Whimsical Brickwork in Mount Lebanon

Apartment Building on Central Square

Here is another example of the odd whimsies that sometimes pop up as small apartment buildings. This is the storybook-cottage style that was popular for single-family houses in the 1920s and 1930s built up into a storybook castle. But the most remarkable thing about it is the deliberately random decorative brickwork. It reminds old Pa Pitt of something Frank Gehry would do.

Random brickwork

This extreme randomness would probably not hold up the whole wall, so it is used only in the sort-of-half-timbered section above the entrance. But the rest of the brickwork was made as cartoonishly irregular as possible.

Irregular brickwork

Some bricklayer had a lot of fun—or a lot of under-his-breath cursing—with this assignment. We note, however, that the balcony railings have been repaired. Perhaps they were originally wood, or perhaps the irregular brickwork proved less than sound.

Apartment Buildings on Academy Avenue, Mount Lebanon

Apartment building

Academy Avenue in Mount Lebanon, just off the Uptown business district, is a street of small to medium-sized apartment buildings, giving way to single-family houses as the street gets farther from Washington Road.

Apartment building

Two Kinds of Spanish Mission

Historical Society of Mount Lebanon

Two houses in the Spanish Mission style sit side by side on Washington Road at the southern end of the Uptown Mount Lebanon business district, and they implement the style in two interestingly different ways. This one, which is now the home of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, takes the style fairly seriously. A real Spanish house, in the New World or the Old, turns inward. It shuts the public out, presenting almost blank walls to the outside world. Of course Southwestern houses are also notable for their flat rooflines. In this house we have large expanses of stucco wall facing the street (although the architect has conceded some generously large front windows to Eastern sensibilities) and the flat roof characteristic of Spanish colonial architecture in the Southwest.

The other house is much more an Eastern house with decorative borrowings from the Spanish Mission style:

Spanish Mission house on Washington Road

You could take the basic shape of this house and turn it into an English cottage or an Italian Renaissance palace by changing the details. The stucco, the arcaded porch, and the tile roof are the main things that carry the “Spanish Mission” message.

Craftsman-Modernist Apartment Building, Mount Lebanon

Apartment building on Academy Avenue

Well, this one didn’t quite work.

Old Pa Pitt has mentioned how he enjoys seeing the experiments builders try with small apartment buildings. Here we see a builder who seems to have absorbed some of the ideas of modernism and added some Craftsman-style details: the three-over-one windows, the decorative brickwork, the wood-framed entrance. But the details seem applied at random, and a modernist architect would have been more regular in the geometry. Note the lack of rhythm or alignment in the windows, which throws off the whole façade. The second and third floors have windows in groups of 2, 1, 3, 2; the first floor has groups of 2, 1, 2, 1, and they do not line up at all with the windows above them. The entrance does not line up vertically or horizontally with anything else in the building; its awkward corner placement seems to leave some of the trim hanging off the edge.

Someone will probably come along and tell Father Pitt that this building is by a famous modernist architect, and old Pa Pitt will only say that the architect was having a bad day.

Georgian Meets Spanish Mission

Apartment building on Academy Avenue

You have probably never heard anyone say this before, but Father Pitt is fascinated by small apartment buildings. Larger apartment blocks are often designed by famous architects, and they may be masterpieces of their kind. But small apartment buildings sometimes preserve the adventurous whimsies of a builder who was not technically an architect but could draw a blueprint all by himself.

Here is a good example. The third floor of this little apartment building in Mount Lebanon is typical of the Spanish Mission style that was very popular in the near South Hills in the first half of the twentieth century. But below that the details are Georgian. It would be hard to imagine a stranger clash than those two styles—and yet they work well together. Pedestrians walking by never say, “Now there is an outrageously mixed metaphor of a building.” A big-deal architect would probably never do it, but it works.