Building History

1221-25 Penn Avenue Building History

At the turn of the 20th century, the parcels at 1221-25 Penn Avenue were occupied by a row of 2 ½-story, frame, mixed use buildings. City directories indicate they were rented by families such as that of Joshua Lowitz who ran a grocery store at 1221 Penn and lived above the store.

The Marietta Chair Company, founded at the close of the Civil War in Marietta, Ohio, opened a branch in Pittsburgh in 1882. Though specializing in chairs, the company manufactured a full line of household furniture. Initially located downtown, the company moved its warehouse to 1217 Liberty Avenue in 1904. After 13 years at that location the company decided to move one block north to Penn Avenue. They engaged local architect Charles Bickel to design the new showroom and warehouse. An accomplished architect, Bickel designed many sturdy and substantial buildings around Pittsburgh including the Terminal buildings on East Carson Street, the South Side Market House, Kaufmann’s Department store, and the Ewart building at 925 Liberty Avenue. In late March 1917, James L. Stuart purchased the two parcels at 1221-25 Penn Avenue on behalf of Marietta Chair. Two months later, on May 31, 1917, a building permit was issued. James L. Stuart, constructing engineers, advertised in the 1917 Pittsburgh city directory that among the buildings they were constructing was the “Marietta Chair Co. Loft Building.” Marietta Chair remained at this location for nearly 20 years. In September 1936 they succumbed to the Depression and went into receivership. The building is listed in the 1937 city directory as “Vacant.”

In 1939, the building was purchased by Scholnick, Inc., a restaurant equipment supply company that had been in business in Pittsburgh since 1915. In the 1940s, Scholnick advertised their wares—hotel and restaurant gas broilers, heavy duty ranges, meat cases and soda fountains– in the Pittsburgh Press, inviting the public to “See at 1221 Penn Ave.” In the mid-1950s Scholnick apparently shifted their business from restaurant equipment and supplies to wholesale houses wares. Scholnick remained in the building until the mid-1970s when it was taken over by American Equipment Co.

In 2012, the Senator John Heinz History Center purchased the building. Following two years of updating the space to meet Smithsonian Institution-quality standards for lighting, temperature, humidity, pest control, and security, the History Center opened the building to the public in the fall of 2014.