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Series XXVI. William Penn Hotel, 1890-1925

Historical Background

The William Penn Hotel was Henry Clay Frick’s first foray into hotel construction and the second of his three buildings on Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Located amongst the corporate headquarters and financial institutions of the city, the William Penn Hotel is significant as an influential mainstay of Pittsburgh’s cultural heritage. The hotel project was first proposed to Frick in November 1913 by Samuel W. Black; Frick sharply dismissed the suggestion. However, Frick eventually came around to the idea and became the sole financier of the William Penn Hotel building project. Frick chose famed Pittsburgh architects Janssen & Abbott to design the Georgian Classical style hotel. The construction for the hotel began in 1914 and by this time Frick was well versed in the intricacies of planning, financing, and constructing buildings, having both financed and completed the Frick Building and Frick Annex years earlier. Heavily invested in the building’s completion, Frick maintained an almost daily correspondence with building superintendent D.B. Kinch. During the construction, striking workers and rising costs hampered the building’s progress. Frick had originally estimated a total cost of the hotel at $2.5 million; however the final price tag was nearly $6 million. The William Penn Hotel was completed in 1916 and celebrated its grand opening on March 9th, where Frick was able to show off his hotel to National Architect magazine who hailed it as, “The most beautiful hotel in the world.”

The William Penn Hotel consisted of twenty-two stories and one thousand rooms, each containing a private bath and telephone. Occupying an entire city block of downtown Pittsburgh, the hotel boasted other amenities such as a Renaissance-style ballroom, in-house bakery, and a staff of 900. The William Penn Hotel was heavily ornamented in an eighteenth-century Georgian Classical style and faced Mellon Square. The exterior was designed with a limestone base, deep red brick facade, and terra cotta cornice and trim work. The building was later extended with the construction of the Grant Street Annex which added six hundred rooms to the hotel in 1928. Another addition of note is the Art Deco ballroom located on the seventeenth floor designed in 1929 by New York architect Joseph Urban.

The William Penn Hotel has had several owners, including the Eppley, Westin and Omni hotel chains, and maintained a four-star rating through the years. The sale of the hotel in 1956 from the Eppley Hotel Company to the Sheraton Corporation was the second largest hotel sold in United States history. Unlike many of the great Pittsburgh hotels of that era, the William Penn Hotel has continually remained open and in 2009 is known as the Omni William Penn Hotel.

Scope and Content Notes:

This series contains the records of the William Penn Hotel commissioned by Henry Clay Frick. The materials include contracts, special orders, credits, correspondence, and financial ledgers. These records detail the labor, materials, and construction costs, as well as providing evidence of Frick’s vision for a luxurious downtown Pittsburgh hotel. This series is divided into four subseries: Properties, Construction Records, Correspondence, and Financial Material. The records in this series date from 1890 to 1925, although the majority of materials are from 1914 to 1916.

Subseries 1. Property Material, 1890-1922

Scope and Content Notes:

Material in this subseries documents the land purchased in downtown Pittsburgh for the William Penn Hotel building project. The properties purchased by Henry Clay Frick were located between Grant Street, Sixth Street and Oliver Avenue. Land acquired for the hotel included properties belonging to Annie F. Rafferty, Charles J. Pedder, National Casket Company, and Pittsburgh Free Dispensary. There are abstracts, deeds, agreements and correspondence from these individuals and companies relating to the sale of the land. The materials in this subseries date from 1890 to 1922.

Box 671
Folder 1 Abstract of Title for Grant Street and Sixth Avenue Properties, 1890
Folder 2 Mortgages, March 12, 1900-July 17, 1919
Folder 3 Insurance Policies, February 11-18, 1914 and undated
Folder 4 Deeds, April 11, 1914 and May 4, 1922
Folder 5 Agreement to Sell Land, March 16-June 29, 1914
Folder 6 Power of Attorney, March 12-April 13, 1914
Folder 7 William Penn and Fort Pitt Hotel Companies, March 12-June 22, 1914
Folder 8 Newspaper Clippings, February 10-14, 1914
Folder 9 Test Hole Samples, undated

Subseries 2. Construction Records, 1914-1916

Scope and Content Notes:

The records in this subseries include contracts, special orders, and credits that were given out during the construction of the William Penn Hotel. The materials contain information on contractors and sub-contractors involved with the project. The majority of the records are from Janssen & Abbott, George A. Fuller Company, and a number of sub-contractors that were hired for the construction of the hotel. All relating construction records, including correspondence, special orders, and credits, are also found within this subseries. The certificates and special orders provide specification, costs of labor, and materials. However, there are also a number of special orders that were given to companies and individuals that do not have contracts; these materials can be found under the “Special Orders and Credits List.” The special orders and credits are on William Penn Hotel Company letterhead, and signed by Janssen & Abbott, the architects. The materials in this subseries date from 1914 to 1916.

Folder 10 Construction Contract List, November 30, 1914-December 30, 1915
Folder 11 Construction Contract List, January 13-September 13, 1916
Folder 12 Special Orders and Credits List, undated
Folder 13 Specifications for Mechanical, Electrical, and Sanitary Systems, undated
Folder 14 Agreement for Furnishing Steam, June 15, 1914
Folder 15 William Penn Hotel Photographs, April 1-May 23, 1915

Box 672
Folder 1 Janssen & Abbott, Construction Contract, March 13-June 22, 1914
Folder 2 Janssen & Abbott, Certificates, April 14-December 22, 1916
Folder 3 James L. Stuart, Construction Contract, June 10-November 27, 1914
Folder 4 James L. Stuart, Special Orders, September 23, 1914-July 29, 1915
Folder 5 James L. Stuart, Construction Contract, April 27-July 1, 1914
Folder 6 James L. Stuart, Special Orders, February 20-August 31, 1915
Folder 7 George A. Fuller Company, Construction Contract, August 13, 1914-March 22, 1915
Folder 8 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, January 7-July 6, 1915

Box 673
Folder 1 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, July 15-October 11, 1915
Folder 2 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, October 16-December 17, 1915
Folder 3 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, December 17, 1915-February 2, 1916
Folder 4 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, February 2-March 15, 1916

Box 674
Folder 1 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, March 17-September 27, 1916
Folder 2 George A. Fuller Company, Special Orders, December 15, 1914-September 5, 1916
Folder 3 Allegheny County Steam Heating Co., Construction Contract, June 15, 1914-January 21, 1915
Folder 4 Peck Brothers & Company, Construction Contract, January 6-March 27, 1915
Folder 5 Peck Brothers & Company, Special Orders, April 12, 1915-May 18, 1916
Folder 6 Peck Brothers & Company, Special Credits, February 16, 1915- February 7, 1916
Folder 7 Brunswick-Bakle-Collender Company, Construction Contract, Special Orders, and Special Credits, February 26, 1915-March 27, 1916
Folder 8 Rochette & Parzine, Construction Contract and Special Order, April 30, 1915-June 27, 1916
Folder 9 Rasner & Dinger Company, Construction Contract and Special Orders, April 30, 1915-June 27, 1916

Box 675
Folder 1 Samuel McKnight Hardware Company, Construction Contract, April 14-May 14, 1915
Folder 2 Samuel McKnight Hardware Company, Special Orders and Credit, June 7, 1915-June 30, 1916
Folder 3 The Hotchkiss, Vail & Garrison Company, Construction Contract and Special Orders, June 30, 1915-January 24, 1916
Folder 4 Edward F. Caldwell & Company, Inc., Construction Contract, August 26, 1915
Folder 5 Edward F. Caldwell & Company, Inc., Special Orders and Credits, January 26-August 16, 1916
Folder 6 Western Electric Company, Construction Contract, August 23, 1915
Folder 7 C.M. Kinney Company, Construction Contract and Special Order, November 15, 1915-January 7, 1916
Folder 8 Fischer Brothers, Construction Contract and Special Credit, November 19, 1915-April 4, 1916

Box 676
Folder 1 William Penn Hotel Company, Construction Contract, Agreement with HCF Over Excess Cost, January 12, 1916-June 30, 1917
Folder 2 J.M. Allen, Construction Contract, March 20, 1914
Folder 3 J.M. Allen, Construction Contract, February 23-March 20, 1914
Folder 4 John F. High, September 21, 1915-February 2, 1916
Folder 5 American Bridge Company, September 21-October 1, 1915
Folder 6 Equitable Gas Company, October 14, 1915
Folder 7 H.W. Johns-Manville Company, November 11, 1915-May 12, 1916
Folder 8 Pennsylvania Transfer Company, November 17, 1915-March 27, 1916
Folder 9 Taylor & Dean, January 14-May 12, 1916
Folder 10 Pittsburgh Foundry & Machine Company, January 24, 1916
Folder 11 Riley Optical Instrument Company, January 24, 1916
Folder 12 Wilson Cabinet Company, February 18-June 27, 1916
Folder 13 J. Livingston Company, January 24-August 16, 1916
Folder 14 Electric Sign Service Company, March 10, 1916
Folder 15 Charles G. Hanny & Company, March 15, 1916
Folder 16 Russell & Stoll Company, March 15-June 27, 1916

Box 677
Folder 1 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, Main Lobby, undated
Folder 2 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, Main Lobby-Upper, undated
Folder 3 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, 5th Floor, undated
Folder 4 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, 17th Floor-Ballroom, undated ()
Folder 5 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, Basement Level One, undated
Folder 6 William Penn Hotel Floor Plan, undated

Box 678
Folder 1 Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, March 15-June 27, 1916
Folder 2 Walker Brothers & Haviland, March 17, 1916
Folder 3 X-Ray Reflector Company, May 12, 1916
Folder 4 The Howe Scale Company, April 14, 1916
Folder 5 F.E. Geisler & Company, May 31-June 30, 1916
Folder 6 Walter Papencordt, June 27, 1916
Folder 7 B.F. Sturtevant Company, June 27, 1916
Folder 8 Universal Pneumatic Transmission Company, June 27, 1916
Folder 9 George H. Soffel Company, June 30, 1916
Folder 10 Roger Williams, September 27, 1916
Folder 11 William Penn Hotel Specifications, June 10, 1914
Folder 12 William Penn Hotel Specifications, June 10, 1914

Subseries 3. Correspondence, 1913-1919

Scope and Content Notes:

The correspondence subseries contains letters from Henry Clay Frick, A. Braddel and F.W. McElroy (Frick’s secretaries) to D.B. Kinch regarding the construction of the William Penn Hotel. As the Superintendent of Frick’s properties, Kinch regularly wrote to Frick on the progress of the hotel’s construction. Kinch’s letters also notify Frick of three strikes involving different construction workers from May 1915 to January 1916. Kinch’s letter to Frick dated May 11, 1915 mentions a labor strike of the plasterers and electrical workers, which continued into September. There is also a construction letterpress copybook which is mainly comprised of outgoing letters from Frick and Braddel concerning the hotel. Other persons that also appear in the correspondence are Charles F. Chubb, Mr. W.H. Morrison, and Mr. W.J. Naugton. It is important to note that correspondence dated after the completion of the hotel in March 1916 mostly pertain to the mortgage and insurance of the hotel. The correspondence are arranged in chronologic order and date from 1913 to 1919.

Folder 13 William Penn Hotel Construction Letterpress Copybook, June 1, 1914-September 13, 1916

Box 679
Folder 1 Correspondence, November 1, 1913-February 25, 1914
Folder 2 Correspondence, March 10-July 1, 1914
Folder 3 Correspondence, July 8-August 17, 1914
Folder 4 Correspondence, September 2-December 16, 1914
Folder 5 Correspondence, December 17, 1914-February 26, 1915
Folder 6 Correspondence, March 6-April 10, 1915
Folder 7 Correspondence, April 14-May 27, 1915
Folder 8 Correspondence, June 2-August 9, 1915
Folder 9 Correspondence, August 10-September 16, 1915
Folder 10 Correspondence, September 27-October 29, 1915
Folder 11 Correspondence, November 2-December 31, 1915
Folder 12 Correspondence, January 3-February 5, 1916
Folder 13 Correspondence, February 8-May 22, 1916
Folder 14 Correspondence, June 9, 1919-May 12, 1925

Subseries 4. Finance Material, 1914-1918

Scope and Content Notes:

The majority of this subseries contains accounts payable vouchers from the H.C. Frick Hotel Construction Account/William Penn Hotel Company. The vouchers are arranged in original order by number, which also corresponds to the date the voucher was created. Some of the vouchers contain correspondence relating to payment of services. Examples of vouchers include payments to building architects, Janssen & Abbott; construction engineer, James L. Stuart, and George A. Fuller Company, building project contractor. Also included in this subseries are sample accounts payable forms and cancelled checks, which directly relate to William Penn Hotel Construction checks and vouchers. There is also a Hotel Construction Account ledger which contains an alphabetical list of names by individual or business and includes date of contract, services performed, and cost. The materials in the subseries date from 1914 to 1918.

Box 680
Folder 1 Vouchers 1-10, June 27, 1914-January 21, 1915
Folder 2 Vouchers 11-20, February 1-April 19, 1915
Folder 3 Vouchers 21-30, April 19-June 18, 1915
Folder 4 Vouchers 31-40, June 18-August 16, 1915
Folder 5 Vouchers 41-50, August 20-September 24, 1915
Folder 6 Vouchers 51-60, October 1-21, 1915
Folder 7 Vouchers 61-70, October 21-December 3, 1915
Folder 8 Vouchers 71-80, December 8, 1915-January 27, 1916
Folder 9 Vouchers 81-90, January 27-February 25, 1916
Folder 10 Vouchers 91-100, February 25-April 10, 1916
Folder 11 Vouchers 101-110, April 10-July 6, 1916
Folder 12 Vouchers 111-118, October 14, 1916-June 27, 1918
Folder 13 List of Vouchers Sent to Frick, undated
Folder 14 Trial Balances, January 13, 1914-September 5, 1916
Folder 15 Cancelled Checks, June 27, 1914-June 27, 1918
Folder 16 Sample Accounts Payable Forms, undated
Folder 17 Notes, August 13, 1914-March 11, 1916, undated
Folder 18 William Penn Hotel Construction Check Register, June 27, 1914-July 17, 1917

Box 681
Folder 1 Hotel Construction Account, undated
Folder 2 Stock Ledger, Union Land Company, 1889
Folder 3 Construction Ledger, undated
Folder 4 Construction Cash Book and Journal, June 27, 1914-December 1916
Box 682 Property Plans of H.C. Frick, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1840–1910