The Maginn Building was put up in 1891, just three years after H. H. Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse opened. Even before the courthouse was finished, it had already created a mania for the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style in Pittsburgh, and the versatile Charles Bickel was happy to come through for any client who wanted an impressively Romanesque building.
The German National Bank Building, which later took on the name “Granite Building,” was designed by Charles Bickel. It opened in 1890 as one of the wave of Romanesque buildings that followed H. H. Richardson’s County Courthouse. Mr. Bickel pulled out all the stops and used every texture of which stone is capable. To modern eyes it may almost look random, but after one’s eye has been trained to the Victorian Romanesque, the care with which the elements are balanced becomes apparent.
Logan-Gregg Hardware Co. Building
Built in 1915 to a design by the prolific and versatile Charles Bickel, this is now part of the Creative and Performing Arts high school in the Cultural District, the rest of which has picked up on Bickel’s decorative stripes and made them the theme for the whole facility. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation says that “Classrooms flow from one building into the other,” which must make it difficult to know where your Theater Arts class is on any given day.
Two Sides of Charles Bickel
Charles Bickel was one of our most prolific architects of medium-sized commercial buildings. He was versatile and adaptable, as we see here in two buildings of very similar dimensions and very different styles, built within two years of each other. Above, the Maginn Building, from 1897, in a very Richardsonian Romanesque idiom; it is currently being converted into—who would have guessed?—luxury loft apartments. Below, from 1895, the United Presbyterian Board of Publications Building, in a pure Beaux-Arts classical style.
South Side Market House
Charles Bickel designed this Romanesque market house in the middle of Bedford Square, which is one of our most charming urban spaces in the southern half and blighted by parking lots in the northern half. It was built with a pair of towers in 1893; it burned to a shell in 1915, and was rebuilt without the towers. It is now a center for “healthy active living” for old folks like Pa Pitt, though most of the old folks he runs into are considerably younger than his 264 years.
The north face has suffered a few alterations in the fenestration (a fancy architectural term for “where the windows go”), but still makes an interesting picture with the Belgian block of Twelfth Street leading toward it.
Reymer Brothers Candy Factory, Uptown
Charles Bickel designed this Romanesque industrial building with considerable inspiration from H. H. Richardson’s Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store in Chicago, which set the pattern for Romanesque industrial buildings for a generation. Bickel’s design is simpler, and by placing the arches at the top he makes the building feel taller (in fact it is shorter by one storey than Richardson’s building was).
The Reymer Brothers were in the candy business, but Pittsburghers remember them best for Reymers’ Blennd, or Lemon Blennd, the deliberately misspelled lemon-and-orange-flavored drink that cooled off generations of children in the summer. The Reymers’ Blennd brand was picked up by Heinz at some point; It seems to have vanished just this year with the demise of its last owner, Byrnes & Kiefer. It is certainly fondly remembered. Here is what claims to be the World’s #1 Lemon Blennd Site, and there are others if you go looking.
Concordia Club, Oakland
The Schenley Farms section of Oakland was crusty with clubs a century ago, but few were as influential as this one.
Charles Bickel designed this elegant clubhouse for a Jewish gentlemen’s club made up mostly of members of the Rodef Shalom congregation. To call it a gentlemen’s club brings up images of well-dressed men sitting inert with newspapers in their hands, but these gentlemen were far from inert. These were gentlemen who got things done. This club was the incubator of Reform Judaism; it was at the club (when it lived on the North Side) that the Pittsburgh Platform was signed.
This clubhouse was built in 1913, and the club continued to use it for almost a century. It finally fell to the same forces that evicted most of the other clubs in this section: declining membership in our antisocial age, and the bottomless well of money that the University of Pittsburgh can draw on. It was sold to Pitt in 2009, and is now known as the O’Hara Student Center.
West Penn Building
Charles Bickel designed this small skyscraper at First Avenue and Wood Street, which was finished in 1907. It’s a perfect demonstration of the base-shaft-cap form of an early skyscraper. In fact we can use this building as a textbook in our short course on how to read a Beaux-Arts skyscraper. The two-storey base contains the public aspects of the building—retail stores, public offices, and so on. The shaft is the main body of the building, a repeated pattern of windows and wall. The cap gives the building a presentable top, since a gentleman would not appear outdoors without his hat. Note also the floor just above the base outlined with a prominent border. That is the bosses’ floor, where the managers and other important people have their offices. “Form follows function,” as Louis Sullivan said; and in this case the form gives concrete shape to a social reality. You have now completed our course, and may award yourself a certificate.
Charles Bickel was quite at home in the Romanesque style, and he prospered in a city that had gone mad for Romanesque after Richardson’s County Courthouse appeared. The Ewart Building was put up in 1892. Old Pa Pitt was attracted to this morning view by the pattern of reflections on Liberty Avenue.
Frank & Seder Department Store, 1927
An image from an advertisement in the National Vaudeville Artists’ Annual for 1928. You and your dancing poodles are invited to shop here. This building is now under renovation, and with the removal of some later accretions the shadows of the Frank & Seder signs are visible (see the recent photos here).