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.
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.
Father Pitt has pictured this building before, but here are two more pictures. This would be an undistinguished modernist box except for the patterns in the bricks, which elevate the whole building to Art Deco and make it an ornament to its corner rather than an unfortunate relic of the middle twentieth century.
This apartment building has a few details worth appreciating, though it appears to have lost its cornice. This building also has the biggest art store in Pittsburgh on the ground floor. You walk in the Hobart Street entrance and find yourself in a fairly big art-supplies store. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. In fact the whole ground floor of this building is given over to art supplies.
This floral ornament presides over the light well.
Addendum: The building was put up in about 1924; the architect was Charles R. Geisler. Source: The American Contractor, October 27, 1923: “Apt. Bldg. (36 suites): Hobart & Wightman sts. Archt. C. R. Geisler, Ferguson bldg. Owner & Bldr. L. L. Noffah, 5843 Forbes st. Sketches.”
Earlier we looked at the buildings on the south side of Hobart Street in this block and discovered that Spanish Mission and Tudor were the same thing, barring a few tweaks of the ornamentation. The buildings on the north side of the same block are at about the same scale, but they are a more eclectic bunch. Sometimes the individual building is about as eclectic as it can be.
Above, for example, you see one in a style old Pa Pitt calls German Jacobethan Spanish Mission.
This one, on the other hand, is so thoroughly Spanish Mission that residents ought to be required to wear Franciscan tunics.
The one above is quite eclectic, but it harmonizes its influences seamlessly.
This modernized Tudor conveys its architectural message with textured and patterned brickwork as well as the usual half-timbering.
It is a general principle of research that you can find anything as long as you’re not looking for it. Old Pa Pitt was leafing through a magazine from 1915 called The Construction Record, which has already given him dozens of entries for the Great Big List of Buildings and Architects, when he came across this little item:
Architects Kiehnel & Elliott, Keenan building, have plans for a three-story brick and hollow tile apartment building, to be built on Van Braam and Tustin streets for a private party.
Kiehnel and Elliott were among our most interesting early modernists, but Father Pitt had never heard this building mentioned. Surely it must be long gone—the Bluff has had some tough times. But still, one might take a look, especially since modern technology makes it possible to look at that intersection without leaving one’s comfortable chair. And there it was. Father Pitt leaped out of his chair and ran to the Bluff to get pictures:
Not only is it there and well preserved (except for the cornice, of course), but it has just recently been cleaned up and made to look almost like new. The Kiehnel-and-Elliott style is unmistakable. Look at the pilaster capitals at the entrance:
How much more Kiehnel-and-Elliott can you get?
Kiehnel and Elliott would later move to Florida and become the Art Deco kings of Miami, but in their Pittsburgh years they were heavily influenced by the Jugendstil architecture of Germany, where Richard Kiehnel grew up and studied. Ornamentation and decorative brickwork like this can be found in all the German architectural magazines of the early twentieth century.
From Broadway this looks like an ordinary apartment building. But the architect, John A. Long,1 had an interestingly Pittsburghish problem to solve. The building is on a triangular lot with a very sharp angle—but that is only the two-dimensional aspect of the problem. In Beechview, there are always three dimensions.
The third dimension is up.
The building was probably given green tiles on that projecting roofline, since Spanish Mission was a very popular style in Beechview and Dormont. The stonework is picked out in blue since a few years ago, which makes the building look cheerful. That long blue stripe on the ground floor probably marks the top of a storefront that was later converted to an apartment.
Next door was a red-brick building that appears as “I. O. O. M.” on the 1923 map; perhaps it meant “L. O. O. M.,” and this was the original Beechview Moose lodge. The Moose now have their lodge a block down Broadway in a smaller building.
At some time after 1923, the two buildings were connected by a very narrow filler building, which probably made three more rent-paying apartments possible:
The arched doorway, with its abstract-Romanesque receding arches, adds interest to what is otherwise a plain building.
We take this information from the Construction Record, September 26, 1914. “Architect John A. Long, Machesney building, has plans for a three-story brick store and apartment building, for A. Gravaut, to be built on Baltimore and Realty avenue, at a cost of $12,000.” This would mean the building was put up in 1915 or so. Although the name doesn’t appear on any of the layers of the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site, there are enough references here and there to make it clear that Broadway was briefly called Baltimore Avenue before reverting to Broadway. The history of street names in Beechview is complicated by at least two wholesale changes just a few years apart. ↩︎
You walk up Walter Street past the usual Hilltop cacophony of vernacular houses with aluminum and vinyl siding, and then suddenly you come upon this explosion of Art Nouveau. The building has lost its balconies (a long time ago, to judge by that tattered aluminum awning) and its cornice, but it retains its utter uniqueness, right down to the balcony doors to nowhere on the second and third floors, which appear to be original and designed specifically for this building rather than ordered from a catalogue.
This strange and wonderful little building is obviously the work of a strange and wonderful architect. But which one? It was built after 1903 but before 1910, and we are sorely tempted to attribute it to Titus de Bobula, whose entire Pittsburgh career blossomed and faded in that period. The treatment of the decorations strongly reminds old Pa Pitt of the Everett Apartments in Shadyside—in fact the decorations are so similar that Father Pitt is nearly convinced they have to be by the same architect. He is not the only one to notice the similarity. A city architecture inventory (PDF) also points it out: “Its similarity to another apartment building in the East End (at Ellsworth Avenue and Copeland Street in Shadyside) further sets the design of 404 Walter apart from the local vernacular found throughout the rest of Allentown.”
To see what both Father Pitt and the city’s architecture experts are talking about, consider these decorations:
Now compare this decoration from the Everett in Shadyside:
The similarity is certainly marked; many of the pieces are identical. Since the Everett is attributed to Titus de Bobula, we are justified in saying that he is a strong possibility for this one, too.
Another De Bobulesque feature is the lack of a main entrance: instead there is a small door off to one side that appears to lead into a stairwell. This is also the case with his Glen Tenement House in Hazelwood and with the Everett. The narrow verticals with asymmetrically staggered windows remind us of St. Michael’s School in Braddock, another De Bobula design (Father Pitt promises to make a pilgrimage to Braddock soon and come back with pictures).
Father Pitt will regard this as a De Bobula building until someone proves otherwise. But he would be delighted to have someone prove otherwise, because then he would be introduced to another eccentric but talented architect.
Who knew? It turns out that Tudor can be Spanish Mission and vice-versa, as long as you add the right decorative touches, and of course the right names. This row of five apartment buildings on Hobart Street, Squirrel Hill, alternates Tudor and Spanish Mission, as you could guess even without seeing them just by the names of the buildings: Cambridge, Granada, Windsor, Armada, and Wemberley. Yet they are all more or less the same building. Only the decorative details change. Tudor buildings have peaked rooflines; Spanish Mission buildings have curvy rooflines and little tiled awnings. Knowing how to make the same building Tudor or Spanish Mission is a great time-saver for an architect.
This tenement house in Hazelwood was built in 1903, making it one of Titus de Bobula’s early commissions in Pittsburgh. It is very conventional for De Bobula, but it represented him in a Pittsburgh Press roundup of local architects in 1905 (“Able Architects the Authors of City’s Architectural Beauty,” April 29, 1905), where this picture was published (we regret that we have not been able to find a better copy than this ugly microfilm scan):
From what we can see in the indistinct old photograph, the building has not changed much at all, though Gertrude Street in front of it has been regraded.
The Gertrude Street face. It is likely that many of the first residents were Hungarian millworkers: that is a bit of De Bobula’s First Hungarian Reformed Church peeking out from behind the building.
Entrance on the south end of the building. The entrances originally had some sort of triangular pediment or small projecting roof; the Press photo is too indistinct to make out any details, but we can see the shadow of a triangle over the entrances at both ends.
Ornament is minimal but effective on this moderne apartment building on Walnut Street. The front has a classical symmetry emphasized by strong black verticals, with cornice bands tied together in little deco knots. The inset balconies at first hardly register as balconies, but give the apartments behind them a private outdoor space.