Category: History

  • Our Bungalow of Dreams

    The Bridgeville, a bungalow design

    Here is a bungalow from the book Pennsylvania Homes, published in 1925 by the Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association of Pennsylvania, which had its headquarters in the Park Building in Pittsburgh.

    Some graduate student right now is probably writing a thesis on “The Idea of the Bungalow in Early-Twentieth-Century American Thought.” Certainly there is enough material for a hefty academic treatise. We could probably write a thick book just on the cultural implications of 1920s song titles: “Our Bungalow of Dreams,” “We’ll Build a Bungalow,” “A Little Bungalow,” “A Cozy Little Bungalow” (that’s a different song), “There’s a Bungalow in Dixieland,” “You’re Just the Type for a Bungalow.” And so on.

    A “bungalow” in American usage was a house where the rooms were all on the ground level, though often with extra bedrooms in a finished attic. It was the predecessor of the ubiquitous ranch houses of the 1960s. It was associated with the “Craftsman” style promoted by Gustav Stickley and others. Low-pitched roofs, overhanging eaves, and simple arts-and-crafts ornament were typical of the style.

    Bungalow in Beechview
    A bungalow in Beechview.

    Roof brackets
    The Craftsman-style roof brackets on that bungalow.

    What caused American houses to go from predominantly vertical to predominantly horizontal? We will not attempt to answer that question definitively; we have to leave our hypothetical graduate student some material for a thesis. We only offer some suggestions.

    First, there are practical advantages to a one-level design. Advertisements often dwell on the number of steps the bungalow saves the busy housewife, which reminds us that middle-class families were beginning to consider the possibility of getting along without servants.

    Second, a small bungalow could be built very cheap. It is true that a rowhouse could be built even cheaper, but the bungalow offered the privacy of a detached house. Some of these bungalows were extraordinarily tiny: that book of Pennsylvania Homes featured a “one-room” bungalow, with a tiny kitchen, dressing room, and bathroom, and one “great room” that could become a pair of bedrooms at night by drawing a folding partition across the middle. Most were not quite so tiny: a typical bungalow had a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and one or two bedrooms on the ground floor.

    Floor plan of the Vandergrift
    Floor plan of the Vandergrift, a design for a small bungalow.

    The Vandergrift
    Rendering of the Vandergrift.

    Bungalow in O’Hara Township
    A similar bungalow in O’Hara Township.

    Third, there was the suburban ideal. In the early twentieth century, Americans were persuading themselves that what they wanted was the country life, but with city conveniences—in other words, the suburb. The city did not always have room to spread out horizontally, but the suburbs were more encouraging to horizontality.

    Another bungalow in O’Hara Township
    Another bungalow in O’Hara Township.

    Fourth, the bungalow—as we see in all those songs—earned a place in folklore as the ideal love nest for a young couple. House builders encouraged that line of thinking with a nudge and a wink, and added the helpful incentive that a bungalow for two could be built cheaply with an unfinished attic, and then, as nature took her course, two more bedrooms could be finished upstairs.

    Nevertheless, cheapness was not always the main consideration. The bungalow was a fashion, and fashionable families might build fashionable bungalows that were every bit as expensive as more traditional houses, like this generously sized cement bungalow in Beechview, built in 1911 at a cost of about $4,000, which was above the average for Beechview houses, though many cheaper (and more vertical) houses had more living space.

    Concrete bungalow in Beechview
    The side of that Beechview bungalow.
    The front of the bungalow.

    We hope we have given you, our hypothetical graduate student, enough inspiration to make the bungalow an attractive thesis topic. We eagerly await the results of your research.

  • The Henry Phipps Row Under Construction

    Henry Phipps was responsible for much of the development in this corner of the Triangle. This photograph appeared in The Brickbuilder for October, 1905. The Fulton Building (apparently called the New York while it was going up) is not quite finished in this picture. Its matching companion the Bessemer Building was replaced by a low parking garage. The Phipps Power Building still stands, though the face of it is obscured by more recent additions. If you enlarge the picture, you can see the Gayety theater at left, which would later be renamed the Fulton and have its entrance routed through the Fulton Building to connect it with Sixth Street and the rest of the theater district; it is now the Byham. You will also notice the long-gone Duquesne Way elevated rail line under construction in front of the buildings.

  • The Kleber Row Newly Built, Brighton Heights

    Kleber Row in 1916

    Back in October we featured a row of houses designed by T. E. Cornelius on Davis Avenue in Brighton Heights. Thanks to an alert correspondent, here is that same row from the Pittsburgh Daily Post of March 5, 1916, with a caption describing the decidedly modern effect of the style:

    The illustration shows one row of a building operation comprising four rows on Davis avenue, Northside, erected for Henry Kleber by T. Ed. Cornelius, architect. The low raking roofs and heavy square columns give a “Craftsman” effect, and the interior is carried out in a similar style. This method of building three or six houses under one roof shows a handsome return on the money invested.

    Thirteen of these houses were built on the Kleber property. The houses still stand today, and in very good shape.

    The Kleber row today

    The architect and his clients obviously considered this design a success: T. E. Cornelius duplicated it at other sites in the city. It is a backhanded compliment to Mr. Cornelius that some architectural historians have misattributed a group of them in Shadyside to the noted progressive architect Frederick Scheibler. We might pay another compliment to Mr. Cornelius by noting that, everywhere these houses appear, they are in better shape than most of Frederick Scheibler’s rowhouses of similar size and era. These houses were built cheap, but they were built to last.

  • Fort Pitt Blockhouse, by Arsene Rousseau

    Fort Pitt Blockhouse
    From The Charette, December, 1928.

    This sketch was a winner in the Pittsburgh Architectural Club’s Summer Prize Sketch Competition. The artist was Arsene Rousseau (misspelled in the caption), who later became a successful architect in Youngstown.

    The sketch shows the situation of the Blockhouse as attractively as the artist can manage consistent with honesty. It had been restored to its past and present condition by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who maintained a little patch of green in the decaying warehouse and slum district of the Point. We see just a little of the Point Bridge in the background.

    For comparison’s sake, here is how the Blockhouse looked in 1887, before the ladies of the DAR got their hands on it:

    Fort Pitt Blockhouse in 1887
    From Fisher & Stewart’s Guide and Handbook of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, 1887.

  • Titus de Bobula, Before and After Pittsburgh

    Until recently, architectural historians knew nothing of the career of the eccentric architectural genius and would-be Nazi dictator Titus de Bobula before and after his time in Pittsburgh. It was known that he had claimed to have worked in Ohio, and it was known that he moved to New York, but what he did there was a mystery.

    In the last few weeks, however, old Pa Pitt has been on the trail of de Bobula, and he has found a few more pieces of this ever-odder jigsaw puzzle.

    First, there is the advertisement de Bobula ran in the American School Board Journal every month for several months running in 1902 and 1903, before he showed up in Pittsburgh. Here he claims to have a “main office” in Zanesville, with some form of practice in Marietta and Cambridge. Father Pitt suspects all three of these addresses might be bars where the landlord agreed to receive de Bobula’s mail. He was twenty-four years old at the time, and we have not been able to identify a single remaining building by him in Ohio yet; it is unlikely that he had three offices.

    Byesville, Ohio, Public School

    The drawing of a school in Byesville is the earliest known drawing attributable to de Bobula—the earliest known to Father Pitt, at any rate. It may never have been built. A school of similar age and almost exactly the same dimensions still stands in Byesville (you can see it on Google Street View), but it is not at all the same building.

    The biggest surprise comes from after de Bobula moved from Pittsburgh to New York, and it was hiding in plain sight in a major magazine: a mansion overlooking the junction of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers in the Spuyten Duyvil section of the Bronx. Unfortunately the building no longer exists, as far as old Pa Pitt can tell, but that it was built is unquestionable. It was the subject of a prominent photo feature in the June 2, 1920, issue of the American Architect, where you can see the front, the back, some of the interior, and the floor plans. This view of the river front shows that here, at last, Titus de Bobula’s prodigious imagination had been allowed to run wild.

    River front of the house in Spuyten Duyvil

    Not long after this house was built, de Bobula was in Hungary, loafing about on winnings from gambling in currency exchange and plotting to take over the government.

    Father Pitt’s article on Titus de Bobula in the Pittsburgh Encyclopedia keeps expanding, and these are not the only surprises we have turned up. You can now read the complete text of de Bobula’s influential and insane talk on “American Style.” And if you are in the mood for more complete texts, we have also unearthed the complete text of de Bobula’s 1923 agreement with Adolf Hitler.

  • Braddock National Bank

    Braddock National Bank, from an old postcard
    From an old postcard

    This splendid edifice cost about $100,000 when it was built in about 1905. The architects were McCollum & Dowler,1 and that Dowler is the young Press C. Dowler, who would practice architecture for two-thirds of a century and run through every style of his long lifetime, from Romanesque through Art Deco to uncompromising modernism. The building still stands today on Braddock Avenue, and the front still looks about the same.

    1. Source: The American Architect and Building News, July 23, 1904: “Braddock, Pa.—McCollom [sic] & Dowler, Pittsburg, have completed plans for a $100,000 granite and brick bank building for the Braddock National Bank.” ↩︎
  • Residence for Mr. Edward Kneeland by Charles M. Bartberger

    Charles M. Bartberger’s perspective renderings were featured more than once in the American Architect and Building News. From December 29, 1900—two days before the end of the nineteenth century—comes this very pleasant mansion for a wealthy Pittsburgher. Mr. Bartberger, whose father was the successful architect Charles F. Bartberger (and the two of them are mixed up all over the Internet), had established himself as a reliable designer of houses for the fairly-well-off, and this Dutch-colonial house is a variation on a very common style in the East End neighborhoods: not an adventurous design, but a respectable one. Father Pitt does not know where it was built or whether it still stands, but he will be looking out for a house with those distinctive dormers.

  • The Convention in Sky-Scrapers, 1903

    Hartje Building
    The Hartje Building, later the West Penn Building, at First Avenue and Wood Street, is a classic example of the Beaux-Arts skyscraper formula of base, shaft, and cap. The architect was Charles Bickel.

    The three original homes of the skyscraper were New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. When people first began to talk of “sky-scrapers,” those were the three cities they mentioned. And for the first three decades or so of skyscraper building, a definite style predominated in all three places—the Beaux-Arts formula of base, shaft, cap. From 1903, only a few years into the skyscraper age, a writer in the Architectural Record observes the uniformity that had quickly come to pervade American skyscraper design.


    When steel construction began to have its effect upon the height and the looks of office-buildings, two tendencies were traceable in their design. In New York there was no attempt to make their appearance express their structure. A convention of treating them as columns with a decorated capital, a long plain central shaft, and a heavier base, was early adopted; and within the limits of this general idea, the regular architectural, structural and decorative forms were used regardless of their ordinary structural functions and associations. In Chicago, on the other hand, while many buildings were designed along the same lines as New York, there was a tendency, partly owing to the influence of Mr. Louis Sullivan, towards a franker expression in the design of these buildings of the plain facts of their steel structure. Such is no longer the case. The new sky-scrapers, which have been, and are being, erected in large numbers in Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as New York, almost all conform to the conventional treatment, long since adopted in the metropolis—and this in spite of the fact that Mr. Louis Sullivan had between the two bursts of building activity completed several brilliant and comparatively good-looking attempts to solve the problem within the limitations imposed by the structure. Whether or not the American architect has, in this instance, chosen the wrong alternative, he has at any rate, for the time being, adopted a comparatively uniform type for the design of the “skyscrapers.”

    The Architectural Record, December, 1903.

  • Carron Street Baptist Church, Shadyside

    This beautiful and tasteful Colonial Revival church by the Beezer Brothers was featured in the December 15, 1900, issue of the American Architect and Building News. You search Google Maps for it in vain today, and you may be thinking what a shame it is that it disappeared.

    But it didn’t disappear. It’s still there.

    It looks a little more working-class now, but it’s recognizably the same building. Is there a tasteful and wealthy congregation looking for a church? This one is ripe for restoration.

  • First Ward Manual Training School, Allegheny

    The school is long gone, and the site covered by expressways: it was about where the ramps from the Fort Duquesne Bridge join state route 65 on the way to Ohio River Boulevard, very near the North Side subway station. But here is a rendering of Charles M. Bartberger’s design, which is an early school in a somewhat unusual Flemish style by an architect who came to design many of Pittsburgh’s more distinguished school buildings. It was published in the American Architect and Building News for October 13, 1900.

    Old Pa Pitt finds it interesting how many of these architectural renderings include elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen standing in the street waiting to be run over by an omnibus.