Allegheny County Courthouse

strong>The Allegheny County Courthouse is a government building of Allegheny County located in the county seat, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Previous Courthouses
Pittsburgh's original courthouse, first occupied in 1794, was a wooden structure located next to the market place. Land for a new courthouse was purchased in April, 1834. This was a tract of land on the corner of Fourth and Grant Streets, on Grant's Hill. Construction took place between 1836 and 1840. This court house was built with polished gray sandstone, quarried at Coal Hill (present-day Mount Washington), opposite Ferry Street. The building was designed by John Chislett. The Greek Revival design included a domed cupola housing a rotunda 60 feet (18 m) in diameter and 80 feet (24 m) high. The building was completed in 1841. Due to corrosion caused by coal smoke, the building deteriorated: the dressed surface of the facade dropped off, some of the cornices near the roof began to fall, and the building had a scaly appearance. Even in its deteriorated state, it was a handsome structure. On May 7, 1882, a fire broke out and ruined the building. Subsequently, it was demolished. The third, and present, courthouse was erected on the same spot.

The Current Allegheny County Courthouse
Following the destruction of the second courthouse, Allegheny County Commissioners decided to hold a competition to design a replacement. The winner of the competition was Boston architect H.H. Richardson and construction of the buildings was begun by the Norcross Brothers, Richardson's construction firm of choice, in 1884. The jail portion of the complex was completed in 1886, the year of Richardson's death and the entire court house was finished in 1886 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Richardson's successor firm.

The design of the main building, which Richardson considered to be his finest, was innovative in that the building is built around an interior courtyard, thus allowing natural light and fresh air to reach most of the building. The courtyard is surrounded by four stories in three sides. A tower rises five stories from the courtyard's open side. As was usually the case with Richardson's buildings, the roof is steep with dormers placed at all the corners.

The prison is connected to the main building by the " Bridge of Tears". The design was based on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The entire complex was built of large rusticated blocks of granite, with the entrance ways and windows topped with wide arches. This gives the building a heavy, stable and dignified appearance.

In the 1900s the street level in front of the building was lowered as part of a general re-grading of Pittsburgh. Richardson had anticipated this and courses of finished masonry had been buried underground, now to be revealed. Unfortunately this left the ceremonial entrance a full story above the street. A grand stairway was built, but removed during street widening in the 1930s- the low arched doorways were extended downwards to street level, with the result that the visitor is not greeted by the grand entrance hall Richardson planned, but by the low corridors which were once the basement. The design of the Allegheny County Courthouse has influenced buildings in many cities across America, such as Minneapolis City Hall and the Altgeld Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects asked Harris Interactive to survey 2,000 people, who were shown 247 photographs of buildings and other structures in different categories chosen by 2,500 architects. The Allegheny County Courthouse was ranked 35th overall on the list and above every other courthouse in the nation except the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fictional Portrayals
The structure has been featured in several big-budget films including:

  • Boys on the Side
  • Desperate Measures
  • Striking Distance
  • Hoffa


105 photos

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
  • Nadezhda Nikolova
    Nadezhda Nikolova updated
    about 6 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via
  • Иван Барашов
    Иван Барашов updated a media
    about 7 years ago via iPhone