Now the Vintage Church. This church on Bailey Avenue is a fine example of what happens when streamlined Art Deco meets Tudor Gothic.
Why is there a narrow strip of forest between these two streets on Mount Washington? And, for that matter, why was the neighborhood laid out with two streets so absurdly close together, so that nothing fits between them but a narrow strip of forest?
You already know the answer, of course, because you read the title of this article. It used to be an incline.
Several inclines, of which two are still going, went up Mount Washington from the South Side. Only one went down the back slope of Mount Washington: Castle Shannon Incline No. 2, which began at the upper station of the Castle Shannon Incline on Bailey Avenue and ran down along Haberman Avenue to Washington Avenue (now Warrington Avenue) in Beltzhoover. This was more or less a cable-car line, like the ones that still run in San Francisco and ran all over Pittsburgh for a brief period before electric streetcars took over. It ran for a little more than twenty years; it opened in 1892 and was closed in 1914.
This picture of abandoned freight cars along the incline, taken in 1916, shows the cable in the middle of the track.
A simple Gothic design that leaves huge openings for stained glass. The parsonage is a typical Pittsburgh foursquare house, but attached directly to the left side of the church.
Note the usual Pittsburgh adaptations to steep slopes.
The congregation these days has a taste for delightfully direct and confrontational signs like PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD or BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT. Old Pa Pitt approves. Those signs make religion sound lively and exciting, the way it should be.
We continue our study of churches with the sanctuary upstairs. Like the First German Evangelical Church we saw recently, this one sits on a steep hillside lot, and therefore requires a considerable climb even before you get to the downstairs entrance.
The building has been converted to apartments, but the front of it has been maintained without serious alterations.
Here is another church with the sanctuary upstairs, but that is only part of the story. You had to be in good shape to go to services here, because the downstairs entrance is already a full flight of steps up from the street.
Note the direct entrance to the basement or sub-basement from the street level.
It was not as challenging as it looks to be a member of this church, though. This is the Southern Avenue front; the back extends to Greenbush Street, with an entrance level with the sanctuary. It’s a typical Pittsburgh lot with a two-storey drop from back to front.
This stained-glass inscription over the entrance is in abbreviated German. Father Pitt reads it as “Evangelical German United Protestant Church,” but anyone who knows German abbreviations is invited to make a correction in the comments. This was a very German part of the neighborhood a hundred years ago: diagonally across the street was a Männerchor hall, now replaced by an incongruous 1960s suburban-style split-level house.
The parsonage was built at about the same time as the church (between 1910 and 1923, according to our old maps). The style is a lightly modern arts-and-crafts interpretation of the usual Pittsburgh foursquare house.
The Monongahela Incline is getting a thorough going-over. They’re going to fabricate new drive sheaves and replace the gabions, and if you understand what those things mean you probably know a lot about inclines. Here’s something you might like: “Glass flooring will be installed in the Upper Station waiting area that will allow the public to view the inner workings of the Incline.”
Here we see the upper station: note the incline car parked just below the station to empty out the building for the work.
Here is a large institutional building whose story of abandonment and decay has a happy ending.
South Hills High School was Pittsburgh’s second great palace of high-school education, right after Schenley High School. For this one, the city hired Alden & Harlow, arguably the most prestigious institutional architects money could buy. They were responsible for the Carnegie Institute and all the branch libraries, in addition to multiple millionaires’ mansions and skyscrapers downtown.
The site of the school is improbably vertical. In those days, “South Hills” meant the back slopes of Mount Washington, and a walk along the side of this school is a steep climb. But the architects met the challenge with a Tudor Gothic palace that seems to have grown on the site. It takes up a whole city block.
The Ruth Street side of the school opened in 1917; the rest of the school—planned from the beginning—opened in 1925. For many years the school took in students from the South Hills and beyond—“beyond” meaning Banksville, Beechview, and Brookline. In 1976, a monstrously modernist new school—Brashear—opened in Beechview, which took in all the students from the southern neighborhoods. With population declining and the building getting old, the city decided to close South Hills altogether in 1986.
And then it sat and rotted for 23 years.
But, as we said, the story has a happy ending. As you see from these pictures, the building is well taken care of now. In 2010 it reopened as apartments for senior citizens, so that once again it is an ornament to its neighborhood.
The wonderfully thorough Brookline Connection site has a long article about South Hills High School, including the architects’ plans.
When the Liberty Tubes opened in 1924, they had no ventilation system. They didn’t need one, the engineers said. Cars whooshing through the tunnels would carry the bad air out with them.
If you have ever driven in the Liberty Tunnels at rush hour, you can probably spot the flaw in that theory.
It did not take long for the flaw to become obvious. On May 10, 1924—when a transit strike was going on—a traffic jam filled the tunnel, and more than forty people passed out and needed medical attention. It was lucky no one died.
The fan house finally went into service in 1928. It has four giant chimneys, two for intake and two for exhaust. They’re a prominent landmark on the back side of Mount Washington, although it can be fiendishly difficult to find one’s way to them in the warren of precipitous streets.
We should note that sources disagree about whether the fan house was part of the original plan. In some tellings (like the Wikipedia article), it was a reaction to the disastrous traffic jam of May 10. In others (like this very interesting feature from WESA), it had been planned all along, but the tunnels were opened well before the ventilation system was completed. Father Pitt has not been able to sort out which version is the real story in the limited time he was willing to devote to research, and he invites anyone with a good source to speak up in the comments.
These houses on Cola Street (and a couple on William Street behind it) are in various styles and come from various eras. But they all either were built or have been adapted for one main purpose: to suck in as much of the magnificent skyline view as possible.
The name “Cola Street” is odd. Apparently it was originally “Coal Street”; did it succumb to a persistent typographical error?
The first rays of morning sun strike St. Mary of the Mount Church on Mount Washington.