9.3.11

Motors Square Garden

Motors Square Garden - East Liberty

Current Modern Interior
The other day my car was broken into and I had to go to AAA to get some documents replaced.  The AAA office that I went to was in Motors Square Garden.  I have often wondered what this huge domed building was used for in the past and why it was originally built.  I have heard several stories.  I have heard that it was once a boxing arena, a car lot, a mall, and a public market.  In it's current state it serves as the headquarters for AAA and also for the UPMC School of Nursing.  Its interior was remodeled and restructured from its original state. 


I did a little digging and found some old historical photographs and also a lot of history about the building.  It turns out that it served originally as a public market, then went on to host the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team and also functioned as a professional boxing arena. It also was used as a new car show place, and later was converted into a shopping mall.


Aerial View of East Liberty - Circa 1950

Early in the twentieth century East Liberty was Pittsburgh’s motor vehicle center. A dozen automobile and parts dealers lined Baum Boulevard and Henry Ford built an assembly plant in a building that still stands today at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Morewood Avenue. In 1913 William Larimer Mellon, the head of Gulf Oil, established one of the first drive-in gas stations at the intersection of Saint Clair Street and Baum Boulevard. In the early 1960s the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh invested $68 million into a project that razed 1500 old homes, constructed new apartment and townhouse complexes, and built a suburban shopping mall in the center of the 500-acre community in the heart of East Liberty. In the right center of the photograph is the Liberty Market (better known today as Motor Square Garden), a ninetieth century, 80,000 square-foot domed indoor market where the first automobile show was held in 1914. Directly across the street to its right is the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of Penn Avenue and Highland Avenue. The church was completed in 1935 and dedicated on May 12 of that same year.
Motors Square Garden- 1937
 
Financed by the Mellon family of Pittsburgh, the building was built from 1898 to 1900 as a city market—after one of their real estate subdivisions failed to sell enough houses—calling it East Liberty Market House. The Boston, Massachusetts architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns designed the building. Motor Square Garden soon failed as a retail space, but in 1915 the new Pittsburgh Automobile Association bought it as a site for its auto shows. In the 1920s, it came into use as a sports venue, especially for boxing, and was used intermittently as the home court of the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team until the opening of Pitt Pavilion inside Pitt Stadium in 1925. By the 1940s it was used as a new car dealership.
In 1988, AAA bought the property. Landmarks Design Associates of Pittsburgh redesigned it as an upscale shopping mall. The retail mall failed, but AAA expanded to occupy the building, along with a tenant, the UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing.



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