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O'Reilly Theater: Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Timeline

Sunday, December 05, 1999

1979: The Allegheny Conference report, "Penn-Liberty Urban Design Study," recommends the creation of a Performing Arts District and Convention Center/Visitors District within an 14-square-block area of Downtown.

Summer 1980: The Allegheny Conference hires Ernest Hutton to draw up a master plan for the proposed Performing Arts/Visitors District, with funding from the Howard Heinz Endowment.

1981: The David L. Lawrence Convention Center opens.

April 1983: Economics Research Associates and Brannigan-Lorelli Associates conduct a feasibility study for a performing arts district. The study concludes that the city's performing arts companies need additional space and that a strong local market exists for touring Broadway shows. The study gives top priority to the renovation of the Stanley Theatre for use by the Pittsburgh Opera, the Pittsburgh Ballet, the Civic Light Opera and for the presentation of Broadway musicals on tour.

April 1983: Henry John Heinz II (Jack Heinz) meets with Mayor Richard Caliguiri, right, and outlines the proposal for creation of a Cultural District, beginning with acquisition of the Stanley Theatre and development of two office towers.

June 1983: Paul R. Jenkins, president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, offers an initial $1 million program-related loan for acquisition of the Stanley Theatre and adjacent properties.

August 1983:<Robert Buckley, chairman and CEO of Allegheny International and chairman of the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, agrees that Allegheny International will become the lead tenant in the proposed office tower.

Robert Dickey III, retired president of Dravo Corp., agrees to become chairman of the Pittsburgh Trust for Cultural Resources.

Carol Brown, director of Parks and the Bureau of Cultural Programs of Allegheny County, is named to the founding board.

Nov. 18, 1983: Robert Dickey announces the establishment of the Pittsburgh Trust for Cultural Resources; the project to create a Cultural District; the acquisition of the Stanley Theatre, with plans to renovate it for the use of resident companies and touring shows; and the development of a new headquarters building for Allegheny International.

Feb. 1984: First meeting of the Cultural Trust board.

March 31, 1984: The federal government approves an Urban Development Action Grant of $17 million to the city. Half the funds are earmarked for renovation of the Stanley Theatre; the other half for the purchase of air rights over properties adjacent to the theater, so that the office tower can be built..

June 1984: The Public Auditorium Authority approves a $7.5 million bond issue for the Stanley Theatre project. The same month, the Trust receives forgiveness of the $1 million loan from the Benedum Foundation, plus $4 million as a naming gift.

Restoration and construction begin on the Stanley Theatre (to be renamed The Benedum Center).

1985: Allegheny International withdraws from the office tower project. Jack Tankersley, head of Consolidated Natural Gas Co., agrees that CNG will step in as the anchor tenant of the office tower. Plans for a second office tower are shelved.

Jan. 6, 1986: Carol Brown becomes president of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Sept. 25, 1987: Beginning of a four-day grand opening festival at The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.

November 1987: Fifty-one turn-of-the-century loft buildings within the Cultural District are designated as local and federal historic landmarks. A grant from the Howard Heinz Endowment enables the Trust and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh to begin a facade restoration program.

Late 1987: The city commits $3.4 million to the Cultural District for street improvements and streetscaping.

Oct. 1988:The Trust options the Fulton Theater (originally the Gayety), a vaudeville house that had been a combination movie theater and concert venue, and leases it at no rent to Pittsburgh Filmmakers, a nonprofit exhibitor of independent and foreign-language films.

1989: The Trust purchases the Fulton Theater.

1990: The Trust begins a $2.2 million renovation of the Fulton Theater to accommodate live performing arts productions.

The Trust commissions a comprehensive plan for the Cultural District. The plan calls for the Trust to "get rid of noxious uses in the District, make it visually attractive, make it a great place to be, create more arts and entertainment attractions to increase the critical mass of people and activities."

The Trust purchases the Art Cinema (originally the Avenue Theater) with funds from the Howard Heinz Endowment and renovates it with funds from the Buhl Foundation. The Trust enters into an agreement with the Port Authority of Pittsburgh to lease the upper floors of the former Max Azen Co. building, now used at ground level and below for the Wood Street subway station, with the intention of creating a new gallery space.

1991: The Fulton Theater re-opens as a venue for live performances.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation commits $5 million to the Trust for use in land acquisition within the Cultural District.

1992: Wood Street Galleries, one of Downtown's first nonprofit visual art spaces, opens.

The Trust purchases a property at the corner of Seventh and Penn and razes the building (formerly used as a sex shop), in order to use the lot for long-term installations of public sculpture.

The Trust completes the first phases of the streetscape program: installing brick sidewalks and intersections and granite curbs and plant-ing Bradford pear trees.

The Trust selects Michael Graves, left, to design a new theater in the District.

1993: Eighth Street Block Property Acquisition Program begins with funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Opening of shared office space at the Wood Street Galleries, serving small arts organizations and artists.

1994: Artist Richard Hans executes a trompe l'oeil mural on the subject of Pittsburgh Industry on the facade of the Fulton Theater.

Takamasa Kuniyasu's Season in Spiral is installed at Seventh and Penn.

The Trust, in collaboration with representatives of the city and county, selects artist Ann Hamilton and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to design Allegheny Riverfront Park.

The Mellon Foundation commits another $2 million to the Trust for District land acquisition.

1995: Opening of the Harris Theater (formerly the Art Cinema), redesigned by the award-winning, Pennsylvania-based architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

The Fulton Theater is renamed the Byham in honor of a major gift from William C. and Carolyn M. Byham.

1996: The Trust commissions artist/designer Robert Wilson and architect Richard Gluckman to propose a comprehensive lighting program for the District.

1997: The Trust completes a campaign for capital projects in the District.

Groundbreaking for the O'Reilly Theater, future home of Pittsburgh Public Theater, designed by architect Graves.

The Trust commissions artist Louise Bourgeois, landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley, and Graves to design Agnes R. Katz Plaza, the central open space of the Cultural District.

1998: Gov. Tom Ridge, left, pledges an additional $3.5 million for renovations of the Byham Theater and $1.4 million for completion of the upper level of Allegheny Riverfront Park.

1999: Installation of Palazzo Nudo by Alexandr Brodsky at the Seventh and Penn public-art site.

Completion of Agnes R. Katz Plaza.

Opening of the O'Reilly Theater, new home of Pittsburgh Public Theater, with the world premiere of August Wilson's "King Hedley II."

Completion of Phase III of renovations and reopening of Byham Theater with significant improvements to its backstage facilities and physical plant.

Source: Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (

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