History of the Stables Building

A review of public records confirms that the Allegheny City Stables/Public Works Building was constructed in 1895. The building was designed by Robert Swan and constructed by Samuel Hastings.

On May 16, 1895, the Select and Common Councils of the City of Allegheny approved a resolution “authorizing the awarding of a contract for the erection of a stable on North Avenue for use of the Department of Public Works” Bureau of Highways and Sewers. The contract for the stables building was let to Samuel Hastings, Esq., the lowest bidder, for the sum of $12,260. On October 25, 1895, a building permit was issued for a three-story brick stable, measuring 68 ft by 101 feet, with an estimated cost of $12,000, to be occupied by the Allegheny City Department of Public Works. A 1901 plat map shows the Kramer & Redman building replaced with a brick structure identified as “City of Allegheny” confirming that the stables building had been built.

On December 7, 1907, the City of Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City. All of the municipal offices of Allegheny City, including the Public Works Department, were merged with those of the City of Pittsburgh. Although the gasoline engine and automobiles were gaining in popularity at this time, horses remained a viable means of transport for both people and goods well into the twentieth century.

In 1928, the City of Pittsburgh utilized approximately 300 head of horses in its various departments, which was overseen by the Bureau of Horses within the Office of the Mayor. The four park divisions used from two to ten horses each, while the eight divisions of the Bureau of Highways and Sewers each used from eight to 42 head to maintain, what amounted to in 1928, nearly 1800 miles of public roadways, including over 800 miles of improved streets and alleys, and over 900 miles of unimproved streets and alleys.

Draft horses, primarily Belgians, used by the Department of Public Works were of the show horse order, and consisted of mostly mated teams of dappled grays, chestnuts with white markings, blacks, roans, and bays (reddish-brown) that weighed 1500 to 1900 pounds, and measured from 15 to 16 ½ hands in height. Teams typically worked an eight-hour day, but sometimes up to fifteen hours per day, and had an average working age of 18 years, with some reaching over 22 years of service.

All of the city-owned stables were open to the public at all times, and “[s]table men, watchmen, and others connected with the horse department [were] required to be polite and accommodating to all visitors at all times.”

The building continued to be used by the Department of Public Works well into the twentieth century, witnessing the conversion from horse-driven to motor-driven equipment. The DPW occupied the building as late as 1969, and served Allegheny City and City of Pittsburgh Departments of Public Works for approximately 75 years. On November 7, 1973, the Denny heirs sold the lot and building to David Stein.

The building is an excellent example of the Romanesque style of architecture adapted to utilitarian use. The building’s arcaded south (façade), east (side), and north (rear) elevations all incorporate the use of round and segmental arched openings, radiating brick voussoirs, and projecting brick and stone belt courses. The north (façade) elevation incorporates two patterns of brick diapering as well as a corbelled brick cornice. As such, the building retains a high degree of historic integrity of design, materials, and workmanship. The building also retains its integrity of location and setting as it is situated prominently in the midst of an intact late nineteenth to early twentieth century industrial corridor along W. North Avenue. As such, the building continues to convey the feeling and association of a late nineteenth century Romanesque influenced stables/public works building.

The building is significant for its association with the former City of Allegheny, having served as a public works/stables building. Allegheny City enjoyed a widespread reputation for its excellent public works and its low public indebtedness. This building appears to be the only surviving edifice of Allegheny’s Public Works Department and one of a very small number of remaining municipal buildings attributed to Allegheny City. The Allegheny City Stables/Public Works Building is also significant for its association with the City of Pittsburgh Division of Highways and Sewers and for its association with the City of Pittsburgh, Bureau of Horses. Of the facilities that quartered city-owned horses listed in the History section of this nomination, a preliminary survey indicates that the Allegheny City Stables/Public Works Building is the only such building remaining. The building serves as possibly the last tangible reminder of these agencies during the pre-automobile era, when true horse power provided the bulk of hauling and towing needs. The building continued to serve the City of Pittsburgh well into the mid-twentieth century, witnessing the transformation of horse-drawn to motor-driven equipment.

Taken from: Nomination of 836 West North Avenue (former Allegheny City Stables) to be a City Historic Structure