Preserving the History of G.C. Murphy

Fifth Avenue facade under construction; Mckeesport Heritage Center
Growing up it was a tradition for me to go with my grandma to G.C. Murphy’s store and even when I lived Downtown Pittsburgh during college I found myself at the Fifth Avenue location all the time but back then they were even talking about shutting it down. It made me sad because this store had so much history but it was deteriorating.
When I started to see Fifth Avenue torn to shreds for the Market Square renovation, I was curious as to what would happen with the historic buildings such as the one where Murphys was all those years. As many of you know, nobody would venture into the city at night unless you were heading out for a show in the Cultural District. Everything was closed by 6pm with the exception of a few bars. Downtown and Market Square really needed a make over.

Opposite facade of store on Forbes Ave under construction; Mckeesport Heritage Center

An overview of the store under construction. Small white building at left is where Oyster House is now; Mckeesport Heritage Center

More construction on Fifth Ave facade; Mckeesport Heritage Center

For you design nerds, you can appreciate this lettering, I blew it up so we could get a closer look; Mckeesport Heritage Center

G.C. Murphy facade in 1964, you can see that some of the original ornament was covered to accommodate this signage; Mckeesport Heritage Center
Ever wonder what they did with those big, bright red letters that was the G.C. Murphy sign? Well I got my question answered when I received a great email from STRADA explaining to me how a lot of the materials were salvaged and reused, which I really no idea! Here is some more details provided by Strada:
G.C. Murphy, now defunct, was a chain of five and dime stores founded in McKeesport in 1906. By 1976, the chain had grown to 529 stores. Our Market Square Place project is comprised of seven buildings on a block adjacent to Market Square, and three of these buildings were formerly occupied by the G.C. Murphy Store. This location, which was store number 12, opened in 1930. Strada along with Millcraft Industries led the project team’s decision to restore these structures rather than demolish them. The team proceeded to figure out how to renovate the disparate buildings as a single mixed-use complex that includes residences, retail storefronts, and a YMCA, all with facades that have been restored to their 1930s appearance. Behind these once-again shining facades, however, clever repurposing of materials and spaces sets this project apart.

Fifth Avenue Facade in 2006

These numbers speak of how much was salvaged: 93% of the overall building envelope, and 87% of the structure. But the numbers hide details of the project, such as the old G. C. Murphy signage that has come in from out of the rain. The iconic letters from the exterior of the old discount store now animate a lounge area shared by the residents.

I loved receiving this information and photographs, it’s so interesting to me to see the history of buildings and what they look like today. With all the changes to Downtown, I have to say that I do enjoy venturing there whenever I can and happy that a lot of the historic buildings and elements were preserved in this process.

For you history buffs there is a great site and book dedicated to G.C. Murphy
Photos and information were provided by STRADA Architecture and present-day photos were taken by Dennis Marsico; Historic photos are by Mckeesport Heritage Center

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Janet Weissert
    February 28, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    I have been trying to find pictures and information about the GC Murphy Store that was located in Downtoen Pittsburgh. My great aunt and I use to ride the trolley to downtown from Dormont and our first was always the GC Murphy Store where we always got a chocolate milkshake before we started shopping. I would love to get pictures of the outside of the old #12 store downtown and pictures of the lunchcounter. I still remember those times and the way i was treated there. I may have only been 12 or 13 but i was always treated as an adult. Does anyone have any photos available of the downtownGC Murphys store? Please let me now. It would really mean a lot to me. Thank you very much.

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