Built in 1928, this Tudor firehouse was designed by Richard Neff, and it is one of the most charming public buildings in the Hilltop neighborhoods. It is now a paramedic station. A few years ago, the city spiffed up its historic firehouses, so this one looks almost new now.
There are countless pictures in Father Pitt’s archives that are not good enough to publish, but every once in a while he realizes that he has forgotten to publish a perfectly adequate one. He went looking for his article on this church in Allentown because he had just identified the architect, and the article was nowhere to be found. So here it is, almost a year after the picture was taken. The architect was E. V. Dennick, as we learn from The Construction Record in 1915: “Architect E. V. Dennick, 1212 House Building, is taking bids on erecting a one-story and basement brick and sandstone church on Excelsior Street, Allentown, for the Bethlehem Lutheran Congregation.” (On another page of the same magazine, the architect’s name is spelled “Denick.”)
From the front this appears to be another one of our churches with the sanctuary upstairs, but the building is set into the hill, and therefore justifies the magazine’s description as “one-story and basement.”
You walk up Walter Street past the usual Hilltop cacophony of vernacular houses with aluminum and vinyl siding, and then suddenly you come upon this explosion of Art Nouveau. The building has lost its balconies (a long time ago, to judge by that tattered aluminum awning) and its cornice, but it retains its utter uniqueness, right down to the balcony doors to nowhere on the second and third floors, which appear to be original and designed specifically for this building rather than ordered from a catalogue.
This strange and wonderful little building is obviously the work of a strange and wonderful architect. But which one? It was built after 1903 but before 1910, and we are sorely tempted to attribute it to Titus de Bobula, whose entire Pittsburgh career blossomed and faded in that period. The treatment of the decorations strongly reminds old Pa Pitt of the Everett Apartments in Shadyside—in fact the decorations are so similar that Father Pitt is nearly convinced they have to be by the same architect. He is not the only one to notice the similarity. A city architecture inventory (PDF) also points it out: “Its similarity to another apartment building in the East End (at Ellsworth Avenue and Copeland Street in Shadyside) further sets the design of 404 Walter apart from the local vernacular found throughout the rest of Allentown.”
To see what both Father Pitt and the city’s architecture experts are talking about, consider these decorations:
Now compare this decoration from the Everett in Shadyside:
The similarity is certainly marked; many of the pieces are identical. Since the Everett is attributed to Titus de Bobula, we are justified in saying that he is a strong possibility for this one, too.
Another De Bobulesque feature is the lack of a main entrance: instead there is a small door off to one side that appears to lead into a stairwell. This is also the case with his Glen Tenement House in Hazelwood and with the Everett. The narrow verticals with asymmetrically staggered windows remind us of St. Michael’s School in Braddock, another De Bobula design (Father Pitt promises to make a pilgrimage to Braddock soon and come back with pictures).
Father Pitt will regard this as a De Bobula building until someone proves otherwise. But he would be delighted to have someone prove otherwise, because then he would be introduced to another eccentric but talented architect.
A Romanesque church whose immense chimney dwarfs its stubby little tower, this is probably the only church in the neighborhood still serving its original congregation.
A particularly fine Art Deco design. Neighborhood telephone exchanges were put up all over the city, and the telephone company, which had all the money in the world, always made them ornaments to their neighborhoods. This one still belongs to the successor of the Bell Telephone Company.
Addendum: The architect was almost certainly Press C. Dowler. According to the Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey Form for the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania Western Headquarters Building, “Between 1935 and 1955, Press C. Dowler designed in excess of 60 buildings for Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh region.”
One of our endangered landmarks: it has been closed as a church for six years now, and no one seems to know what else to do with it. A community group wants to preserve it as a community resource, but it takes money to keep up a magnificent church. Allentown seems to be metamorphosing into a trendy neighborhood, but not very quickly into an expensive neighborhood—which is a good thing for the residents, but a bad thing for the prospect of making anything profitable out of this building.
Allentown was a German neighborhood, and this church was designed by a German architect (Herman J. Lang) for a German congregation. The church was finished in 1912. It has its own Wikipedia article, which identifies it as an example of “the German Romanesque architectural style, an American derivative of the Rundbogenstil style.” Father Pitt approves of that description, because he likes to say the word “Rundbogenstil.” We have pillaged most of the rest of our information from that article.
Until fairly recently, almost all the businesses along Warrington Avenue in Allentown bore German names. This building still bears a ghost sign for Geo. Matz & Sons Furniture and Carpets. The style of the building is typical German Commercial Romanesque, of the sort that is very common in the old German neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. The storefront has been filled in with Perma-Stone, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the windows have been replaced with smaller standard-sized windows (with fake “multi-pane” slats, because window companies insist on adding those even though they look completely wrong on most buildings from the middle nineteenth century onwards). But both those things could be undone when Allentown becomes trendy enough to make restoration worthwhile, and otherwise the façade of the building is very well preserved.
German influence was strong in the German neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and the particular German variant of Romanesque called the Rundbogenstil—round-arch style—can be discerned in many of our buildings. Few offer it in as ostentatiously German a form as this one, which was the convent for St. George’s parish school in Allentown. It seems to old Pa Pitt that the rhythm of the front is just about perfect, and the three elaborate double arches place the proper emphasis on the upstairs chapel.
The side was not really meant to be seen, so it is almost completely undecorated.
Addendum: The convent was built in about 1915; the architect was Herman J. Lang, who was also the architect of the church.
The narrow streets on either side of St. George’s Church, taken in 1999. Above: Proctor Way; below, Climax Street.