Category: North Side

  • St. Peter’s Church, North Side

    St. Peter’s Church

    Built in 1872 from a design by Andrew Peebles, this cathedral-sized church did become a cathedral about three years later for the short-lived Catholic Diocese of Allegheny, which was formed by taking the rich half away from the diocese of Pittsburgh and leaving all the debt with the poor half. The diocese was suppressed in 1889, but old dioceses never die, and there is still a titular Bishop of Allegheny. The current holder of the title is a retired auxiliary bishop of Newark.

    Resurrection relief

    This relief of the Resurrection takes on added drama at night.

  • J. C. Pontefract House, Chateau

    On city planning maps, this house is in Chateau, but socially it was at the end of the Lincoln Avenue row of rich people’s houses in Allegheny West. Today it sits surrounded by robotics works and fast-food joints, but it is kept in beautifully original condition by its owners. The architects were Longfellow, Alden & Harlow (or some subset of those three), at the very beginning of their practice—just about the time they designed Sunnyledge, which is something like a stretched version of this house. Enlarge the picture and note the patterns in the brickwork.

  • Peoples Center and World War II Veterans Memorial, North Shore

    The Peoples Center is one of a number of buildings that have gone up on the North Shore in the past two decades in the style old Pa Pitt calls neoneoclassical, in which cheap modern materials are arranged in forms that echo classical architecture, but without any embarrassing artistic detail. The buildings look traditional and unobjectionable. They make decent citizens of the urban landscape. They have nothing to excite interest in themselves, but they have nothing to excite disgust or dismay, either.

    The lighted World War II memorial in front gives this night view a drama it would not have otherwise.

  • Western Penitentiary

    The Wall
    The Pen used to be known to frequent guests as “The Wall.”

    Closed since 2017, the Western Penitentiary (or, more recently, State Correctional Institution—Pittsburgh) will have a hard time finding a buyer. It would perhaps make a fine mansion for an eccentric supervillain, but most real-world supervillains are dreadfully prosaic in their tastes.

    Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece of prison architecture—aesthetically, at least. The architect was Edward M. Butz, and it was built between 1876 and 1882, with various later additions. It looks more like a prison than the Bastille did, and so we present it on Bastille Day, with the cheerful news that no inmates are imprisoned here, but the sad news that it may eventually have to be pulled down by a demolition contractor rather than a revolutionary mob.

    End wall
    With a guard tower
    Through the fence
    Through the trees
  • Old Woods Run Branch Library

    Woods Run Branch Library

    The city of Allegheny was conquered by Pittsburgh in 1907, but the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny—the first municipally run public library—was an independent institution until 1956. The main library was in the center of Allegheny, where it still stands (though the library has moved out). It had one branch library, opened here in 1916; the first librarian was Helen R. Langfitt, a 1916 graduate of the Carnegie Library School. This little arts-and-crafts building cannot match the elegance of the Alden & Harlow branch libraries in Pittsburgh, but it was a pleasant ornament to the neighborhood.

    Oblique view

    In 1964, the library moved to a modern building around the corner on Woods Run Avenue—a building that itself became dated and was remodernized in 2006.

  • Acrisure Stadium

    That’s what it’s called now. Old Pa Pitt hopes that the city will not have to build any more large stadiums any time soon, but if it does come to that, Father Pitt suggests a stipulation: there will be no public money in the project and no tax breaks for the owners unless the citizens retain naming rights, which they may not alienate by selling them to a corporation or individual.

  • Allegheny Center

    Urban renewal hit Pittsburgh hardest in three places: the Lower Hill, East Liberty, and central Allegheny. Of the three, the Lower Hill was definitely the worst hit, with an A-bomb’s worth of destruction leaving a scoured and sterile landscape that is only now recovering. Second-worst was probably Allegheny Center.

    Both here and in East Liberty, the visionaries imagined an urban paradise freed from automobiles. The central business district would be pedestrianized, and vehicles would be diverted to a broad loop around the edge. Anthony Paletta came up with a useful term for this design, which was repeated wherever the urban-renewal movement really got going: “strangulation by ring road.” The center ends up isolated from residential neighborhoods around it by a broad boulevard that is forbidding for pedestrians to cross, so they don’t cross it.

    On the North Side, almost the entire business district of old Allegheny was destroyed. A few landmarks were left—more than in the Lower Hill—but the streets full of shops were flattened and the very streets themselves eliminated. More than 500 buildings were obliterated. In their place was a modernist paradise of office blocks and a shopping mall (marked by those half-moon arches in the picture) called Allegheny Center. In the picture above, the only visible landmark from the old center of Allegheny is the tower of the Carnegie Library poking up just behind the building that is now called “NOVA Place.”

    In hindsight it seems obvious that it was a bad idea, but we should give the planners their due. The new urban paradise seemed like a hit for a while. The shopping mall at Allegheny Center was lively and successful for twenty years after it opened in 1965. It did not really start collapsing until about 1990. Twenty years is not a long time in the history of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, but it was something.

  • Carnegie Science Center

    The Carnegie Science Center was designed by Tasso Katselas, and in Father Pitt’s opinion the design worked very well for its intended purposes. It had to be flexible enough to house many different kinds of exhibitions. It had to look sciencey. Most important, it had to enthrall children. It does all those things. Old Pa Pitt would never pick this as the most beautiful building on the North Side, but it has been a favorite destination for a generation of Pittsburgh children, many of whom have actually walked out better educated than they were when they walked in.

  • Allegheny City Electric Station

    Allegheny City Electric Station

    In 1889 the whole idea of a power station was new. What should it look like? Obviously it should be elegantly proportioned, because we don’t want to give the neighbors any more reason than they already have to object to the death rays we’ll be generating in there. Thus this fine example of Victorian industrial architecture, which old Pa Pitt believes was Allegheny’s first power station, and which still stands with not too many alterations just off Brighton Road on what is now for some reason called Riversea Road, though it has previously been Braddock Street and then Brocket Street.

    Date Stone

    Once there was an elegantly arched entrance, which has been replaced by a wider commercial garage door. The date is still prominent in the keystone of the arch.

    A few years later, a new building was added in quite a different style:

    Irwin Avenue substation

    This one still belongs to Duquesne Light and is still called the Irwin Avenue Substation, in spite of the fact that Irwin Avenue has been Brighton Road for many years now. The style is impossible to pin down: the tall rounded arches and flared buttresses make us think of a Norman castle, and the pointed Tudor arch in the middle makes us think of a Norman castle that had passed into the hands of an Elizabethan landowner who placed more value on being able to drive a showy carriage through his gate than being able to defend his castle.

  • Fifth United Presbyterian Church, California-Kirkbride

    Fifth United Presbyterian Church

    Here is another one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs, which have become one of old Pa Pitt’s small obsessions. This is quite typical of its time: it was built in 1870, and it has all the usual marks of the typical Pittsburgh smaller church: the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. It now belongs to Northside Common Ministries.

    Date stone, 1870
    Front of the church
    Fifth U. P. Church