The Point: The Exposition: After the Fire of 1901
From The Pittsburgh Post, 13 August 1913.
Present Exposition Sprang Up Like Fabled Phoenix. New Buildings Rose from Ashes in 1901. Flames Destroyed All Except Machinery Hall in Spring, but Exposition Opened on Time. Carnegie Gift Changed the Object. Society Attempting to Furnish Scholarships Instead of Establishing Great School.
The present Exposition buildings rose Phoenix like from the wreck of the earlier structures.
The morning of March 17, 1901, fire started in a large frame stable across Duquesne way from the exposition building. A wind blew embers across the street and it was not long until the great main building was a mass of flames. The fire was a terrific one, remembered by many for its destructive fury . When it was extinguished all that was left of the fine structures was Machinery hall, which was constructed of nothing that could burn.
Following that fire, there was a hasty call for action. The loss of the great building was a heavy blow to the society, because the insurance carried was extremely small. More funds had to be raised to replace it. Almost tragically, too, it seemed, the society had all but wiped out its debt of borrowed funds for building, and was seriously planning for the new technical schools, for which the money was to be used as the institution became free of debt.
Courageous action on the part of the directors and the generous response of thousands of friends of the Exposition, made possible an early removal of the ruins of the great building. D. Burnham & Company, the noted architects of Chicago, designers of the Frick building, were called into consultation and prepared new plans for a greater and better structure. Because of the experience of the fire, it was determined that it be fireproof. Incidentally, the society decided this time to provide a music hall within the structure, making it larger for the purpose.
Quick to Rebuild.
In May of 1901, a general contract was awarded for the construction of the building to James Stuart & Company. Then began a wonderful piece of building work, for assurances were given that the great structure would be ready for opening in time for the regular season in 1901. The contract was completed in time and a revival of public interest on a broader scale than ever followed.
A heavy debt was necessary to replace the building, which put off for some years, at least, the carrying out of the desires of the society in providing a technical schools for Pittsburgh. It also was found inadvisable to complete the new music hall at the time owing to the increased expense, and this was allowed to remain available for general use, but without its balcony or gallery and permanent stage. The old art gallery was given up in the new building and a theatorium was substituted, which permitted of other forms of entertainment and more general usefulness.
On the opening of the new main building, the musical attractions of the exposition were extended in character and were brought up to the present high standard. Attendance increased, and the society began anew its effort to first wipe out its increased debt, and then to prepare for its much desired educational work. At the same time, it was felt that the annual season of concerts and exhibits would continue to broaden the ideas of the vast throngs which visited and which were benefited by the popular-priced concerts and various forms of instructive and wholesome entertainment. Each year since then the debt against the great property has been reduced, and there is at last an end in sight of the demands on the funds of the society for this purpose.
Carnegie's Great Gift.
In the meantime a new development in the educational field appeared, in the gift of Andrew Carnegie of the great Carnegie Institute of Technology to Pittsburgh, with abundant endowment to make it the most imposing and progressive school in the world. This removed the original plan of the Exposition Society. In its place there has come the co-ordinate effort of providing scholarships for the sons and daughters of Pittsburgh families who seek a higher education along technical lines and this purpose is the live one of today. Prior to this being done it is the desire of the society to complete the great music hall, install its balcony and permanent interior, which will cost an additional $60,000 or more, and so soon as the earnings provide this, the work will be done.
The earnest men who are directing the work of the Exposition look forward to the consummation of their hopes and aims patiently and confidently. The more general becomes the support of the Exposition, the more rapid will their hopes be realized. And while their labors continue, [they] are providing Pittsburgh and all of the great Pittsburgh district with the best forms of entertainment, amusement, instruction and pleasure for the smallest cost in the country. The exposition property represents an outlay of $1,000,000. At the end of 25 years it reverts to the city of Pittsburgh and by that time the property will be much enhanced in value.
How closely Pittsburgh people are identified with the work of the Exposition can best be estimated when it is known that 1,400 of them have contributed $100 each, as life members, to help build the structures that have been the home of so much pleasure and benefit to the populace. Several hundred more loaned sums ranging from $5,000 to $25 at low interest rates, to help the building fund. Employees of large industrial establishments in the city aided out of their small earnings with other sums of money, that this good work might continue. A popular subscription fund, raised by newspapers, amounted to $1,550 and mill men and workmen in factories contributed equally as generously.
It has been a long time that has passed since the work of the Exposition Society began and new generations have come. In many instances these have lost sight of the ultimate purposes of the organization and also of the fact that it is a people's enterprise, fostered, supported and made possible by them, but the directors who give their time and thought and the best in them for the work, year after year, keep their goal in sight and never have swerved from their purpose. Some of the most active ones have passed away, but others have taken their places in the ranks of workers and the splendid organization goes on.
Has National Scope.
Thus, with the fall of 1913, 25 years of dauntless effort, in face of almost superman difficulties, devastating fire and misunderstandings of the people due to forgetfulness of the earlier struggles and the ultimate purposes of the work, have passed, and the movement is celebrating its silver jubilee. In that period of 25 years the Exposition has grown from a purely local exhibit to one of international scope. Foreign countries have made displays here. The National Government has been a regular exhibitor. Pennsylvania has appeared as a state in the instructive exhibits. No organization of this character has lived so long or prospered so abundantly as this Pittsburgh institution and it has been the cause of wonder and surprise to scores of other communities which since have sought to emulate it in many details.
The influence of the Pittsburgh Exposition has been broad, covering an area in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland in which a population of more than 10,000,000 people lives. To this district the celebration is of peculiar interest. Many a prosperous business of today had its inception and beginning of success in The Point buildings. Many an invention of Pittsburgh men first was drawn to public attention in the same place. Many ideas now generally adopted in homes first were portrayed there, the whole scheme of things stamping the Exposition as a yearly record of human progress.