Category: Observatory Hill

  • Nativity of Our Lord Church, Observatory Hill

    Nativity of Our Lord Church

    Here is an interesting demonstration of how many Catholic parishes developed in the first half of the twentieth century, and a reminder of how ecclesiastical priorities have changed. Father Pitt does not know the whole history of this building, and perhaps a parishioner could fill us in. But the main outline is this:

    Cornerstone: A. M. D. G. Nativity of Our Lord Parish School

    The cornerstone tells us that the building was put up in 1925. But it tells us that this was the parish school—and indeed, if we look at the picture at the top of the article again, we can see that the lower level was built first. Many parishes built a school building first, and worshiped in a space in the school until they could afford to build a sanctuary. In Brookline, for example, Resurrection parish built its parish school first and worshiped in the gymnasium until the main church could be constructed. The Lutherans a couple of blocks away did the same thing: St. Mark’s still worships in the building that was intended to be the Sunday-school wing, with a much grander church that never went up next to it. It was taken for granted that the children would be educated, and in Catholic parishes it was taken for granted that there would be a parish school to give them their daily education; if priorities had to be set, the school went up first, because it was easier to adapt a school for worship than to adapt a church sanctuary for schooling.

    In this case, the sanctuary was built on top of the original school, which was probably the plan from the beginning. We can therefore add this to our list of churches with the sanctuary upstairs, although, because of the steep Pittsburghish lot, the corner entrance is only seven steps up from the sidewalk.


    The belfry is one of the most picturesque aspects of the building.

  • North End United Presbyterian Church, Observatory Hill

    North End United Presbyterian Church

    Now Emmaus Deliverance Ministries. Designed by John Lewis Beatty, this late-Gothic-style church was built in about 1925. (The cornerstone has been effaced, which old Pa Pitt regards as cheating, though he understands that a new congregation likes to make a new beginning.)

    Emmaus Ministries
    Side entrance

    A Gothic church must maintain a delicate balance: it wants to be impressive, but it also wants to be welcoming. The simple woodwork over the entrances (this one is the basement entrance) gets the balance right: it fits well with the style of the building, matching the angle of the Gothic arches, but it sends the message that we’re just plain folks here.

  • Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Observatory Hill

    Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

    O. M. Topp (the O is for Olaf) was the architect of this rich little church, now a nondenominational church. He had a typically Pittsburghish lot to deal with, and he made the most of its peculiarities, so that one feels as though one has suddenly stumbled into a medieval European village.

    Cornerstone dated 1914
  • Riverview Park Visitor Center

    Riverview Park Visitor Center

    A modest stone building from the 1940s that successfully creates the impression of having grown up out of the native rock by natural processes.

  • Restoring the Observatory

    Allegheny Observatory

    The Allegheny Observatory, begun in 1900, is getting some restoration work. The architect was Thorsten E. Billquist, the sort of name one wishes one had invented.

    Entrance to the Allegheny Observatory
  • Observatory Hill in 2000

    Three pictures taken with a Russian Lubitel twin-lens-reflex camera in January of 2000. Very little has changed in 21 years. Above, the Byzantine Catholic Seminary, a building that is a strange mix of modernist and classical elements with an onion dome.

    The Byzantine metropolitan’s residence. In the Latin Rite, Pittsburgh is not even an archdiocese, but in the Byzantine Rite, Pittsburgh is the seat of an archeparchy covering eleven states.

    A typical Observatory Hill house on Riverview Avenue, one of the neighborhood’s most attractive streets.

  • Visitor Center, Riverview Park

    A very attractive little building put up in the 1940s, and doubtless influenced by the style of all the WPA work that had been done in local parks in the previous decade; here we see it in evening light, when the flowers for summer have just been planted.

    Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.
  • Chapel Shelter, Riverview Park

    The Chapel Shelter is so named because it began life as a little Presbyterian church. It fell into disrepair, and was very nearly demolished a few years ago; but a restoration project has made this picnic shelter the gem of the park again.

    Camera: Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3.
  • Allegheny Observatory at Twilight

    The Allegheny Observatory gives its name to the Observatory Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, although—oddly—the city government knows the neighborhood as Perry North, in spite of its residents’ insistence on calling it Observatory Hill.

  • The Charlotte Apartments, Observatory Hill

    A typically dignified small Pittsburgh apartment building in the neoclassical style. This particular one has an enviable location, right at the entrance to Riverview Park, with a view of the Allegheny Observatory and the Byzantine Metropolitan Archbishop’s palace. Smaller Pittsburgh apartment buildings of this era were frequently given women’s names.

    Camera: Olympus E20n.