the top three for his Benter Foundation and other businesses. “There’s so much rich history here that we don’t know about … When I learned what was next door, it really helped me to understand this building.”

Besides extensively remodeling his floors, Benter has spent more than $800,000 on restoration of the Benedum-Trees Building’s original lobby of marble, brass and gold leaf. Last year he also funded a public art project to highlight the Fourth Avenue story. Artists Karen Krieger and David Montgomery created a mural-sized banner showing the old stock exchange; it now hangs above the spot where that building once stood.

Pgh Stock Exchange Members Portrait 1898

The Benedum-Trees was originally built and named for Caroline Jones Machesney, the first woman in Pittsburgh to commission a skyscraper. It started out as private offices for stockbrokers and financial firms, until local oil tycoons Mike Benedum and Joe Trees bought it from her and turned it into their company headquarters.

Benter first learned about the stock exchange from Rob Pfaffmann, who has his architectural practice in the Benedum-Trees. So he asked the architect to direct the public art project, which they would like to see extend farther up Fourth Avenue with more art, history and creative street lighting.

“I think it’s the most underappreciated street in the city,” Pfaffmann says. “It’s still mostly intact, obviously with a few missing teeth.”

Pfaffmann has worked on Fourth Avenue since he came to the city 40 years ago, when the narrow urban canyon still had a functioning trolley line. Back then, concerned that the Fourth Avenue corridor might be torn down for an urban shopping mall, Pfaffmann and other preservationists gave walking tours to raise awareness of the street’s special history. The area is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though Pfaffmann is quick to point out that the designation does not ban owners from demolishing a building.

The oldest bank still standing on Fourth Avenue, Dollar Bank, dates from 1870. A venerable brownstone guarded by two carved lions, it has been in operation ever since, with tellers and customers transacting over the same polished marble countertop for more than 150 years. Photography is not permitted, but any visitor can step in and appreciate the soaring interior, which somehow seems twice as big as the sidewalk view suggests is possible.

Besides being a functioning financial institution, the bank is an excellent small history museum. One display includes pictures and biographies of early working-class depositors, including many Black people, immigrants and women.

Nearby, two tall offices feature rugged stone facades inspired by the then-new Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. One of them, the 1889 Fidelity Trust Building, is where board members convening to plan Andrew Carnegie’s great library in Oakland received a $1 million check from the tycoon to fund its construction.

An imitation Greek temple next door, despite its deceptively small stature, once housed one of the biggest financial institutions in the country. The Union Trust Company, founded by Andrew Mellon, had $16 million in surplus funds according to a 1903 survey of local banks, equal to the combined total of all 38 national banks in Philadelphia.

The building opened in 1898 and was designed by Daniel Burnham, the celebrated Chicago architect and chief planner of the world’s fair there in 1893. While the Flatiron Building in Manhattan is Burnham’s most famous skyscraper, he designed more in Pittsburgh than New York, or indeed any other city outside Chicago. His local works include the Frick and Oliver buildings and the railroad terminal on Grant Street known as the Pennsylvanian.

The Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania purchased the former Union Trust in 1987 and uses it for meetings and other functions. The interior still makes quite an impression on members, says Tammi Halapin, president of the society.

“The very first time I stepped in the building was probably 20 years ago, when one of my former coworkers took us to lunch there,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘wow, what is this place?’”

The gigantic, armor-plated safe is used as a private dining room for member luncheons. That’s one challenge with old bank buildings: Their safes are far too massive to remove.

So creativity is called for. At the Bank Tower, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership hit upon an inspired reuse strategy: the large safe there is now a locker room for its cleanup and outreach volunteers to stash their valuables before heading out into the neighborhood.

More Resources
Explore the history and important people of Pittsburgh’s Wall Street, including images of the stock exchange trading floor, through Go Fourth Pittsburgh. The website was created by Mark Houser and Philadelphia artist Chris Hytha with support from the Benter Foundation. Find it at: GoFourthPittsburgh.org

Mark Houser is a writer, professional speaker and skyscraper tour guide focusing on landmark buildings in Pittsburgh and across the country. He is the author of “MultiStories: 55 Antique Skyscrapers & the Business Tycoons Who Built Them,” available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and select bookstores. Houser’s current project with Philadelphia artist Chris Hytha, showcasing great Art Deco skyscrapers across America through stories and unique drone photo compositions, can be seen now at HighrisesCollection.com and will be released this fall as a coffee table book. His website is: HouserTalks.com

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