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Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar attracts events of all varieties

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

The 2-ton chandelier hangs in the center of the expansive grand ballroom. It’s the first thing you notice when you open the doors from the foyer at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center.

The expansive lighting fixture was brought from the original Syria Mosque in Oakland, giving character and a little bit of history to the Harmar building.

Beyond its role as a hub for Syria Shriner activities, the building has hosted more than 500 weddings since it opened in this location in 1994, in addition to banquets, concerts, pageants, trade shows, dinner theater, and other business and social affairs.

Recently, the facility announced it had undergone a rebranding, including the debut of a new website to make event planning easier and a new name — changed from Syria Shrine Center to Pittsburgh Shrine Center.

“I want to give people a reason to come here and celebrate their event,” says Paulette Zanotti, events coordinator at the center. “We have the ability to host pretty much any type of event, from culturally diverse events where we can help them keep their tradition … to accommodating special food needs for your guests.”

For instance, in Hindu and Sikh weddings, the groom arrives on a horse surrounded by family, groomsmen and friends. The Shrine Center can accommodate this and much more.

“If you want to have food trucks parked outside, you can do that too.”

“My goal is to make your event as memorable at possible for you,” Zanotti says. “We want the Pittsburgh Shrine Center to be part of the community and the community to be part of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center.”

The money from events not only goes to maintain the center, but also to the Shriners charitable efforts.

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History of helping

The ancient order of the nobles of the mystic shrine was conceived in New York City in 1872 as a fun fraternal order for men who had completed requirements in Masonic organizations.

Today, Shriners International is a fraternity with nearly 200 temples in several countries, thousands of clubs around the world and hundreds of thousands of members dedicated to the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.

The idea to establish hospitals for children was brought to the membership in 1919. Today, Nearly one million children have been treated at one of 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across the U.S., and in Canada and Mexico.

The Shriners are known for their dedication to children and no one understands that more than Colleen Helander, of North Huntingdon.

When she was 7 years old her nightgown got caught on fire from a gas stove. She spent months in the Shriners hospital in Cincinnati. She underwent skin grafts for 10 years.

“The Shriners are the best,” she says. “Being a part of the Shriners is the only place I want to be. I want to give back. I am truly blessed.”

The care is amazing, says her husband Gary.

“They not only treat the injury … they treat the person too,” he says. “We appreciate all they do. It’s such a wonderful organization.”

Pittsburgh’s shrines

The Pittsburgh Syria Shrine was conceived on June 6, 1876 and chartered on May 19, 1877. Land was acquired on the old Schenley Farm in Oakland and ground was broken for the original Syria Mosque on April 20, 1915.

And for nearly 75 years, the 3,700-seat Syria Mosque contributed greatly to Pittsburgh’s cultural life. A movement began in the late 1980s to replace the aging structure. The Syria Mosque went up for sale in June 1989 and the building was demolished in 1991.

In October 1994, the Syria Shrine Center opened its new 40,000-square-foot, $10 million facility on 37 acres in Harmar.

Great effort was made to maintain some of the classic features of the former mosque, such as the twin sphinxes that guarded the entrance and the immense chandelier that hung in the auditorium as well as other light fixtures and stained-glass windows.

Concerts and other parties

Pretty much if you can think of an idea for a party or event, the center can help bring the event to life.

The Fox Chapel Area High School has been holding concerts at the center for years. It’s the perfect venue, says Benjamin Murray, choral director at Fox Chapel, especially for a Kaleidoscope concert, which features bands, choirs and orchestras performing in different areas of the hall.

“What I like about the Pittsburgh Shrine Center is it offers an opportunity for various set ups,” Murray says. “We had an orchestra on stage, a band on the dance floor, the choir and an orchestra at the other end. They really accommodate you.”

The organization has been a part of Bob Moisey’s life for a long time. He and wife Sandy from Sewickley attended the Sweetheart Dinner Show & Dance in February. Many thing only Shriners can have events here, Sandy Moisey says, but it is available to anyone.

“How many other places can hold the number of guests we can?” Bob Moisey says. “And there is free parking and the ability to have an event inside or outside. It has all the amenities and it’s easy to get to from Route 28 or the turnpike.”

“This is our showpiece,” says potentate William Branthoover. “We want to make a good first impression that will make a lasting impression on the guests who come here.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or [email protected] or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.


GTRLIVSHRINECENTERBALLROOM021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The main ballroom at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERFOYER011818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The foyer of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A wedding is set at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A wedding is set at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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The exterior of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERGOVERNORSDRIVEWAY021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A sphinx guards the entrance of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERPAVILIONEXTERIOR021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The interior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Marilyn Backus and Andrew Kildow whirl their way around the dance floor Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Marilyn Backus and Andrew Kildow dance at Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
The 22-member Shriners Stage Band performs swing music during Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Dancers take the floor during Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Wanda and Ed Rusky of Akron, Ohio, dance at Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
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JOANNE KLIMOVICH HARROP
Guests enjoy the Sweetheart Dance at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERCOLLEEN
JOANNE KLIMOVICH HARROP
Colleen Helander of North Huntingdon poses for a photo at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center's Sweetheart Dance in Harmar. She lauds the work the Shriners do because when she 7 years old her night gown got caught on fire from a gas stove. She spent months in the Shriners hospital in Cincinnati and underwent skin grafts for 10 years.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERBALLROOM021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The main ballroom at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERFOYER011818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The foyer of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERWEDDINGSET021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A wedding is set at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERWEDDINGSET2021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A wedding is set at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTEREXTERIOR021818
The exterior of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTEREXTERIOR2021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERGOVERNORSDRIVEWAY021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
A sphinx guards the entrance of the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERPAVILIONEXTERIOR2021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERPAVILIONEXTERIOR021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The exterior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERPAVILIONINTERIOR021818
COURTESY PITTSBURGH SHRINE CENTER
The interior of the pavilion at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
vndshriners01082117
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Marilyn Backus and Andrew Kildow whirl their way around the dance floor Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
vndshriners02082117
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Marilyn Backus and Andrew Kildow dance at Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
vndshriners03082117
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
The 22-member Shriners Stage Band performs swing music during Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
vndshriners04082117
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Dancers take the floor during Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
vndshriners05082117
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Wanda and Ed Rusky of Akron, Ohio, dance at Swing Time Nights on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center ballroom in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERSWEETHEART021818
JOANNE KLIMOVICH HARROP
Guests enjoy the Sweetheart Dance at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.
GTRLIVSHRINECENTERCOLLEEN
JOANNE KLIMOVICH HARROP
Colleen Helander of North Huntingdon poses for a photo at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center's Sweetheart Dance in Harmar. She lauds the work the Shriners do because when she 7 years old her night gown got caught on fire from a gas stove. She spent months in the Shriners hospital in Cincinnati and underwent skin grafts for 10 years.
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