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.
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.
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.
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.
The same two houses on 40th street in Lawrenceville across from Arsenal Park, taken in 1999 with two different twin-lens-reflex cameras. Above, a Lubitel, a Russian camera with a plastic body but a decent lens and all the usual manual controls. Below, an Imperial, the sort of thing photographers call a toy camera: a cheap old plastic fixed-focus camera that takes 620 film.
The house on the left has had its Gothic peak restored since this picture was taken.