The Concordia Club was a noteworthy part of Jewish life in Pittsburgh from the late 19th century until 2009.
In 1874, a group of approximately forty Jewish men, primarily of German origin, met to organize an association, whose purpose, according to its charter, was “to promote social and literary entertainment among its members.” The first president of the Concordia Club was Josiah Cohen, a prominent teacher, lawyer, and judge. Jacob Eiseman was president in 1884, when the club was chartered. The majority of the Club’s early members and almost all of its early officers were members of Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Establishments such as the Concordia Club sprang up across the United States at a time when Jews were typically denied membership in prominent social and business clubs. Such discrimination was common in most major cities in the United States, including Pittsburgh. The Duquesne Club, in downtown Pittsburgh, did not begin to admit Jews until 1968. The Concordia Club was sometimes called the “Jewish Duquesne Club.”
The Concordia Club’s first location was a rented home on Stockton Avenue in Allegheny City, now the North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. At that time more than 95 per cent of the Club’s membership lived in Allegheny City. By the late 1870s the club had grown sufficiently to need a dance hall, which was created through renovation of the original structure. The Stockton Avenue clubhouse property was purchased by the club in 1890 but a new building was later erected on the same Stockton Avenue site, at a cost of approximately $75,000. At that time the club had 175 members.
During the next 20 years, the Concordia Club became a significant social institution for the Jewish community, even as the community’s demographic center was shifting from Allegheny City to Pittsburgh’s East End communities, particularly Squirrel Hill. By 1913, when the Concordia Club moved to its new location on O’Hara Street in the Schenley Farms district of Oakland, more than 95 per cent of its members lived in Squirrel Hill. The new clubhouse was dedicated on Christmas Day, 1913, with a gala banquet. The building contained a banquet hall, ballroom, library, lounges, sleeping quarters, billiard rooms, and bowling alleys.
When the Concordia Club moved into its building on O’Hara Street in 1913, it was described as one of city’s most opulent with notably elegant china, crystal and linens along with profuse flower arrangements. A 1915 article in the Jewish Criterion commented that the new club was “entirely complete with billiard rooms, banquet hall, rest and lounging parlors, reading quarters and sleeping accommodations.” Later the club would add to its interior by installing elaborate dark-stained oak paneling rescued from the Fort Pitt Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh when the hotel was demolished in 1967.
The Club over the years staged elaborate themed dances, vaudeville performances, musical stage revues, amateur theatrical productions and holiday parties. Private social functions of all sorts were held in the clubhouse, which continued to be a gathering place for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. At its peak, the club had nearly 300 members.
After 135 years, the Concordia Club voted to sell the historic building to the University of Pittsburgh due to declining membership and financial shortages. It closed its doors on December 14, 2009.
Pitt undertook $5.8 million in upgrades, preservation, and renovations that were completed in April, 2011 and provided almost 35,000 square feet (3,300 m2) of space in order to help alleviate shortages in student group event, meeting, and office space at the William Pitt Union.
Upgrades included tearing out walls, updating the heating and cooling systems, replacing the roof, and upgrading the lighting. The first floor contains the oak paneled space for studying or socializing as well as a dining room that can double as a meeting room. A staircase, with original wood railings, leads to a second floor contains a 450-person capacity, sound system-equipped ball room — shown above — that includes an open balcony, arched windows, and a small stage. From a previous renovation more than 50 years ago, the ballroom contains three chandeliers, one larger than the others, and a number of sconces. Renovations to the ballroom included restoring access to the balcony, applying gold leaf trim to the wall panels, and a restoration of the chandeliers, including replacement of the light bulbs with LEDs, by the original lighting fabricator located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
The basement of the Student Center is used as a storage area for student groups. The facility also houses the Math Assistance Center, the Freshman Studies Program, and the student Writing Center.
Pitt’s renovation of the Concordia Club was very respectful of the Club’s history. The University preserved the Club’s gorgeous oak paneling and its elegant ballroom which continue to be enjoyed by the Pitt community, which now dominates the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.