Formerly Grace Episcopal Church, this church was built in 1852 and “rebuilt” in 1926, according to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks plaque. Father Pitt cannot say how much of the old building is left, but it would appear to have been a frame structure, which suggests that the current church was completely new in 1926. Regardless, the design is timeless; as soon as it was put up, it must have looked as if it had been there forever. The architect, again according to the plaque, was J. Stewart, Jr.
These pictures were taken back in October, when there were leaves.
Here is an interesting example of the persistence of architectural traditions. To look at this church, you might guess that the main building dates from the 1870s or 1880s. It has the typical look of a small Pittsburgh church of that time—the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters. In fact, according to the cornerstone, it was built in 1924, and “remodeled” in 1949. The “remodeling” doubtless included the Romanesque front and corner tower.
Built in 1929, this church on Boggs Avenue is a fine example of the elegantly streamlined Gothic style that was fashionable for a few years before Gothic architecture disappeared entirely from our design vocabulary. It now belongs to a real-estate company, which uses it as offices but keeps the exterior well.
Perhaps you are thinking that this does not look very much like a Pittsburgh church, because there are no utility cables in front of it. Here:
A block or so away on the other side of Boggs Avenue is an older church, much altered but still recognizable:
Though it is festooned with artificial siding and expensive new brickwork, with a comically inappropriate broken pediment over the front door, this is clearly a church from the late 1800s. In fact it was built in 1884, as we can tell because whoever did the renovations was kind enough to place the old date stone in the new brick front:
And there is the name of the church: Evangelische Lutherische Zions Kirche, which is German for Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. This is the original home of the congregation that later built the splendid Gothic edifice down the street.
You will note that this was one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs; we have added yet another to our growing collection.
Almost certainly nothing can be done to save this grand old Romanesque church on Herron Avenue in what used to be called Minersville. It has been abandoned too long and decayed too far to be revived except by some miraculously heroic effort, and miracles like that seldom happen on the Hill, where even the New Granada Theater has been languishing abandoned for decades. But enough remains of this church that we can at least admire the architecture of it before it comes down. It was built in 1894 as the Seventh Presbyterian Church (some online sources say First Presbyterian of Minersville, but it appears that the smaller frame building that formerly occupied this site was already called Seventh Presbyterian by 1890). By 1923 it was known as the Herron Avenue Presbyterian Church. It would later be bought by the John Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1836, but by the 2000s that congregation apparently could no longer maintain the building. Water from mine runoff was a constant problem, according to the church’s long-out-of-date Wikipedia article.
There are pictures of the vandalized interior various places on line if you look for them. Father Pitt follows his usual policy of not trespassing, so he brings you only a few pictures of the exterior, which is an interesting kind of Romanesque verging on Rundbogenstil—a word old Pa Pitt uses at every opportunity, because he likes to say it.
An iron ornament at the pinnacle of the main tower.
This fine building, put up in 1912, is well preserved but unused, and we hope it can be kept in good shape. It sits in the Perry Hilltop part of Lafayette Hilltop—“Perry South” on city planning maps. It was designed by Chancey or Chauncey W. Hodgdon (we have found the name spelled both ways), in an interesting combination of styles—round arches for the smaller windows, broad Gothic arches for the large windows, and a Tudor Gothic arcade in the front; except that the arches are more rounded than usual Tudor arches. Perhaps an architectural historian can nail down the style precisely, or perhaps it is simply unique to Hodgdon.
The Allegheny City Society has a substantial article about this church in the spring 2017 issue of the society newsletter (PDF).
Here is another one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs, which have become one of old Pa Pitt’s small obsessions. This is quite typical of its time: it was built in 1870, and it has all the usual marks of the typical Pittsburgh smaller church: the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. It now belongs to Northside Common Ministries.
The firehouse in Beechview is a simple modernist box that seems to have nothing to recommend a second look. At least, nothing from the front; but take a closer look at the foundation.
This does not look like a typical postwar modernist construction, and in fact it is something else entirely. The firehouse was built on top of an old Presbyterian church.
The Beechview United Presbyterian Church divided early in its history. Some congregational argument caused part of the congregation to split off and build a church here in 1918. The foundation of the current firehouse is that church—by which we mean not that it was the foundation of the church, but that it was the church itself. Old Pa Pitt does not know what the intention was; he can only assume that a larger building would eventually have been built on top of it. But old pictures show that this foundation was simply roofed over, with a stubby absurd tower on the corner. Half a dozen steps led up to the entrance in this tower, and then there was nowhere to go but down.
In 1938, twenty years after the breakup, the two Presbyterian churches in Beechview got back together again, and the combined congregation still uses the Beechview United Presbyterian Church on Broadway. But the old church remains as the basement of the firehouse, and we can still pick out the outlines of the Tudor Gothic windows in the stones if we look closely.
Long views with a long lens remind us of what an absurd place this is to build a city. Above, the Trimont looms over houses and small apartment buildings that it makes look tiny; below, uncommon views of St. Mary of the Mount Church.