One of the most prominent examples of Point Park University’s commitment to architectural preservation and creative reuse is Lawrence Hall, a landmark building at the corner of the Boulevard of the Allies and Wood Street that was designed by distinguished Pittsburgh architect Benno Janssen at the turn of the last century.
Now serving as academic, living, art gallery and social space for the University, the building was originally built as the Keystone Athletic Club and later known as the Sherwyn Hotel (when it was acquired by Point Park in 1967).
Within the past decade the University has restored and renovated Lawrence Hall to include a three-story, historically appropriate stone façade with new lighting fixtures and windows, a bookstore, and configuration of street-level gathering space for students and visitors as well as an attractive entrance into the LEED Gold-certified George Rowland White Performance Center next door.
The street level of Lawrence Hall previously consisted of solid masonry walls lacking in light and character, according to preservation architect Ellis Schmidlapp, principal of Landmark Design Architects (LDA), which led the restoration. LDA has served as preservation design consultants in many projects in the Academic Village initiative, including the completed renovation of a conference room in the University Center (the former Colonial Trust), the upcoming new Pittsburgh Playhouse that will be situated between Forbes and Fourth Avenues at Wood St., and current renovations to the second floor of Lawrence Hall.
Grand Lobby Returns
In Spring 2014, LDA lead a restoration of the second floor, which was the original lobby level of the Keystone Athletic Club (retail space occupied the street-level). Previously used as a dance studio, an area to the left of the bridge entrance into Lawrence Hall (from Academic Hall) has been transformed into a grand lobby: a club-like gathering area that now features historically appropriate details and lighting while providing comfortable lounge space for students.
According to University Architect Elmer Burger, “the Lawrence Hall student lounge project is an extraordinary opportunity to bring back some of the building’s original architectural character.”
The area is a prime location for the University, he added. “So many members of the University cross the bridge between Academic and Lawrence Halls on a regular basis,” says Burger, from residents who live in the building to students, faculty and staff of their way to classrooms, offices and the Point Café. “In addition, there has always been a need for more lounge space and gathering areas on our campus.”
The new lounge area originally served as a grand entrance and lounge for the Keystone Athletic Club. “Our goal is to recreate the feel of the original space,” says Burger. Under the vaulted and arched ceiling, the original chandeliers have been restored and new wall sconces have been custom made to complete the look. Also undergoing restoration is the room’s original wainscoting, with a new wood parquet floor stained to match.
Furnishings and other finishes will include club-style chairs and an area rug, says Burger, all designed to look traditional while able to withstand the wear and tear of a student lounge.
To the right of the bridge entrance is a new multi-purpose gathering and meeting space, and a classic portal with a new barrel-vaulted ceiling now welcomes bridge pedestrians into the building.
“Point Park has been the most preservation-minded user of historic buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh,” according to architect and historian Arthur Ziegler, president of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF). “The University has made a huge investment in reusing, restoring and adapting these buildings, and has created a great deal of life in its urban neighborhood as a result.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Chris Rolinson
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University