Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

Two Antebellum Churches on the South Side

City Theatre

Here are two very similar churches in the same block of Bingham Street, both from the 1850s, and both built with the sanctuary on the upper floor. In the middle 1800s, this was a common adaptation for churches in crowded neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and adjacent boroughs (Birmingham was still independent until 1872). Built on tiny lots, they needed space for Sunday-school rooms and social halls, but the sanctuary obviously needed a high ceiling or it would look and feel absurd. Thus the ground floor was left for the smaller rooms.

The church above was the Bingham United Methodist Church (built 1859), now the City Theatre. It is a generic church-shaped church with vaguely classical details, including rounded arches in the windows. The same shape could be given details in any style; the church below is the First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church of Birmingham (built 1854), with a very similar outline, but Gothic pointed arches in the windows. The windows along the sides are simple rectangles, and old Pa Pitt suspects that the 14th Street end was Gothicized at some time in the later 1800s.

First Associated Reformed Church of Birmingham

The name “First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church of Birmingham” is too long to fit on a date stone.


Boston ivy is eagerly devouring the entrance, so it is hard to see that this arch is also pointed.

When this article appeared, Joseph Moore commented:

Are those really the main doors for the Presbyterian Church? Very plain – look more like a loading doc than the entrance to a church, even a Calvinist one. The United Methodist Church has the architectural articulation one would expect for the main doors for a church.

We replied:

The main entrance might have been on the long side on Bingham Street, where the garage door is now. On the other hand, the Gothic arch with columns on the end (and the very interesting woodwork on the doors) does suggest that someone intended it as a main entrance. On the third hand, one would expect more natural light in a main entrance, which would probably have led into a foyer with a stairway (or a pair of stairways, as in the South Side Presbyterian Church). And on the fourth hand, it is possible that windows flanking the entrance have been bricked up. Old Pa Pitt has not been able to persuade himself that the brickwork is all original, and he has not been able to persuade himself that it is not. And on the fifth hand (we might as well be an octopus by now), Father Pitt has not been inside this building; it is possible that the whole front is a stairwell, in which case the large Gothic windows would provide ample light.

This was one of the small number of articles that did not survive the transition between servers, so it had to be reconstructed and the comments copied by brute force.

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