"Avenue as a memorial to H. W. Oliver: Prominent men favor changing name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue—suggestion made by The Press: He made thoroughfare possible." Pittsburg Press, Feb. 25, 1904, pp. 1, 13. Newspapers.com 141827056, 141827281.
Since the widening of Virgin alley from Liberty avenue to Smithfield street has been completed and the further widening of the same thoroughfare from Smithfield street to its upper end—Grant street—is contemplated, there has been much discussion as to a change of name. The name Virgin alley, street or avenue does not seem pleasing to many since it has become a wider and more commodious highway, one which bids fair to rival Fifth avenue soon in the volume of travel. Many names have been mentioned for the new thoroughfare, and The Press suggests that the name of Virgin alley be changed, by an act of councils, to Oliver avenue, as a fitting tribute to the memory of the late Henry W. Oliver.
The widening and improving of Virgin alley was one of the favorite themes of the late Mr. Oliver in life. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in arranging for its betterment, but death cut short his work. For some time there has been a discussion going on among business men and heavy property owners regarding some fitting tribute to the memory of Mr. Oliver, who during the last 10 years of his life did more to improve real estate conditions in the downtown district than did a dozen others of perhaps similar opportunities in their entire lifetime.
The thought of having the widened Virgin alley cast aside the old name and take on that of Oliver avenue seems to meet with more approval than to name it Oliver street, because the thoroughfares which run parallel are avenues, not streets. The idea has spread like good suggestions will, until most of the business men in the downtown district have been discussing it, and all seem in favor of it as a good idea. the matter has been taken up for publicity by The Press and an expression of opinion has been gleaned by many regarding the matter. All are favorable.
Few but those who own or have owned property on Virgin alley are aware of just how much the late Henry W. Oliver did for that once little narrow passageway. Years ago he conceived the idea that the only natural relief to be afforded congested Fifth, Fourth and Sixth avenues was through Virgin alley, and he set about to have it widened and improved the entire length from Liberty avenue to Grant street.
But he found the way hard. Property had been passed down from forefather to grandfather and from grandfather to posterity along that busy little street, and present owners seemed content to allow it to stand just as it had stood in the days when old Fort Duquesne was active and Virgin alley led from the fort to the cemetery. The prospect of widening the alley did not please, in fact, it was rather displeasing to some property owners, and for a time it looked as though if Mr. Oliver really wanted the thoroughfare widened and improved that he would be forced to buy out the entire street from end to end.
Here and there at last he found owners who would not consent to do anything or to allow anything to be done toward widening the alley, but before his death Mr. Oliver had seen the work well under way. One afternoon he walked into the place of a man who owned large property on Virgin alley, but who was much opposed to the widening proposition. The late millionaire talked with him quite a while, but made no headway in persuasion.
"What is your property worth to you?" asked Mr. Oliver finally of the obstinate owner.
The one interrogated started in amazement and asked why such a question should have been propounded.
"Because I want to buy it. I don't need it but I do want to see this little thoroughfare widened and improved. I am now satisefid [sic] that it cannot be done so long as some of you people so violently opposed to improvement remain on the ground, so name your price and I'll pay it."
This was done and Mr. Oliver kept his word, paying a good price for the property, part of which he was to give up at once to widen Virgin alley. and this was not the end of buying. In several instances later he was compelled to buy out owners outright in order that his plan for giving the congested downtown district another outlet might not be interfered with. He spent a large fortune in this way alone, but died before he saw the full extent of his successful plans.
The widening of Virgin alley as discussed now, covers but from Liberty avenue to Smithfield street. This is so because of the negotiations on for cutting down the hump, and none of those interested in this great improvement cared to mingle a street widening with the hump proposition at present, but there is no doubt but in the near future the widening of the street will extend clear to Grant street.
When The Press started this morning to geet an expression of opinion from prominent business men regarding the proposed change om [sic] name from Virgin alley to Oliver avenue, the greatest interest was shown by those visited. There seemed but one regret, that this had not been thought of while Mr. Oliver was living.
Mr. H. C. Frick, one of the largest property owners in the downtown district, was this morning telegraphed at Palm Beach, Fla., by The Press as to his ideas on the changing of the name. Mr. Frick replied that he was in most hearty accord with the project to name it Oliver avenue, and that he would do anything in his power to further the plan.
R. B. Mellon, of the Mellon National Bank, which has large property interests in the downtown district as well as Virgin alley, said: "I think the changing of the name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue would be a graceful and fitting compliment to the memory of one who did so much for this city."
Mr. Frank L. Stephenson, of Whitney & Stephenson, is one of the most emphatic business men in the city in his approval of the idea. "By all means let the new street be named after Mr. Oliver," he said yesterday. "I thought long before Mr. Oliver's death or illness that the thoroughfare would be better fitted out with his name than with its present title. As nearly everyone knows, his estate is a very large owner of property along the street, and indeed it was unquestionably Mr. Oliver's influence and exertions that secured its widening to a street from a mere alley. But, aside from this fact, the city can well afford to honor his memory in this particular manner, for he was one of the most enterprising and able business men the city of Pittsburg ever had, and contributed his full share to the city's material development. In the matter of real estate improvement especially, men like him and Mr. Frick do more to swell the general prosperity of real estate owners than any casual observer would ever imagine. I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Oliver added many millions of dollars to other people's wealth by his far-seeing real estate investments. Every business man of large caliber is in this sense a public benefactor. Mr. Oliver was a big man in more ways than one, and it seems to me to be eminently fitting that the change from Virgin alley or street to Oliver avenue would be a deserved recognition of one of the best-known Pittsburgers of the present generation. Councils showed their regard for Mr. Oliver by passing resolutions of respect at the time of his death. No doubt they will be willing to do him the substantial honor of giving his name to this newest of downtown avenues."
Mr. George I. Whitney, who was also asked for an expression of opinion on the proposed change in name, said: "You may quote me as favoring it most heartily. I do not know of a thing that the city councils could possibly do that would meet with more general public approval. Mr. Oliver certainly deserved this much of the city in which he passed an active and useful life."
Mr. Thomas S. Bigelow said: "Please quote me as being in favor of the suggestion to change the name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue. I wonder why it was not thought of before. It would fittingly keep in memory of the people the unselfish work done by Mr. Oliver in life for the good of the people of Pittsburg. No man knows better than I what he did for all of us. He spent his money freely without hope of return further than in a knowledge that he had helped his fellow man. Without Mr. Oliver there would have been no chance for the widening of Virgin alley. It was his idea that much of the travel of the parallel avenues might be taken by Virgin alley if it was but widened, and he spent his money, spent it fully and freely to the extent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to get rid of those who opposed his sort of improvement. I will do anything in my power to assist in having the name changed from Virgin alley to Oliver avenue."
Murry A. Verner said: "Nothing could be more appropriate than the name Oliver avenue applied to the thoroughfare on which Mr. Oliver spent so much of his time and money. I am most heartily in favor of the change and will work for it with all my heart and soul. It could be made a beautiful thoroughfare and would take on a new dignity under the name of Oliver avenue. It would be better I think, however, to have it widened up to Grant street as soon as possible. Let us have a good street, one wide and roomy, in commemoration of the late Mr. Oliver, who worked so hard for the improvement of Virgin alley."
Mayor William B. Hays said: "I am very much pleased with the idea of changing the name Virgin alley to Oliver avenue. Those of us close to the city affairs know just what Mr. Oliver did for the people in the downtown district, and I think it nothing more than right when such a brilliant opportunity is offered as is now presented in the proposition to change the name Virgin alley to Oliver avenue, that we do what we can to perpetuate the name of the late Henry W. Oliver. He was a man modest but active in the welfare of the city. He worked quietly, but spent his money lavishly that those who came after might reap the benefit. Death has claimed him, but his good work lives. I heartily endorse the project of changing the name Virgin alley to Oliver avenue."
John S. Wightman, president of Select Council, said: "I am heartily in favor of the proposition to change the name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue, and I am very glad that The Pittsburg Press has taken the initiative in starting an agitation with that end in view. Although there are many historic reminiscences connected with the present name of the alley, I do not think that the name should be retained after the street has been widened, and to change the name to Oliver avenue would be a tribute richly deserved to the memory of Henry W. Oliver, who was one of Pittsburg's foremost citizens. I feel confident that the proposition will meet with favor in Select Council. There is no reason why it should not, since every public-spirited man recognizes the high esteem in which the late Mr. Oliver was held. It would hardly be possible now for such an ordinance to be introduced and passed by both branches of councils before the reorganization of those bodies in April, but I would suggest that the matter be taken up as soon as expedient and introduced at the first meeting of councils in April. You may say that I shall exert every effort to aid in securing the proposed change in the name."An ordinance changing the name of Virgin alley to Oliver avenue will be introduced in councils at the meeting tomorrow.