Category: Oakland

  • Dithridge Towers, Oakland

    Dithridge Towers

    Built in 1929, this eight-storey apartment tower has a newer ninth floor sheathed in what appears to be corrugated metal. Father Pitt has some advice for architects contemplating asymmetrical additions with cheap materials to symmetrical Renaissance palaces like this:

    Like several other apartment buildings in the area, this one is festooned with grotesque whimsies.

    Rear section

    The rear section has a bay rising the entire height of the building, with a corrugated-metal hat on top.

    Addendum: A kind correspondent has found an advertisement for the Dithridge Apartments when they were new, which supplies us with a definite date (1929; they were to be ready for occupancy in April) and shows us the building as it looked before the top was altered.

    Dithridge Apartments, in the social, educational and art center of Pittsburgh
    From the Pittsburgh Press, March 17, 1929.
  • Nordenberg Hall, University of Pittsburgh

    Nordenberg Hall

    Mark A. Nordenberg Hall, built in 2011, is a perfect example of what old Pa Pitt calls the neoneoclasssical style: it uses the shapes and symmetry of classical architecture without the embarrassing ornamentation. In this building, some of the effect of that missing classical ornamentation is simulated by a pleasing variation in the materials. The architects were the St. Louis firm of Mackey Mitchell Architects, with our own MCF Architecture (the successors to Edward Stotz) coming along for the ride.

    This building replaced the 1926 University Place Office Building by Edward B. Lee, a much smaller building that, in its sparse detailing, almost anticipated the neoneoclassical style.

  • St. Paul’s in Late Fall

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral School, Oakland

    St. Paul’s Cathedral School

    Built in 1907, this Jacobean palace was the work of John T. Comès. We happen to know that it was roofed with McClure’s Genuine Charcoal Iron Re-Dipped Roofing Tin, because in a 1910 advertisement that company proudly reproduced the architect’s perspective rendering of the building:

    Architect’s perspective rendering of St. Paul’s Cathedral School

    Notice in the rendering that Comès has drawn sections of tapestry brick, which is typical of his work—if he was going to use brick, he was going to use it to its full decorative potential. Either he was overruled by the client or he changed his mind, because the building as it stands is just ordinary red brick in Flemish stretcher bond, with stone trim for decoration.


    The building is now the St. Joan of Arc Building of Oakland Catholic High School, and the Trib has a story from 2013 about the renovations to the St. Joan of Arc Building to bring it into the early twenty-first century.

    Detail of a niche
    Perspective view with clouds
  • Back Corner of Soldiers and Sailors Hall

    Soldiers and Sailors Hall from O’Hara Street and University Place

    Seen from the corner of O’Hara Street and University Place.

  • Henry Clay Frick Training School for Teachers

    Henry Clay Frick Training School for Teachers

    Ingham & Boyd designed a large number of school buildings in the city and suburbs, and they always gave the clients exactly the respectable school buildings they wanted. They were never embarrassingly out of date, nor were they embarrassingly modernistic. They were ornamented to exactly the right degree to say, “This is a building we spent money on.” The Ingham & Boyd brand of rectangular classicism is on full display in this building in Oakland, which is now the Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy.

    Relief above the entrance: The Teacher and the Child
    Oblique view
  • Two Views of the Cathedral of Learning

    Above, from the grounds of Soldiers and Sailors Hall; below, from the steps of Bellefield Presbyterian Church.

  • Carved Ornaments on Bellefield Presbyterian Church

    Stone head from the side

    Originally the First United Presbyterian Church, this congregation merged with the Bellefield Presbyterian Church down the street, which sold its building (of which only the tower remains) and moved here, with the compensation that this church was renamed Bellefield Presbyterian. The building, designed by William Boyd and built in 1896, is festooned with a riot of carved Romanesque ornaments.

    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
    Ornaments around the door
    A different cherub
    Yet another cherub
    Cherub again

    Each one of these cherubs has a different face and different ornamental carving surrounding it.

    Different capitals
    Angled frieze
    Winged cherub head
    Another face
    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
  • National Union Fire Insurance Company Building, Oakland

    National Union Fire Insurance Company Building

    Now Thackeray Hall of the University of Pittsburgh. The architect was Abram Garfield, son of our martyred president. This section on University Place is the older part of the building; a larger addition was built on Thackeray Avenue in 1925.


    Mr. Garfield would not have approved of those asymmetrical doors on his rigorously symmetrical Renaissance palace. Is Pitt really so strapped for cash that these are the best the university can do?

    Rear of the building

    Here we see how the older building connects to the carefully matched 1925 addition (on the left), with a new entrance at the seam between the buildings.

  • Ryan Catholic Newman Center, Oakland

    David J. Vater was the architect of this building that went up just a few years ago in a shockingly neo-Gothic style. (Mr. Vater was also responsible for the Galliot Center for Newman Studies around the corner.)

    This is a building that makes old Pa Pitt happy and sad at the same time. It makes him happy because someone in our present age was able to make an interesting and traditionally Gothic building out of modern stock materials. It makes him sad because so many of those materials look cheap.

    It cannot be helped: this was a high-budget building by today’s standards, but today’s standards are so low that our high-budget buildings are bound to look cheap. Here is a point of comparison: when the City-County Building was built (1915–1917), Tiffany Studios got the contract for ornamental bronze in the building for $86,000. At that time, $4,000 would build a substantial two-and-a-half-storey house with five or six bedrooms for an upper-middle-class family with one or two servants. More than twenty upper-middle-class houses’ worth of ornamental bronze went into the City-County Building. We cannot have ageless buildings today because we refuse to spend the money for them.

    The doors may be stock models from a catalogue, but the carved stone with Newman’s motto Cor ad cor (“Heart to heart”) is original.

    Note the ornamental brickwork on that broad blank wall. Now note the broad blank wall and consider how completely our modern buildings—even Gothic ones—have come to depend on artificial lighting. There was a time when architects referred to windows as “lights” and considered how to place them so that the interior could be usefully illuminated.