The William Penn Hotel is located on William Penn Place between Oliver Street and 6th Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. It was the third of four buildings to be financed by Frick; the others being the Frick Building, the Frick Annex/Allegheny Building, and the Union Arcade. The combination of these buildings overshadowed rival Andrew Carnegie’s headquarters in the Carnegie Building which was demolishd in 1952.
The William Penn has the distinction of being Frick’s first venture into hotel construction. Although initially reluctant, Frick later became the sole financier for the hotel and maintained correspondence with his Superintendent D. B. Kinch on the construction progress. Frick purchased the land for the William Penn Hotel for $1.3 million. Originally projected to cost $2.5 million, a worker’s strike slowed construction. In addition, rising costs brought the final construction costs to $6 million. There were at least three worker strikes during the construction of this hotel.
Construction on the William Penn Hotel began in the summer of 1914, taking nearly two years to complete. The hotel was designed by Janssen and Abbott with James L. Stuart serving as the construction engineer. The William Penn Hotel was heavily ornamented in an eighteenth-century Georgian Classical style. The exterior was designed with a limestone base, deep red brick facade, and terra cotta cornice and trim work. When the William Penn Hotel opened for guests on March 9, 1916, it was twenty-two stories tall and contained 1,000 rooms. Each room featured a private bath and a telephone. Occupying an entire city block of downtown Pittsburgh, the hotel originally boasted amenities such as a Renaissance-style ballroom,in-house bakery, and a staff of 900.
The hotel was sold to Eugene Eppley in 1928. When Eppley decided to expand the hotel, he hired Janssen and Abbott to enlarge the lobby, adding European elegance to a Pittsburgh establishment. Additionally, Eppley responsible for the Grant Street annex, adding 600 rooms to the hotel.
As of 2009, the William Penn is owned by Omni Hotels and is more commonly known as the Omni William Penn Hotel.
Collection Scope and Content Notes
The William Penn Hotel album contains twenty-eight linen-backed photographs in chronological order bound in limb red-leather. Two photographs document the groundbreaking ceremony held on July 7, 1914. Twelve photographs document the excavation process. Fourteen photographs document the actual construction of the steel-framed hotel. The photographs in the album were taken every two weeks by R. W. Johnston Studios to show construction progress. The last photograph in the album is dated March 11, 1916. Within this collection of construction photographs are images of well-known Downtown buildings, including the Allegheny County Court House, the Carnegie Building, the Frick Building, and Kauffmann’s Department Store. Beginning in March 1916, construction of the Union Arcade Building is visible in the foreground of the nearly completed William Penn Hotel.
Gift of Michael J. Dabrishus in May 2009.
Digital reproductions of the collection are available electronically at
William Penn Hotel Construction Progress Photograph Collection, 1914-1916, AIS.2008.05, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh
No copyright restrictions.
See also Helen Clay Frick Foundation Archives, 1881-1987, AIS.2002.06, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh