Thursday, December 4, 2008
Pittsburgh, it's the pits
Buffalo is not the only idiot city when it comes to historic preservation. Lastnight I was sitting around thinking about Leonard Pennario. And Pennario had made a few historic recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony in a place called the Syria Mosque. I looked up the Syria Mosque.
That is it up above. And here is another view:
The Pittsburgh Symphony used to perform in the Syria Mosque. What happens in the place now? Nothing! It is a parking lot!
The Syria Mosque became a parking lot in 1992. Clearly, Pittsburgh wants to be more like Buffalo. It is too bad. What a classic hulking old place. It went up in 1915, originally built for the Shriners. Look at the lettering on the sign.
When it went, there was a big public outcry. Here is what I copied off a Pittsburgh Web site:
When the Syria Mosque was slated for destruction in August of 1991, Pittsburghers found themselves in an emotional discussion about the importance of music venues in the city.
With its ornate architectural exterior and distinctive sphinxes standing guard out front, the Mosque is remembered for its crystal-clear acoustics, 180 degree seating and balcony that almost reached to the stage. The Syria Mosque hosted everything from opera and orchestral music, most memorably concerts and historic recordings by the great pianist Leonard Pennario, to rock acts including Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen.
Here is a link to a short radio documentary about the Syria Mosque. I like two things about this radio clip. One is that when they talk about the place being demolished, they play "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The other is that the guy being interviewed talked about how after that they formed Preservation Pittsburgh, and they formed it in a jail cell.
I know, I have a thing for old buildings. I do not like to see them become parking lots. Neither does my brother George. I am sure that George is aware of the Syria Mosque. George has been paying visits to Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium as it awaits the end. He said, "I visit the Aud as if it were a terminally ill friend."
At least Pennario never played in the Aud.
I should go down to the parking lot where the Syria Mosque used to be and put up a plaque. "On this site, Leonard Pennario recorded Gershwin's Concerto in F, with the Pittsburgh Symphony and William Steinberg, on Feb. 8, 1953." It's true! I know it thanks to my new friend Mark Heimbeck-Nielsen, an expert on Capitol Records. And on Feb. 22 Pennario went back to the Syria Mosque and played Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz" and Chopin's "Barcarolle."
That is a lot of information to put on a plaque, but I will manage.
P.S. Do check out the Pennario link -- here it is again if you don't want to scroll up. It is a great look at the art of recording, a 1957 New York Times story I found just by Googling Pennario and the Syria Mosque. What I like about the story is how it mentions Pennario by last name only. He is like Horowitz. He is legend!