William Pitt Union (formerly Schenley Hotel), site of the founding of Veterans of Foreign Wars
Built in 1898, the current University of Pittsburgh's William Pitt Union began as the Hotel Schenley. At eleven stories, it was one of Pittsburgh's earliest skyscrapers and was intended to be the center of economic development in the Oakland section of the city. However, the city's hotels clustered downtown by the 1950s and Pitt purchased the hotel in 1956. It served as a dormitory and student union and was renamed the William Pitt Union in 1983. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in that same year.
Backstory and Context
"From September 14 to 17, 1914, hundreds of Spanish-American and Philippine-American war veterans descended on Pittsburgh for their organizing convention. The four-day event opened at the Schenley Hotel (now the William Pitt Union on the University of Pittsburgh campus) in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.... Their central task was to formally launch the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) by drafting a constitution and by-laws.... After each day’s business was done, veterans and their families enjoyed entertainments around Pittsburgh. Some watched Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates battle the Cincinnati Reds at Forbes Field while others enjoyed a river boat excursion along the Monongahela. Veterans also took in the annual Pittsburgh Exposition (on the site of today’s Point State Park) and were treated to the patriotic music of John Philip Sousa, whose band had been booked to perform during the event."1
Frank Nicolo employed the architectural firm of Rutan & Russell to develop a Beaux-Arts style hotel to be built near the bucolic Schenley Farms in 1898. The luxury hotel was visited by presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Dwight Eisenhower, as well as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt over the years. It's clientele changed in 1909 when the new home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Forbes Field was built nearby and the University of Pittsburgh relocated to Oakland the same year. It now hosted visiting professors and ball players, such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Casey Stengel and Rogers Hornsby.
Pitt purchased the hotel in 1956 and it underwent a major renovation from 1980-1983. It now serves as the home to numerous student and university offices, meeting space, an art gallery, dance studio, Louis XV style ballroom and the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame.