My foggy morning photographs do not do justice to this late Victorian office building in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Known as "Motor Square Garden," it is a historic landmark which played an important role in the fate of not only Rock Springs Park but also Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA.
After spending thousands of dollars upgrading Rock Springs Park in the late 1920s, owner C.C. Macdonald found himself in severe financial straits following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He was desperate to find someone to lease the park as he was left penniless when the banks closed. When he could not find a lessee, he earned extra money working in the off-season at the Motor Square convention center in Pittsburgh. (See page 53 of Images of America: Rock Springs Park for a quote about this period from son R.Z. Macdonald.)
The construction of Motor Square Garden was financed by the Mellon family of Pittsburgh, it was built from 1898 to 1900 as a city market—after one of their real estate subdivisions failed to sell enough houses. Richard B. Mellon learned of C.C. Macdonald’s impressive amusement park experience and asked him to help improve Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA, which he owned at the time. In order to diversify, Macdonald accepted Mellon’s offer and spent four years dividing his time between the sister parks. Eventually he would take on Idlewild fulltime and leave Rock Springs Park in the hands of his daughter Virginia and her husband, Bob.
In the 1920s, Motor Square Garden was used as a sports venue, especially for boxing, and was used intermittently as the home court of the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team.
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.
Interior dome (from Landmarks Design Associates)
Interior commercial space (from Landmarks Design Associates)
FACT: The first ever broadcast of a sporting event occurred on April 11, 1921 at Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden when a 10-round, no decision fight between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee aired on KDKA.