Allegheny West is one of Pittsburgh’s most pleasant neighborhoods, and Beech Avenue may be the most delightful residential street in the whole city. The street is only two blocks long, but you would be hard pressed to find a better collection of domestic architecture on any street in the city. Add shady trees, a magnificent Gothic church at one end, and literary associations (Gertrude Stein was born here, and Mary Roberts Rinehart lived here when she wrote her most famous novel), and you can see why old Pa Pitt loves this street.
This building is remarkably well preserved mostly because it belonged to a company that stayed in the same business until 2005 without ever outgrowing its limited premises. The Hipwell Maufacturing Company’s most famous products were metal HIPCO flashlights, the kind that used to be ubiquitous before plastics took over. But the company (according to this page) was an important innovator in the electrical business, inventing the single-cell batteries that power our flashlights and digital cameras and toys and a thousand other things we never think of until we have to buy batteries again. It was also involved in the early stages of telephones and electric toy trains.
Today the building is lovingly preserved as—what else?—loft apartments, as well as a banquet hall called HIP at the Flashlight Factory.
This remarkable little church is actually the only National Historic Landmark on the North Side, and it well deserves the honor. H. H. Richardson put a lot of imagination into making a small church something unique. Note especially the decorative brickwork.
The immense roof proved heavier than even the great Richardson had calculated. The walls of the church bowed outward under the weight very early. Engineers called in to inspect the damage found that the walls had reached a stable position: they would stay that way forever if the congregation didn’t mind. And so they have stayed for more than a century.
The Circular Staircase was one of the greatest bestsellers of all time, and Mary Roberts Rinehart lived here when she wrote it—just half a block up Beech Avenue from the house where Gertrude Stein, a writer with a somewhat different style, was born. The success of The Circular Staircase made Mary Roberts Rinehart one of the most powerful literary figures in America, and her good business sense consolidated that power into a publishing empire for her family.