Nearly 20,000 people can pack the Consol Energy Center for events today, but more than 60 years ago, thousands jammed the Hunt Armory in Shadyside to listen to President Harry Truman.
“There was so many events, this was basically the public large gathering place for so many historic events and recreational and cultural events with the city, not unlike the Syria Mosque and the arena itself,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny County).
The Hunt Armory was constructed between 1911 and 1919. The chief architect Joseph Kuntz also designed at least 17 other armories in Pennsylvania and the buildings that are now occupied by the Andy Warhol Museum and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
It was named after Capt. Alfred Hunt, a member of the National Guard and one of the founders of ALCOA. Later it hosted presidential speakers and candidates and became Pittsburgh's main auditorium until the Civic Arena was built in 1961.
The armory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, but Ferlo has nominated it for designation as a historical landmark for added protection.
The armory is owned by the state, and Ferlo said he feels urgency for the armory to be declared a historic landmark because the Corbett administration is divesting itself of state property, including 10 to 12 armories around the state.
He said the armory is not in danger as of now, but he wants to protect it from the threat of demolition.
“I’m very concerned that we give it the historic protections, not only the current secretary of the interior guidelines at the federal level but more importantly the strength of the historic designation ordinance of city government itself,” Ferlo said.
Ferlo said he wants to maintain the armory for future events despite some of the challenges that might come with large amounts of people occupying it, lack of parking being in the forefront.
“If you look inside the building, the way it was designed, similar to a lot of the structural material that was on Forbes Field, the way in which it was constructed one could really go wild with ideas from a farmer’s market to a cultural venue, I mean really, it’s just such a magnificent space,” Ferlo said.
Ferlo said he hopes to preserve and protect the armory and give it a "next-generation life."
The city’s Historical Review Commission will vote on the nominate at its Oct. 2 meeting.