This beautiful creature showed up and demanded to have its portrait taken with old Pa Pitt’s Olympus E-20N. Father Pitt knows nothing about spiders, except that some of them are very artistic. If you happen to know this creature’s name, Father Pitt would be very grateful for an identification in the comments.
Known as the South Side Baths when it was built, this was donated by steel baron and real-estate magnate Henry W. Oliver, who in 1903 gave the city land and money for a neighborhood bathhouse to be free to the people forever. In those days, many poor families—including the ones who worked for Oliver—lived in tenements where they had no access to bathing. (Even the Bedford School across the street from this bathhouse had outside privies until 1912.) Oliver might not raise his workmen’s salaries, but he was willing to make the men smell better.
To design the bathhouse, Oliver chose the most prestigious architect in the country: Daniel Burnham. Then, in 1904, Oliver died, and his gift spent almost a decade in limbo. The project was finally revived in 1913, by which time Burnham had died as well. The plans were taken over by MacClure & Spahr, an excellent Pittsburgh firm responsible for the Diamond Building and the Union National Building. No one seems to know how much they relied on Burnham’s drawings, but the Tudor Gothic style of the building (it was finished in 1915) is certainly in line with other MacClure & Spahr projects, like the chapel for the Homewood Cemetery. Even MacClure & Spahr’s early sketches show a quite different building, so it is probably safest to assume that little of Burnham remains here.
There was a fad for building public baths in Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century, and on Saturday nights workers and their families would line up around the block to get into the bathhouses and wash off the grime of the week. Gradually, indoor plumbing became a feature of even the most notorious slum tenements, and all but one of the bathhouses closed. The Oliver Bathhouse, given to the people in perpetuity, remains. It has been saved by its indoor swimming pool, the only city pool open during the winter.
Nothing says “water” like a classical dolphin.
Charles Bickel designed this Romanesque industrial building with considerable inspiration from H. H. Richardson’s Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store in Chicago, which set the pattern for Romanesque industrial buildings for a generation. Bickel’s design is simpler, and by placing the arches at the top he makes the building feel taller (in fact it is shorter by one storey than Richardson’s building was).
The Reymer Brothers were in the candy business, but Pittsburghers remember them best for Reymers’ Blennd, or Lemon Blennd, the deliberately misspelled lemon-and-orange-flavored drink that cooled off generations of children in the summer. The Reymers’ Blennd brand was picked up by Heinz at some point; It seems to have vanished just this year with the demise of its last owner, Byrnes & Kiefer. It is certainly fondly remembered. Here is what claims to be the World’s #1 Lemon Blennd Site, and there are others if you go looking.
Unlike its neighbor, the Knoxville Presbyterian Church, this little Gothic church has no one to cut down the weeds and the Pittsburgh palms. It is already half-swallowed by jungle, and it may soon be nothing more than a roughly cube-shaped lump of vegetation. Wouldn’t it make a fine studio for some ambitious artist?
Someone left one of those temporary storage modules in front of the building, which mars our otherwise architecturally perfect picture of the Fifth Avenue façade. There is only so much old Pa Pitt can do.
This Flemish Gothic palace, built in 1894, was designed by Edward Stotz, who would later give us Schenley High School. His son Charles Morse Stotz was more or less the founder of the preservation movement in Pittsburgh: he wrote the huge folio The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania, still an invaluable reference as well as a gorgeous book. It is fitting, therefore, that the father’s great landmarks have been among our preservation success stories.
The school was closed in 1976, and after that it sat vacant for more than three decades. A generation knew it only as that looming hulk Uptown. It is a tribute to the architect that it survived in fairly good shape. In 2009 it was finally brought back to life with a years-long restoration project that turned it into loft apartments, which sold well and suggested that there might be some potential in the Uptown neighborhood. (It certainly helped that the new arena—currently named for PPG Paints—opened at about the same time.)
The West Side Belt Railroad came through Castle Shannon aerially on this long viaduct. Here we see it crossing the Blue and Silver Line trolley tracks. The line is still active as part of the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railroad.
It is remarkable how unremarkable these two tiny houses on 24th Street are. The one on the left has had its parlor windows replaced with the usual mid-twentieth-century picture window, but most of the rest of the detail is intact; the one on the right probably looks not much different from the day it was built. And it was built at about the time of the Civil War or right after. These two houses appear on maps all the way back to 1872, the earliest detailed map of the area Father Pitt has been able to find. Brick houses from that time are common, but tiny frame houses like these seldom survive with original (or equivalent) wooden siding, which is almost always replaced with one of the Four Horsemen: aluminum, vinyl, Insulbrick, and Perma-Stone. If old Pa Pitt were dictator (and let it be known that if chosen dictator he would not serve), he would make these two houses a preservation priority.
In the picture below, note the size of the houses relative to the cars parked in front of them.
This corner was associated with the Methodist Church for decades. The elaborately eclectic building on the corner was the Methodist Episcopal Deaconess’ Home; the fine brick house to the left of it, built as a private residence, was taken over by the Women’s Home Missionary Society of Pittsburgh, whose previous headquarters had been where the Deaconess’ Home was later built—or expanded, since Father Pitt believes he detects a typical prosperous merchant’s rowhouse on the corner swallowed by later accretions that made it an institutional building.
We certainly cannot accuse the architect of giving us monotonous surfaces.
The spelling “Deaconess’,” incidentally, comes from the 1923 map to which we referred. Father Pitt would have written “Deaconesses’,” on the assumption that more than one deaconess lived there.
Among the institutional buildings and skyscraper apartments on Craig Street are a few domestic survivors of old Bellefield, the pleasant suburban village that occupied the eastern part of Oakland. Here is one of them, a fine Queen Anne house that has lost very little of its original splendor. It now houses the Tamarind Indian restaurant.
The richly decorated front gable is especially worth noting.
A bit of carving picked out by a very long lens.
The sub-gable over the side bay was richly decorated as well. Note the many textures that come together here: roof shingles (they would have been slate originally), wooden shingles, carved wood, wavy board siding, terra-cotta frieze, decoratively textured brick.
Since he ran across that article marveling at a church with the sanctuary upstairs, old Pa Pitt has been inspired to make a special study of these churches. Don’t be surprised to see more of them as Father Pitt accumulates the pictures.
St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1872. Since Uptown was a dense rowhouse neighborhood, the church had a tiny lot, and resorted to the common expedient of putting the sanctuary on the second floor. Today it is home to the Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, and we caught it in the middle of some spiffing up.
We might point out that this church is marked on an 1882 map as “Dutch Lutheran Church.” When misinformed pedants insist on calling East Allegheny “Deutschtown” (a pedantry that is flat-out wrong and makes old Pa Pitt’s skin crawl every time he hears it), you can point out that “Dutch” was the usual word for “German,” and English-speakers in Pittsburgh commonly referred to the Germans as “Dutch” even as late as the 1880s.