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Parking Lot Series: Arthur Rothstein “Steel City” Photograph

The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is located at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers, and the Ohio in the 1800s was commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” The River flows west to Illinois where it meets the Mississippi River and was a nautical route for land settlers heading in that direction.

This angled parking lot in Pittsburgh was once used as a gathering spot for cargo and passengers that boarded steam ships that traveled through the City. Earlier photos taken of this area show it filled with goods and supplies waiting to loaded on steamships in the background.

At some point in time during the twenties or thirties, it became a parking lot, and this view courtesy of the Library of Congress was taken of it in 1938 by Arthur Rothstein. The noted photographer was working for the Farm Security Administration at the time, photo documenting the trying times of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and how both affected the nation and citizens.

Note the Iron City Beer sign on the hill in the distance – Pittsburgh has been known as the “Steel City” since the late-1930s, but was named the “Iron City” in earlier times. Andrew Carnegie and his business partners introduced the Bessemer steel-making process to the City in the late-1800s and its more durable metal that eventually led to the name change.

Tell us what you find of interest in the expandable parking lot photograph below.

18 responses to “Parking Lot Series: Arthur Rothstein “Steel City” Photograph

    • The top down roadster in the 3rd row looking at us must’ve agreed or maybe it was permanently down because of hard times… Oh, and down by the river edge/shore facing away appears to be a mid ’30s Packard w/ its’ uniquely shaped luggage rack,,, that “Shaped Top Line” was used by Packard everywhere on its’ cars…grilles (new and old), hoods , headlamps radiators and their surrounds ,and sheids… anywhere the designers could engineer. Stretched, pulled, compressed, both vertically and horizontally, it was used as a design element until the Marques sad demise in the late ’50s.

  1. Considering the poor economy at the time, it is surprising there are not more 1920’s vintage autos represented. Looks like most are mid 30’s. I don’t see a 38 Ford grill, but believe a few 37’s of various makes are visible and given when the photo was taken are pretty new vehicles.

  2. I think Arthur Rothstein was doing much more than just taking a picture of a parking lot. The sign painted on the building in the upper left appears to be for the “General Offices of the Pittsburgh Association For The Improvement Of The Poor”. That little building overlooking a sea of vehicles is a moving analogy about the inequalities the poor suffered during the Great Depression.

  3. The newest Ford that I can spot is a couple of 1937’s. Dave spotted a ’38 Plymouth so I’d say the photo was most likely circa 1938.

  4. It appears to me that the photo was taken in 1937, as the newest cars pictured are ’37 models. (’37 Chevy in row 1, 37 Dodge in row 2, and ’37 Ford in row three. Also, there’s a beautiful ’33 or ’34 Ford roadster 2 cars to the left of the ’37 Ford.)

    My best guess is that the photo was shot from the walkway of the 6th Street Bridge (now the Roberto Clemente Bridge), which spans the Allegheny, looking toward the confluence at the Point. If I’m correct, that puts the Iron City Beer sign on Mt. Washington, overlooking downtown. In terms of today’s landmarks, this lot would be across the Allegheny from PNC Park, home of the Pirates.

    • I think you’re right about the location the photo was taken. That is the sign on Mount Washington near the Duquesne Incline. It’s currently owned by Lamar Advertising (the last I heard, it had a vinyl Sprint ad plastered across it). In its early years, it advertised Iron City Beer, Clark’s Teaberry Gum, and WTAE-TV. From 1967-1992, it was an Alcoa sign, then it was Miles Laboratories until 1995, when Miles’ parent company Bayer advertised on the sign until 2014.

  5. One thing I notice is that the front license plates are all offset to one side or the other (presumably to avoid masking airflow into the engine cowling). It caught my attention because the location alternates on the three cars on the left end of the first row. I’m sure I must have seen photographs where that was visible, but this is the first time it’s really stood out to me.

  6. You can faintly see the bridge (no longer there) crossing the Mon at the Point. It looks like all those cars are ready to slide into the river…….

  7. The car in row three with the top down is a 1933 Chevrolet roadster. The trumpet horn, short headlight bars are all Chevrolet features. A photo in last Sunday’s Providence Journal by coincidence shows a line up of 1933 Chevrolet roadsters owned by the Providence Police Department.

  8. That little Chevy with the top down in the third row appears to have the best finish of the cars in the picture. It looks like the owner did a lot of polishing or perhaps it’s a new paint job.

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