It is cheering to report that this impressive little Gothic church, once an abandoned hulk, has now been stabilized and put to use, apparently as a private home. Some of the stained glass was smashed while it was abandoned, but the remainder has been kept in place and covered with clear glass to seal up the holes. Since it sits in a prominent spot diagonally across from the Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport, it improves the neighborhood quite a bit to have this building occupied.
The cornerstone bears a date of 1903.
The outsized tower and shadowy inset corner porch are distinctive features.
The richly detailed Peoples Building deserves owners and tenants who will love it, and we hope it can find them. It has at least been stabilized by its current owner, and it looks like an attractive place to have an office.
These entrances want clocks, but the elegance of the gleaming white stone is unimpaired.
This classical roof ornament was clearly meant to be right in the middle of the Fifth Avenue side, but it appears that the building was expanded by two more bays not long after it was built.
The McKeesport Community Newsroom site gives us A Peek Inside the Peoples Building, showing us a wonderful time capsule that it would almost be a shame to disturb. If old Pa Pitt were a billionaire, he would buy the building, preserve all the contents as they are, and call it a museum, and then not care whether anyone actually paid the 50¢ admission fee, because he would be a billionaire.
We often see diamond-shaped asbestos-cement siding like this in neglected neighborhoods, but seldom in such good shape. Note that this old house, which old Pa Pitt would tentatively date to the 1870s, has also preserved its fine Victorian woodwork in front. The original wood siding can still be seen under the porch roof.
The splendid Queen Anne mansion next door looks as though it needs a new roof, but is otherwise in a good state of preservation.
What this remarkable and slightly fantastical rectory needs is a nice church to go with it, but St. Peter’s was demolished several years ago. The rectory, however, has been restored and sensitively updated.
The architectural style is a Gothic fantasy that even includes some Moorish-looking decorations. The emphatic vertical in the front creates the impression of a tower without exactly being a tower.
These are all high-dynamic-range pictures, each made from three different photographs at different exposures.
Since the clouds were picturesquely textured that day, old Pa Pitt thought he might try the effect of black-and-white pictures with a (simulated) red filter to bring out the clouds. The results are worth seeing, if you care to continue.
This Queen Anne house in McKeesport is probably doomed as soon as the city has the budget to demolish it. Something could be made of it, but it would take a complete reconstruction of the interior, and in a city where the median property value is about $20,000 that is not likely to happen. In Shadyside, it could be profitably restored, but not in McKeesport.
Google Street View shows this house in the same condition as far back as 2007, the first year of Street View. Until recently, another equally decrepit and equally splendid Queen Anne house sat right next to this one, but it was demolished some time after Google Street View pictured it in 2019, possibly because someone was fixing up the baroque mansion on the other side.
This is Father Pitt’s favorite newspaper building anywhere, without exception. It looks more like a newspaper building than any other newspaper building on earth.
In fact, with its stark horizontals in black and white, it looks like the front page of the Daily News. In its heyday, the Daily News had a distinctive style: well into the 1990s it looked like a very modern paper for 1936, and it usually had one big headline striped across the front page in thick black gothic caps.
In these photographs we have used a red filter (simulated in the GIMP), which has the interesting side effect of making the red light in the intersection almost pure white.
The Daily News was owned and edited by the powerful Mansfield family for many years, and it might be hard to say whether it exposed or enabled more political corruption in the Mon Valley. It was, in the words of its masthead, “More than a Newspaper—a Community Institution.” In 2007, it was swallowed by Richard Mellon Scaife, the Charles Foster Kane of southwestern Pennsylvania, joining every other paper in the Pittsburgh area that was not the Post-Gazette. When Scaife died and his news empire was revealed to have been built on a rickety financial foundation (he had burned up $450,000,000 from a trust fund to keep the empire going), the Daily News was one of the casualties. It closed in 2015.
The exterior of this building is still in good shape. Trib Total Media donated it to the city after the Daily News closed, and it has been kept from falling into a pile of bricks, unlike some other buildings we could mention.
This house is clearly the work of a distinguished architect, and old Pa Pitt would be delighted if any McKeesport readers could give him more information. It sits diagonally across Shaw Avenue from the old Temple B’nai Israel, and its exterior is still in excellent shape, although it looks as though it wants chimney pots. The baroque details are distinctive.
In some cities, when spring rolls around, people start to think about their gardens. In McKeesport, the headline is “Spring Demolition Projects Underway.” The story comes from the Tube City Almanac, one of the best local-news sites old Pa Pitt has ever seen, and a worthy successor to the lamented Daily News.
The old Theatre Bar, with its splendid Art Deco ground floor and its eclectic museum of brickwork above, is not on the list to be demolished, but Mikell’s Barber Shop is. “Contrary to rumors, the building did not collapse, but it is being demolished by hand, slowly, to avoid damage to neighboring structures,” the Almanac reports, citing “A.J. Tedesco, city community development director.” If you ever wanted to know what “community development” looks like, here is a picture. The work is being done very slowly: the Almanac article was dated June 5, and this picture was taken three weeks later, but they show the building in the same state, including that pile of bricks coming through the window, which were, we presume, each carefully laid in place by hand, slowly, to avoid damaging neighboring structures.
For many years, old Pa Pitt has admired the front of the Theatre Bar, but each time he was whizzing by on Walnut Street and did not stop to take a picture. This time, with the golden afternoon sun at the right angle, and the half-destroyed state of the building next door making him wonder how many more opportunities there might be before the bar was replaced by a vacant lot, he stopped.
This will not be the last time Father Pitt praises the Tube City Almanac. It has been going for many years now, even longer than Father Pitt’s own site, beginning as a cheeky blog that covered the news the Daily News ignored, and gradually growing to a journalistic institution that employs real reporters and covers the news better than most local papers. It really is “Worthy of All Yohogania,” in the words of its longtime motto—a parody of the Tribune-Review’s “Worthy of Western Pennsylvania.” Its other motto, “More Than a Website—It’s a Community Instigation,” pays tribute to the Daily News, and we’ll talk about the Daily News soon.
Built by the Peoples Union Bank & Trust Company in 1906–1907, this is a perfect miniature Beaux-Arts skyscraper, with base, shaft, cap, and even the bosses’ floor (the third floor) outlined to mark its social importance. The building was abandoned for some time, but its latest buyer seems at least to have stabilized it. We’ll see pictures in natural color later, but for now, old Pa Pitt decided to render it in black and white with a red filter (simulated in the GIMP, which saves ever so much money on optical equipment), giving us a view that almost makes McKeesport look like a thriving and important metropolis again.
The history of this building is obscure, like many McKeesport things. Father Pitt was not able to find the architect, though it must have been some well-known figure; and although he has not read of any expansion, it seems clear that the original building had four bays along Fifth Avenue, with the two bays to the right added later. Subtract those two bays, and the Fifth Avenue face would be perfectly symmetrical, with the roof ornament right in the center.
Most of the people who mention the Peoples Bank on the Internet add the obvious apostrophe to the name, but it appears that the company itself, in line with many similarly named companies, always left out the apostrophe, as we see in this 1894 picture of its earlier building:
The picture comes from The First One Hundred Years of McKeesport, where it is captioned “The People’s Bank,” with the apostrophe, because sensible people can’t help themselves and feel compelled to correct the name.
This gorgeous synagogue in the style old Pa Pitt calls Jewish Romanesque is fortunately owned by a church that obviously appreciates the building and has not altered its Jewish ornamentation. Father Pitt’s apologies for the lighting; the sun was from the wrong direction, but our cameras did their best.
The cornerstone gives us a date of 1922 (or 5683) for the building and 1912 for the foundation of the congregation. Temple B’nai Israel was the first Reform congregation in McKeesport, and the congregation still exists, though in 2000 it moved to White Oak. The Temple’s Web site has a timeline of the congregation’s history.
The Heinz History Center owns a commemorative plate from 1962 for the “Golden Anniversary” of the congregation; it has a picture of the building, and a misprinted foundation date—“1902” instead of 1912, though the words “GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY” are right above it.