To most, if not all Pittsburghers, the name of Robert Keith Manherz meant nothing to me, but in reading his obituary in the Post-Gazette this morning, his work is something that is most familiar to generations of Pittsburghers.
Mr. Manherz, who died in Florida earlier this month at the age of 99, was working as an art director for the Pittsburgh Advertising Company, and it was in that position that back in 1953, he designed the large Christmas Tree that adorned the corner of the entire Joseph Horne Department Store at the corner of Penn and Liberty Avenues.
I mean, honestly, what Pittsburgh native is not familiar with this? When you see something like this, does it even occur to you that SOMEONE had to come up with the idea and design for it? Well, in this case, that someone was Keith Manherz.
When my employer, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, purchased the Horne's building and converted it to an office building in the 1990's, one of the first decisions that the Higher Ups made was that they would continue to decorate the side of the building, now called Penn Avenue Place, with that famous Christmas Tree. I was really proud of the fact that Highmark chose to continue this tradition. Of course, now it's called the "Unity Tree" (C'mon Man!), but does anyone in in Pittsburgh call it anything but the "Horne's Tree"?
The obituary noted that Mr. Manherz was responsible for any number of large outdoor ads that appeared on the Pittsburgh landscape down through the years, yet his children quoted in the obit paint a picture of pretty humble guy who was just doing his job. Not many people will ever achieve such anonymous immortality that is such an ingrained part of a City's culture.
RIP Keith Manherz.