Here is a large institutional building whose story of abandonment and decay has a happy ending.
South Hills High School was Pittsburgh’s second great palace of high-school education, right after Schenley High School. For this one, the city hired Alden & Harlow, arguably the most prestigious institutional architects money could buy. They were responsible for the Carnegie Institute and all the branch libraries, in addition to multiple millionaires’ mansions and skyscrapers downtown.
The site of the school is improbably vertical. In those days, “South Hills” meant the back slopes of Mount Washington, and a walk along the side of this school is a steep climb. But the architects met the challenge with a Tudor Gothic palace that seems to have grown on the site. It takes up a whole city block.
The Ruth Street side of the school opened in 1917; the rest of the school—planned from the beginning—opened in 1925. For many years the school took in students from the South Hills and beyond—“beyond” meaning Banksville, Beechview, and Brookline. In 1976, a monstrously modernist new school—Brashear—opened in Beechview, which took in all the students from the southern neighborhoods. With population declining and the building getting old, the city decided to close South Hills altogether in 1986.
And then it sat and rotted for 23 years.
But, as we said, the story has a happy ending. As you see from these pictures, the building is well taken care of now. In 2010 it reopened as apartments for senior citizens, so that once again it is an ornament to its neighborhood.
The wonderfully thorough Brookline Connection site has a long article about South Hills High School, including the architects’ plans.