The Burke Building, built in 1836, is Pittsburgh’s oldest surviving office building and is surpassed in age by only the Fort Pitt Blockhouse (1764). This three-story, five-bay, Greek Revival building was designed by English architect John Chislett for attorneys Robert and Andrew Burke. It has since hosted numerous businesses, the last being the headquarters of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy which vacated the building in 2007. It was designated as a Pittsburgh Historic Landmark in 1970, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and is part of the city’s Market Square Historic District.
The Burke Building
is nothing if not a survivor. This
is due to the fact that the building has survived numerous and varied threats
to its existence. Firstly, it survived
the Great Fire of 1845 which torched over 1,000 buildings in the downtown area. It then survived not one, but two urban
renewal projects known as Renaissance I (1946-1973) and Renaissance II
(1973-present). Part of Renaissance II
included the construction of the massive glass and steel complex, PPG Place,
right next door to the Burke Building in 1984. And while the complex abuts the Burke Building, it survived demolition yet again.
The two buildings, side-by-side and separated by 150 years and 600 feet
in height, provide a sharp contrast between modern and mid-19th
century architecture and technology.
has undergone two periods of renovation and refurbishment. The first occurred after a 1900 fire caused
moderate damage to the interior and the other in 1996 after it was purchased by
the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. However,
certain elements of the original building remain, to include its central
staircase, much of its pine, tulip tree and white oak plank flooring and
rafters, tin ceilings in some of the rooms, interior pocket shutters on the
front windows and a unique double-door safe on the second floor.
not known exactly how many and what types of businesses have occupied the Burke
Building over the years, it is known to have been home to a daguerreian (early
photography) shop, an art studio, an insurance agency, a barber shop and a
restaurant which closed in 1990. It then
sat vacant until purchased by the Western PA Conservancy in 1996. The conservancy then spent the better part of
a year renovating the builing and converting it into an LEED green
building. The conservancy sold the
building to Burke Building Enterprises in 2010, but not before granting an
easment to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation to ensure its