Dahlen K. Ritchey (1910 - 2002)
Ritchey was born January 31, 1910, and grew up in the
Oakland section of Pittsburgh on Parkview Avenue.
Along with his sister Virginia, Dahlen was one of two
children of Charles and Anne Ritchey. Their father
was employed at J&L Steel and the family lived close to
Forbes Field where Dahl often worked as an usher.
Since Parkview Avenue was in close proximity to
Forbes Field, many Pittsburgh Pirates chose to make
their homes there as well. Dahl's neighbors
included players like Max Carey and Carson Bigbee, and
he knew their children as friends. These
associations gifted Dahl with a lifelong love of
baseball that would serve him well in later years.
Following his 1928 graduation from Schenley High
School, Dahl studied architecture at the Carnegie
Institute of Technology or "Tech" as he called it.
Today we know the Institute as Carnegie Mellon
University (CMU). Dahl was the first in his class
when he graduated from Carnegie Tech. It was while
attending Carnegie that Dahl made the acquaintance of a
fellow classmate born in Greece, James Mitchell
(originally Dmitri Michiel).
After Dahl and James graduated with their Masters
degrees (Dahl being first in his class once again with a
Masters in Architecture from Harvard), they each won a
fellowship to study European architecture. This
enabled Dahl and James to travel throughout Europe
studying and sketching the architecture they encountered
there. Dahl continued studying and sketching
throughout his life. His own home often reflected
his love of drawing, with his artwork gracing the walls
Edgar Kaufmann first met Dahl when the young Ritchey
was hired by the Kaufmann's Department Store to design
their window and furniture displays. It was during
this time that Dahl and Edgar began a long-lasting
friendship, even though Dahl stayed with the Kaufmann's
Department Store for only a year.
In 1938 Dahl and his friend James Mitchell decided to
set up an office together after they each earned the
right to be called registered architects. Times
were lean and both taught classes to help raise the
money needed to pay the rent on their office, which was
located in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club courtyard.
Building a Home in Bradford Woods
While Dahl's talents could have taken him anywhere,
he chose to marry and build a life in the city he called
Bradford Woods, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh, was
an area where the city folks built their summer
cottages. Dahl and his wife, Kay, decided to build
a house on a wooded piece of property they purchased in
Bradford Woods. At that time Bradford Woods did
not have a large year-round population.
The foundation of the house was started on December
6, 1941, but the home was not finished until 1950.
The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred the day after work
on the foundation began, prompting the house to be put
on hold as Dahl and Kay signed up to help with the war
effort. Dahl enlisted with the Navy and served on
the USS Saratoga and Kay did decoding work during the
While on the Saratoga, Dahl drew up a new design for
his Bradford Woods home. Building the house when
he returned, though, was not an easy project, since
materials were hard to come by after the war and the
lack of electricity meant that all of the materials had
to be cut by hand. His house to this day is tucked
away up a beautiful wooded drive and unless you knew it
was there, you would pass right by on your way through
the little community of Bradford Woods.
After the war, Dahl and James Mitchell once again
chose to work together, establishing an architectural
firm in 1946, which they named Mitchell & Ritchey. In
1947 Edgar Kaufmann, on the occasion of his 75th
birthday, asked Mitchell & Ritchey to develop a report
looking forward 75 years and what they envisioned for
Pittsburgh. The document, entitled "Pittsburgh in
Progress" showed their vision of a new, modern
Pittsburgh. Some of the buildings they envisioned
in their report were actually built many years later.
Six years after establishing Mitchell & Ritchey,
another up and coming architect and WWII veteran named
William "Fritz" Sippel joined the firm. As the
firm grew so did the projects they took on. One of
their most important opportunities came 1949.
Wallace Richards of the Allegheny Conference on
Community Development walked into their office on a
Friday afternoon before the long Labor Day weekend.
The Allegheny Conference had powerful connections
with influential Pittsburghers such as the Mellon family
and Mayor David L. Lawrence. Since architectural
assignments were usually sealed with a handshake at the
private clubs and by reputation based on previous
projects, making these contacts while they were starting
out was crucial. Since Dahl and Jim did not walk
in those influential circles, this was an opportunity
not to be passed up.
The young architects were given a verbal picture of
what would come to be known as Mellon Square. The
green Square in the heart of the city that Richards told
them about had been envisioned by Richard King Mellon.
Since drawings were needed by the following Tuesday
morning, the young men spent the weekend studying and
walking the 1.37 acre block in the heart of the city and
working diligently until they were satisfied with their
Their drawings were well received and they were
awarded the job. They worked in conjunction with
the landscape architectural firm Simonds & Simonds to
design an oasis in the middle of what would soon become
the towering office buildings in the city of Pittsburgh.
Ground was broken on Mellon Square in 1953 and it was
opened in 1955. The reviews of were terrific and
Mellon Square was viewed as a success. At the
time, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) was
threatening to move to New York City, but was persuaded
by Richard King Mellon to stay in Pittsburgh and build
beside Mellon Square. The U.S. Steel Building was
built close by as well.
This modern square gave many Pittsburghers a pleasant
escape from the hustle and bustle of their hectic work
and school schedules. It was built over a parking
garage which could accommodate 1,000 vehicles and
brought with it both style and beauty as it incorporated
fountains, gardens, and seating, all with a sense of
graceful modern design.
Mellon Square's green roof was well ahead of modern
greening initiatives. Over the years, lunchtime
concerts have been held to the delight of those who
happened by. Little do today's visitors know what
this park meant to its young designers so long ago. Because of this successful accomplishment, other jobs
Just thirty years after its construction, in 1985,
Mellon Square was listed in the National Register of
Mellon Arena (Civic Arena)
When Edgar Kaufmann was having his family's retreat
home Fallingwater built, Edgar would on occasion call
young Dahl and ask him to come out and see the building.
Edgar had some concerns about the cantilever design.
Frank Lloyd Wright assured Mr. Kaufmann that the design
would work and Wright actually had the plans to
Fallingwater buried on the grounds to be found again by
When Dahl was introduced to Wright by Edgar as an up
and coming architect in Pittsburgh, Mr. Wright's only
comment to Dahl was "what did you ever do?" Little
did Wright know that young Dahl was someone to watch.
It was through Edgar Kaufmann that the firm of
Mitchell & Ritchey got involved in designing the Civic
personally donated the initial money to make the Civic
Arena a reality, a sum of one million dollars.
Kaufmann loved the Civic Light Opera (CLO) and he wanted
this new arena to be their summer home. Kaufmann,
though, recognized that it was not feasible for this
building to be in use only during a single season, so he
sought out another influential Pittsburgher, John
Harris, to become involved with the Civic Arena project.
Harris was the owner of the ice hockey team, the
Pittsburgh Hornets, and also the Ice Capades. Both
Kaufmann and Harris were demanding of the architects.
Edgar wanted the performers and audience to be outside
when the Pittsburgh weather was nice but he also wanted
to have a roof over the audience and performers if the
weather turned disagreeable. Harris insisted that
every seat, even the most remote, have a constant view
of the puck while it was on the ice. The
challenges were many, but Mitchell & Ritchey were up to
A dome three times larger than the dome in St.
Peter's in Rome (415 feet in diameter) would be
necessary to create a view that was unobstructed from
each seat in the house. The roof was designed to
have six moveable and two stationary stainless steel
leaves. Each leaf was made up of four acres of metal,
and the moveable ones could retract at the touch of a
button in 2.5 minutes. The design of this new structure
was truly revolutionary.
The Civic Arena debuted with the Ice Capades on
September 19, 1961. Incorporating what Kaufmann
and Harris's ideas, however, did not make a perfect
world for the CLO performers. The acoustics of the
Civic Arena were less than ideal when the roof was open
and the wind, even a shallow breeze of 7 mph, would whip
around the stage, blowing music off of the musician's
stands and moving scenery and props from their
At the same time, this was a very visible project for
the architects to undertake at a time when Pittsburgh
was attracting world-wide attention for its new urban
rebirth. Despite the problems, the Civic Arena
would go on to host many famous artists, including Frank
Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and
Edgar Kaufmann, unfortunately, did not live to see
the Arena's completion, but he did watch each step of
construction from his apartment on the top floor of the
William Penn Hotel.
The Civic Arena was a project that was always dear to
Dahl's heart. It was during the construction of
the Civic Arena that Dahl's partner, James Mitchell,
decided to move to Connecticut in 1957.
Allegheny Center and the University of Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Renaissance and the rapid growth of
enrollment at the Pittsburgh universities presented many
opportunities for architects in the city. For the
North Side of Pittsburgh, Dahl designed Allegheny
Center, a shopping mall, parking garage, professional
offices, town homes and apartments all in one large
complex. The Center opened in 1966.
Dahl was involved in designing buildings for the
University of Pittsburgh (Tower Dormitories and Trees
Hall) and his alma mater, Carnegie Tech (Donner Hall,
Wean Hall and Cyert Hall).
In 1959 Dahl formed a partnership with Russel O.
Deeter. Deeter was very involved in university
architecture in the city of Pittsburgh. At first
the firm was known as Deeter & Ritchey, but by 1964 had
become Deeter, Ritchey and Sippel Associates, with
offices located in Four Gateway Center.
While Dahl knew that to make it really big in the
architectural world he should move to New York, this
lifelong Pittsburgher choose to stay in his hometown and
had a very successful career despite not making the big
move. The size of Deeter, Ritchey and Sippel
Associates fluctuated over the years and at one time 83
people were employed there.
Three Rivers Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium, as it was built, was not the
first design Dahl had in mind when he was approached
with the idea for the stadium in 1958. The
design Dahl envisioned was very much like the present
day PNC Park, with the park open to the river and the
city skyline and having many movable seats.
Unfortunately, after long delays, political
entanglements and construction costs rising with
inflation, it was decided that the stadium Dahl designed
would cost too much to build.
Dahl was sent back to the drawing board. He
looked at the Three Rivers Stadium project as both his
greatest professional challenge and his greatest
disappointment. He thoroughly enjoyed his time
with Art Rooney Sr. while working on the Three Rivers
project. There were many times both men would
climb up a ladder during the construction of the
stadium, one after the other, to make sure all the
details were being taken care of.
Dahl would have preferred having two stadiums, as
Pittsburgh has today, instead of having one stadium for
both football and baseball.
Three Rivers Stadium was completed in 1970 and taken
down 31 years later in 2001. It made way for Heinz
Field and PNC Park, giving the city the stadiums it
deserved, just the way Ritchey thought it should have
been all along.
Dahl was loved by his staff and known as a kind and
caring man to all who crossed paths with him.
Despite having such demonstrated talent and skill, Dahl
did not let it go to his head. He treated his
famous friends and the janitor in his building with the
same good natured respect. When one of his staff
members, Elsie, had a medical emergency while at work,
it was in Dahl's arms that she took her last breath.
Dahl's beloved wife Kay died in 1973. After two
or three years passed, the staff in Dahl's office
thought it time for him to marry once again. Since
Dahl had a liking for sauerkraut, he announced that he
would marry the woman who made the best sauerkraut.
Well, after many sauerkraut dinners made by some very
eligible ladies, Dahl asked the head treasurer in his
office of thirteen years, Bea, if she made sauerkraut.
Bea replied that she did. Well, Bea must have made
fabulous sauerkraut because she and Dahl were married
three months after that first meal in 1976. They
wed at St. Paul's Cathedral in Oakland, PA.
Dahl officially retired three years later in 1979.
Dahl's Later Years
Always on the lookout for exceptional architecture,
Dahl and his wife, Bea, traveled all over the world
looking for something new to discover. If Dahl
felt a place didn't have great architecture, he wasn't
interested in going there. When in Africa, instead
of taking photographs like most travelers, Dahl pulled
out his notebook and sketched what he saw. Those
drawings graced the walls of his Bradford Woods home for
many years and were a reminder of a wonderful time in
his life. He would often give away the drawings
from his travels to friends and colleagues.
Dahl loved Bradford Woods and his
community church there. He had a big heart and he
donated land to the church for the minister's house and
even served as a Boy Scout leader for a troop sponsored
by the church. Dahl, by his actions, proved that
you're never "too big" to give back to your community
and for that the residents loved him in return.
Some of Dahl's friends were quite powerful and others
regular folks. Dahl said that each person was
special and that is how he treated everyone. He
had friends all over the world. Even while waiting
for a flight in an airport in India he was spotted by
someone he knew who called out his name. It turned
out to be the U.S. Ambassador to India. His paths
crossed those of Presidents (Truman, Kennedy and Lyndon
Johnson) as well as those of famous Pittsburghers such
as Edgar Kaufmann and Art Rooney, Sr., both of whom he
was also proud to call friend.
Dahl was honored by the American Institute of
Architects in 1998 for his lifetime of architectural
Many young architects were beneficiaries of Dahl's
teaching at CMU, Harvard University, and Georgia
Institute of Technology, as well as his mentoring over
his career spanning almost five decades.
In addition to the few buildings mentioned in this
article there are many more where Dahlen Ritchey played
a key role in their design.
Carnegie Mellon University houses the Ritchey
Collection which includes photographs, drawings, films,
reports, renderings, slides, microforms, brochures, and
clippings representing approximately 100 projects he
participated in over his career.
After a lengthy illness, Dahl Ritchey died on January
12, 2002, just two weeks prior to his 92nd birthday and
on his 26th wedding anniversary to Bea. Despite
being ill and depending on Bea for his care, he never
lost his positive outlook and cheerful disposition.
Often when we consider the lives of famous people we
tend to focus exclusively on their "professional"
accomplishments. Dahl was a great man because of
the way he treated others and the great love story he
and Bea shared together. They were lucky to have
found one another and Pittsburgh is fortunate this
talented man decided so long ago not to leave his
The contributions Dahlen K. Ritchey made to
Pittsburgh are long lasting and the lives he touched
continue today through a scholarship program set up at
Carnegie Mellon University in his name and through the
buildings he designed that are still in active use.
Even Dahl's architectural firm continues on as DRS
The next time you enjoy a lunch-time concert in Mellon Square or
move a college student into the towers at the University
of Pittsburgh, think of the architectural genius behind
the creation of those buildings, of Dahlen K. Ritchey,
and of how good guys and great Pittsburghers never
Written by Diane Gliozzi
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