Losing a local landmark08-26-2001
You'd better hurry. There's not much time left if you want to take in the best view Pittsburgh has to offer.
One month from today, the Top of the Triangle restaurant on the 62nd floor of the USX Tower will close permanently. Along with it goes the only opportunity most of us will ever have to marvel at the superb, 360-degree panorama of Downtown that is available from its windows. It is literally the high point of Pittsburgh.
Although the 62nd floor, which also includes a number of banquet and meeting rooms, has not yet been leased, it will almost certainly be transformed into offices for some organization seeking a high profile in what ranks among the country's most prime space.
That's a shame.
Yes, there are other excellent vantage points from which to behold the glitter of Pittsburgh, but virtually all of them lie on the other side of a river, and none is as high or offers this commanding midtown perspective. Mount Washington is magnificent, but it's not the same.
Since the USX Tower opened in 1970, it has held the honor of being the city's tallest building, both in terms of height (841 feet) and the number of floors (64; the two top floors are for building mechanicals).
The USX Tower's stature is also augmented by its location at the higher end of Downtown. Now that the other open spaces along Grant Street have been developed, it is highly unlikely that any taller building will be erected anytime soon.
For more than three decades, people who have wanted a glimpse of that incomparable view have been willing to jockey for a window table and buy a pricey meal.
Over the years, the Top of the Triangle has been managed by a variety of operators, starting with Stouffers. Unfortunately, the economic and logistical considerations of attracting and conveying diners to the top of tall buildings have turned such restaurants into white elephants, and not only in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has many more dining opportunities these days, many of which provide superior food and all of which are much closer to the ground.
Then, of course, there are the difficulties of staffing and provisioning a restaurant at the top end of a long elevator. While another restaurant is likely to open in the USX Tower, it will almost certainly be located in one of the lower lobbies.
It does seem, however, sadly ironic that at a time when Pittsburgh has been working so hard to put its best image forward and is actually beginning to attract admiring visitors from around the world, the general public is losing access to its high point.
People pay to ride elevators to the top of the Empire State Building and World Trade Center in New York City and the Sears Tower in Chicago to get a better perspective on the city below. St. Louis has its Arch and Seattle its Space Needle.
Other great cities around the world boast statuesque structures that were built for reasons other than office space. Toronto has the CN Tower. It still ranks as the world's tallest self-supporting structure, 25 years after it was built, at 1,821 feet. It's followed by the Oriental Pearl Television Tower in Shanghai. London has its Post Office tower, Paris the Eiffel, Berlin the Funkturm, and the Observation Towers in Oslo and Tokyo. All are open to give the public a chance to get a great lay of the land.
Presumably, these vertical vantage points are money-making operations.
Granted, Pittsburgh still lacks the population density and visitor traffic of those other cities, but then none of them has our tremendous topography.
Economic realities notwithstanding, wouldn't it be magnificent if a way could be found to preserve some portion of that lofty square footage for the enjoyment of future generations?
Private enterprise cannot be faulted for wanting to make the most of its investment, and civic coffers are not exactly overflowing with funds to support this kind of crazy venture. Surely a city that came up with Plan B to construct two stadiums and a convention center can figure out a way to preserve its most excellent point of view.
Or, even better, perhaps that long unused helipad on the roof of the USX Tower could be adapted for tourist purposes.
A glass-covered observatory in the heavens. Think of the perspectives that could provide!
Admittedly, this is blue sky thinking of the highest order, but sometimes, that's what it takes to move the wheels of progress. Don't forget, they laughed at Mayor Sophie Masloff when she proposed a new baseball field a decade ago.
If you have any comments or suggestions on how preserving the Top of the Triangle view might be done, drop me a message.