Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

Bellefield Towers

This curious combination of structures always reminds old Pa Pitt of a corner in some European city ravaged by the Second World War: the tower is all that remains of the Gothic church that once stood here, and the rest has been replaced by an office building that has no architectural connection with it whatsoever, but is just gracious enough to make reluctant room for it.

The old Bellefield Presbyterian Church actually predated the Oakland neighborhood. It was built in 1889 in Bellefield, a rural town that had grown into a suburb or exurb of Pittsburgh. Bellefield’s name is remembered in Bellefield Avenue, though almost all remnants of the place have been obliterated by the one force more destructive to old buildings than war, which is prosperity.

Here is a long article (PDF format) on the church and its neighborhood by James D. Van Trump, the architectural historian to whom we owe the preservation of much of what we have succeeded in preserving. The article includes a picture of the church in 1890; note the cable-car tracks on the street in front of it.

The article was written while the church was still standing. “What the Bellefield Church has meant to the Oakland area during the last one hundred years we have seen,” it concludes. “The history of Bellefield’s future has yet to be written. Its congregation feels that if the contribution of the Bellefield Church to the Oakland area is commensurate with that of the past its future would seem to be assured.”

Well, it’s sort of still there. The congregation was merged in 1967 with First United Presbyterian a short distance down Fifth, and the merged church was renamed Bellefield Presbyterian. In 1985 the old building was sold and demolished for the current undistinguished occupant of the site.

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