Author: Father Pitt

  • Armstrong Tunnel

    Armstrong Tunnel

    The Armstrong Tunnel connects the Tenth Street Bridge to Forbes Avenue Uptown. It opened in 1927, three years after the Liberty Tubes. Unlike most of our tunnels, it has a curve in the middle. It also retains its pedestrian walkway, which the Liberty Tubes lost in the 1970s. The impressive portals (we see the north entrance here) were designed by Stanley L. Roush, who worked on a number of transportation-related projects, including the Allegheny County Airport and the portals to the Smithfield Street Bridge.

    North Portal
    Forbes Avenue entrance
  • Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

    Growing in the Kane Woods Nature Area, Scott Township.

  • Row of Houses on 13th Street, South Side

    Row from before 1872

    From both the old maps and the style it seems fairly certain that this row of four identical houses dates from before 1872. On the whole they are very well preserved, with a few alterations, but nothing to change the essentials.

    Houses on 13th Street

    The larger house on the end probably dates from before 1872 as well, although it looks newer than its neighbors; its original front is mostly intact, but it has sprouted an ugly third floor that could be removed or rebuilt by some future owner.

  • Condemned Row from the Civil War Era

    Row on Seneca Street

    Uptown is a good-news/bad-news sort of neighborhood right now. The good news is that, after decades of gradual abandonment and decay, the neighborhood is rapidly turning upward. The bad news is that much of the neighborhood is still in danger. The Soho end of Uptown, near the Birmingham Bridge, is not yet feeling the effects of the prosperity radiating from the new arena, the restoration of Fifth Avenue High School, and the proximity of downtown to the western end of Uptown.

    Here is a row of houses on Seneca Street that probably will not be here much longer. The blue CONDEMNATION stickers have appeared on several of them. These are houses from the Civil War era, which are not as common as they used to be. A few more such rows remain Uptown, and some of those are also in danger—either from decay or from the even more dangerous force of prosperity. On two of these houses, the façades have been replaced with architecturally worthless curtains of brick; but the remaining four retain many of their original features.

    Until recently, it was inevitable that condemned houses like these would be razed to leave an empty space behind them. Now it is just possible that at least the space will not be empty forever. That would be moderately good news; unfortunately, the rolling waves of prosperity will not reach Seneca Street in time to make it profitable to save these houses. A century and a half of history will vanish, and almost no one will notice. But at least these pictures will serve as a memorial and a document.

    Houses of the Civil War era
  • South Side Market House

    South Side Market House

    Charles Bickel designed this Romanesque market house in the middle of Bedford Square, which is one of our most charming urban spaces in the southern half and blighted by parking lots in the northern half. It was built with a pair of towers in 1893; it burned to a shell in 1915, and was rebuilt without the towers. It is now a center for “healthy active living” for old folks like Pa Pitt, though most of the old folks he runs into are considerably younger than his 264 years.

    North face

    The north face has suffered a few alterations in the fenestration (a fancy architectural term for “where the windows go”), but still makes an interesting picture with the Belgian block of Twelfth Street leading toward it.

  • The Bellefield Club, Oakland

    Bellefield Club

    We have mentioned before how thick the air was with clubs in Oakland. Here is one that has been almost forgotten: a small clubhouse by a big architect. The Bellefield Club on Craig Street was designed by James T. Steen, who also gave us the House Building, among many others.

    Bellefield Club

    The club opened in 1904; since then the building has had some small alterations. Cheap stock windows have replaced the windows upstairs, with cheap filler to take up the rest of the space. (Father Pitt has not seen a picture of the building in its original state; it is possible that there was a balcony behind those upper arches.) The front has been painted in a gaudy combination of brown and cream; it probably looked better with the original yellow brick. But the alterations are not severe and could be reverted by a sensitive owner.

    This building was one of those unexpected discoveries one sometimes makes in the big city. Old Pa Pitt was walking up Craig Street to take pictures of the Craig Street automotive row when this building arrested his attention. He must have gone past it in a car or a bus a hundred times, but this time he noticed it. It seemed like something different from the surrounding buildings. Was it an old theater or some institution? The Pittsburgh Historic Maps site revealed that it had been built as the Bellefield Club, and less than twenty years later in 1923 was inhabited by the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine. A little more poking around found the architect.

  • Mugele Motor Inn, Uptown

    Mugele Motor Inn

    If the plans go through, this building is about to undergo a curious transformation: it will be surrounded by and encrusted with new development, leaving the façade exposed. It was originally the Mugele Motor Inn. (In the early days of the automobile, “Motor Inn” was a popular name for a garage.) More recently it belonged to the city Department of Public Works. It has a good location across from the restored Fifth Avenue High School, and it will be along the new “bus rapid transit” line to Oakland.

  • Craig Street Automotive Row, Oakland

    Oakland Motor Car Co.

    If this is not unique in North America, it has to be at least very rare: a complete contiguous row of buildings from the early days of the automotive industry, intact and largely unaltered. They are lined up one after another, without any gaps, along Craig Street from Baum Boulevard northward. It is one of Pittsburgh’s unrecognized treasures. Fortunately only one of the buildings seems to be endangered at the moment: the others have found new uses, and the owners have not made substantial alterations to the façades, several of which have fine terra-cotta details.

    In 1905, a splendid amusement park opened on this site: Luna Park, the first of a chain of Luna Parks that spanned the globe.

    Luna Park

    This one did not last long, however: it closed in 1909—partly as a result of competition from the well-established Kennywood Park, where you can now see a smaller model of the Luna Park entrance.

    The closing of the park opened up a broad expanse of cleared land, and the newly rich automobile industry moved in here. By 1923, all these buildings had been constructed in a long row.

    We begin at the corner of Baum Boulevard (the picture at the top of the article), where the grandest of the lot actually sold low-priced cars. This was a dealer in—coincidentally—Oakland motor cars, which were named for Oakland County, Michigan, where they were made. Oakland was General Motors’ cheap division before GM bought Chevrolet.


    The ornate capitals of the corner columns are worth a closer look.


    Next in the row up Craig Street is a Franklin dealer.

    Tire dealers

    Next come two tire dealers in identical buildings. The one on the left sold Kelly-Springfield; the one on the right sold B. F. Goodrich. These buildings are now the Luna Lofts, which probably sounds better than Kelly-Springfield and B. F. Goodrich Tire Lofts.


    Here is the one building Father Pitt considers endangered, beacuse vacant and ill-kept buildings catch fire mysteriously. It belonged to the Van Kleeck Motor Co., which sold Jordan automobiles. The façade is mostly original, though it has had some curious alterations, especially the door to nowhere with its tiny iron balcony.


    Next (and please forgive the glare from the sun in the wrong part of the sky) comes an Oldsmobile dealer.


    And finally the Nash dealer, now home to a branch of North Way Christian Community, which has made the front look gorgeous.

    This is the whole contiguous row along Craig Street, and it is incredible enough that the entire block of buildings has survived intact. There were also other car dealers in the same immediate area, and even more remarkably they have survived, too. In the future, Father Pitt hopes to bring you pictures of the Chevrolet dealer, the Packard dealer, the Studebaker dealer, the Ford dealer, and the Sampson dealer.

  • Spider

    This beautiful creature showed up and demanded to have its portrait taken with old Pa Pitt’s Olympus E-20N. Father Pitt knows nothing about spiders, except that some of them are very artistic. If you happen to know this creature’s name, Father Pitt would be very grateful for an identification in the comments.

  • Oliver Bathhouse, South Side

    Oliver Bathhouse
    Tenth Street front.

    Known as the South Side Baths when it was built, this was donated by steel baron and real-estate magnate Henry W. Oliver, who in 1903 gave the city land and money for a neighborhood bathhouse to be free to the people forever. In those days, many poor families—including the ones who worked for Oliver—lived in tenements where they had no access to bathing. (Even the Bedford School across the street from this bathhouse had outside privies until 1912.) Oliver might not raise his workmen’s salaries, but he was willing to make the men smell better.

    Bingham Street side
    Bingham Street side.

    To design the bathhouse, Oliver chose the most prestigious architect in the country: Daniel Burnham. Then, in 1904, Oliver died, and his gift spent almost a decade in limbo. The project was finally revived in 1913, by which time Burnham had died as well. The plans were taken over by MacClure & Spahr, an excellent Pittsburgh firm responsible for the Diamond Building and the Union National Building. No one seems to know how much they relied on Burnham’s drawings, but the Tudor Gothic style of the building (it was finished in 1915) is certainly in line with other MacClure & Spahr projects, like the chapel for the Homewood Cemetery. Even MacClure & Spahr’s early sketches show a quite different building, so it is probably safest to assume that little of Burnham remains here.

    Bath House – South Side Pittsburgh Pa.
    For the Henry W. Oliver Estate
    MacClure & Spahr – Architects – Pittsburgh Pa.

    When we compare this to the building as it stands, it looks as though the Oliver estate told the architects that this version was not expensive enough. “Try again,” the estate must have said, “but this time spend more money.”

    There was a fad for building public baths in Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century, and on Saturday nights workers and their families would line up around the block to get into the bathhouses and wash off the grime of the week. Gradually, indoor plumbing became a feature of even the most notorious slum tenements, and all but one of the bathhouses closed. The Oliver Bathhouse, given to the people in perpetuity, remains. It has been saved by its indoor swimming pool, the only city pool open during the winter.

    Classical dolphin

    Nothing says “water” like a classical dolphin.

    Another dolphin