Many streets in the Pittsburgh area used to have a median where the streetcars ran in a separate right-of-way: Center Avenue in West View and Brookline Boulevard in Brookline are two examples. Broadway in Dormont is the only one where the streetcars still run in the median. We could also count the Silver Line through Bethel Park as a broad instance of the same kind of development, although the streets between which the trolleys run have different names.
We have seen Ruth before, but here are all three of the ladies on Broadway in Dormont. They form a group, with Ruth facing the other two across the street. Ruth and Thea are identical; Esther is different, but matching in scale, colors, and materials.
For some reason giving small apartment buildings women’s names was popular in Dormont. If old Pa Pitt had been naming these, he would have kept to a consistent Old Testament theme. Perhaps Ruth, Esther, and Hulda?
Convenient to transit.
The pictures of Ruth were taken in November of 2022. Obviously, the only way to get the sun on all three buildings is to come at two different times.
This church was built in 1924, and its streamlined Gothic style, in spite of the irregular stonework, carries a whiff of Art Deco. We’ve featured Bethany once before with views from its own side of the street. Here are some pictures from across West Liberty Avenue to give Bethany the honor of being our Easter church this year.
The church’s next-door neighbor is a gas station.
The cross on the roof of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dormont.
When Dormont was founded in 1909, its founders wanted to call it “Mount Lebanon,” the historical name of that part of the South Hills. There was some friction, however, with residents to the south of the new borough, who of course later adopted that name themselves. The result was that borough founders picked the nonsensical inside-out-French name “Dormont,” which as far as old Pa Pitt knows is unique in the world. Several institutions in Dormont, however, kept the name “Mount Lebanon,” among them two churches. This one closed in 2013, the same year Dormont’s Presbyterians and Methodists threw in the towel. The building, however, has been kept in good shape. Built in 1930, it is a fine example of the streamlined Gothic influenced by Art Deco that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
Vine decorations under the entrance arches.
The sign along West Liberty Avenue matched the stone and style of the building.
As far as the Post Office is concerned, Dormont is “Pittsburgh,” as is everything with a 152– ZIP code. This dignified post office is typical of many branches built in the Franklin Roosevelt era. The bronze lanterns are especially fine.
The cornerstone lists the supervising architect, the supervising engineer, and the architect. Louis A. Simon was responsible for many federal projects; he created standard plans that would then be adapted by other architects to the individual situation. Carroll H. Pratt seems to have been a New York architect who, aside from Rooseveltian post offices like this one, designed homes for the wealthy.
Now here is a little bit of Pittsburgh lore too arcane for most Pittsburghers, but not for old Pa Pitt. Before there were ZIP codes, there were postal codes in big cities that referred to the individual postal station. A letter going to the South Hills in Pittsburgh, for example, would be addressed to Pittsburgh 16. When ZIP codes were assigned, the old Pittsburgh postal codes were retained as the last two digits, so that Pittsburgh 16 became ZIP code 15216.
Those old postal codes were in alphabetical order, so the original ZIP codes for Pittsburgh are also in alphabetical order. Of course you have to know the names of the branch post offices to decipher the order. For example, Lawrenceville was Pittsburgh 1 (now 15201), because it is Arsenal station to the post office. The South Side was Pittsburgh 3 (15203), because it is Carson station. Pittsburgh 21, Wilkinsburg, was the last in the series; ZIP codes 15222 and above are later creations.
Old Pa Pitt’s fascination with small apartment buildings is hard to explain, except that—as he has mentioned before—they often gave lesser architects a chance to execute unusual ideas. This building is made of very simple elements, but arranged in an unusual rhythm, the balconies forming strong verticals that are accented by brick projections at the roofline.
A small apartment building along the Red Line in Dormont, with some of the Spanish Mission details that were very popular in Dormont a century ago. It was also popular to give small apartment buildings women’s names; across the street are two very similar buildings named Thea and Esther.
Built in 1924, this church seems typical of the slightly modernist Gothic of the period: the pointed arches and the stonework are still there, but the details are spare, and the forms are relatively simple.
Dormont Junction ceased to be a junction in the 1960s, but the Pittsburgh trolley system is crusty with tradition, and the name has never been changed—in spite of occasional attempts by the Port Authority to call the station “Dormont.” The current station was designed in the 1980s, and like most of the stations put up then it is utilitarian to the point of ugliness. Above, two Red Line cars pass; below, a closer view, showing the 1980s-vintage T-in-a-circle sign at the entrance.
Dormont Junction is at the north end of the Mount Lebanon subway tunnel, which is never called a “subway” by real Pittsburghers, to whom “subway” means the section of four underground stations, one ground-level station, and two elevated stations from Station Square to Allegheny.