Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office

Wall mural

Guess Where? A Rare Look Inside

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Preservationists often get the rare opportunities to see inside older and historic places.  Definitely a #jobperk! As preservationists, archaeologists, and historians, SHPO staff have the opportunity to explore a lot of really cool places during the course of our jobs.  Because we are asked to consult on various projects or provide initial determinations of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, we often get into places that are hard to access or are closed to the public.

Curious about some of things we get to see? The first two photos you might recognize if you’re a frequent reader of our blog.  But, can you guess where the rest were taken?

Let’s take a look!

Odd Fellows Hall interior, Carlisle, PA.

This one is from last year’s Pennsylvania Preservation Conference in Carlisle, PA. A former Masonic Hall, the building now houses the Cumberland County Visitor’s Center. Attendees at the conference participated in a discussion on reuse of this space on the hard-to-access third floor of this building.

Ceiling in the Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA.

Our February Historic Preservation Board meeting was held at the Green Room, in the Forum Auditorium Building here in Harrisburg. If you haven’t been to an event in the Forum Auditorium itself, you’re missing out on this amazing ceiling. The Forum Building was constructed in 1930-31 and designed by William Gehron and Sidney Ross, and is listed in the National Register.

And now, the real challenge – some mural photos from a very hard to access place.

Can you figure out where these were taken?

Wall mural

Wall mural

Hand painted wall art. Inspirational, right? You would probably guess institutional, as it was painted on cinder block.

Wall mural of clock and bird

Wall mural

An uplifting quote, but why barbed wire?

Wall mural of subrise over creek

Wall mural

Wall mural of cabin and mountains

Wall mural

Most of the murals reflect rural scenery, as if they were windows to the outside.

Wall mural of landscape and river

Wall mural

A different kind of image, but this time with peeling paint.

Have you figured it out?

All of these great murals are in a prison. An abandoned prison to be exact – Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. The former prison worker who guided SHPO staff around the site was unsure who the artists were, but knew that it was prisoners who were behind the brushes.

Room with doors

Western State Penn cells, 2018.

Western State Penn is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Constructed in the late 1890s, the property occupies a 22-acre site along the Ohio River, just north of the Point.

Want to see more? You’ll have to wait! We are going to have a more thorough recounting of the history and significance of Western State Penn here on the blog soon, so stay tuned. I’ll leave you with this last mural – perhaps my favorite.

Don’t look back!

Author: PHMC

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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