Location: Motor Square Garden, currently serving as a AAA branch and the AAA regional headquarters
Featured guests: Jim Garrity, director of public affairs at AAA East Central
3 things that surprised me:
1. The building wasn’t named Motor Square Garden from the start. It opened as the East Liberty Market in 1900 and sold produce and meat. The market wasn’t a success and in 1915, the Pittsburgh Automotive Association purchased the building, renamed it Motor Square Garden, and transformed it into a venue to host auto shows.
2. Jim explained that throughout the 1900s, Motor Square Garden hosted all sorts of events and activities: prize fights, Pitt basketball games, dog shows, roller skating, food shows, wrestling matches, beer halls, poultry exhibitions, and a Louis Armstrong concert that drew more than 3,000 people.
3. In 1939, Eierman Cadillac-Lasalle Co. converted the property into an auto showroom and repair shop. The building served as a car dealership for decades, then had a short-lived time as an upscale mall before AAA bought it in 1991 and renovated it to make room for the federation’s branch office and regional headquarters.
One thing that didn’t make the final cut: I was especially fascinated by the building’s brief life as an upscale mall. When the mall opened in April 1988, it was home to a series of upscale clothing stores, shoe stores, cafes, a ribs restaurant named Hotlicks, and L.A. Man, which sold men’s casual wear. The developer invested more than $14 million in the project, but less than a year after opening, the bank took control of the building. A Post-Gazette reporter wrote in July 1989 that “there is something downright creepy about wandering through the mall. You can smell the desperation and the despair of the small merchants.” By late 1989, the mall only had two tenants and it closed the following year.
Additional info: You can read more about AAA history on its website.
Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus where we learned how to tap maple trees and grow vegetables in a Pittsburgh winter.