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William Penn Hotel Construction Progress Photograph Collection, 1914-1916, AIS.2008.01
Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

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What's online

All photographs in the collection are available online. The collection is held by the Archives Service Center (ASC) at the University of Pittsburgh.

What’s in the entire collection

The William Penn Hotel album contains 28 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 to show construction progress. The last photograph in the album is dated March 11, 1916.

Within this collection of construction photographs, images of well-known buildings are also visible, most notably the Allegheny County Court House, the Carnegie Building, the Frick Building, and Kauffman’s Department Store. By March 1916, construction of the Union Arcade Building is visible in the foreground of the nearly completed hotel.

About the William Penn Hotel

The William Penn Hotel is located at William Penn Place between Oliver Street and 6th Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, and still operates as a hotel today. It was the third of four buildings built by Henry Clay Frick in Downtown (he also financed the Frick Building, the Frick Annex or the Allegheny Building, and the Union Arcade). The combination of these three buildings would overshadow rival Andrew Carnegie’s headquarters in the Carnegie Building on Fifth Avenue.

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 and rising costs made the final figures increase to $6 million. There were at least three worker strikes during the construction of this hotel.

Construction on the William Penn Hotel started in the summer of 1914, and took nearly two years to complete. It was designed by Janssen and Abbott while James L. Stuart served as the constructing engineer. When the William Penn Hotel opened for guests on March 10, 1916, it was twenty-two stories tall and featured 1,000 rooms with private bath and a telephone in each room. In addition, a ballroom and a bakery were available on-site. The hotel boasted a staff of approximately 900 workers.

In 1928, the hotel was sold to Eugene Eppley. 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 built the Grant Street annex, which added 600 rooms to the hotel.

Today the hotel is owned by Omni Hotels and is known as the Omni William Penn Hotel.

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