Category: Lawrenceville

  • Swedish Congregational Church, Lawrenceville

    Swedish Congregational Church

    There is something about men’s clubs: when they take over a building, the first thing they do is block out as much of the natural light as possible. But the outlines of the old windows are clear enough: it is not hard to imagine this building the way it was when it was a Swedish church.

    This is a late example of the style of modest church more typical of the middle 1800s. It has all the elements—the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. We also note that typical nineteenth-century Pittsburgh adaptation to a tiny lot: the sanctuary is on the second floor, with social hall and schoolrooms or offices on the ground floor.

    1897

    Without the date stone, old Pa Pitt would have guessed that this church was twenty years or more earlier.

    Oblique view

    The Amvets seem to have moved out, and it looks as if the building is vacant now. Considering the mushrooming value of Lawrenceville real estate, it will probably be filled or demolished soon.

    Swedish Congregational Church
  • Steifel Building, Lawrenceville

    The intersection of Butler and 44th Streets forms an acute angle. The architect of this attractive commercial building (it probably dates from the 1870s) blunted what would otherwise have been an unattractively sharp corner by placing the entrance there, spreading the turn across two angles.

  • Dritte Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Zions Kirche, Lawrenceville

    Here is an example of something you never see old Pa Pitt do. The usual jungle of utility cables infested this picture, and Father Pitt took them out. It’s not a perfect job, but it looks good from this distance. Having demonstrated that he is capable of doing it, Father Pitt may never do it again, but it does give us a good look at the front of an interesting old church.

    Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church is the oldest open church in Lawrenceville: that is to say, it is the one that has been worshiping in the same building continuously for the longest time. This building was finished in 1874, and it has not changed much since then. In style it is a typical small Pittsburgh church of the time, with a shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided in sections by simple pilasters, and crenellations under the roofline. This is the Romanesque variant of that style. It could be made Gothic by swapping the rounded arches for pointed arches; it could be made classical by adding a few classical decorative elements.

    The inscription reads “3.te Deutsche ev. Lutherische Zions Kirche” (“Third German Evangelical Lutheran Zion’s Church”). Someone has traced the date “1823” in white on the date stone in the gable. Father Pitt believes it is a mistake, although he would be happy to be corrected by anyone who knows better. The records indicate that the congregation was founded in 1868; the building opened in March of 1874, so the date 1873 would be plausible. Perhaps layers of paint made the date indistinct, and a painter misread the 7.

    Here is the church with the utility cables. Father Pitt had the energy to remove them from one picture, but after that he had to lie down for a while. Since, however, these pictures are all licensed with a public-domain-equivalent CC0 license, nothing stops any motivated readers from adopting the photograph and spending the afternoon eliminating the cables—and that utility pole while they’re at it.

  • Howley Street, Lawrenceville

    Howley Street

    A typical street of miscellaneous rowhouses in Lower Lawrenceville. This part of the neighborhood has become desirable enough that the houses are well maintained, but not desirable enough that they are pseudo-Victorianized yet, so that we still see the full cacophony of things Pittsburghers have thought it might be a good idea to do to a Victorian rowhouse. Below, an Italianate house that seems to be under renovation (note the expensive but asymmetrical new front entrance).

    Rowhouse
  • Carnegie Library, Lawrenceville Branch

    Lawrenceville branch library

    This fine little Renaissance palace, built in 1896, was the first of Carnegie’s branch libraries, and thus arguably the vanguard of the whole idea of branch libraries. It was also the first public library with open stacks, where patrons would just walk to the shelf and pick up the book by themselves. In other libraries—including much of the main Carnegie in Oakland until a few years ago—the patron would ask for the book at the desk, and a librarian would run back to the mysterious stacks and fetch it.

    Like all the original libraries in the Carnegie system, this was designed by Alden & Harlow.

    Carnegie Library Lawrenceville
  • Wilson Drugs, Penn Main

    Wilson Pharmacy

    The district around the intersection of Penn Avenue and Main Street is commonly called Penn Main; it’s on the border of Lawrenceville and Bloomfield, and functions as a secondary commercial spine for both neighborhoods. Because the streets do not meet at a right angle, the buildings on the corner are various odd Pittsburgh shapes. This attractive commercial building is an irregular pentagon. Wilson Drugs, one of the diminishing number of independent neighborhood drug stores in the city, seems frozen in 1948, in spite of its electronic displays.

    Wilson Drugs
  • Arsenal Bank Building, Lawrenceville

    Arsenal Bank Building

    Built in 1884 in a Victorian Gothic style—Father Pitt calls it Commercial Gothic—this was a bank until 1943, according to the Lawrenceville expert Jim Wudarczyk. After that it was offices for quite a while, and then was refurbished as a restaurant and apartments above. This is not a great work of architecture, but the details are interesting and worth a close look. The builder reveled in his corner location and made that corner the focus of the whole building. Old Pa Pitt can’t help thinking that the treatment of the windows could have been improved by making it either more interesting or less interesting; the stone accents are either too much or too little.

  • Main Street, Lawrenceville, in 2001

    Main Street, Lawrenceville

    No neighborhood has changed more than Lawrenceville in the past two decades—but only demographically. In 2001, Lawrenceville was a cheap working-class neighborhood whose long business district was full of abandoned storefronts, except at the still-thriving core around the intersection of Butler and Main Streets. (Butler, of course, is the main street; the Pittsburgh area is full of Main Streets that aren’t the main street of anything.) Then the artsy types discovered it and briefly made it into the artists’ colony of Pittsburgh; then their rediscovery of the neighborhood caused rents and real-estate values to rocket upward, sending the artists scurrying to Garfield and other cheaper places while people with money moved in.

    But through those rapid changes, the back streets of Lawrenceville have hardly changed at all. The artists and their moneyed successors moved in because they liked the neighborhood the way it was, and they have been careful to maintain it that way. The houses are better kept on average now, but they were never badly kept, as we can see in this picture from about 2001. Except for some more fashionable polychrome paint schemes on a few of the houses, this view is almost exactly the same today.

  • Penn Avenue Gatehouse, Allegheny Cemetery

    Father Pitt has always had mixed feelings about HDR (“high-dynamic-range”) images. They are made from multiple exposures—this one, for example, is put together from three photographs—in an attempt to capture the detail in both the highlights and the shadows. On the one hand, they always strike him as artificial-looking; on the other, HDR imaging was the only effective way to capture both the stonework and the lowering clouds in this picture. If you look closely, you will notice an artifact of the process: it was a windy day, so the stones are sharp but the trees are blurred.

    This is the Penn Avenue gatehouse of Allegheny Cemetery, seen from inside the cemetery. Old Pa Pitt returned two days later to try another HDR image, and this time—with some tweaking of software settings—he managed a more natural-looking result:

    If he were at all concerned with his reputation as an artist, he would have led with this picture. But he thought you might enjoy seeing a first attempt and the refinement that followed, in that order.

    If you are looking for some atmospheric fun for Halloween, Father Pitt’s Pittsburgh Cemeteries is full of interesting pictures and information.

  • St. Augustine, Lawrenceville

    Above, one of the towers of St. Augustine’s in Lower Lawrenceville. Below, a view down 36th Street from Penn Avenue, with the startling forms of St. Augustine’s illuminated by a shaft of sunlight. These pictures were taken in 1999, back when the neighborhood was forgotten and practically invisible to most outsiders.