Shall Oakland Be the City's Trade Center?
Remarkable Expansion of Business and Building of Carnegie Technical School, with Additions to the Institute, Provoke Prophecies of a Metamorphosis within the Next Decade--Views of Business Men There
From The Pittsburg Leader, 23 October 1904.
The future of Oakland is painted in the brightest colors by leaders in the business world of that district and by the director of the big Carnegie technical school that will soon be a reality there. It is confidently predicted that when it and the enlarged institute are complete two or three years hence a wondrous change will have taken place in the entire Oakland section, both in a commercial and a residential sense.
It developed a few days ago that there is a large hotel to be erected at Forbes Street and McKee Place, to cost $400,000. A square below, adjacent to St. Peter's Episcopal church, the Masonic fraternity recently purchased a site for a magnificent temple. These fine improvements, together with the stately Iroquois and the Oakland apartments, will give to Oakland a decidedly distinguished air. This will be increased to a truly metropolitan character when the magnificent Carnegie institute and the technical school are completed.
A week or so ago, it will be recalled, Director Arthur A. Hamerschlag, of the technical institution, delivered an address before the Oakland board of trade at its monthly meeting, telling what the future had in store for Oakland. In speaking to a Sunday "Leader" reporter he said that in his estimation Oakland is bound to become the institutional center of Pittsburg, a distinction that will be conferred by reason of the existence of the big technical school. He points out that as Oakland is the geographical center of the city it is admirably situated for the growth of retail and semi-wholesale trade, as delivery wagons can easily reach nearly all parts of the city in a short time. Mr. Hamerschlag believes that the growth will be greatest in the retail store, hotel, apartment house and residence lines. The school will have about three or four thousand students and a very large faculty, and as most of the army will naturally prefer to live near the building, the population will be swelled considerably. The director says most of the students will be from this locality. In addition he points out that the enlarged Carnegie institute, with its museum, art gallery, library and lecture rooms will draw thousands of people who will prefer to live near it so as to be in a position to take advantage of its manifold facilities for learning and pleasure. Altogether Mr. Hamerschlag believes it likely that fully 6,000 people will be added to the Oakland and Bellefield population after the school and institute are opened. The particularly advantageous position of Oakland as to traction facilities was mentioned by the speaker. There are nearly a score of street car lines passing through it which enable one to reach practically every part of the city, including the South Side. Oakland is only twelve minutes' ride from the downtown and 15 from East Liberty. The director believes, however, that in the near future a subway will be constructed, affording Oakland a direct, quick transit line to the downtown section.
He compared Pittsburg to New York and other cities and stated that Oakland was situated much like certain districts in other cities which had grown into important business centers. Oakland, said he, should come in for a good measure of prosperity just as these districts have enjoyed. He believes the extensive Schenley holdings in Oakland will be sold as occasion demands and many acres will be thrown open to home builders.
Mr. Hamerschlag also alluded to the social influence the numerous educators would have. So many talented men living in any neighborhood, men of education and discernment, would wield at least a quiet influence in molding and refining public thoughts. He also spoke of the importance of doing away with the ore dust nuisance from the mills along Second Avenue as this is a detriment to the progress of Oakland. He believes, however, that it will be solved, as there is an order of court relating to its abatement.
Leading business men and property owners in Oakland agree with the talented, energetic head of the big Carnegie school and tell why they believe the district wherein they have settled is bound to enjoy a future of great prosperity. James J. Flannery, one of the largest property owners in the district, and the pioneer in starting a better class of business houses there, stated that Oakland is to be an important business center such as East Liberty. It is already assuming such proportions.
Business artery shifts.
"The business artery has been shifted from Fifth Avenue to Forbes Street," said he. "People thought Fifth Avenue would remain the chief business street in Oakland, but they are mistaken. I believed business would expand out Forbes Street when I built the Iroquois apartment house. After that was up a new building was erected across the street, and there are several projects for other structures between the Iroquois and Craft Avenue. In ten years Forbes Street, from Bouquet Street to Craft Avenue, will be solidly lined with business houses."
Fifth Avenue, however, seems to have lost nothing by Forbes Street's business expansion, and the people on that thoroughfare are confident that the growth of the two streets will be correspondingly rapid.
Mr. Flannery spoke of the wonderful growth of Pittsburg, how business has pushed beyond the court house and is slowly, but surely, approaching Soho."
"In considering the future of Oakland," he resumed, "there is one important thing people forget. Hundreds of people drive into the city every week to buy goods of one kind or another for they do not care to use the street cars unless they can help it. The only avenue for driving in town is now being ruined. Grant Boulevard has been given over to trolley magnates, so there is not a single street for carriages from Oakland to the business end of the city. Nobody wants to drive a fine team and equipage over streets congested with traffic. The result will be that these people will come to Oakland to purchase. In the future department stores will loom up and emporiums of all kinds multiply. The movement has but just begun. When I built the Iroquois apartments and set aside room for a block of stores people said I was a fit subject for a lunatic asylum. But none of those stores has been empty since they were first rented. It requires somebody to start the ball rolling. In Toledo a big business section was recently built up a couple of miles from the downtown section in just this very way. An enterprising man erected a large building like mine and a colony grew around him. People said he was crazy just as they said I ought to be caged up, but this Toledo man made money by the barrel. As for myself, my most sanguine expectations regarding the Iroquois have been fulfilled."
And no one could doubt from Mr. Flannery's complacent smile that he was satisfied as to the returns on his somewhat daring investment in a great residence quarter. He has immense investments in Oakland, which is one of the best guarantees of his faith in its future. Three years ago he paid $125,000 for the Iroquois site, which was the W. Dewees Wood place. It measures 220 feet on Forbes Street by 355 on Atwood Street and Meyran Avenue. The big apartment hotel cost about $350,000, so that Mr. Flannery's investment was approximately $485,000. To-day frontage on Forbes Street is worth $1,000 a foot. When the site was bought the Forbes Street front sold at $300 a foot, and the Atwood and Meyran at $100. Thus Mr. Flannery's property has advanced $700 a foot on Forbes Street alone. This part of his holdings is now worth $154,000, which with the building itself, represents $504,000. Adding the balance of the property the total value is about $700,000. These figures were gotten from a prominent real estate dealer of Oakland. Mr. Flannery has other extensive property interests in Oakland also. He spoke of the many street car lines passing through Oakland and the fact that it is only twelve minutes from the heart of the city.
"It is a good thing for any district to have from five to ten million dollars spent on it," he said; "that is what the school and institute will cost. Then there will be four thousand students and their families to live here. I tell you the people do not appreciate what the building of these institutions mean. Andrew Carnegie has practically said that he will give unstintedly to the new school just as its growth justifies. I have no doubt it will be the greatest polytechnic school in the world. Hamerschlag is just the right man to push it through. Carnegie made no mistake when he selected him."
C. H. Chance, president of the Oakland board of trade and a leading real estate dealer in that district, predicts that property values will double there in five years.
"Forbes street frontage now brings $1,300 in the neighborhood of Atwood street," said he. "Three years ago it went begging at $300. Eighteen months ago a lot was sold on the southeast corner of Forbes and Atwood streets, 50 x 90 feet, for $50,000. Property is becoming too valuable for residences along Forbes street. In a few years there will be stores all the way from Atwood street to Craft avenue. Below Forbes, and, in fact, off the main thoroughfares leading east and west, homes will continue to be built. This will be a great hotel and apartment house district. Nineteen lines of street cars pass through Oakland, and it is equidistant from downtown and East Liberty."
Mr. Chance spoke of the commercial advantages of Oakland. He said:
"We are convenient to two freight stations, the Shadyside depot of the Pennsylvania and the Junction railroad. Both these are only a few minutes' drive from the heart of Oakland. Being in the geographical center of the city, Oakland is exceptionally well situated for retail trade and delivery. More places in various parts of the city can be quickly reached from Oakland than any other part of Pittsburg."
Big Building Projects.
It is Mr. Chance's belief that the Memorial hall of the Grand Army, permission to erect which was given by the county courts, will grace the front of the old Charles J. Clark property now owned by Murry Verner. The rear part of this fine plot is occupied by the Eighteenth regiment, N. G. P., the Clark residence being used as an armory. Across the street the Masonic hall will stand on a plot fronting 285 feet on Forbes street and 100 feet on Fifth avenue.
The hotel to be built at Forbes and McKee place is a project of John Dimling, who is one of the largest property holders in Oakland. The building is to be of the apartment order and ten stories in height. The apartments will not be of the expensive order, for the hotel is to accommodate persons who do not care to pay the large prices at a first-class hotel. At the same time it will be of fine grade and in thorough keeping with the best district in Oakland. Mr. Dimling holds 206 feet on Forbes and 200 feet on Halket with an L 140 feet by 600 extending back of his big row of brick dwellings on Halket street. Stock is now being taken in the project.
Mr. Chance referred to the Wilmot street bridge now in course of erection, which will add to the desirability of Oakland as a residence section, as it will give ready access to Schenley park. It may be mentioned that when in the house contracting business Mr. Chance built the dwellings in Oakland square in 1885, the first big batch to be put up in that district. He has built 250 houses for E. M. O'Neill in the Oakland section. Mr. O'Neill is one of the large property owners there. Mr. Chance himself has large investments there also.
Speaking of the excellent work being done by the Oakland board of trade, he voiced the prediction that in the future every ward of the city will have one and send delegates to a great central body. The local boards of trade already organized, such as the Oakland, Homewood and Hilltop are active and are composed of discerning business men. Such a system extended all over the city would work great good, the speaker added.
James J. Booth, select councilman from the big Fourteenth ward, and a property owner in Oakland, says the growth of that section will be very much greater in the next five years than it has been the last five. Property values will double within the next five hears, he says. In 1899 property on Forbes street could have been bought for $150 a foot; now it is worth $1,000; that is, in the neighborhood of Atwood street. Mr. Booth says that Oakland will be built up with smaller residences and apartment houses as men of wealth who wish fine places will be forced to vacate.
"This ore dust is destroying everything too," resumed the councilman. "We can't sell if we want to. Why, I was offered more for my property ten years ago than I was offered this year. The ore dust has my flowers and trees. Before we had this ore and this smoke from the Junction railroad we had hundreds of fine oak trees hereabouts. Now we have none."
Mr. Booth is chairman of the ore dust committee of the board of trade. He says that this committee at its next meeting will discuss the abatement of the ore dust and force it, as the members believe the Jones & Laughlin company have had ample time tp put in the new new appliances promised to the court when the order was made abating the nuisance. The Junction road will also come in for a hauling over the coals, as its charter expressly states fuel must be used in the engines within the city limits that will not give forth obnoxious smoke.
Mr. Booth dwelt on the growth of retail trade that the future holds for Oakland. He said the new technical school and institute will require scores of homes to be built and quicken business in Oakland. The Oakland savings and trust company is an illustration of the business expansion of the district. There are now $400,000 on deposit, a remarkable showing for a bank scarcely a half decade old.
M. Trabert, proprietor of the Imperial hotel, Fifth avenue, Oakland spoke of the great good the foundation of the new school and institute would do for Oakland. He said the latter would become like East Liberty, but not the downtown. Oakland will never be a wholesale district, as there are no railroads through the heart of its business center. In connection with the future of Oakland much speculation is indulged in as to the disposition H. C. Frick intends making of the property he holds opposite the Hotel Schenley and the Carnegie institute. This is one of the finest tracts of land in the Oakland section.