Andrew Carnegie peppered the city with neighborhood libraries designed by his favorite architects, Alden & Harlow. They’re all little gems. This one has been abandoned for years, since a new library was built in the mostly empty business district of Hazelwood on Second Avenue. (That block of Second Avenue now seems to be the center of the Hazelwood neighborhood revival.) It is still in good shape, and—unlike an abandoned church or synagogue—it would be a relatively easy building to adapt to new uses.
A school that looks like a school, this is now a community center. Of course it has to make very Pittsburghish adaptations to the topography, so it is not possible to say how many storeys there are without specifying which side you mean. A modernist front was added to the other end, just a bit of which is visible in this picture.
Certainly unique in Pittsburgh, this Episcopal church was a design by William Halsey Wood, whose only other work here that Father Pitt knows about is the Church of the Ascension in Shadyside. The Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1891; it is now up for sale, so anyone with some money has a chance at a signature building that looks like nothing else in the city. After decades of decline, this part of Hazelwood is moving up in the world: just a couple of blocks away is a branch of La Gourmandine, the delightful French bakery. Wouldn’t you like to live or work in a landmark building just a short stroll from a French bakery?
And then there’s Titus de Bobula.
There are few real outliers among the architects who worked in Pittsburgh before the First World War; we had brilliant architects, but we can sort most of them into groups by the styles they worked in. Titus de Bobula’s work, however, is unique here. He brought us a breath of Budapest Art Nouveau, and for a few years he was the favorite architect for East European churches of all sorts.
And then he was gone—back to Hungary, where his regular job seems to have been trying and failing to overthrow the government. Later he ended up back in the United States, but he never again had a great architectural career. Perhaps that was because he worked with Nikola Tesla, designing the structural parts of Tesla’s never-built (and possibly delusional) superweapons. It might have been a good job at the time, but no permanent structures ever came of it.
So we should try as hard as we can to preserve what remains of de Bobula’s work. Fortunately this church, built in 1903, still belongs to its original congregation and is still active.
The shape of the building is similar to the shape of your average Pittsburgh Gothic church, but the details are straight from fin-de-siècle Budapest—right down to Titus de Bobula’s trademark Art Nouveau lettering in the inscriptions.
The wildly irregular stonework around the uniquely shaped windows may remind you a bit of Gaudi.
“Welcome” in stained glass over the main entrance.
Titus de Bobula made a habit of signing his buildings. The rail of a later wheelchair ramp obstructs part of this inscription (the contractor was Bodine and Co.), but we can see enough to appreciate the Art Nouveau lettering.
In 2015, we visited the John Woods House and found it boarded up, but with some hope for a brighter future: the Urban Redevelopment Authority had bought it and was offering it for sale to anyone who would restore it.
Someone took up the offer, and the house is now beautifully restored and open as a pub called the Woods House.
John Woods and his father Col. George Woods made the street plan for downtown Pittsburgh in 1784; the Colonel came up with the design, and John did the drafting work. The town had existed for nearly thirty years before it was organized into a proper grid of streets: Woods actually gave us two grids, doing his best to fit a rational eighteenth-century square plan into a triangle. The collision of the grids along Liberty Avenue has been a source of confusion and delightfully unusual building shapes ever since.
In musical history, this is famous as the house where Stephen Foster loved to visit and bang away at the piano. Supposedly he wrote “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” and “Nellie Bly” here, the latter inspired by one of the Woods family’s servants.
As the clouds drifted by low in the sky, old Pa Pitt decided this house might make a good moody black-and-white picture.