Abandoned hospital in Pittsburgh

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Date added: May 10, 2023 Categories: Pennsylvania Hospital
Building 'B', Front (south) elevation, looking north (1989)

The Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh was the headquarters for tuberculosis treatment and research performed by the Tuberculosis League of Pittsburgh. The site, the setting and the buildings themselves are representative of the efforts to treat this infectious disease prior to the development of effective drug therapies. The building complex is close to neighborhoods where large numbers of people lived in crowded and often unsanitary conditions. Along the rivers, steel mills and other industrial complexes were the focuses of high-density row house communities.

In contrast to the dense residential neighborhoods nearby, the Tuberculosis Hospital complex is park-like, with a broad lawn in front of the main hospital building. The hilltop site above the Allegheny River maximizes natural ventilation to the buildings. Early twentieth-century tuberculosis consisted largely of rest, good nutrition, fresh air and sunshine. The Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh provided these essentials as they could best establish within the dense, industrialized urban environment. The buildings were all long and narrow with central corridors and many windows which permitted plenty of ventilation and natural light. Although the complex was altered to serve as a mental health treatment center, the basic configuration of the buildings and their siting remain intact. Even in the current largely unoccupied state, the green surroundings and the many-windowed interior spaces convey the concept of early twentieth-century tuberculosis treatment.

In 1900, pulmonary tuberculosis was the leading cause of death from infectious disease in Pittsburgh. Approximately 15,000 residents of the city died of the disease between 1890 and 1910. Robert Koch discovered the tubercle bacillus as the cause of tuberculosis in 1882. However, crowded and unsanitary conditions common at the turn of the century made infection easy. Because general hospitals refused to admit tuberculosis patients, treatment had to be undertaken at specialized facilities. Dispensaries served outpatient screening and medication, and sanitaria housed advanced cases. Public education was an important component in the fight to control tuberculosis.

The first organized effort against tuberculosis in the city was a private undertaking with the formation of the Pittsburgh Society for the Prevention and Treatment of Tuberculosis in December 1906. The Society, organized by a group of business and community leaders, opened the first dispensary in the city for tuberculosis treatment in January 1907. In February 1907 the Pittsburgh Sanitarium opened in a converted house on Bedford Avenue donated by William McConway, along with approximately four acres of land. In May 1908 the Society and the Sanitarium merged to form the Tuberculosis League of Pittsburgh, and they named the hospital the Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Due to space limitations in the McConway House, the League constructed five open-face shacks on the site that housed up to 40 beds. Such inadequate facilities hampered effective treatment and therefore the League expanded its physical plant. The first building built was the original dispensary, a two-story frame structure, in 1909. The Power and Service Building (Building 'B' on the site plan) was built c. 1912. This building housed the League's library and laboratory facilities in time, as well as boarding rooms for employees. Its red brick, hip roof, and repetitive double-hung windows became features common to later buildings on the site. The building's long, narrow floor plan also became a pattern that would be later repeated.

The Tuberculosis League next built the Children's Ward Building with a grant from R. B. Mellon. This building, built from 1915 to 1917, was later known as the Women's and Children's Building or the East Wing (Building 'C' on the site plan). The Children's Ward Building was more architecturally stylized than the Power and Service Building, befitting its more public function. The architects adopted the Italian Renaissance Revival style for the building's design. An aluminum box placed in the cornerstone contained a history of tuberculosis treatment to that time. Recovering children could continue their education in a healthy environment in the building's "Open Air School." The building was the first of its kind in the state devoted primarily to the care of children with tuberculosis.

Construction of the building known as the Christmas Seal Building to the North of the Dispensary Building commenced in the late 1910s. An interview with the director of the American Lung Association (successor to the Tuberculosis League) revealed that the building was used to treat veterans returning from World War I. A 1924 Sanborn Map labeled the building as "Open Air Wards" which may indicate that the large windows and doors are a later addition. This simple institutional vernacular building served as headquarters in subsequent years for volunteers to coordinate the annual Christmas Seal campaign. Sometime in the early 1920's the building known as the Men's Pavilion or West Wing was built to the North of the Christmas Seal Building. Lung Association records indicate that this simply detailed building is the work of architect E. P. Mellon. The first floor functioned for a time before the construction of the 1929 hospital as a morgue. A Sanborn map covering the period 1924-1951 shows two houses on the east side of the site. The larger building was part of the McConway property, while the smaller building was one of several properties acquired to allow for construction of the East Wing. These buildings are no longer standing.

Later construction on the Bedford Avenue site culminated with the razing of the McConway house in 1927 and the construction of the new hospital building (Building 'D' on the site plan). Although the building now dominated the site (being as long as Buildings 'B' and 'C' combined), its exterior expression was clearly sympathetic to the earlier buildings'. Architect E. P. Mellon designed the elaborately detailed brickwork and setbacks that broke down its large mass. The building is in a somewhat bland interpretation of (Northern) Italian Romanesque Revival. All patient treatment floors originally had open porches facing south or west. Although later enclosed, these spaces remain expressed on the exterior as arcaded elements.

With the completion of the new facility, the League now could carry on its work with a fully equipped teaching hospital of 150 beds. The hospital staff instructed University of Pittsburgh medical students on techniques for prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and trained nurses at its new facility. A library was opened in the new building to all members of the medical profession.

In understanding the role of the Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, it is important to recognize the public efforts which augmented the work of this private organization. At the beginning of this century, the only public health facility to treat tuberculosis was the state hospital at Mt. Alto. By 1916, the Mt. Alto facility accommodated 1150 patients. Two smaller state-operated sanitaria at Cresson and Hamburg accommodated another 1180 patients. Yet all three hospitals were full in 1916, with a waiting list of 800.

The need for additional facilities close to the city was apparent, and in 1909 the voters of Pittsburgh approved a bond issue to construct a public tuberculosis hospital. The hospital opened in September 1915 on the ninety-seven-acre Leech farm site along the Allegheny River. Expansion of the hospital in the 1920s and 1930s raised the number of beds from 140 to 450. This was still short of the estimated 830 beds needed in the city as determined in the 1936 Survey of the Department of Public Health. The Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh was unique, however, in providing bed space at its Bedford Avenue site for patients from outside the city.

By 1930 the death rate from tuberculosis had fallen at a faster rate in the Pittsburgh area than it had in either the state as a whole or the nation. The League began to concentrate its efforts on public education and outpatient treatment for prevention of the disease. By 1938, the death rate from tuberculosis had decreased to 400 per year in Pittsburgh, making it the seventh leading cause of death in the city. They razed the 1907 dispensary building and constructed a new, larger dispensary on the same site in 1940, perpendicular to Bedford Avenue. With the construction of this building, the League was better equipped to execute its mission of providing chest examinations to all individuals regardless of ability to pay. The number of outpatient examinations grew from 800 in 1907 to 18,000 in 1946. Pittsburgh architects Ingham, Boyd & Pratt designed the Nurses Residence built in 1949 (Building 'A' on the site plan). This new building freed additional space for patients in the hospital. Both the Nurses Residence and the Dispensary express an architectural style similar to that of the Hospital.

Medical advances in the 1950s dramatically affected the Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh. The development of new drug therapies (especially streptomycin) drastically reduced the time period required for treatment. In the years 1953 and 1954 the patient bed shortage suddenly ended and the Tuberculosis League ceased inpatient hospital care in 1955. Buildings 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D' at its Bedford Avenue site were then sold to the State. The Tuberculosis League continued to operate out of the 1940 dispensary (later named the Marcy Memorial Building), which it renovated entirely for office space in 1970. They also maintained ownership of the Christmas Seal building and the West Wing. The State converted the former hospital buildings and Nurses' Residence into a mental health treatment facility known as Western Restoration Center, which operated into the mid-1980's.

Building Description

The Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh Historic District is a complex of eight buildings that sits on a 4.9 acre site near the eastern edge of Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood. All the buildings were originally part of the complex operated by the Tuberculosis League of Pittsburgh. The site is park-like, on the crest of a hill that overlooks the Allegheny river valley to the North. Towards the Northwest, the site becomes thickly wooded and slopes steeply down to Bigelow Boulevard. Building 'D,' the main hospital building, dominates the site with its large mass and prominent, central location. All the buildings are brick, with one to five floors above grade and have a Characteristic long, narrow footprint with repetitive window openings. All the buildings except for Building 'B' also have hip roof elements.

All the buildings face Bedford Avenue at right angles. The buildings at the center of the site have their long facades parallel to Bedford Avenue. The buildings on the west side of the site face the driveway loop and are perpendicular to Bedford Avenue. Development began at the rear of the site and progressed toward Bedford Avenue. The large lawn at the center of the complex responds to the emphasis on sunlight and fresh air in the early treatment of tuberculosis.

The Tuberculosis Hospital buildings express a range of architectural styles. A 1962 renovation altered the earliest building on the site, the Power and Service Building, erected in 1912. A drawing of the building when originally built shows a simple vernacular brick structure with a hip roof. The Children's Ward Building of 1915-1917 is more architecturally expressive, done in the Italian Renaissance Revival. When built, it would have been more visible from Bedford Avenue since the McConway House, where a dispensary for tuberculosis treatment was established in 1907, was much smaller than the 1929 hospital building that replaced it. The next two buildings built on the site are, like the Power and Service Building, simple brick vernacular structures. The simplicity of the design of the 1917 Christmas Seal Building and the 1921 Men's Pavilion befits their location at the rear side of the site. Brick detailing found on the cornice of the Men's Pavilion is elaborated on extensively in the next building built, the 1929 hospital. With its arched openings and setbacks, the building is a somewhat loose interpretation of (Northern) Italian Romanesque Revival. The architects for the latest two buildings, the 1940 Marcy Building and the 1949 Nurses Residence also employed the Italian Romanesque Revival. This stylistic continuity was appropriate in unifying the most dominant buildings on the site.

The Tuberculosis League built the Power and Service Building (Building 'B' on the site plan) c. 1912. They then built the Children's Ward Building, later known as the East Wing (Building 'C' on the site plan) from 1915 to 1917. These two buildings, which are now connected, have a combined length of 250 feet. Building 'B' has an average width of 33 feet, and Building 'C' has an average width of 42 feet. Due to the steeply sloping site, these buildings have a two-story height exposure above grade on the south elevation and a four-story height on the north elevation.

The Building 'B' segment is a steel-framed structural system combined with an exterior masonry bearing wall system. Its exterior masonry walls are clad with red brick laid in common bond in primarily flat, unadorned planes. Window heads are soldier course bricks, with the soldier course continuous above windows on the top floor. Window sills are stone. There are two small panels of recessed brickwork on the south and west elevations below the fourth-floor windows. Two large arched openings on the west elevation were bricked-in during a 1962 remodeling by architect Alfred M. Marks. Various window openings had sill heights raised or were totally bricked-in at that time. A cafeteria and new passageway were built also, connecting Building 'B' to Building 'D.' The remodeling removed the original clay tile hip roof on Building 'B' and replaced it with a flat built-up asphalt roof and brick parapet. All original double-hung sashes have been replaced by aluminum jalousie windows except at below-grade areaways.

Building 'C,' the East Wing or Children's Ward Building is Italian Renaissance Revival in style. The two stories above grade on the south elevation are clad in molded brick panels above a molded sandstone base that rises out of grade approximately two feet. The north, east and west elevations have the same molded brick treatment resting on what is now a two-story high exposure of heavy uncoursed sandstone ashlar with voussoired stone arches. Exterior masonry is generally in good condition.

On the north elevation, windows in the two-story stone base align vertically in an arched opening. The windows in the lowest level are casements centered in the masonry opening, flanked by smooth stone on each side. A stone panel separates these windows from those in the floor above, which are wider units, one-over-one double- hung with rounded upper sash. At the projecting portion of the north elevation (the east side) is a one-story bay window with wood casements on the lowest level. Above this bay are three double-hung round top one-over-one double-hung wood units in arched openings. Original units remaining are one-over-one wood double-hung. All existing windows are in poor to fair condition. At the west side of the first floor, renovators modified some openings to install aluminum jalousie windows as in Building 'B'. This is the only portion of Building 'C' affected by the 1960s remodeling. The wood jalousie windows of the large open rooms on the second and third floors of the building connect to geared rods that originally operated all the windows simultaneously.

At the east side of the south elevation is a small entrance portico. The portico has a flat roof, tuscan composite wood columns and wood entablature with a triglyphed frieze. The metopes between the triglyphs are flat and unornamented. The original red clay tile hip roof remains and is in reasonably good condition. Exposed wood rafter ends support the broad overhangs. Gutters and downspouts are copper.

The lower two floors of Building 'B' contain mechanical equipment and are utilitarian in finish. The first floor contains a large kitchen. The second floor consists of a series of patient rooms flanking a central corridor. The stair tower at the west end of the building dates from the 1960s remodeling, as does the intersecting ramp on the south elevation. Finishes are 1960s institutional: tile or painted concrete floors, plaster or tile walls and ceilings.

The lowest level of Building 'C' is partially unexcavated. The upper basement level consists of a series of small rooms flanking a central corridor . A larger room and the corridor at the east end lead out to a concrete porch covered with a flat roof. The concrete walls have deteriorated badly in some areas. Neglect and vandalism have largely destroyed the steel sash windows in the porch. The porch is an early addition to the building, dating from the 1920s or 1930s. The first and second floors have the large rooms with jalousie windows at the west side of the central corridor. There is an additional such room on the second floor at the north side of the corridor. The interiors of Building 'C' survived the 1960s renovation without major alterations. However, since the building has been largely unused since that time, interiors are considerably more deteriorated. Doors and casings are wood, walls and ceilings are plaster or brick, and floors are resilient tile or painted concrete.

The former Christmas Seal Building is a one-story, thirteen-bay t-shaped brick building built in the late 1910s. Its institutional vernacular style is a direct response to its original use as open-air wards for patient treatment. The roof is an asphalt shingled hip with jerkin-head gable. There is a hip roof projection at the center of the building. Windows are wood six-over-six double-hung pairs with wood panels below to floor level; doors are wood pairs with four glass panels and glass transoms. The interior consists of large rooms at the center front and two ends of the building. At the back of the building is a series of simply constructed smaller rooms. There is a projecting bay at the center rear of the building containing toilet rooms. Brick walls enclose a mechanical room at the center of the building.

The West Wing or Men's Pavilion Building is a two-story, seven-bay brick structure. Records at the American Lung Association indicate that the Tuberculosis League built the building in the early 1920s. The architect was E. P. Mellon of New York. Its stylistic simplicity and small windows nonetheless suggest that the building dates from an earlier era. Corbeled brickwork ornaments the doorways on the east elevation. Windows are six-over-six double-hung wood, with exterior metal storm units. Asphalt shingles cover the hip roof. Small, simply detailed rooms flank a central corridor on the second floor. Partitions on the first floor were partially removed in the 1970s. A homeless shelter most recently occupied the building. To the North of the West Wing is a garage, a simple utilitarian structure.

Building 'D,' the main tuberculosis hospital building, is a five-story structure with full basement and a partial sixth-floor penthouse. It is nine bays wide, with masses that step back successively at roof lines. The structure is steel frame with exterior masonry cladding. Its style is a somewhat bland interpretation of (Northern) Italian Romanesque Revival.

Limestone ashlar capped with a dentilled limestone cornice veneers the foundation and first-floor walls. The arched entrance is trimmed with limestone. Above this limestone base, the exterior cladding is brick in a variegated red to tan color range laid in common bond. The fifth story is fenestrated roman arcading. The fourth story terminates in a heavy corbelled brick cornice that surmounts arcuated bracketing also done in brick. The second and third stories have a smaller-scale repetition of roman arcading. Limestone caps all cornices. Despite noticeable repairs, areas of brickwork show signs of deterioration. Bulges and protruding brick are evident primarily at corners and at parapets. The penthouse has a sloped clay tile perimeter roof and a flat roof at its center. All remaining roofs at the fifth floor and lower story set-backs are flat built-up roofs with parapets.

This building was built in 1929 to the design of architect E. P. Mellon. A 1962 renovation by Pittsburgh architect Alfred M. Marks modified it in the following ways. Arcaded porch areas on the second, third and fifth floors on the south, east and west sides became interior spaces. Remaining exterior terraces at building setbacks were no longer used when the building functioned as a mental health hospital. New construction at the north (rear) elevation included an elevator shaft, dining hall and connecting corridor to Building 'B'. Aluminum jalousie windows replaced all existing windows between the first floor and penthouse. Six-over-six double-hung steel windows remain on the first floor as do three light casement steel windows in the penthouse.

The entrance vestibule leads directly into a large main lobby. The lobby is circular in plan with black and white checkered terrazzo floor, and curved travertine marble walls terminating in a molded plaster cornice. The ceiling is painted plaster. This main lobby leads directly to the elevator lobby towards the rear of the building and to the main corridor. Wood paneling covers the elevator lobby walls. Terrazzo floors and painted plaster walls are typical finishes throughout the first floor.

On the upper floors the corridors are double-loaded with patient rooms. Each upper floor has a nurse's station near the elevator lobby. Corridor walls have painted plaster with ceramic tile wainscots and windows into the patient rooms. Vinyl-wall covered plaster walls, asphalt tile flooring and suspended acoustical ceilings are typical room finishes. All finishes date from the 1960s renovation.

E. P. Mellon also designed the Marcy Memorial Building, built in 1940 as the new Tuberculosis League dispensary. Today it serves as local headquarters for the American Lung Association. The building is a seven-by-three-bay, two-story brick structure with a tile hip roof. It is stylistically similar to the hospital building's Italian Romanesque Revival. There is a corbelled brick cornice and a continuous stone sill course below the second-floor windows. Two bays on the second floor originally contained recessed balconies and have perforated brickwork below the sill course. Windows are multi-pane metal; first-floor windows are eight-over-eight pairs with divided light arched heads. Second-floor windows are eight-over-eight double-hung pairs. The central arched entryway on the east facade has a stone surround with double wood- paneled doors and metal grille work above in a semi-circular arched transom. A series of steps leads up to the entrance. Smooth limestone ashlar topped with a sill course veneers the raised basement story.

The interior was remodeled in 1970 to better accommodate the offices of the Lung Association. Offices flanking the central corridor occupy the former first-floor exam rooms and second-floor staff quarters. Current finishes are painted drywall, carpet, and acoustic ceiling. Drywall covers the arched window transoms on the interior.

Building 'A,' the former Nurses Residence faces Bedford Avenue. The League built this building in 1949 to the design of Pittsburgh architects Ingham, Boyd and Pratt. Due to the advances in tuberculosis treatment in the 1950s, the building served its original function for less than fifteen years. It is four stories, red brick, with an ashlar base and stone sill course. Windows are metal casement. There is a corbeled transition between wall and roof; the clay tile hip roof has copper gutters. There are outdoor terraces at the east and west ends of the building at the fourth-floor level. The interior was entirely renovated in the 1960s to function as part of the Western Restoration mental health hospital.

Despite some extensive interior renovations the overall integrity of the Tuberculosis Hospital complex is quite high. The arrangement of the buildings, their siting, and the wooded setting overlooking the river tells much of the story of tuberculosis treatment in the first half of the twentieth century. The buildings themselves, with their long length and narrow width proportions were designed to maximize the penetration of natural light. This theme is further exemplified by the large number of windows and the exterior balconies for fresh-air therapy.

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Site Map
Site Map

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Front (south) elevation, looking north (1989)
Building 'B', Front (south) elevation, looking north (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Front (south) elevation, looking northwest (1989)
Building 'B', Front (south) elevation, looking northwest (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', East end of south elevation, looking north (1989)
Building 'B', East end of south elevation, looking north (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Front and right side, looking northwest (1989)
Building 'B', Front and right side, looking northwest (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Right (east) and rear (north) elevations, looking south (1989)
Building 'B', Right (east) and rear (north) elevations, looking south (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Rear elevation, showing 1962 elevator shaft and connection to Building B/C (1989)
Building 'B', Rear elevation, showing 1962 elevator shaft and connection to Building B/C (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Rear elevation, looking southeast (1989)
Building 'B', Rear elevation, looking southeast (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', Left (west) elevation, looking northeast (1989)
Building 'B', Left (west) elevation, looking northeast (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', South elevation, looking north. Note brick parapet added when hipped roof was removed in 1962. (1989)
Building 'B', South elevation, looking north. Note brick parapet added when hipped roof was removed in 1962. (1989)

Tuberculosis Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Building 'B', West elevation, looking east. Building 'C' is beyond to the left, Building 'D' is beyond to the right (1989)
Building 'B', West elevation, looking east. Building 'C' is beyond to the left, Building 'D' is beyond to the right (1989)