From the Archives: Doherty Hall

"From the archives," remember that? Of course you do, loyal readers of pillbox. I apologize for being gone for so long, I've been terribly busy with an endless train of academic and Tartan obligations. You all must remember when I first started writing these last semester, positive that this could be a weekly column — tragic how far I've fallen from this lofty ambition.

After the resounding success of my article on the history of Wean (which you should check out, by the way), I was certain that Doherty hid equally fascinating secrets in its ancient walls. Sadly, I didn't find anything as cool as the menu for the dinner where Wean was declared to be Pittsburgh's best concrete structure of the year. I'm certain some fascinating secrets exist, waiting to be discovered by someone with just a little bit more dedication. Week after week, I insisted that my Doherty research was just on the precipice of materializing into something publishable, yet week after week I failed to deliver.

Then alas, this past Monday I made the fatal mistake of promising our dear pillbox editors that I would finally get them my Doherty article. So for lack of interesting historical content, this article will have to be carried entirely by the sheer charisma of my writing. I hope you can forgive me.

My research started thanks to Lynn Kawaratani, our University's Architecture Archivist, who generously invited me to take a tour of the Architecture Archives. Located on the fourth floor of Hunt Library, separate from the general University Archives, these house important architectural documents pertaining to the whole city of Pittsburgh. Among these are the original floor plans for Baker, Porter, Hamerschlag, CFA, and Doherty — drawn by Henry Hornbostel himself, the original architect of the Carnegie Technical Schools (or possibly drawn by an assistant with good penmanship).

I was gently advised not to publish detailed structural plans for one of our oldest (and most vulnerable) buildings, lest some malevolent actors try to turn it into a pile of bricks at the foot of Gates. Such is the world we live in sadly. But trust me, the drawings were extremely cool and you should've been there to see them.

Doherty Hall was built for the 1909 winter semester to be the home of the Applied Sciences department. Those days, the school yearbook included an exhaustive recap of every day of the academic year, so we know exactly when the building opened. According to page 313, on Monday January 4, 1909, the following happened: "Winter term opens. Applied Science moves to new quarters. Dot Felkel gets lost."

Thankfully Dot Felkel was "found locked in a locker" the following day, and now we have an exact date of birth for this building. The attached image is from page 17 of The 1909 Thistle, and provides the interesting revelation that those aren't bricked-up windows on the 2210 and 2315 lecture halls, that's what they've always looked liked.

You also might notice that the front entrance of Doherty is conspicuously missing in that image — that's because at the time, The Cut was a genuine hole in the ground, and there would have been no way of entering from the east end of the building. And even though The Cut was filled in by (probably) 1917, the main entrance wasn't built for about another five decades.

Though the cornerstone of the front entrance says 1949, construction was evidently slow. We learn from the Sept. 27, 1950 issue of The Tartan that "the first classes were held recently in the million dollar addition to Engineering hall." A photo from the 1950 edition of The Thistle proudly shows off this spiffy new entrance, along with a 48-star American flag and a bunch of cars parked on the Cut.

Because I'm still short of my expected word count, I want to share a really cool piece of trivia about Baker-Porter that I'm otherwise never going to get to write about (because lord knows I'll never get around to a proper deep-dive into that building). On page 32 of "The Story of Carnegie Tech" by Arthur Tarbell, he tells us about the very first day of classes at the Carnegie Schools. "At the hour of nine they all moved, as if by common instinct, for no signal had been given, into the building, and on into an assembly hall with its tier upon tier of tablet arm chairs. That room is now 104 Industries Hall."

For months it bothered me that I couldn't figure out which room this is — this most historic and sacred room where the first class at our school was ever held. Because interestingly enough, despite there being over 100 rooms on the first floor of Baker-Porter, none of them are numbered 104. For a while, I assumed it must refer to the PH100 lecture hall. But while I was visiting the Architecture Archives, I was allowed to peruse the original floor plans of Porter Hall (at the time just called "Building A" by Hornbostel) where it occurred to me that I should check the numbers of the rooms and see which is 104. By comparing the original floor plans with current ones, I now confidently believe that the former room 104 has now been converted into rooms 208I, J, and K on the second floor of Porter Hall. So go visit those rooms and pay your respects, perhaps.