by Louise Sturgess
September 12, 2009
Dollar Bank Lions: Photos and Story
From about 8:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 12, 2009, PHLF Executive Director Louise Sturgess photographed the process of removing the 139-year-old Dollar Bank lions from their pedestals in front of the venerable Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street bank in downtown Pittsburgh. Local companies Golon Masonry Restoration, Inc. and Century Steel Erectors did an excellent job in preparing, handling, and lifting the lions.
“We always point the lions out on our tours,” said Louise, “to many thousands of students and adults, so we wanted to document their removal. We have even designed a T-shirt, with Dollar Bank’s permission, featuring one of the lions guarding our Historic Landmark plaque. We give the T-shirt to students to wear on our downtown tours.”
PHLF has had several conversations with Dollar Bank over the past few years since the lions were showing extreme signs of deterioration. Many PHLF members expressed their concern to our staff over the deterioration of the lions. We commend Dollar Bank for putting together a plan that calls for both restoring the original lions and displaying them inside, in a protected environment––and making an exact replica of each lion for installation outside, on the original pedestals.
Where the Lions Have Gone
The two lions, each carved by Max Kohler in 1871 from a single block of Connecticut brownstone, were lifted by a crane, loaded onto a flatbed truck, and transported to McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. in Oberlin, Ohio. There they will be restored and returned to Pittsburgh in midyear 2010, and placed inside, in a yet-to-be-determined location. Since the original lions are works of art they will be displayed in a place where they will no longer be damaged by weather.
In addition to restoration of the original lions, two new lions will be replicated and installed on the pedestals at the Fourth Avenue building in 2010. Nicholas Fairplay of Fairplay Stonecarvers LLC, also in Oberlin, Ohio, is a European-trained artisan and master carver who will use digital imaging and computer modeling to produce two new lions, each of matching uniform color. The stone itself will come from a quarry in China, since it was determined through a world-wide search that stone from that quarry most closely matches the original brownstone.
PHLF Co-founder Describes the Lions Best
Since the lions will be gone for a year, our members and friends might take comfort in revisiting Jamie Van Trump’s essay, “Lions in the Streets: A Sculptural Hunting Party in Pittsburgh,” from Life and Architecture in Pittsburgh, published by PHLF in 1983. Jamie Van Trump (1908-1995) was a co-founder of PHLF and its architectural historian:
“The financial district of Pittsburgh has, in fact, a not unsurprising affinity for lion sculpture, and one can go hunting with profit in the space of three or four blocks on Fourth Avenue. The lords of this commercial veldt are the two great couched animals in brownstone to the left and right of the portal of the Dollar Savings Bank (1869-71), whose architect was the Philadelphian Isaac Hobbs, but whose sculpture was done by Max Kohler, a skillful stonecarver of the period. Beneath the Hellenistic cornices, the Baalbek shadows of the looming façade, these heavy representatives of financial probity gaze, like Newfoundland dogs, at the passer-by with a stern domestic majesty. There is no doubt that these hearth-rug champions are the Noble Animals so dear to Victorian sentimentality. Despite their tameness and their bathos, however, they are, perhaps, the Pittsburgh lions that one loves best; they have a gemütlich dignity, a cozy grandeur that is entirely charming. They remind us, somehow, of rich elderly uncles who might, possibly, remember us in their wills.”