Pittsburgh Athletic Association Clubhouse
From 1911 until 2017, this building was home to the Pittsburgh Athletic Association. The non-profit organization dedicated to promoting fitness was formed in 1908 by a group of businessmen led by real estate agent Franklin Nicola (1860–1938). Architect Benno Janssen (1874—1964) designed the building in the Venetian High Renaissance style and construction was completed in 1911. The clubhouse incorporated numerous sports facilities for its members and guests including a swimming pool, basketball court, squash court, and bowling alley. In addition, the clubhouse offered athletic facilities, sports lessons, spa services, dining, and overnight accommodations for members of the association and guests. The clubhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 but the organization filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and sold the building to a real estate developer.
Backstory and Context
In 1908, the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, a non-profit membership club, was formed by a group of businessmen led by local real estate agent Franklin Nicola. In 1909, the association bought land in Nicola's recently-bought Schenley Farms tract for plans to construct a clubhouse for its members. The commissioned architect Benno Janssen to head plans for the clubhouse's designs. In 1911, the Pittsburgh Athletic Association Clubhouse was completed and opened for its members and the public.
Inspired by the Venetian High Renaissance style, Janssen designed the association's clubhouse reminiscent to classical Venetian buildings, such as Sansovino's Palazzo Corner, the Grimani Palace, Sansovino's Library of St. Mark. The entire structure is a slight imitation of the Sansovino's Palazzo Corner clubhouse. The building is a five-story steel-frame, rectangular building with brickwork consisting of regular brick, stone, and terra cotta and topped with a flat roof. Similar to the Grimani Palace, the design's entablature has protruding cornices with modillions, which ultimately divides the facade. The building is positioned on a low podium and like the facade, the podium is horizontally divided by an entablature and projecting cornices with modillions. The upper cornice consists of eyebrow windows and panels of festoons, dentils and modillions. The coupled colossal pilasters and columns are ornately designed and positioned. Like the Sansovino's Library of St. Mark, the building has ornate etchings and designs of cupids and garlands. The semi-circular ground windows also hark the essence of Italian Renaissance Architecture.
Even though the interior of the clubhouse has been altered several time, the main lobby and some of the reception rooms have not been touched. The clubhouse had several athletic facilities for members and guests, such as a terra cotta swimming pool with tiles, a basketball court, a squash court, and a 16-lane bowling alley. One room in particular serves as a dedication to former university football coach, Johnny Mays where some of his memorabilia throughout his career is on display. Throughout the years, the clubhouse provided many amenities for the association's members and guests, such as sport lessons, spa sessions, dining, and overnight accommodations. Also, the building even served as a place where people can reserve the space for weddings, parties, and other social events.
The Pittsburgh Athletic Association Clubhouse is notable for its Venetian High Renaissance style and its long use as an athletic club. the building is recognized by the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation (1970) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1978).
With declining membership, the organization filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sold the clubhouse in 2017 to the Walnut Capital, a residential and commercial real estate management and development firm. The building is currently being renovated with the current owner considering leasing the space for retail, dining, or possibly use by a fitness center.
Key Architects and Firms: Benno Janssen, Carnegie Mellon University: Architecture Archives. n.d. Accessed November 27th 2019. https://www.library.cmu.edu/ArchArch/collection/benno-janssen.
Sabatini, Patricia. Pittsburgh Athletic Association's Iconic Clubhouse Finds a Buyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 14th 2017. AccessedNovember 27th 2019. https://www.post-gazette.com/business/development/2017/09/14/Pittsburgh-Athletic-Association-iconic-clubhouse-has-found-a-new-owner-Walnut-Capital/stories/201709140078.
Van Trump, James. Pittsburgh Athletic Association, National Park Services.1978. Accessed November 27th 2019. https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_PA/78002338.pdf.