Pittsburgh Center for the Arts was founded in 1945 by a group of artists in an entrepreneurial partnership with civic leaders. The opening of the Center was intrinsically linked to the city’s first Renaissance and marked the coming of age of the artistic heart of industrial Pittsburgh. Originally named as the Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh, the Center was organized to take possession of the mansion of industrialist Charles D. Marshall “to provide a public place where the people of Pittsburgh could enjoy participating in the arts.” The Marshall home, erected in 1911 in the East End of Pittsburgh, was donated to the City and leased to the Center for $1 per year. In 1946, the size of the Center’s facilities doubled when the next-door mansion of another Pittsburgh industrialist, A.M. Scaife, was also donated to the City and leased to the Center⎯for the same $1. At the same time, the land surrounding the mansions was designated by the City as Mellon Park.
The organization was run for decades by thousands of artist-volunteers who hosted exhibitions and performances, sold art, and provided art classes for the public. Originally, the principal purpose of the Center was to provide a home for the various and diverse Pittsburgh artist guilds. By the late 1960s, volunteers could not keep abreast of an increasingly complex artistic and organizational environment. To tame what a local art critic described as “an octopus without a head,” the Center hired its first full-time executive director in 1968 and began the process of firmly establishing its identity as a visual arts organization committed to exhibiting the work of Pittsburgh artists and providing art education to the community.
In 1980, the Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh became the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. During the 1980s the governing board of the Center expanded to include all elements of the Center’s diverse community. A professional, full-time staff were hired, most significantly directors of exhibitions and education. In 1990 the Center completed an extensive capital renovation project doubling the exhibition space and adding much needed studio classroom space. Among the most significant parts of the expansion was a new space, Simmons Hall, to accommodate performances, symposia, and lectures.
The late 1990s were marked with ambitious programs for the Center, but also financial difficulty. Pittsburgh Filmmakers helped the Center with a financial turnaround in 2004 and 2005. Thanks to the tremendous outpouring of community and foundation support, the Center continued to thrived and a merger with Pittsburgh Filmmakers was completed in early 2006.
The evolution of the Center’s programs and campus has continued since the merger. The Annie Seamans Media Arts Lab was dedicated in 2006. In 2008, the Mr. and Mrs. Ira H. Gordon Raku Pavilion was erected and extended the ceramics studio outside in the David Caplan Ceramics Court. In 2009, one of PF/PCA’s partners, Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society transformed Simmons Hall into an acoustically sound listening room to present concerts.
For the industrialists in the early 1900s, a major living area in these years was Pittsburgh’s East End, where a building boom was underway. They commissioned a parade of mansions along Fifth Avenue to what became known as “Millionaires Row” for some of the wealthiest and most celebrated families of the town, such as the Mellons, the Benedums and the Fricks.
In 1909, one of the most impressive mansions was the 65-room Richard Beatty Mellon House on 11 acres bordering Fifth and Shady Avenues and Beechwood Boulevard or what is now known as Mellon Park. Richard Beatty Mellon and his wife Jennie King Mellon raised two children, Sarah Cordelia King Mellon and Richard King Mellon. Beside the very large mansion were a garage and a carriage house, which housed servants on the second floor. The carriage house was donated to the city and is now the Phipps Garden Center. The 65-room mansion was torn down in 1941.
There was another earlier Tudor revival mansion on the Mellon Estate. Constructed in 1904, it was given as a wedding gift in 1927 to R.B.’s daughter, Sarah, who married Alan Magee Scaife, a fifth generation industrialist and Mellon National Bank Director. In February 1946, the Scaifes donated their home and property to the city. This mansion is now the Scaife Building and houses art classes for the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Next-door to the Mellon Estate on the corner of Fifth and Shady Avenues, Charles D. Marshall, president and co-owner of the McClintic-Marshall Construction Company, had built his mansion. Completed in 1912, the Marshall mansion was an impressive, formal, 17th century Carolean-inspired building. In 1943, Charles Marshall donated his house at 6300 Fifth Avenue to the city. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, originally named The Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh, held its first organizational meeting November 27, 1944, in the Marshall mansion. On March 17, 1945, almost 1,000 Pittsburghers gathered at the opening night ceremonies, headed by Mayor Cornelius Sciully, J. Bailey Ellis, who was named chairman of the Center, and Mrs. Charles D. Marshall, who publicly turned the key to her home over to the city.