When classical architecture meets Art Deco in a government building, they form a style old Pa Pitt likes to call American Fascist. He calls it that because it’s similar to the streamlined classicism favored by Mussolini and Hitler, and because its favorite ornament is the fasces, as we see right at the top of the façade of this firehouse, which is now a police station. For some reason the fasces declined in popularity as an ornament on American government buildings after the Second World War.
Engine Company 10, West End
The Bandstand at West End Park
Thomas Scott designed this elegant Arts-and-Crafts bandstand for West End Park, and it must have been a fine thing to sit out on the grass and hear a thumpy brass band on a lazy summer evening. It has probably been many years since a brass band played here, but the bandstand itself has been restored and is kept in excellent shape. Here we have similar pictures from two cameras with wildly different ideas of color balance.
World War I Memorial, West End Park
West End Park is far off the beaten track, and few people outside its own neighborhood (which is technically Elliott, though it belongs at least as much to the West End) ever visit, or even know it exists. But it has one of our best war memorials by one of our best sculptors and one of our best architects.
The sculptor was Frank Vittor, who was already developing the streamlined style that would make him one of Pittsburgh’s two favorite sculptors (the other being Giuseppe Moretti). The architect was William Perry, whose most famous work is St. Bernard’s in Mount Lebanon, a church more magnificent than many cathedrals. Their collaboration produced a striking monument, simple but rich. Unfortunately some restoration has left it with two radically different colors of stone and concrete, which is not how it was meant to look, as we see in this picture from twenty-two years ago:
That picture shows us that the memorial has also lost some sort of bronze ornament on the bottom half of the shaft: we can see the shadow of what seems to have been a shield with double-headed axe set in a bronze band.
St. James Church, West End
St. James Church was a Catholic parish that closed in 2004. For a while, when the West End was unsuccessfully vying with Lawrenceville to become the next artsy-trendy neighborhood, the building was an art gallery; then, in 2015, it reopened as “St. James Roman Catholic Church.” The slightly ostentatious adoption of the title “Roman Catholic” might suggest to the initiated that this is not a church in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. It belongs to a congregation of the Society of St. Pius X, the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, who repudiate Vatican II and all its works and all its pomps.
The building was put up in 1884 for a congregation founded thirty years earlier; old Pa Pitt has not been able to determine who the architect was. (The name is not mentioned in the centennial book the congregation published in 1954.) Neighbors in the West End are delighted to have the church building well taken care of.
I-House in the West End
This well-preserved house from 1870 or 1876 (according to different sources) has kept its splendid Victorian ornamental woodwork. Architectural historians would call this an I-house, a standard variety of vernacular house very common in this part of Pennsylvania. Its form is very simple: two floors, each a central hall with a room on the left and a room on the right. Often, as on this house, more rooms are added on the back. For many years this house was used as the parsonage for the Methodist church next door.
West End Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1888 the Allegheny County Courthouse was finished, and by then its influence in Pittsburgh had already been profound. H. H. Richardson predicted, correctly, that it would be his most famous work; he died in 1886 without seeing it completed, when the mania for “Richardsonian Romanesque” in Pittsburgh was only beginning. Fortunately several competent Romanesque architects were available to supply the buildings Richardson could no longer provide.
Frank E. Alden was the Alden of Longfellow, Alden, and Harlow. Longfellow himself had trained with Richardson, and his firm was regarded as the successor to Richardson’s. Here Alden fills a very unpromising lot with a romantically Romanesque pile, built in 1888 while the last stones were still falling into place in the courthouse.
The church is vacant at the moment; it would make a fine studio for some prosperous artist.
Connoisseurs of Victorian lettering will be delighted by the inscriptions.
Deutsche Vereinigte Evangelische Kirche, West End
Now the Jerusalem Baptist Church, this church was built in 1864, according to the inscription on the front. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation identifies the architects as Dahner and Dear.
It is not possible to get a straightforward picture of this inscription without intrusive utility cables. Old Pa Pitt resorted to taking three different pictures from slightly different angles and welding them together, which was probably more work than it was worth. But here is a complete picture of the German inscription, and if drivers on Steuben Street were confused by the sight of a gentleman in eighteenth-century garb lying on the sidewalk pointing a long lens across the street, at least they had something to tell their families when they got home. “Deutsche Vereinigte Evangelische Kirche” is German for “German United Evangelical Church.”
As with many Pittsburgh buildings, the question “How tall is it?” cannot be answered without a paragraph of disquisition on topography. The precipitous Belgian-block street along this side of the church is Sanctus Street.
How should we describe the style of this church? The rounded arches might say Romanesque or classical, although a presentable Gothic building could be made simply by swapping them for pointed arches. We’ll call it classically Victorian.
Pittsburgh Firefighter’s Federal Credit Union
A small but very tasteful building on the most prominent corner in the West End. The lower floor has had a modernist makeover, but the upper floors retain the original carefully balanced symmetry.
Old Church in the West End
Now a sports bar, so it has been converted to a different religion.
An update: This was St. George’s Episcopal Church, built some time in the 1890s or very early 1900s.
Walbridge Street, West End
Looking up Walbridge Street from Main Street in the West End.