The Boulevard of the Allies side of one of the side-by-side Hartje Brothers buildings. Charles Bickel designed this building and the matching one behind it on Wood Street. This was the later of the two, both built in 1902 for the Hartje Brothers Paper Manufacturing Company. Mr. Bickel was extraordinarily prolific, but old Pa Pitt thinks he deserved his success. For an interesting comparison, look at the Reymer Brothers candy factory and the Concordia Club, and see how Charles Bickel created different effects from the same basic shapes.
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. ↩︎
Now called “The Highline,” the Pittsburgh Terminal Warehouse and Transfer Company was one of the largest commercial buildings in the world when it was finished in 1906. The architect was the prolific Charles Bickel, who gave us a very respectable version of Romanesque-classical commercial architecture on a huge scale.
The building was planned in 1898, but it took several years of wrangling and special legislation to clear three city blocks and rearrange the streets to accommodate the enormous structure. Its most distinctive feature is a street, Terminal Way, that runs right down the middle of the building at the third-floor level: as you can see above, it has now been remade into a pleasant outdoor pedestrian space. You can’t tell from the picture above, but there is more building underneath the street.
The bridge coming out across the railroad tracks is the continuation of Terminal Way, which comes right to the edge of the Monongahela, where the power plant for the complex was built.
The reason for the complex is more obvious from this angle. Railroad cars came right into the building on the lowest level to unload.
It also had access to the river, and road access to Carson Street at the other end. Every form of transportation came together here for exchange and distribution.
McKean Street separates the main part of the complex from the Carson Street side; Terminal Way passes over it on a bridge.
The Fourth Street side shows us the full height of the building. Fourth Street itself is still Belgian block.
A view over the McKean Street bridge and down Terminal Way from the Carson Street end.
This absurdly narrow building is on the Carson Street side of the complex; it has usually housed a small restaurant of some sort. One suspects that this was the result of some kind of political wrangling that ended in a ridiculously small space on this side of Terminal Way between Carson and McKean Streets.
The power plant for the complex, seen above from the Terminal Way bridge across the railroad. It could use some taking care of right now.
This view of the complex from the hill above Carson Street was published in 1911 as an advertisement for cork from the Armstrong Cork Company.
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.
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.
This little old firehouse, built in 1894 (according to the sign), has been lovingly restored as a private residence, complete with its own tower and a roof deck that must have a spectacular view. (Those yellow signs in the windows inform the world that the owner has official permission from the city to use a roof deck in his private residence.)
Update: The August 2023 Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation newsletter informs us that the foundation has just awarded a Historic Lanmark plaque to this building. According to the PHLF, the architect was the prolific Charles Bickel. The architect responsible for turning it into a residence in 1982 was Sam Taylor.
On city planning maps, this part of the neighborhood is the South Side Slopes, but it is traditionally called “Arlington.”
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.
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.
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.