Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection Photographs

What's online?

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection Photographs contain images of residences and businesses, many of which show obvious signs of disrepair, that had been inspected by the bureau from 1940 until 1947.

What's in the entire collection?

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection Photographs, held by the Senator John Heinz History Center, amount to approximately 1,080 images, dating from 1939 until 1947. The images depict buildings across the city of Pittsburgh, including those in the neighborhoods of the Southside, North Side, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, the Hill District. Many of the structures photographed have since been demolished.

About the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection

Building construction regulation began in Pittsburgh in 1816, the year of the city.s incorporation. The city was divided into several districts, and the ordinances were enforced by the city "Street Commissioner." In March of 1870, the powers of the Street Commissioner became a department of city government after the state passed legislation. In addition, the Street Commissioner.s title became "Inspector of Buildings."

For the next fifteen years, inspections were conducted by the Office of Building Inspector. Building Inspection was an appointed position selected by the Councils of the City of Pittsburgh (at the time, City Council had two chambers). The Building Inspection office was located in the "New" City Hall on Smithfield Street, later relocating to the Department of Public Safety Building at 6th Avenue and Cherry Way. City Council created the Public Safety Department in 1887, and in that year the duties of Building Inspector were transferred to that department and renamed the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI).

The modern era of building inspection began in June of 1895 when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive act governing the construction, maintenance, alteration and inspection of buildings in second class cities such as Pittsburgh. In 1896, City Council enacted regulations addressing the "fire-proofing" of buildings, and it abolished the fees for city building permits citing their tendency to discourage improvements to the city. Shortly after the turn of the century, sweeping new building requirements embodied in the Tenement Housing Act regulated the construction of tenement-style buildings. In the next decade, changes in building methods brought new laws governing the use of hollow brick, terra cotta tile, steel framing and reinforced concrete.

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