Hotel Schenley

Schenley Hotel

Built in 1898 by Franklin Nicola as part of his vision for the area.  He wanted to create a high society that Pittsburgh could be proud of- the beginning of a Civic Center where the elites could gather.  The initial construction was 10 stories with 250 rooms.  An 11thfloor laundry was added in 1911.  It was host to presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Dwight Eisenhower.  The US Steel Corporation was essentially born here- J.P Morgan bought Carnegie Steel from Andrew Carnegie

Hotel Schenley & Apts

1925 Hopkins map

for $492 million- and was celebrated at the “Meal of Millionaires” in 1901, where 89 of them assembled in a single room. It also hosted many banquets- here’s a menu from the 1900 Christmas here and here.

Absolutely fireproof!

In 1909, Forbes Field opened down the street and the hotel became a place for ball players to stay during road games against the Pirates.  The University of Pittsburgh also moved in next door, migrating from its northside location.  As grand as it was, the hotel was on an island.  It became surrounded by hospitals, private clubs and university facilities.  Even the 1924 $7 million addition of the Schenley Apartments which adjoined the hotel could keep things afloat.  Cultural centers and ideals had shifted to downtown Pittsburgh.  In 1956, the hotel was sold to the University of Pittsburgh and became a dormitory and later the student Union.

Go to the Pittviewer and look at the 1903, 1910 and 1925 maps of the hotel.

Schenley Hotel in the 1930s

Brunot Island Race Track


As I was looking through these old maps, I noticed that Brunot Island once had a race track.  It’s noticeable in the 1903-7 maps, and again in 1910, but not in the 1923 map.  Why not?  A little digging led me to find out more about this long forgotten era.

The island was originally named for Dr. Felix Brunot, who settled the island in the late 1700s.  The flood of 1811 devestated the estate and by 1819, he had sold the island.  It became farmland until 1894 when George Westinghouse bought it and soon after constructed an electrical plant.  It wasn’t soon after that the race track also appeared.

There was a group of Pittsburgh businessmen organized under the name Pittsburgh and Allegheny Driving Club that created the track.  Members kept their horses on the island and held friendly races each Saturday.

The only bridges that have been built to connect the island to the other sides of the river have been for railroad use only.  There was a ferry service near Ontario St. for the time when the race track was in service.  This was a one mile dirt track that hosted races for only a short time, from 1903 to 1914, and featured horse racing and occasionally auto racing.  Since the island was so inaccessible, the horsemen who raced there were already trying to find a more suitable location east of Highland Park, as early as September 1903.

In a Pittsburgh Press article from 1964, the track was closed in 1907 because the owner said the motor vehicles were damaging the dirt track.  While regular racing may have stopped, that didn’t mean that thrills disappeared from the track.

In an old article from 1915, master driver Barney Oldfield is set to take on De Floyd Thompson, an aerial marvel.  The two had races against each other- motor car vs. airplane.  Oldfield would speed around the track with Thompson overhead and fly so low that he could “reach out and pull the cap from the head of his rival.”

Take me to it! (Remember to switch the basemap to the 1903 or 1910 maps)