A small church whose weighty Romanesque design makes it seem larger than it is. Of course we have the usual Pittsburgh feast of utility cables in front, which old Pa Pitt is too lazy to take out. The building now belongs to a nondenominational congregation called the Holy Faith Tabernacle Church.
Until 1939, there were two main streams of Methodism in the United States: the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church. Both were represented in Knoxville: we saw the First Methodist Protestant Church of Knoxville earlier.
Now the Graceland Community Church. This old Episcopal church is a frame structure sheathed in Perma-Stone or some similar artificial siding. Old Pa Pitt does not know the history of the building, but from old maps it seems to date to the 1880s. The square windows in the rear part indicate a later extension, after 1923 (according to the maps), and the Perma-Stone may have been applied at the same time.
There is a certain traditional shape for Episcopal churches, and it is often possible to identify, or at least suspect, an old Episcopal church simply by its shape. They tend to be small but rich, with a very steeply pitched roof and Gothic details.
[Correction: In the first version of this article, Father Pitt had carelessly typed “Church of the Resurrection” in the headline. He was thinking of a church of that name in Brookline, which will appear here shortly.]
This building has been much altered and diminished. There was originally more building behind it, and the façade has been drastically remodeled. The front entrance is now a pair of windows, and the original grand arches have been bricked in, with small and mismatched windows. The city’s Hilltop architectural inventory (PDF) classed this as a building with low architectural integrity. But it is very interesting for two reasons. First, the front gives us a good lesson in urban archaeology: enough is left so that we can try to imagine how the original building looked. Second, the fact that there was such a thing as a prominent school of rhetoric in Knoxville is itself an interesting window into times past. The briefest exposure to any of our politicians today will be enough to convince us that a school of rhetoric would be welcome in these parts.
A little bedraggled and somewhat muddled by renovations, the former Hill-Top Branch Young Men’s Christian Association is still a grand building. Old Pa Pitt has not been able to determine the architect, but according to the city’s Hilltop architectural inventory it was built in 1911. The same document says elsewhere that the land for it was donated in 1912, and Father Pitt is imagining an amusing scene in which the projectors of the YMCA are trying to explain to the landowner why they thought it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Above, the Zara Street front of the building.
One of the ornate “modern Ionic” capitals on the front porch.
Unlike its neighbor, the Knoxville Presbyterian Church, this little Gothic church has no one to cut down the weeds and the Pittsburgh palms. It is already half-swallowed by jungle, and it may soon be nothing more than a roughly cube-shaped lump of vegetation. Wouldn’t it make a fine studio for some ambitious artist?
St. Canice is an unusual Romanesque church that closed in 2005. Since then it has sat vacant. It was sold to Lion of Judah Church in 2012, but it seems nothing came of the plans to refurbish the building, and as it ages it will only get more expensive to refurbish. Churches are hard to find alternate uses for, and Knoxville is not a neighborhood where trendy loft apartments—the only consistently profitable use Pittsburghers have found for old church buildings—would sell. This is an endangered landmark.
It took eleven separate photographs to make this composite of the Orchard Place front of the church. Except for the inevitable distortion of the tower, this is a very close approximation of the way the architects imagined these buildings. The main Romanesque church was built in 1894, according to this city architectural inventory (PDF); the Gothic chapel additions were built in 1928 and 1932.
Like many Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, St. Canice was not just a church: it was a whole village, forming the heart of a community. There was a school, and a convent for the sisters who taught for the school, and a rectory for the priests who served in the church. The tragedy of decaying communities like this is that, at a certain point, it becomes too expensive to maintain the church; but, once the heart is ripped out, the decay is immeasurably accelerated.
The rectory and convent are in good shape.
The rectory, built in 1928.
The convent, built in 1913 with additions in 1930.
The school, on the other hand, is half-swallowed by jungle. It was repurposed as Hilltop Catholic High School for a while, and more modern buildings (from 1960) are behind this entrance; but the school has been abandoned for years, and will eventually have to be demolished. It was bought by a Baptist church at the same time St. Canice Church was bought by Lion of Judah, but the church seems not to have been able to do anything with the buildings.
The outstanding feature of this church is its outsized corner tower; the architect has cleverly emphasized its height with strong vertical lines. Corner towers are common in churches on corner lots, but seldom do they reach these proportions.
There are also smaller towers at three of the other four corners of the building, and a matching Sunday-school wing is attached.
This is one of several abandoned churches in Knoxville, but at least somebody mows the lawn and sweeps away the trash. Note the steep slope that makes two floors’ difference between the front of the lot and the back of the lot.
Few of these black stone buildings are left, but in some of the less prosperous neighborhoods we can still find uncleaned stones. Knoxville is a particularly interesting neighborhood from the point of view of the urban archaeologist: it was prosperous and now is not, so it retains some splendid buildings in their original state, many of them sadly abandoned and decaying. This church, marked “1st Meth. Prot. Ch.” on a 1916 map, is still in use as a nondenominational church, and old Pa Pitt very selfishly hopes that the congregation always sits at that middle point where it has enough money to keep the doors open and not enough to clean the black stones.
This splendid Tudor Deco palace takes up a whole large city block; in fact, it’s the symbolic center of Knoxville, occupying the lot where the original W. W. Knox house stood until the early twentieth century. The school was built in stages, beginning in 1927; the Charles Street front was finished in 1935. The architects were Press C. Dowler and Marion M. Steen, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance, as part of a package deal with a number of Pittsburgh public schools.
The school closed in 2006. It may stand for many more years, since Knoxville is not a prosperous enough neighborhood to make it worth demolishing; but it will eventually become too dangerous to let stand, so it is in danger until another use is found for it.
The main entrance is designed to impress us with the idea that education is important but also delightful.
These shields above the entrance express an ideal of balance in public education: Art, Science, Trades, Play.