Lights, Camera, History!

Gullifty's 4

Current Exterior of 1922 Murray Ave

The historic space at 1922 Murray Avenue transforms once again
By Chris Zurawsky


The old saying, “If these walls could talk …”, took on new meaning for Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, executive director of The Friendship Circle, during interior demolition last year at the organization’s new Murray Avenue home, in the former Gullifty’s restaurant.


Workers removing a slab of concrete found newspaper scraps filling spaces in the walls, not an uncommon discovery during building rehabilitation. But this wasn’t just any newspaper, according to Rabbi Mordy, it was the Philadelphia edition of di Forverts (The Forward), written in Yiddish, from 1937. The historical remnants of the country’s premier Jewish-American chronicle are an apt echo of the past, given the building’s new use as a gathering place for Jewish teen volunteers to help children and young adults with special needs connect with the wider community.

Other memorabilia hidden in the building’s bones included old Isaly’s paper cups, pull tab cans, and Levinson Steel beams crossing the ceiling (Levinson, once based on the South Side, grew to become the country’s 11th largest steel manufacturer. Its founder, Aaron P. Levinson, was a Taylor Allderdice High School graduate).


“Even though it’s going to be a new building, it’s nice to have a sense of nostalgia,” Rabbi Mordy said.


Guild Theater

The Guild Theater- Photo Credit to University of Pittsburgh

According to the website, the Murray Avenue landmark housed a movie theater for more than 40 years, opening as the Princess Theatre before being renamed the Beacon Theatre in 1937 and, in 1954, the Guild Theatre. Its final feature film, “Animal House”, starring John Belushi, flickered on the Guild’s screen in 1979.


A brief Pittsburgh Post-Gazette item from December 16, 1954, reported that the Guild would open on Christmas Day with “Romeo and Juliet”, co-starring Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall. According to S. Ralph Green, the Guild’s managing director, more than $50,000 had been spent remodeling the theater.


Former Squirrel Hill resident and KDKA Radio traffic reporter Jay Pochapin remembers The Guild running “artsy” and risqué movies in the late 1960s like “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up”.


On his personal blog, Pochapin also recalled that it was the only theater in the city with an illuminated clock next to the screen: “You couldn’t come home late and hope to sell your Mom on the excuse that you didn’t realize what time it was when you had sat through three continuous screenings of Peter Sellers in “Casino Royale.”


Later, the Guild became a revival house. Pochapin recollected seeing Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in “The Big Sleep” and “To Have and Have Not”, W.C. Fields and Mae West in “My Little Chickadee”, and even Three Stooges marathons.


Post-Gazette theater critic and Squirrel Hill resident Christopher Rawson mused online a few years back that exposure to Marx Brothers festivals at the Guild likely influenced two of the neighborhood’s top celebrity products—Hollywood director Rob Marshall and his sister, choreographer Kathleen Marshall.


The Guild Restaurant and Deli had a short run in the space from the theater’s closing until 1982, when Gullifty’s restaurant opened.


Friendship Circle Feature Pic 1

Renovation work for Friendship Circle – Photo by Rabbi Mordy Rudolph

Today the building, purchased by the Friendship Circle in 2013, is undergoing a thorough transformation. Outside, the theater marquee, preserved by Gullifty’s through the years, will remain. The building’s façade, however, will catapult the 1900 block of Murray into the 21stCentury with a futuristic melding of gray metallic panels, a row of street-level windows, and vertical, multi-colored decorative strips.

While original plans featured an array of five accent colors, Rabbi Mordy said that after meeting with representatives from the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition to discuss the building’s integration into the streetscape, a decision was made to restrict the palette to blue and purple, reflecting The Friendship Circle’s logo.



SHUC also encouraged Friendship Circle to convene a green roof task force to provide input on the best uses for the building’s 2,000 square foot rooftop space. The task force included environmental experts from Phipps Conservatory, Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation, and Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc. As outlined by the task force, major goals for the roof renovation include:



Rabbi Mordy said that the roof will likely be split in half, with one side given over to heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, and the other containing a patio. He is also planning for rain barrels and a garden, including vegetables, which may be sold at the Squirrel Hill farmers’ market operating in the parking lot at the back of the building.


Friendship Circle_ cutaway4_2014

Rendering of the completed project

The second floor will include a play space for younger children, a parent lounge, and office and conference room space for staff. The first floor will feature a performance stage, teen lounge, and a kitchen. Overall, the renovations will cost roughly $4 million and will nearly double the building’s usable space from 5,200 square feet to about 11,000. Work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Chris Zurawsky is a SHUC vice president and chair of its stormwater taskforce.



about SHUC

Preserving, Improving, and Celebrating the Quality of Life in Squirrel Hill

For over fifty years, the Coalition has been an active and important link in the community. It has served as a sounding board for new ideas, as well as a “watchdog” in the areas of public safety, education, residential quality, the business district, and parks and open space. With its focus on the quality of life in the 14th Ward, SHUC continues to monitor activities and future developments in the community through a range of standing committees.


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