Bellefield Boiler Plant
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Bellefield Boiler Plant, also known as "The Cloud Factory" from its nickname's use in Michael Chabon's 1988 debut novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, is a boiler plant located in Junction Hollow (referred to as "The Lost Neighborhood" also in Chabon's book) between the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in the Oakland district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Built in 1907 to provide steam heat for Carnegie Museum, it was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by the architectural firm Longfellow, Alden & Harlow. One of the smoke stacks measures 150 feet and the other more than 200 feet. The plant has burned both coal and natural gas but stopped burning coal on July 1, 2009. Its steam system expanded in the 1930s to service the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. Today it pumps heat to most of the major buildings in Oakland. It is owned by a consortium made up of the University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum, the City of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
According to reporting by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, the 2007 film version of the The Mysteries of Pittsburgh does not use the actual Bellefield Boiler Plant, but at what remains of the Carrie Furnace, a storied blast furnace that was part of US Steel's Homestead Works, a few miles south in Rankin, Pennsylvania. As of 2010, one of the two stacks has been removed.
Source of the phrase the "Cloud Factory"
Chabon may have coined the name "Cloud Factory" himself, or heard it first from locals before employing it to great effect in his novel. Or he may have borrowed the phrase from Henry David Thoreau. It appears in Thoreau's essay Ktaadn and the Maine Woods, which was first published in five serialized installments in Sartain's Union Magazine in 1848. The piece describes a transcendental, "mountain-top" experience Thoreau had in the summer of 1846 while hiking Mount Katahdin in Maine:
Sometimes it seemed as if the summit would be cleared in a few moments, and smile in sunshine; but what was gained on one side was lost on another. It was like sitting in a chimney and waiting for the smoke to blow away. It was, in fact, a cloud factory—these were the cloud-works, and the wind turned them off done from the cool, bare rocks.
- Thoreau, Henry David (1864, 1988). The Maine Woods. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-017013-8.
- Toker, Franklin (1986, 1994). Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-5434-6.
- Barbara Vancheri (2006). Shooting of the film "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh": story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 13, 2007.
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