Tag: Centre Avenue

  • 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.

    Front
    Entrance

    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.

  • Pierce-Arrow Dealer, Shadyside

    Painter-Dunn building

    We continue our visits to car dealers of the mythic past with one that catered to the very highest class of motorist. The Painter-Dunn Company sold Pierce-Arrow cars, a luxury brand that lasted until 1938. This dealership is the architectural equivalent of the Pierce-Arrow advertisements, which concentrated on elegant design without trying to tell us how good the car was. The design conveyed the message.

    Pierce-Arrow advertisement
    Decorative details

    Father Pitt does not know the whole history of this building. The elaborate cornice at the top of the second floor suggests that the third floor was a tastefully managed later addition.

    From Millvale Avenue

    Note how Millvale Avenue runs right into the garage entrance.

  • Two Different Interpretations of Tudor in Oakland

    The apartment building above, which faces Centre Avenue, is arranged as a kind of Tudor Renaissance palace. In defiance of its sloping site, it is a perfect rectangle arranged around an open courtyard. One can imagine Queen Elizabeth building herself a palace on this pattern.

    Almost adjacent—in fact, directly adjacent in the rear parts—is the Schenley Arms, which sits in the narrow angle between Centre Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard.

    Where the (unnamed, at least on its face) apartment building above is in the style of a Tudor palace, this is deliberately arranged in the ramshackle fashion of an old English inn. The deliberately haphazard shape takes advantage of a very irregular lot and gives the building an entirely different appearance from different angles.

    Neither one of these buildings is a very accurate representation of real Tudor architecture: they are mostly put together from standard parts with Tudor accents added. But the Tudor accents are valuable. Especially in the Schenley Arms, they give the building an architectural reason for being an absurd mishmash of odd angles: it looks as though the building was supposed to be that way, rather than forced into its absurd shape by the constraints of an absurd property.

  • The Bellefield

    An apartment building whose elaborately decorated upper floors make it look a bit top-heavy.