Tag: Centre Avenue

  • The A. Leo Weil Elementary School, Hill

    Entrance to the A. Leo Weil Elementary School

    Marion Steen was staff architect for the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education for two decades, from 1935 to 1954, and in that time he gave us some striking Art Deco schools. One of the most striking things about them was how different each of them was. Someday soon old Pa Pitt will take a tour of Mount Lebanon to photograph Ingham & Boyd’s schools there, and when he does, you will see that they all have a certain Ingham & Boyd sameness to them—which is not a bad thing: they are good variations on a good theme. But Marion Steen was like a jazz musician who could never play the same solo twice.

    The most striking thing about the 1942 Weil School, which is still in use as a charter school, is the four-storey vertical that marks off the main entrance.

    Entrance
    Sculpture over the entrance

    Old Pa Pitt does not know who is responsible for the strongly Deco allegorical figure pouring out floral treasures for the delighted children below. But he is certain that education is supposed to look something like this.

    Side view of the statue
    Auditorium

    The auditorium is an exercise in Deco classicism. Note the textures in the brickwork.

    Auditorium and Soho Street entrance
    Centre Avenue end

    We hope someone will put some effort into preserving the wavy Art Deco metalwork in the railings at the Centre Avenue end of the building.

  • Stevenson Building, East Liberty

    Stevenson building, East Liberty

    This classical building was designed (in 1896) by architect William Ross Proctor to preside over this corner as if it owned both streets. By placing the entrance at the corner, Mr. Proctor refuses to decide whether the building is on Centre or Highland. “Both,” says that entrance.

    Look up as you pass to appreciate the elaborate detail of the cornice.

    Cornice moldings
  • Dome of the Liberty Market, East Liberty

    Better known to Pittsburghers as Motor Square Garden: it opened as a market house in 1900, but failed a few years later and began a long association with the automobile business. The architects were Peabody and Stearns, who also designed Horne’s department store downtown and several prominent mansions in the East End neighborhoods.

  • Cathedral Mansions and Haddon Hall in 1929

    Thanks to a kind correspondent, old Pa Pitt has an opportunity to prove himself right about one thing and wrong about something else. Being wrong is almost as good as being right, because it means learning something new.

    Our correspondent sent two pictures that appeared in an advertisement that ran in the Post-Gazette in 1929. The ad was for Frigidaire refrigerating systems, as used in prominent buildings in the city.

    First, the Cathedral Mansions apartments on Ellsworth Avenue.

    Cathedral Mansions in 1929

    Here Father Pitt was right. A little while ago, we ran this picture of Cathedral Mansions as it looks today:

    Cathedral Mansions today

    At that time we mentioned that we suspected it had lost a cornice. Father Pitt was right about that, as you can see from the 1929 picture.

    Now, here’s the one we were wrong about:

    Haddon Hall in 1929

    This building is now an apartment building called Hampshire Hall. As “Haddon Hall” it was a hotel with apartments. Here is what it looks like today:

    Hampshire Hall (formerly Haddon Hall)

    The obvious change is that modernist growth on the front. When he published these pictures, Father Pitt wrote, “It appears to be a glass enclosure for what was once an elegant verandah.” That is wrong. It seems to have been a replacement for the original dining room or lounge of the hotel. It was probably put there in about 1961: a newspaper ad from December 22, 1961, promotes the Walt Harper Quintet’s appearance at the “newly remodeled Haddon Hall Lounge.”

    Many thanks to our correspondent for the pictures, which give us new information about these two notable buildings. If anyone knows the architect of either one, but especially Haddon Hall/Hampshire Hall (which is in a distinctive modernist-Renaissance style), Father Pitt would be grateful for the information.

  • Centre Court Apartments, Shadyside

    Center Court Apartments

    A simplified Italian Renaissance style, with the ornamentation kept to the minimum. Note the variant spelling of the name on the nameplate over the entrance: when this apartment block was put up, the spelling of Centre Avenue had not been standardized to the British spelling preferred by real-estate developers.

    Nameplate
  • The Colonnade, Oakland

    The Colonnade

    This small apartment building on Centre Avenue is named for its most obvious and distinctive feature: a two-storey Doric colonnade that has just been freshly painted.

    Addendum: According to the city architectural inventory (PDF), the Colonnade was built in 1907.

    Corner view
  • The Ambassador, Bloomfield

    Brass plaques
    Ambassador, Bloomfield

    This Art Deco apartment block was built in 1928 or shortly after. At first glance it looks like a simple rectangular modernist box, but a second glance reveals some rich decorative details.

    The building is on Centre Avenue, which is a neighborhood border on city planning maps; thus it is technically in Bloomfield, but most Pittsburghers would probably say Shadyside.

    Wrought iron
    Terra cotta
    Front
    East side

    Addendum: The architects were Marks & Kann, according to the Charette, the magazine of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club.

  • Hampshire Hall, Shadyside

    Hampshire Hall

    Addendum: This was originally called Haddon Hall, and it was built as a hotel, or at least it was a hotel early in its history. We now have a picture of Haddon Hall in 1929, before the modernist growth on the front.


    This is a distinctive building, and old Pa Pitt searched almost fifteen minutes for the architect without success. He would be delighted if someone could tell him who designed this little outcropping of dignified Art Nouveau. Father Pitt might suspect Kiehnel and Elliott as the architects most likely to be working in this style in Pittsburgh, but that is nothing more than a wild speculation.

    Front

    The glass-block windows in the front stairwell were probably stained glass when the building opened, and we can hope that those windows are preserved in a private collection somewhere.

    The modernist addition on the front is not as delightful as its architect probably hoped it would be. It was probably put there in about 1961: a newspaper ad from December 22, 1961, promotes the Walt Harper Quintet’s appearance at the “newly remodeled Haddon Hall Lounge.” (In an earlier version of this article, Father Pitt wrote, “It appears to be a glass enclosure for what was once an elegant verandah.” That was wrong: old photos from before the remodeling show no verandah.)

    Medallion
    Window
    Flower ornament
    Hampshire Hall
  • 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.

    Addendum: The Construction Record in 1915 confirms that this building was put up as two floors, and names the architects: “Architects Hunting & Davis Company, Century building, awarded to Henry Shenk Company, Century Building, the contract for constructing a two-story brick and terra cotta garage and assembly shop on Center avenue, Shadyside, for the Painter-Dunn Company. Cost $100,000.”

    From Millvale Avenue

    Note how Millvale Avenue runs right into the garage entrance.