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Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel: History On A High Note

(Updated June 13, 2003)

A makeover to the tune of $45 million dollars has transformed Pittsburgh's Fulton Building into a highly polished symphony of a hotel. The 286-room hotel, which opened in April 2001, is operated as a Marriott franchise and caters to travelers wanting the intimacy of a boutique hotel, but the amenities of a full-service one. It is the city's only four-star property and also houses the Byham Theater. Built of granite, brick and copper this historic building in the heart of the newly revived cultural district offers remarkable views of PNC Park just across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. This hotel is the perfect locale for those tourists who relish Beethoven and baseball.

Timeless Elegance

Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Phipps built the structure in 1905-06, naming it for inventor, engineer, and artist Robert Fulton. The building was initially designed to become a hotel, but instead functioned as office and retail space, and the former nightclub, Heaven.

Step inside the brass-and-glass doors today and be transported back to the "heavenly" Gilded Age. A three-story white marble lobby is decorated in opulent cherry wood furnishings and rich fabrics in palettes of burgundy, deep blue and gold. A grand staircase leads up to the second level where the ceiling is decorated in mosaic patterns made from a combination of hand-cut stone and polished black slate. At center stage is the spectacular 30-feet in diameter opaque dome overhead which is surrounded by neoclassical moldings and marble mosaics. Once darkened by three-hundred pounds of coal dust, the 20-ton copper-covered, backlit glass-paneled dome has been brought back to its full glory thanks to the forty-thousand pounds of baking soda used to clean it. These exquisite details are best viewed from the third-story colonnaded balcony.

Phipps hired New York architect Grosvenor Atterbury to design the Fulton Building and four others along the Allegheny Wharf. Sadly, only the Fulton still exists. The building has style elements of Renaissance Revival that set it apart from the conventional, neoclassical structures of the day. It has a red-clay-tiled hipped roof, and a nine-story arched opening termed a "light well" (a type of Roman arch) that makes it one of the most distinguishable buildings in town. However, the design isn't just about looks but serves a functional purpose by allowing fresh air from the river to cool the building by pushing hot air upwards.

Renovation Surprises

During the renovation, workers discovered the lobby's original marble and brass floor medallion in more than a dozen pieces on an upper floor. Honoring Fulton, it was partly restored, partly replicated and now is displayed on a mirrored wall in the lobby. On the sixth-floor, workers discovered an X-ray lab lined with 3,000-pound lead panels, steel needles and glass syringes that were used when the building functioned as a Veterans Hospital during WWII.

Interestingly, the building has several connections with the Statue of Liberty. The granite exterior of the first three floors was quarried from the Stoney Creek quarry in Connecticut-the same quarry that provided the granite for the base of the Statue of Liberty. In addition, the hotel's copper fixtures became the largest copper restoration project on the East Coast since the Statue of Liberty restoration in 1986.

Modern Guest Rooms

The hotel's historic ambiance masks 21st-century technology. All of its 286 guest rooms (including 14 suites with living/dining areas) have two phone lines with high-speed WebTV Internet access; connection to the Internet via a wireless keyboard and 27-inch television; clock radio/CD players; individual climate controls; cordless phones; and 24-hour room service. In their rooms, guests will find large prints of Pittsburgh's other architectural wonders. In addition, watercolors of Pittsburgh's former skyline brighten the bathrooms, where porcelain sinks are set in dark Italian granite countertops above open, ornate, bronze-finished metal bases. And all of the guest rooms have fabulous views, either of Downtown buildings, the North Shore or into the light well, which has its own charm showcasing views of the tile roof and copper windows with a shade of green patina; the result of natural oxidation.

The best view belongs to the penthouse Presidential Suite, where guests dish out $2,200 a night for luxurious accommodations that include an enormous Mahogany four poster bed, granite-topped bar, dining room, living room, Jacuzzi and double shower. The panoramic view allows guests to watch games at PNC Park.

Dining & Meetings On A High Note

The hotel also houses the Bridge bar and Opus restaurant. The former showcases images of Pittsburgh bridges on golden-hued walls and in a series of lighted shadow boxes above the bar. The 140-seat Opus serves fine Mediterranean cuisine, and a music-themed mural adds a warm, bright note above the dark mahogany paneling.

The lobby's grand staircase leads to the second floor, with six meeting rooms, and the third floor has three more -with a total of 14,000 square feet. Some of the meeting rooms are named for famous Western Pennsylvanians: Mary Cassatt, Martha Graham, Henry Mancini, Jimmy Stewart and August Wilson.

Affordable Elegance

Currently, the hotel is offers rates from $129 a night for standard rooms and higher rates for Club Level rooms with their own concierge and lounge. In addition, theater and sports weekend packages are available. Best of all, guests will be able to earn valuable points with their Marriott Rewards membership. And, that should be music to everyone's ears.

For More Information

Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel
107 Sixth Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel

Editor's Footnote:

The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel was added to the National Trust Historic Hotels of America in October 2001. This brings the program's total to 174 hotels, representing 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Canada. To qualify for membership, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Trust of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance. This is the first hotel in Pittsburgh to make the list.

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