Heinz Hall, dedicated in 1971 and last renovated in 2015, is the cornerstone of the Cultural District of Pittsburgh. This cultural-entertainment focal point of the Golden Triangle has helped spur the continuing economic and cultural revitalization of downtown Pittsburgh. With its international reputation for grandeur and excellence as a concert hall and showplace, the 2,675‑seat Heinz Hall is home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The Hall is centrally located near Gateway Center, PPG Place, Dominion Tower, Fifth Avenue Place and Liberty Center, and within walking distance of Heinz Field, PNC Park and the CONSOL Energy Center. The Cultural District offers many restaurants, hotels and parking facilities within easy walking distance to the Hall.
The structure evolved from its origin in 1927 as the Loew’s Penn Theater to its renovation and dedication as Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts in 1971 — “a gift to the Pittsburgh Symphony Society from the Howard Heinz Endowment . . . to encourage, foster and perpetuate the performing arts in the Greater Pittsburgh area.” Each year more than a half-million patrons attend symphony concerts and other attractions, ranging from Pops concerts to children’s concerts to national Broadway touring shows.
Early History: 1880-1927
For 45 years prior to the origin of the Loew’s Penn Theater, the building that stood at this location was the Hotel Anderson. From 1880 to 1925, this hotel provided both accommodations and entertainment. Before 1900, the hotel frequently housed traveling acting companies. The guest list ranged from visiting businessmen to Shakespearean actors. Prior to 1880, the name of the hotel was the St. Clair. Most probably, Edwin Booth (1833-1893), brother of John Wilkes Booth, and his acting company stayed at the St. Clair, or later at the Anderson Hotel, during their many tours across the United States. After 1900, the Anderson developed a somewhat seedy reputation, lost much of its appeal and met its demise.
Built on the same location as the Anderson, the Loew’s Penn Theater was constructed in 1927. Motion picture magnate Marcus Loew hired the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp to design the opulent movie house. Known as Pittsburgh’s “Temple of the Cinema,” the building was regarded as the most magnificent theater between New York and Chicago. Audible gasps from first-nighters would be heard as they entered the Grand Lobby on opening night of the rococo showplace. A marble staircase led from the Grand Lobby with its 50-foot-high vaulted Venetian ceiling supported by massive ornamental columns.
Bronze and crystal chandeliers and imported silk damask draperies and hangings
complimented the lobby artwork. An organ, which would be destroyed in a 1936 flood, was touted to be “the greatest musical instrument the world has ever known.” Those in attendance were treated to a two-hour silent film and live stage show.
Such spectaculars were not restricted to Pittsburgh. In the early decades of the century, Americans flocked in droves to similarly designed theaters. These flamboyant and stately palaces were built of the most costly materials, embellished with gold leaf cherubs, crystal chandeliers, Carrara marble and Persian tiles.
With the advent of television, declining attendance and the rising costs of maintaining such landmarks, the Penn Theater, in line with the nation’s other great movie palaces, was forced to shut its doors in 1964. The building then sat vacant for five years. Destined to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, the building was nearly destroyed until the Pittsburgh Symphony intervened. The Orchestra was searching for a new home, having outgrown Carnegie Music Hall and the Syria Mosque, and the economic advantages to recycling the well-constructed theater were clearly apparent. To explore the feasibility of using the building, Henry J. Heinz II and Charles Denby, president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, toured the old movie palace. Together they had the vision to look past the rundown interior and see that with proper restoration the hall could be a brilliant cultural center. Along with Adolph W. Schmidt, president of the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, and Theodore L. Hazlett, Jr., representing the Allegheny Conference and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, these men worked with the architectural firm of Stotz, Hess, MacLachlan & Fosner to begin the construction.