Tag: Black History

  • Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Manchester

    Allen Chapel A. M. E. Church

    A detailed history of Allen Chapel (PDF) was written by the late Carol Peterson with her usual thoroughness, so old Pa Pitt will only summarize very briefly. The building was put up by the Bethel English Lutheran Church in 1894, but that congregation outgrew it rapidly and built a new church (long gone) a few blocks away. In 1905 this building was bought by the African Methodist Episcopal congregation that worshiped here for the rest of the century. When that congregation moved, it kept the building as a youth ministry center.

    End of the building
    Perspective view
    Kodak EasyShare Z981.

    Map showing the location of the church.

  • Tabernacle Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, Mexican War Streets

    Tabernacle Cosmopolitan Baptist Church
    Composite of three photographs.

    Evening sun paints the front of one of our most interesting churches—interesting both architecturally and historically. Father Pitt will admit that he is ignorant of most of the history, but perhaps a member of the congregation can fill in the rest.

    The building originally belonged to a Presbyterian church; it was probably constructed in the 1890s. The Presbyterian congregation, however, did not last much more than twenty-five years; by 1923, the building is marked as “Tabernacle Cosmopolitan Baptist Ch. (Colored),” and it has remained in the hands of that congregation for more than a century. The congregation appears to have moved to this building from a smaller church in the East Street Valley.

    When we look at this building, the thing that immediately strikes us is that there ought to be more church on top of it. Here is where Father Pitt does not know the whole story.

    On the one hand, congregations would often build a foundation and roof it over just enough to make it serviceable until the money could be raised to complete the superstructure. We have seen that in the church-turned-firehouse in Beechview, for example, and it could have happened here.

    But, on the other hand, a 1943 cornerstone tells us that there was a disastrous fire just before Christmas in 1936.

    Cornerstone: “Tabernacle Baptist Church, Organized April 29, 1874; destroyed by fire Dec. 22, 1936; rebuilt by its members in 1943; dedicated Dec. 19, 1943; Rev. L. G. McLeod, Pastor”

    It’s clear that the front of the church dates from the 1890s; this Romanesque detail would have been not just out of fashion but impossible in 1943. It could be that a higher roofline was destroyed by the fire, and the resourceful congregation made use of what was still standing and finished it off into the church that stands today.

    The building as it stands is a very good neighbor on its street. It is similar in height to the rowhouses that line the rest of the street, and it sits against the sidewalk at the same setback.

    Tabernacle Cosmopolitan Baptist Church

    Some of the carved stone ornament has decayed, though we can still make out the lacey foliage it was intended to be.

    Sony Alpha 3000 with a 7Artisans 35mm f/1.4 lens.
  • Wesley Center AME Zion Church, Hill District

    Wesley Center AME Zion Church

    A striking modernist Gothic church whose clean lines are lovingly preserved by the congregation. Below, we add some bonus utility cables to prove that this is Pittsburgh.

    Wesley Center with utility cables
  • Park Place A. M. E. Church, Homestead

    Park Place A. M. E. Church

    There has been an A. M. E. church on this site for a long time: a frame church appears on an 1891 map of Homestead. This modest but rich little Tudor Gothic building, with its matching parsonage, dates from 1920, and faces a pleasant park on a pleasant street. It fits well with its neighbors, not overwhelming them but still announcing itself as a church.

    Front of the church
  • St. Benedict the Moor Church, Hill

    St. Benedict the Moor

    With the Lower Hill demolished and replaced with a modernist wasteland, this church became the gateway to the Hill District. There may be no more effective religious statue in all of Pittsburgh than the statue of St. Benedict the Moor (by Frederick Charles Shrady) on top of the tower, his arms spread wide to welcome us to his neighborhood. The Gothic church, built in 1894, was designed by Moeser & Bippus. They had their offices downtown on Liberty Avenue, so there must be other buildings by them in the area, but old Pa Pitt does not know of any; he would be delighted if someone could name a few, or even one. It originally belonged to Holy Trinity, a German Catholic parish.


    And now let us say something for a moment about the ethnic diversity of the Hill a hundred years ago. If you stayed within six blocks of this German church, you could have visited two African Methodist Episcopal churches and one “colored” Presbyterian church, an Irish Catholic church, a Greek Catholic (that is, Byzantine Catholic) church, a Black Baptist church, and every kind of synagogue:

    Congregation Machsike Hadas
    Beth Jacob Congregation
    B’nai Israel Congregation
    Gates of Wisdom Synagogue
    Congregation Tent of Jacob
    Tiphereth Israel Congregation
    Paolo Zaoec Synagogue (Austro-Hungarian)
    Congregation Shaare Tefilla
    Congregation Kanascis Israel

    And doubtless some others; we have just been glancing at the 1923 maps at the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site and have not made any scientific survey. This was not the whole Hill, of course; we have kept within a short walk of today’s St. Benedict the Moor. People of all sorts lived side by side in a crowded but lively neighborhood. Over at Pittsburgh Cemeteries, Father Pitt has noticed the ethnic diversity of the Hill reflected in the Minersville Cemetery on the Upper Hill, a German Lutheran cemetery that nevertheless found space for people whose tombstones are written in Slovak, Greek, and Arabic.

    That the Hill became an almost exclusively Black neighborhood was the result of deliberate public policy. A neighborhood where races mixed was defined as a slum, and slums had to be cleared. Of the streets we were just walking in our imagination, half were simply demolished. The rest was marked out as a Black neighborhood; other residents had every incentive to move to areas from which Blacks were excluded by invisible red lines, though many businesses continued to be owned by former residents who had moved away, until the 1968 riots discouraged them.

    The human spirit triumphs over inhumanity, however, and today’s Hill is a neighborly neighborhood. It is not prosperous; it has lost far too many buildings and gained too many vacant lots. But it is a place where people practice the neighborly virtues, and we hope that from that precious resource will come a revival of the lesser assets as well.

  • Trinity A. M. E. Church, Hill

    Trinity A. M. E. Church

    A modest church from 1925 in an unusual Spanish Mission style. That style was very popular for houses and apartments in the 1920s, but in Pittsburgh it is seldom found in churches.

    The well-preserved, though somewhat bedraggled, Italianate house next door is also worth noting.

    Trinity AME Church and Italianate house

    Addendum: The architects of the church were Sharove & Friedman, who were more used to synagogues than churches—they worked with Henry Hornbostel on the Congregation B’nai Israel synagogue. Without the tower, this would look very much like a modest synagogue. Source: The American Contractor, September 8, 1923: “Church: $20,000. 1 sty. & bas. 30×70. Wylie av. & Francis st. Archt. Sharove & Friedman, Berger bldg. Owner The Trinity African Meth. Episcopal Congr., Rev. G. F. Williams, 2704 Wylie av. Brk. walls. Drawing plans.”

  • Tito-Mecca-Zizza House, Uptown

    Tito-Mecca-Zizza House, Uptown

    Uptown is a strange neighborhood right now. A lot of development is going on, and a lot of decay is going on, and they are going on in the same blocks. This house is obviously not in perfect shape at the moment, but it was just recently declared a city historic landmark—partly for its architecture, but mostly for its associations.

    Joe Tito was a bootlegger during Prohibition; when Prohibition ended, he invested the proceeds of his crimes in what was now legitimate business and bought the Latrobe Brewing Company, which had existed before Prohibition but had been closed for years. In 1939 he introduced the Rolling Rock brand, which was brewed in Latrobe until it was bought and moved to New Jersey. (Latrobe, currently owned by the City Brewing Company of Wisconsin, now brews Iron City and Stoney’s and other contract brews.)

    Joe’s best friend in the world was Gus Greenlee, the Black entertainment magnate from the Hill famous in jazz legend as the owner of the Crawford Grill. Mr. Greenlee bought the equally legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team, and Mr. Tito invested in it.

    The historic designation for this house came after much acrimonious debate. The owner of the property opposed it, since the house itself is not valuable but the property stands in an area that may soon be desirable. Some of the other opponents opposed on the grounds that the house was associated with organized crime, which suggests a strange view of what constitutes “history”: it is something like saying that the Marne should not be a historic battlefield because it is associated with the Kaiser. If historic buildings cannot be associated with sinners, then the only city with any historic buildings at all will be the New Jerusalem.

    Now that it’s historic, what is to be done with this house? That is the interesting question. Uptown is rapidly developing as a neighborhood of urban loft apartments; is there any room for a single-family house? Is the house big enough to divide into profitable apartments? Or will it mysteriously catch fire some night?

    Tito-Mecca-Zizza House

    We should note that Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between neighborhoods on city planning maps, which technically puts this house in the Crawford-Roberts section of the Hill. Ordinary Pittsburghers think of both sides of Fifth Avenue as Uptown, however, and most of the media reports about this house have mentioned Uptown as the neighborhood.