Author: Father Pitt

  • Stone Schwartz Building, Allegheny West

    Sony Alpha 3000.

    This Romanesque warehouse appears from old maps to have been built around the turn of the twentieth century for the Allegheny Transfer Company. It later belonged to Donaldson Transfer, as a ghost sign at the top of the building testifies (enlarge the picture to examine it closely). It has been a few things since then, and it was for sale when old Pa Pitt visited it. If you want a distinctive commercial or even residential space in one of our most pleasant neighborhoods, here is your opportunity.

    A few years ago, Father Pitt took a picture of this building in sunset light, but it looks as though he never published it. So here it is now.

    Composite of three pictures from a Canon PowerShot A540.
  • Bastille Day

    French flag on Bastille Day 2024
    Canon PowerShot A530.

    A Pittsburgh house celebrates liberté, égalité, fraternité.

  • First United Presbyterian Church, Coraopolis

    First United Presbyterian Church

    This is a fine building in a good neighborhood, and you could buy it right now and move in. You might have to spend another million or so fixing it up, but the structure is sound and the interior of the sanctuary, from what we can see on that real-estate site, is intact in the most important details. It does need work, but the best parts of the interior are still there. If you are a congregation looking for a sanctuary, you can put your teenage members to work. That’s why you have youth groups, after all.

    The church was built in 1915; the architect was Thomas Hannah, a big deal in Pittsburgh architecture. Comparing the church today to an old postcard, we can see that nothing has changed on the outside.

    Old postcard of First United Presbyterian in Coraopolis

    Well, one thing has changed. The church accumulated decades of industrial grime, turning it into one of our splendid black-stone churches, and the blackness, though fading, has not been cleaned off. Father Pitt hopes the church will pass into the hands of someone who appreciates it in its current sooty grandeur.

    The other thing that is different is the long-gone building behind the church in the postcard. It was almost certainly the older sanctuary, probably kept standing as a social hall. It has been gone for years now.

    Front of the church

    The style of the church is what we might call Picksburgh Perpendicular, the common adaptation of Perpendicular Gothic to the more squarish auditorium-like form of Protestant churches that emphasized preaching over liturgy. Old Pa Pitt will admit that he does not like the stubby secondary tower on the left. It is probably very useful in providing space for a stairwell, but the two towers are too widely separated, as if they are not on speaking terms. The emphatic corner tower is the star of the show, and the other tower seems to be making an ineffectual attempt to upstage it. In spite of that quibble, though, this is a beautiful building that deserves appreciative owners.

    Side of the building
    Side from a different angle
  • World War I Memorial, Coraopolis

    Doughboy with bayonet

    The World War I memorial in Coraopolis has been cleaned and polished and looks new. The statue of an advancing doughboy is probably a stock item—it appears on war memorials in other towns—but it is well executed. It does not stand up to the Lawrenceville Doughboy, but nothing does.

    Coraopolis war memorial
    War memorial

    Old Pa Pitt has been making it his usual practice to record all the names on any war memorial he photographs, because even well-maintained memorials like this one can suffer accident or decay. The names will be quite legible if you enlarge the picture.

    Roll of Honor, part 1
    Roll of Honor, part 2
    Roll of Honor, part 3
    Roll of Honor, part 4
    Kodak EasyShare Z981.
  • 905 Penn Avenue

    House at 905 Penn Avenue

    Most of us walk right by this building without giving it much thought, but it stands for a momentous transition in the history of the city. According to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, it is probably the last building constructed as a single-family house in downtown Pittsburgh.

    Pittsburgh began in the small triangle that is downtown today, and through the first half of the 1800s, a large part of the population remained within those limits. The city was a warren of narrow streets and narrower alleys where little houses crowded with stores and workshops. After the Civil War, though, the land downtown simply became too valuable to build houses on. The family who built this Italianate house on Penn Avenue, where a number of well-to-do families still lived, could not have guessed that they would be the last to build a house in the Triangle, but they would certainly have been aware that the city was changing rapidly.

    Italianate window decoration

    The Italianate details need a bit of polishing up, but they are still well preserved.

  • Coraopolis YMCA

    Coraopolis YMCA

    Now the Historic State Avenue Apartments, this old YMCA was designed by MacClure & Spahr and built in 1910. The style is a rich Georgian that makes the place look like a high-class resort hotel.

    Composite view of the front

    Even the alcoves for trash and utility equipment have a rich Colonial look.

    Coraopolis YMCA

    Cameras: Canon PowerShot SX150 IS; Fujifilm FinePix HS10.

  • Charette Way

    Charette Way

    This short alley no longer has a street sign, but it still appears on maps as Charette Way, which seems like a peculiar name for an alley.

    From OpenStreetMap, licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL) by the OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF).

    A “charette” is a term well known to architects: it’s a session of intense work to meet a deadline. Supposedly it comes from the charrette or cart that used to come around to collect the drawings at the French architectural schools, with the students frantically putting the final touches on their work as the cart rumbled along. The magazine of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club for many years was called The Charette.

    In 1928, the Pittsburgh Architectural Club got itself club rooms with an entrance on the right-hand side of this tiny alley, and with the aid of some friends in government, Charles Stotz, the club president, managed to have the alley renamed “Charette Way.”

    Charette Way, Pittsburgh
    Kodak EasyShare Z981.

    From the January, 1929, issue of The Charette, we reprint the story of the name.

    Charette Way—Number One

    New Address of the Club Rooms of the P. A. C.

    The passer-by will notice a new street sign marking the little alley leading off Cecil Place. To many the name will mean nothing more than another odd street name. To the few who recognize the French origin of the word it will seem to be quite appropriate with the store trucks constantly entering and leaving the picturesque little street, but for those interested in using the attractive doorway entering off the right side of the alley, the name “Charette Way” has considerable significance. It is a curious fact that the Architectural Club is not only in possession of an ideally central down-town location, but has also been able to christen the alley which it fronts. We direct the attention of the skeptics to the City Ordinance reproduced herewith. The prompt execution of this bit of business is due to the cooperation of Councilman W. Y. English, to whom the Club at its last meeting extended a unanimous vote of thanks.

    AN ORDINANCE—Naming an Unnamed Way lying between Penn Avenue and Liberty Avenue and running from Fifth Avenue to The Rosenbaum property line, “Charette Way.”

    SECTION 1. Be it ordained and enacted by the City of Pittsburgh, in Council assembled, and it is hereby ordained and enacted by the authority of the same. That an Unnamed Way lying between Penn Avenue and Liberty Avenue and running from Fifth Avenue to The Rosenbaum property line, be and the same is named “Charette Way.”

    SECTION 2. That any Ordinance or part of Ordinance conflicting with the provisions of this ordinance be and the same is hereby repealed so are as the same affects this Ordinance.

  • VFW Post, Coraopolis


    Addendum: Thanks to a kind correspondent, we were directed to this article on Coraopolis history, where the architect of the VFW post is identified as T. Ed. Cornelius—an old friend of ours who always kept up with the latest styles and executed them well. The article as originally written follows.

    Father Pitt does not know the history of this building, but it is certainly a fine outcropping of Art Deco, and very well preserved in nearly its original state.

    VFW Keith Holmes Post No. 402

    The building stands at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Mulberry Street in Coraopolis.

    Above the entrance
    Veterans of Foreign Wars
    Keith Holmes Post No. 402
    Mulberry Street side

    The Mulberry Street side has its own entrance, and this part of the building may date from a different time—but not very different, since it is also in an uncompromising Art Deco style.

    V. F. W.

    A cornerstone on the Mulberry Street side dates at least this part of the building to 1941.


    The architect (or the bricklayer) was someone who understood the effects of shadows, creating geometric patterns in light and dark by arranging bricks at different angles.

    Kodak EasyShare Z981.
  • Arts-and-Crafts Terrace in Squirrel Hill

    Terrace on Denniston Street

    Old Pa Pitt enjoys pointing out the many ways architects and builders have answered the terrace question. “This method of building three or six houses under one roof shows a handsome return on the money invested,” said an article about a terrace of houses in Brighton Heights, but the investment pays off only if tenants are willing to move in. The later Aluminum City Terrace development in New Kensington, designed in a starkly modern style by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, had a hard time attracting tenants in spite of cheap rents and an acute housing shortage, because locals thought it looked yucky.

    The terrace question, then, is this: How can we build economical housing that is nevertheless attractive enough to seem desirable to tenants?

    This terrace obviously had a higher budget than many, so it answered the question with fine design, elaborate decoration, and good materials. The materials were good enough that they have survived intact more than a century: these houses on Denniston Street, twenty-four of them in four rows of six each, were put up before 1923, but they still have their tile roofs and other decorative elements.

    Two houses in the tarrace

    Probably because of the steep hill they occupy, these houses have unusually generous front yards—generous enough for a whole container vegetable garden, for instance.

    Looking up at the houses
    Along the row
    Sony Alpha 3000.
  • Some Details of the Fulton Building

    Light well in the Fulton Building

    The Fulton Building was one of a pair of buildings designed for Henry Phipps by New York architect Grosvenor Atterbury; the complementary but not identical Bessemer Building has long since been replaced by a parking garage. In the close view of the light well above, we can see how much thought went into sucking up every photon for the interior offices. Those bays take in light from every possible angle. In many of our prominent buildings, the light well is hidden in the back, but in the Fulton Building it is made the characteristic feature of the front that faces the river.

    Fulton Building in 2015

    The picture above was taken in 2015, before the Renaissance Hotel put a sign at the top of the building.


    The name on the marquee is new, but the marquee itself came with the building. It is attached to the wall with a pair of steampunk chimeras:


    Elaborate chains supporting the marquee are attached to these monogram brackets:

    Bracket with monogram

    Cameras: Kodak EasyShare Z981; Olympus E-20n.