Tag: Art Nouveau

  • House by Kiehnel & Elliott in Schenley Farms

    Godfrey Stengel house

    For their client Godfrey Stengel, Kiehnel & Elliott took the basic form of a typical Pittsburgh Renaissance palace, which gave them a box to work with—Richard Kiehnel’s favorite shape. To that canvas the architects applied their trademark Jugendstil-infiltrated-by-Prairie-school decorations. The house was built in 1913, and it must have looked very modern—yet it fits perfectly in Schenley Farms, where other more traditional Renaissance palaces have almost the same shape without the Jugendstil.

    Window on the second floor
    Godfrey Stengel house
  • A Narrow Firehouse by Charles Bickel

    Boulevard of the Allies front of the firehouse

    Given an improbably narrow L-shaped lot to work with, Charles Bickel1 did not despair. Instead, he had fun drawing two quite different but obviously related fronts for the same firehouse. Above, the Boulevard of the Allies front; below, the Smithfield Street front.

    Smithfield Street front

    The style is rich Renaissance with more than a hint of Art Nouveau. Bickel was probably the most prolific architect Pittsburgh ever had, but he did not fill the city with identical boxes. He dabbled in a surprising range of styles.

    Arms of the city of Pittsburgh

    It never hurts to put your client’s coat of arms on the front of the building—in this case, the arms of the City of Pittsburgh.

    Boulevard of the Allies side

    The side of the building is exposed now along the Boulevard of the Allies, showing that it was not very deep, in addition to being very narrow. By 1923, according to old maps, the building was in private hands; the city had built a pair of engine houses half a block away that were probably more suitable for the new horseless fire engines.

    Addendum: A city architectural survey dates this firehouse to about 1900 and attributes it to William Y. Brady. Brady was architect of Engine Company No. 1 down the street, which is in a much heavier style; Father Pitt’s evidence is all in favor of attributing this one to Mr. Bickel.

    1. Our source for the date and architect is the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, September 21, 1892: “Charles Bickel…has prepared plans for a three-story engine house to be erected on Second Avenue, at a cost of $20,500.” That suggests a date of about 1893. Before the First World War, what is now the Boulevard of the Allies was Second Avenue; and three-storey engine houses are unusual. ↩︎
  • Store Building at Tenth and Liberty

    Corner of Tenth and Liberty

    Maximilian Nirdlinger, who is on old Pa Pitt’s short list of architects whose names are most fun to say, designed this little store building in 1914, and we would guess it was completed by 1915. It was a very small and inexpensive project for downtown, but Nirdlinger made sure it was a tasteful one; and it has been updated without losing its essential character, which is classical by way of German-art-magazine modern.

    Building by M. Nirdlinger
    Liberty Avenue façade
  • St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Hall, Carnegie

    St. Peter and St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church

    Originally Ukrainian Greek Catholic, this church, built in 1906, was designed by Titus de Bobula with an extravagantly broad range of materials that no sane architect would attempt to harmonize. We are tempted to say it was fortunate that De Bobula was no sane architect; at any rate, he has pulled the rabbit out of his hat and made harmony out of dissonance.

    Central dome
    Left dome

    De Bobula did not sign the cornerstone, as he did at the First Hungarian Reformed Church and St. John the Baptist, but the lettering is certainly in his style.

    Church and hall

    Next door to the church is a parochial hall. Old Pa Pitt does not know whether the hall was built at the same time; if it is not by De Bobula, it successfully imitates some of his quirks.

    Inscription: Ukrainska Parochiyalna Galya

    Father Pitt, who admits he does not speak Ukrainian, would translate “Ukrainska Parochiyalna Galya” as “Ukrainian Parochial Hall.”

    Hall and school
  • Double Duplexes by Charles Bier, Homewood

    Double duplex in Homewood

    Charles W. Bier was a fairly successful Pittsburgh architect, especially busy with medium-sized churches, who flirted with Art Nouveau in the days before the First World War, but retreated into a more traditional style in the 1920s (see, for example, his 1923 Mount Lebanon Methodist Episcopal Church). Here we find him at his most radically modern in a line of three identical double duplexes, built in about 1915 or 1916.1

    The whole row from the left
    Entrance arches

    These broad entrance arches with strong vertical lines show up on Mr. Bier’s churches of the period as well.

    Rectangular ornament

    The geometrical brickwork ornaments remind us of the decorations in German art and architecture magazines of the period, and they may be where our architect got his ideas. (According to Martin Aurand, Frederick Scheibler took much inspiration from those German magazines, so they were available here.)

    Right-hand double duplex

    The building at the right end of the row seems to be stuck in the middle of a refurbishing project, with new windows installed and new wood framing inside. We hope the work can continue, because these three striking buildings really are unusual in Pittsburgh and ought to be preserved.

    View along the fronts of the buildings
    The whole row from the right
    1. Source: The Construction Record, September 11, 1915: “Bids are in for the erection of three two-story brick veneered and hollow tile double duplex residences, on Murtland avenue and Idlewild street, for Mrs. W . J. Burkhard, Mrs. Josephine Friday and Mrs. Mary A. Saupp, Blackadore Avenue Extension. Cost $45,000. Plans by Architect Crarles [sic] Bier, Pittsburgh Life building.” ↩︎
  • Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    Tower of Holy Ghost

    If you have ever come up the Ohio or across the McKees Rocks Bridge, chances are you have noticed this gold-domed tower rising from the McKees Rocks Bottoms. You would not have had time to appreciate the details, but appreciate them now. Just the tower is a remarkable piece of work. But the whole church is something extraordinary, and worth a visit to the Bottoms to see. Since the Bottoms is a neighborhood of surprising architectural riches, you will probably find yourself distracted by a dozen other wonders before you leave.

    Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church

    Holy Ghost Greek (now Byzantine) Catholic Church is a startling outcropping of Art Nouveau in a neighborhood where we never expected to find it. The design was the work of McKees Rocks’ own John H. Phillips, as we know from the cornerstone.


    Here we have the date, the name of the architect, and the name of the contractor, along with the name of the pastor. There was one other church architect in Pittsburgh who routinely put his own name and the name of the contractor on cornerstones in florid Art Nouveau lettering, and that was Titus de Bobula. Looking at the style of this church, with its radical and constantly surprising Art Nouveau ornamentation, Father Pitt forms the hypothesis that Phillips knew of Titus de Bobula’s work and was strongly influenced by the eccentric Hungarian.

    Ornamental brickwork

    The corner cross picked out in bricks is wildly different from anything you have seen before. To the right of it we also see a variant of the square above a downward-pointing triangle that seems to have been a kind of signature for Phillips, appearing on at least three of the four buildings of his that Father Pitt has so far identified.

    From the rear

    The church behind the front is more conventional—which is also true of Titus de Bobula’s churches. Both de Bobula and Phillips relied on elaborate fronts to make their grand impression.


    Certainly this tower makes a strong impression. There is nothing else quite like it in Pittsburgh. The variation of detail in the bricks is remarkable. But the forms are harmonized very cleverly, with each level echoing shapes from the other two.

    Cornerstone from the other side

    Phillips also designed the Ukrainian National Home around the corner, and Father Pitt hopes to identify more buildings by him in McKees Rocks. He has joined Pittsburgh’s exclusive little club of early modernists, and old Pa Pitt is delighted to make his acquaintance.

  • Ukrainian National Home, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    Ukrainian National Home

    Father Pitt would like to introduce you to an architect you’ve never heard of, but one who merits your attention: John H. Phillips, who kept his office in McKees Rocks, and about whose personal life old Pa Pitt knows absolutely nothing.

    When we speak of the early modernists in Pittsburgh—the architects before 1920 or so who adopted the idioms of Art Nouveau and related movements—we generally have a very short list: Frederick Scheibler, Kiehnel & Elliott, and the incomparable Titus de Bobula, the man who gave up his promising career as an architect because he would rather be a millionaire playboy Nazi dictator. Now Father Pitt proposes to add the name of John H. Phillips to that list. Here is the Ukrainian National Home, built in 1913 in a shockingly unconventional style.

    Inscription over the door: Ukrainian National Home

    We have to use our imagination to see the building with the colossal windows the architect designed to flood the building with light, because men’s clubs in Pittsburgh always block in their windows. But the outlines of the building are unaltered, and the ornamental brickwork is remarkable. Note in particular those squares above downward-pointing triangles at the entrance: they will reappear on other Phillips buildings, almost like a signature.

    Perspective view

    Where did this obscure architect get his Art Nouveau style? There could be any number of explanations, but Father Pitt suspects that Phillips took a lot of inspiration from Titus de Bobula. We will see some evidence for that speculation when we come to Phillips’ most prominent work in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, Holy Ghost Church. Meanwhile, this extraordinary building may serve as John H. Phillips’ initiation into the exclusive little club of early modernists in Pittsburgh.

  • St. Josaphat’s Church, South Side Slopes

    Tower of St. Josaphat’s through autumn leaves
    St. Josaphat’s Church

    St. Josaphat’s is one of the most unusual of John T. Comès’ works. It has some of his trademarks, notably the stripes—he loved stripes. But it also takes more inspiration from Art Nouveau than most of his churches, which are usually more firmly rooted in historical models. It is now having some renovation work done to fit it for its post-church life.

    St. Josaphat’s Church
  • Holy Innocents School, Sheraden

    Holy Innocents School

    John T. Comès designed the older Holy Innocents Church, which was replaced by the cathedral-sized church that stands today, and it is likely that he designed this school as well. The style is a kind of Art Nouveau Jacobean. It is vacant right now, which puts it in danger, since large vacant buildings are attractive nuisances both for arson and for blue “Condemnation” stickers.

    Inscription over the entrance: Holy Innocents School

    Painting the stone accents grey may have been someone’s solution to the soot problem. It was not a good idea.

    Date stone: A. D. 1907
    Side of the school
  • McKinney Manufacturing Company Warehouse, Chateau

    View of the warehouse from the corner of Preble Avenue and Liverpool Street

    The Hunting-Davis Company was a versatile firm, but its specialty was industrial architecture. The McKinney Manufacturing Company warehouse was noted as an innovation in reinforced-concrete construction when it went up in 1914, and it still stands in very close to its original form, giving us a good look at the ultra-modern industrial architecture of the early twentieth century. We note that even such a utilitarian structure as a warehouse was not allowed to go up without some elegant Art Nouveau ornamentation:

    Ornamentation on the corner of the warehouse

    Here is the architects’ Liverpool Street elevation as it appeared in an article in the Construction Record for February 7, 1914:

    And here is the same building today:

    McKinney Manufacturing Co. warehouse, Preble Avenue side

    This is the Preble Avenue side, which is shorter by one bay but otherwise similar. Old Pa Pitt would have preferred to duplicate the architects’ drawing as closely as possible, but Liverpool Street no longer exists in that block: it has been filled in with lower buildings.

    Here is the text of the article, which will be of interest to students of architecture and construction:

    Last week the contract for building the warehouse for the McKinney Manufacturing Company, Northside, Pittsburgh, was placed with the Henry Shenk Company, Pittsburgh. The building as designed by the Hunting-Davis Company, Century building, Pittsburgh, will be approximately 105×120 feet, six stories high with basement. It will be of reinforced concrete throughout. There will be no steel beams or girders used in the construction work except those for the outside lintels and elevator framing.

    In order that the reinforced concrete work may be properly constructed, thus eliminating any possibility of poor workmanship and accidents, it is agreed that superintendent of five years experience on reinforced concrete building must remain on the work at all times. The mixture of the concrete will be one part cement, two parts sand and four parts gravel. All columns will have a one to two cement and sand mortar placed to a depth of three inches before the concrete is placed. The columns will be cast a day ahead of the beams and slabs. Care is to be exercised in removing the forms so that no board marks or imperfections on the exterior of the building are noticeable.

    The building will be one of the heaviest loaded flat slab buildings ever designed in the country. A four-way diagonal reinforcement will be used in the slab construction. The columns will have hoop-reinforced concrete. All ceilings will be flat. The floor loads per square foot will be as follows: First floor, 800 pounds; second floor, 1,200 pounds; third floor, 650 pounds; fourth floor, 450 pounds; fifth and sixth floors, 300 pounds. The basement floor and walls will be reinforced to take care of flood water pressure with flood gates on basement windows.

    The design carries with the proposed work the building of a tunnel to connect with the present plant and the construction of a bridge to connect up with the second floor. Solid steel sash will be used on all windows. A sprinkler system will be installed. All floors in the basement tunnel and pent houses will have a granolithic finish.

    For the connecting bridge the walls and roof will be constructed of self-centering material plastered with cement mortar. The walls will be two inches thick and finished smooth on both sides. The roof will be two and one-half inches thick and finished with a smooth under coat. Composition roofing will be used throughout all the work.