Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

Masonic Temple, McKeesport

Masonic Temple in McKeesport

An imposing presence on the McKeesport skyline, the Masonic Temple has changed very little since it was built. It has lost its cornice, which is the most vulnerable part of a Beaux-Arts palace like this, but otherwise retains most of its decorations, as we can see by comparing it to this old postcard from the “PowerLibrary” collection.

Here are a few of those decorations close up:

Walnut Street entrance
From a block away

Perhaps even more imposing from a block away.

We’ll be seeing much more of McKeesport in the days and weeks to come. It is a city for which old Pa Pitt harbors an unreasoning love—perhaps the only kind of love McKeesport can inspire at the moment. In its day, it was a metropolis in its own right, and it was filled with the work of distinguished architects; but no city in the area has suffered more, with the possible exception of Braddock. Yet, though much has vanished, so many beautiful buildings remain that it would be possible to set up a site like Father Pitt’s just for McKeesport.

Addendum: With a fair degree of certainty, thanks to a Press puff piece on local architects in 1905, we can identify the architect as Harry Summers Estep. “Recently, in a competition with more than a dozen other architects, he was awarded the prize for best perspective view submitted for the new Masonic temple to be built at McKeesport. The building will cost about $120,000 when completed and will be, for its size and purpose, one of the best buildings in the State.”(1)


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3 responses to “Masonic Temple, McKeesport”

  1. McKeesport is such a tragedy. My wife’s great grandfather was part of the group that built the Rose Garden at Renziehausen Park (which I hope you visited), but her grandmother couldn’t even visit it near the end of her life because she would just burst into tears driving through town.

    If we consider the broader Mon Valley to be part of ‘the area’, Father Pitt might want to make a trip up to Brownsville. While, in absolute terms, it has never been at the scale of McKeesport, it was, at one very early point, the second city of SWPA (as the point where the National Road met the Mississippi system) and has fallen even further in percentage terms. 90+% of the downtown is abandoned, thanks to some terrible road re-routing and an unscrupulous riverboat casino booster. Much of the old architecture is still there, but not for much longer.

    • It might be worth noting that downtown McKeesport suffered multiple tragedies even before the death of steel—a big fire, and then urban renewal, the most destructive force of all. A block of Fifth Avenue is still flanked by the concrete wreckage of the Brutalist Midtown Mall, which used to span the avenue with a pedestrian bridge, having kicked out thriving businesses for the sake of a suburban shopping experience that failed to lure suburbanites away from Eastland Mall, and later Century III.

      To raise your mood a bit, in the next few days we’ll be visiting Homestead, where the news is much better. Homestead certainly has its problems, but the direction is clearly upwards these days.

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