Tag: Classical Architecture

  • Colonial Trust Company

    Colonial Trust Company Building

    Fourth Avenue, the second-biggest American financial center after Wall Street, was famous for its bank towers. But one bank decided to go long instead of high. The Colonial Trust Company built a magnificent banking hall that ran right through from Forbes Avenue to Fourth Avenue, skylit all the way. Pittsburghers passing between Fourth and Forbes, especially in cold weather, would take the route through the bank so regularly that the hall became known as Colonial Avenue.

    Frederick Osterling was the architect, and he designed this magnificent Corinthian face for the Forbes Avenue side.

    Lion’s head

    What would a bank be without its lions?


    Home-repair tip: if your pediment is broken, you can fill the gap with a baroque cartouche.

    Two years ago, old Pa Pitt got pictures of the other entrances as well, so the rest of the pictures are reruns.

    The Fourth Avenue side is in the same style, but narrower:

    Fourth Avenue entrance

    This side also has its lions.

    In 1926, the bank decided to expand by building another equally magnificent hall perpendicular to the first, with an entrance on Wood Street. Osterling was the architect again—but fashions, and Osterling’s own taste, had changed.

    Wood Street entrance

    Instead of florid Corinthian, this side is in a simpler Ionic style. The outlines are cleaner, and the wall of rectangular panes of glass and the shallow arch at the top seem almost modernistic. It is still a bravura performance, but perhaps a more perfectly controlled one.

    Fortunately the whole building has been adapted as Point Park’s University Center, so it is not going anywhere, for the near future at any rate.

  • Braddock National Bank

    Braddock National Bank, from an old postcard
    From an old postcard

    This splendid edifice cost about $100,000 when it was built in about 1905. The architects were McCollum & Dowler,1 and that Dowler is the young Press C. Dowler, who would practice architecture for two-thirds of a century and run through every style of his long lifetime, from Romanesque through Art Deco to uncompromising modernism. The building still stands today on Braddock Avenue, and the front still looks about the same.

    1. Source: The American Architect and Building News, July 23, 1904: “Braddock, Pa.—McCollom [sic] & Dowler, Pittsburg, have completed plans for a $100,000 granite and brick bank building for the Braddock National Bank.” ↩︎
  • Gimbels Building

    This was built in 1914 as the Kaufmann & Baer Department Store, the Kaufmanns in the name being brothers of the Morris Kaufmann who owned the Big Store two blocks away. It was bought out by the Gimbel Brothers eleven years later, and for generations of Pittsburghers this was the Gimbels Building. Its name is now officially Heinz 57 Center, but most people still call it the Gimbels Building. The architects, Starrett & van Vleck, were specialists in department stores from New York.

    Terra cotta swag and head

    Acres of terra cotta went into decorating the Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue faces of this building.

    Terra cotta
    A different terra cotta swag and head
    Terra-cotta panel
    Corinthian capital
    Beside a window

    And of course there was the clock. It was not as famous or elaborate as the Kaufmann’s clock, but it was another good place to meet someone downtown. This is obviously a good bit more recent than the building itself: it has a streamlined Art Deco look.

  • The Old Horne’s

    The original Horne’s

    Not the one with the Christmas tree, but the one before that. Horne’s was Pittsburgh’s first department store, and in 1880 the already-well-established Joseph Horne Company built this grand mercantile palace. It was Horne’s for only about seventeen years: in 1897, the department store moved to its much larger location at Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street, where it would stay for almost a century. After that, the Pittsburgh Post moved into this building, and later the Sun as well, when they were under the same ownership.

    1880 date stone

    The Wikipedia article on the Joseph Horne Company is a mess, and old Pa Pitt ought to work on rewriting it, except that it would require extensive research. Among other things, it tells us (without citing a source) that this building was built in 1881 (which may be when it opened) and was designed by Charles Tattersall Ingham, who would have been four years old when he designed it. Decent work for a four-year-old. However…

    1902 date stone

    The lower floors got a complete makeover in 1920, when the building was a newspaper headquarters, and that part of the building is in the trademark Ingham & Boyd style: rigorously symmetrical, with meticulously correct classical detailing. Charles Tattersall Ingham would have been 44 years old then, right in the middle of a prosperous career. Old Pa Pitt will therefore tentatively attribute that 1920 remodeling to Ingham & Boyd.

    Left entrance

    Do you have plans for a luxury-apartment project downtown? Here is your opportunity. Everyone else is doing it.

    Joseph Horne Company 1880 building
  • Westinghouse High School, Homewood

    The truth is mighty and will prevail

    Possibly more famous people, and especially musicians, have gone to Westinghouse than to any other high school in Pittsburgh. We might compare it to the famous Austin High in Chicago for the number of great jazz lights who came out of it—and arguably the ones from Westinghouse have been more influential. So far only Billy Strayhorn has a historical marker outside the school, but there’s room for a forest of markers, or—since this is an Ingham & Boyd school—an orderly orchard of markers.

    Westinghouse High School

    Ingham & Boyd designed the building in their usual severely classical and ruthlessly symmetrical style. When you walk in these doors, you know you are entering something important, and even the Bulldog banners cannot diminish the formality of it.

    The truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth

    The two mottoes inscribed on the front of the school fit perfectly with the architecture. Mottoes and style convey the same message: there is one standard of absolute truth, and you will enter into the truth here.

    Westinghouse High School
  • St. Vincent de Paul School, Esplen

    St. Vincent de Paul School, Esplen

    The church and other buildings of the parish are long gone, but this little parochial school is still standing in Esplen, a neighborhood few Pittsburghers ever think of. For a while the building belonged to a nondenominational church, but that does not seem to be active anymore. We hope the building can be preserved, since it is one of the few substantial structures in what is otherwise a neighborhood of frame houses and, increasingly, vacant lots.

    Inscription over the door
    Cross on the roof

    This cross looks like an afterthought, as though someone worried that the building looked too much like a conventional public school—which it does—and decided that something had to be done to distinguish it as Catholic.

    Oblique view showing later addition

    A later addition included a porte cochère, which must have been a blessing to pupils arriving by car in the rain. It bears unconscious testimony to the facts of religious life in the later twentieth century: increasingly, ethnic parishes were no longer serving parishioners in their own neighborhoods (all of Esplen is within walking distance of this school), but rather people who had moved to the suburbs and had to drive in to church or school. The next obvious step is that they stop driving in to church or school, and find themselves a parish in the suburbs.

  • Oliver Building

    Oliver Building

    The Oliver Building, designed by Daniel Burnham, was the tallest building in Pittsburgh when it was put up in 1910, passing Alden & Harlow’s Farmer’s Bank Building (destroyed in 1997, or arguably thirty years earlier when it was given a fake-modern skin). Only two years later, though, it was passed by Daniel Burnham’s own First National Bank Building (destroyed in 1968 to make way for a modernist skyscraper barely any taller).

    The front of the Oliver Building still produces an impression of absolute massiveness, spanning an entire block with a 348-foot-tall wall. The rear, on the other hand, is where the light wells are, which divide the building into three narrower towers, changing the impression to one of loftiness rather than massiveness.

    Oliver Building from Oliver Avenue

    Your eyes are not being fooled by a trick of perspective: the section on the right really does extend a little further toward us than the other two.

  • Mission Pumping Station, South Side Slopes

    Carved face

    Imagine the uproar that would ensue if your city government today decided to hire a Beaux-Arts master like Thomas Scott to design a monumental palace for such a utilitarian purpose as a water-pumping station. Imagine the inquiries that would probe the vital questions of how much each of those carved faces cost and why stone trim was used when the same object could be accomplished with aluminum. The world has made a lot of progress since Scott, architect of the Benedum-Trees Building downtown (where he kept his architectural office, naturally), gave us this $100,000 pumping station on an out-of-the-way street on the South Side Slopes.1

    Mission Pumping Station

    There were doubtless security reasons for bricking in the towering windows that used to flood the place with light. But Father Pitt cannot help suspecting that the real reason is that the workers here constituted a sort of men’s club, and men’s clubs in Pittsburgh abhor natural light.

    Corner of the Mission Pumping Station
    Carved face and wreath
    Carved face from the side
    Carved face from below
    Entrance ornament
    Carved face from the other side
    Mission Street front

    Even in November, much of the building is obscured by trees.

    End of the building
    1. Our source is the Construction Record, March 4, 1911: “The City of Pittsburg, Bureau of Water, will receive estimates until March 13th, on constructing a one-story brick, terra cotta and steel pumping station on Mission street, South Side, to cost $100,000. Plans were drawn by Architect T. H. Scott, Machesney building, and contract for foundation work was awarded to M. O’Herron & Co., First and McKean streets, South Side.” The Machesney Building was the original name of the Benedum-Trees Building. ↩︎
  • South Side Electric Light Plant

    South Side Electric Light Plant

    When the Duquesne Light Company invaded residential neighborhoods to plant its death-ray generators, the neighbors were likely to object. It would help the company’s image if the power substations were elegant constructions. This classical palace of voltage conveyed the message that your Duquesne Light Company was substantial, respectable, and benevolent. The big hole that was later cut out of the front on the right side conveys the message that we needed to put the death-ray cannon somewhere.

    Inscription on the façade: Duquesne Light Company
  • Back Corner of Soldiers and Sailors Hall

    Soldiers and Sailors Hall from O’Hara Street and University Place

    Seen from the corner of O’Hara Street and University Place.