Pittsburg State University is located at 1701 South Broadway, but it was not always known as Pittsburg State and it was not always located on Broadway. In the very early 1900s there was a building at the corner of Fifth and Pine that was known as the Central School building. In 1903, this building became the State Manual Training School, one of the four names that preceded what is currently known as Pittsburg State.
The campus began downtown and eventually made its way to its current location on South Broadway. With the recent addition of Block22, however, the campus has finally returned to its downtown roots.
“It was one of those moments that was incredible to think about,” said Brett Dalton, director of strategic communications. “The university technically started downtown. The overall goal with Block22 was to have Pittsburg State have an official presence downtown. To really be a symbol of this collaboration and this partnership between the university and the city and then to think that doing that was actually a return to downtown was super cool. It’s one of those little things that you learn about history that are not only fascinating, but they’re also incredibly inspiring. It reminds you you’re part of this broader story that started before any of us were here and it’s going to continue for a long time after we’re gone.”
Not just the university, but the project as a whole, is deeply rooted in the history of Pittsburg. The name of Block22 originated because of a map of the original town design. When the founding fathers of Pittsburg first designed it the community was set in blocks. The oldest of the four buildings used in the project, the Opera house hotel, was part of what was originally deemed block number 22.
“When you see the map,” Dalton said. “The buildings involved in the project are actually in various Blocks, but the oldest building, the first building, is located in what would have been called Block 22 in Pittsburg. The name is a direct throwback to the founding of the community. It was named that not only as a neat thing, but also mad respect, true respect, to the people who built this community. Respect to the people who sat down around a table and mapped it out and planned it. To think that that intersection right at the heart of the city not only is back alive but bears basically its original name is really neat.”
The four buildings involved were the National Bank Building and the Opera House Hotel on the east side of Broadway and the Baxter Building and the Commerce building on the west side. The Commerce building was home to many offices over the years including the most recently closed long time Pittsburg institution Crowell Pharmacy. The National Bank Building was once known as the Opera House where visitors of neighboring towns would come to see lectures, musicians, and various theatrical performances. The Opera House Hotel next door was created to accommodate the various performers and visitors who came into town.
Another long time Pittsburg location located directly neighboring the buildings on the west side of Broadway is the Colonial Fox Theatre. Although not actually part of the project, Dalton noted that it does fall in line with the mission of the Block22 project.
“Colonial Fox Theatre is connected to those two on the west side,” Dalton said. “It’s not technically a part of Block22, but the truth is that facility, not only is it a gem throughout the community, but it is a true treasure and is something that our students at Block22 and hopefully students throughout Pittsburg State are going to use and enjoy for years to come. I think it’s absolutely perfect that that is right there connected to the official Block22 buildings. Talk about a homage to not only the city’s past, but this city’s definite vision for the future. And the efforts that are underway right now to renovate the Fox and build it back to its former glory are exactly along the lines of what we’re trying to do at Block22. So it’s an incredibly interesting and maybe coincidental connection between what we’re doing and what the Fox is doing.”
What will happen in the future is still uncertain, but the past of the Pittsburg community is slowly taking transformation into something that members of the university and community are proud say they are part of.
“There is a movement, an energy, downtown that I don’t think we have felt in a very long time,” Dalton said. “It’s not just this. You look a block north at all these boutique shops. They’re all incredible. Or you have not only Root coffeehouse, but also Signet which is right south. There’s just so much neat stuff happening and it’s a really cool thing to be a part of it and to be living in Pittsburg at this time of such tremendous growth. We’re so excited to see where it goes from here.”