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The Carnegie Museums and Library building as it appeared in 1895, the year it opened. Horse-drawn carriages used the circular drive to deliver visitors to performances in Carnegie Music Hall. The twin Venetian towers, which Andrew Carnegie disliked, calling them “donkey’s ears,” would be removed as part of the building’s 1907 expansion.
“It was a combination, as I believe, not before attempted, of library, art gallery, museum, and hall of music,” Andrew Carnegie said of his “palace of culture” in Oakland—the birthplace of today’s Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh—which on November 5, 2020, will celebrate 125 years.
It was one of Carnegie’s close advisors, William J. Holland, the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh (then the Western University of Pennsylvania) and later the director of Carnegie Museum, who suggested that Carnegie create more than a simple library, according to Robert J. Gangewere’s published account of the institution’s history. Carnegie’s dream of a cultural hub for the working class of Pittsburgh activated the largest architectural design competition held in America up to that time: 97 firms competed, and the winning group was Longfellow, Alden & Harlow. The firm’s persuasive drawing brought to life Carnegie’s vision, featuring a theater, library, art gallery, and natural history museum—the latter two housed within the wings of the library.
Just two years later, Carnegie was already talking about an addition to his palace of culture. In 1907, a colossal expansion added a hall dedicated to the museum’s growing collection of dinosaur fossils, a stunning foyer for the Music Hall, the Hall of Architecture, filled with life-size casts, and the Hall of Sculpture, modeled after the Parthenon’s inner sanctuary.
Architectural historian Margaret Henderson Floyd described Carnegie’s Pittsburgh cultural achievement this way: “The Carnegie must be experienced as a series of breathtaking surprises, each more astonishing than the last, in which the unsuspecting explorer is carried between unrelated worlds as in a time capsule.”
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