Ice House History + Kirsten's Move to #108
For the last four years, Kirsten occupied a smaller unit on the second floor of the same building. As the scope of her work expands, she is thrilled to move to a larger, more accessible unit, in a historic building in the neighborhood that has been home to her family for many years.Kirsten’s mother lived in Lawrenceville and is shown here holding Kirsten’s younger sister Sam. This photo from 1990 is published in the book A People’s History of Pittsburgh: Volume 1.
Merely five blocks from the Ice House, on Cotton Way, is where Kirsten’s mother used to live with Kirsten’s sister Sam, and Sam’s father Billy. Billy was born and raised in Lawrenceville, further cementing the family history there. Although Kirsten was raised by her Grandparents in Shaler, she also spent time with her Mom in Lawrenceville, and the neighborhood has been a cornerstone for Kirsten throughout her life.
Family history is an important theme in Kirsten’s studio practice. The very table she draws on is an old semi-drafting desk that her Grandpa built for himself and the engineering company he owned. Her Grandma is also the original sewist behind her popular tea towels and other textile pieces. Kirsten cherishes memories that withstand the test of time and values stories passed down through generations. With the move of her studio, she has been wondering more about the history of the Ice House, and, naturally, it became her latest subject, which she is working on right now.
THE ICE HOUSE HISTORY
The Ice House was built in 1907, almost two decades after ice factories started to appear in Pittsburgh. A listing in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on October 30, 1906 reads, “the Malleable Iron Company sold to the Consolidated Ice Company 281x134 feet at Forty-third street and the Allegheny Valley railroad for $47,500.” That would be roughly $1.4 million today. The maps below, from 1905-1906 (first) and 1914 (next), show the area before and after the Ice House was built.
Sanborn Map, c. 1905-1906. Ice House location on 43rd Street.
The legacy Stotz started (and his two sons continued) lives on to this day as MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni. The firm attributes Stotz and his colleagues with “[making] architecture a respected profession, and [making] buildings we call landmarks today.” In February 1907, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed an update about the Ice Company project, which was described as a “150-ton artificial ice plant,” scheduled to be completed on Decoration Day (Memorial Day). The cost was $150,000, which would be about $4.2 million today.
ICE IN PITTSBURGH
Imagine the labor involved to cut, load and cart ice around, compounded with the perpetual risk of the product melting en route. Precisely these issues led to a workers’ strike in August 1917. The PG reported that workers were demanding regulated hours and higher wages during hot summer months. One year later, a labor shortage resulted in an ice crisis, which led one Roxie Long to steal ice from Rieck-McJunkin Milk Company, and riots broke out across the city. Without a reliable workforce, Thomas A. Dunn, president of the Consolidated Ice Co., described the dire situation to the public (right):
To put the workers’ wages into perspective, a job posting from The Pittsburgh Press in December 1920 showed the Consolidated Ice Co. was offering Ice Pullers $5 per day, which would be about $66 today.
"Ice Situation More Serious, Labor Needed.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Aug. 1918.
BANANA GAS AND THE END OF THE ICE FACTORY ERA
Nearby residents recounted the severity of the explosion (above left). “Rescue Crews Driven Off By Deadly Fumes.” Pittsburgh Press 30 Sept. 1930.
A PG article published the following day cited that at least 13 people were injured, and “six of the 10 rooms used to ripen bananas had their partitions blown away, while debris from the caving roof and pillars was hurled for yards around, causing damage to adjoining homes and property.”
Over the next twenty years, improved household refrigeration became widely available, and the Consolidated Ice Co. met its end mid-century. As reported in the PG, the company was eventually sold to City Products Corporation in June of 1950 for $1.1 million (about $12 million today).
THE WATERBED ERA
For a period of time, the impressive brick building was used for concrete mixing, and then it became a waterbed factory. Kirsten’s family lived nearby and remembers the waterbed phase during the 1980s. Just as ice factories became a thing of the past, so did waterbeds. In January 1994, Penn Custom Manufacturing advertised an auction in the PG at 100 43rd Street. Saws, sewing machines, forklifts, staple guns, pallet jacks, fabric, lumber and more were posted for sale, and the building sat vacant for several years. Then, in 1999, two women surveyed the site and ushered in another Ice House era: affordable work space for artists and other creative enterprises.
2000: A SPACE FOR ARTISTS
Developers Becky Burdick and Linda Metropulos ran a non-profit called Artists and Cities Inc., and the duo had just successfully transformed an auto showroom into the Spinning Plate Gallery and Artists Lofts in Friendship. The Ice House caught their attention next for a number of reasons.
The women were evaluating the building’s potential in 1999, and the PG quoted Burdick: “It’s a remarkable structure. It has all kinds of possibilities for use by artists – people who work large, who use lots of equipment, who need to share space, who need to rehearse.… There are many artists living in Lawrenceville. This building will help make a difference for artists but also for the neighborhood.”
The Lawrenceville Ice House was considered a neighborhood icon, and also could be redeveloped as an historic structure, enabling them to receive historic tax credits through the National Park Service. And Lawrenceville, with its inexpensive real estate and blue-collar reputation, had already established itself as a hospitable place for working artists to set up shop. ‘It's this gritty neighborhood appealing to a lot of artists,’ added Ms. Metropulos.… ‘If you get to know artists, you know they’re very resourceful.’ … ‘We need all the artists we can get here,’ said Ms. Burdick. ‘And more and more people are saying that.’
In 2000, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places under the name Consolidated Ice Company Factory No. 2. Artists and Cities Inc. was approved for a $400,000 loan to redevelop the Ice House that same year, and they closed on the acquisition from Schreiber Industrial Development Company in August. The Ice House redevelopment was scheduled for completion in early 2001, just six years shy of its centennial.
According to the PG, “the $2.3 million project was funded by foundations, low-interest loans from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Lawrenceville Corporation, a bank mortgage and historic tax credits, which can be obtained for buildings with historic value and sold to a bank in exchange for equity.” However massive the undertaking may have seemed, it has certainly been worthwhile. Restoring one part of the historic neighborhood brought new opportunities to local residents as they stepped into the next millennium.
2021 AND BEYOND
Now, over 20 years later, Kirsten is among several artists who work out of the amazing 100+ year old building. She is in good company with other creatives, and the building is currently owned and managed by Lawrenceville Corporation. Below are some of her favorite views and neighbors.
KLoRebel Art Co. is so excited to welcome visitors to the new space! Safely, by appointment, and with new, limited open studio hours beginning in March 2021. The historic building has been KLoRebel’s home base for over four years. You’re invited to stop by and enjoy it, too!
Words by Jaclyn Sternick
Research compiled by Charles Succop