a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One stop is enough on this audio tour

One of 25 weather vanes that mark stops along a tour requiring the use of cell phones in Pittsburgh's Cultural District.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The eye-catching weather vanes atop sidewalk posts beg tourists to use their cell phones for more information about the landmarks they face in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.

These markers also hold brochures with instructions to call in, wait for the prompt to enter the corresponding number on each sign and connect to the self-guided tour for fun facts about the theaters and galleries in this 14-block area.

I immediately grabbed my phone last Friday, walked straight to Heinz Hall - the jewel of the city’s stage life – and phoned the audio tour.

A female voice answered and began to speak at a rapid pace, almost as if she’s just downed six back-to-back shots of espresso, about the opulent movie palace built in 1927 as Loew’s Penn Theater. The theater hosted vaudeville and stage shows until it closed in 1967 because of competition from television and suburban movie theaters, and also the high cost to maintain the building.

The voice abruptly rattled off a long list of benefactors credited for raising $10 million to restore and reopen the theater in 1971 as home for the Pittsburgh Symphony. Along the way, she almost seemed to lose her breath while crediting the major corporations responsible for helping to fund the more than 2,000 concerts that take the stage each year.

This first and last stop of my tour was about as boring as calling the cable company to report an interruption in Internet service.

Other such tours around the country include the voices of actors reciting quotable quotes about the things that actually speak to the reasons why tourists want to stop at the places.

Heinz Hall does have an interesting history, having once been considered the most magnificent movie palace between Manhattan and Chicago. It had an organ unlike any other in the world before the instrument was destroyed in a 1936 flood. The tour also overlooks the building’s spectacular interior and doesn’t include an invitation for when the public can step inside and take a peak at the place.

Those who own smart phones are supposed to be able to access the Web for a better tour with photos and links to more information.

But, those like me with a basic phone are left outside Heinz Hall with a fast-paced blip of information that focuses more on rich people than the importance of this grand old building. So I chose to not waste my time calling back for the goods on the other 24 stops on the tour.

This new attraction to the downtown is a big disappointment, especially in a city the size of Pittsburgh whose cultural district is arguable the best of its kind in the United States.

Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh

1 comment:

MJ said...

I went downtown a few weeks ago and wondered what those little wind-mills were all about. Now I know.

The tour might have sucked, but I love what the cultural district offers. Pittsburghers are very fortunate to have such options.