ShareThis Page
Special collection of photos brings to life Phipps’ history |
More Lifestyles

Special collection of photos brings to life Phipps’ history

| Sunday, March 5, 2017 9:00 p.m.
Phipps Conservatory
This image of the Spring Flower Show shows the Border Garden, which is now the Serpentine Room.
Phipps Conservatory
Fall flower show, unknown year
Phipps Conservatory
This was taken during the 27th Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar, which occurred in Pittsburgh in 1898. The woman stands on a giant water lily (Victoria amazonica). Named for Queen Victoria, who reigned when the species was described in 1837, the plant lent its name to the Victoria Room. The ribbed underside of the pad served as design inspiration for early glasshouses like Phipps.
Phipps Conservatory
This photo is of the 1979 Fall Flower Show, “Greatest Show Under the Big Glass Top,” which was the first show to follow an 18-month, $2 million restoration project during which the Conservatory was closed.
Phipps Conservatory
This image of the family on the bench out front in 1909 was sent in last year via email from the grandson of the infant being held in the picture.

Many Western Pennsylvania residents have special memories tied to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, from family traditions such as annual Easter Sunday visits to garden weddings and other special celebrations held at the Oakland glasshouse.

The Phipps’ staff has been hard at work for the past year — in between seasonal shows and ongoing programs — digitizing and archiving a treasure trove of photographs that documents the conservatory’s history, as well as its growth and change, dating back to its opening on Dec. 7, 1893.

Adam Haas, interpretive specialist with the science education and research and marketing departments, says the effort has been massive for staff members, who have spent hours poring over photos that have been shared by Phipps’ guests or are part of the conservatory’s records.

“We learned a lot during those sessions,” he says. “Looking over the images, some had context material but most didn’t. It was like doing forensic detective work to identify them.”

The public will have an opportunity to view a collection of 84 of the photos displayed throughout Phipps’ exhibit rooms for one weekend only, March 10 to 12, as part of their regular admission to the conservatory. On March 10, docents will be available to answer visitors’ questions about the facility.

Haas says the historical photos are still coming in and people have been encouraged to bring their own snapshots to Phipps when they visit.

Among the earliest images that will be part of the display is a photo taken during the 27th Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar, a Masonic order, which took place in Pittsburgh in 1898. The woman in the photo is standing on a Giant Water Lily (Victoria amazonica) that Haas explains was named for Queen Victoria, who reigned when the species that found its way to England from Guyana was described in 1837.

“The stunning plant in turn lent its name to the (conservatory’s) Victoria Room,” he says. “In fact, the ribbed underside of the pad served as design inspiration for early glasshouses like Phipps.”

Another early photo from 1909 depicts a woman and three children sitting on a bench outside the conservatory. Haas says the grandson of the infant on the woman’s lap emailed the image of the family to Phipps last year.

In addition to sending digital images, people have donated slides, printed photos and even old postcards dating to the late 19th century, some with written messages on the back.

Among the staff’s finds was an image of Pittsburgh philanthropist Henry W. Phipps shown at a former glass house located on the North Side, on property where the current National Aviary is located. Phipps later paid to have the current conservatory built as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh.

The structure was designed by Lord & Burnham, a New York-based greenhouse manufacturer, for a fee of $100,000.

Over the years, Phipps Conservatory has grown in size and popularity, welcoming more than 434,000 guests in 2016, according to Haas. Easter weekend is the busiest weekend of the year for Phipps’ attendance.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.