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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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. ↩︎
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.
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.
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.
Father Pitt, who admits he does not speak Ukrainian, would translate “Ukrainska Parochiyalna Galya” as “Ukrainian Parochial Hall.”
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
These broad entrance arches with strong vertical lines show up on Mr. Bier’s churches of the period as well.
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.)
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.
- 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.” ↩︎
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.
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.
Painting the stone accents grey may have been someone’s solution to the soot problem. It was not a good idea.
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:
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:
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.