Edward B. Lee designed this clubhouse for the Americus Republican Club in a lush Georgian style. It was built in 1918, and it spans the whole (very short) block from the Boulevard of the Allies to Third Avenue. Since the club moved out, this has been known as the Pitt Building.
Old Pa Pitt thinks the off-center pediment is an interesting choice for neo-Georgian architecture. It would not have occurred to him if he had been the architect, but the expected symmetry would probably have made a duller façade.
Update: A correspondent points out that Second Avenue was widened into a boulevard in 1921, and it was done by trimming, moving, or demolishing buildings on the north side of the street. One large building was moved back forty feet. Forty feet would be just enough to account for the asymmetry of this façade. E. B. Lee would have been available to supervise the alterations, but the building’s current form would represent the best he could do under adverse circumstances, not his original grand vision for the Americus Club.
Father Pitt does not know the history of this building, and would be delighted to be informed. A real-estate site says it was built in 1920. It is residential now, but it has the look of a club. That impression is strengthened by the brickwork double-headed eagle at the peak of the Ella Street front. Old Pa Pitt is ashamed to admit that he didn’t notice the eagle when he hurriedly snapped these pictures on his way between the Ukrainian National Home and St. Mark’s School, but you can see it pretty well if you enlarge the picture above, and it is a clever bit of bricklaying. The eagle’s heads seem to be sharing some sort of military cap. Was this an Albanian or Serbian club?
The windows were arched originally; the arches have been bricked in so that the windows could be replaced with cheap stock models.
The two-storey section at the rear is a later addition, after 1923 to judge by old maps; it may have been added when the club was converted to a residence. The bricks are carefully matched to make the link between the parts seamless. The tops of the doorways, however, seem to have been bricked in at different times, one of them with almost-but-not-quite-matching brown bricks, and the other with ordinary red bricks.
Father Pitt would like to introduce you to an architect you’ve never heard of, but one who merits your attention: John H. Phillips, who kept his office in McKees Rocks, and about whose personal life old Pa Pitt knows absolutely nothing.
When we speak of the early modernists in Pittsburgh—the architects before 1920 or so who adopted the idioms of Art Nouveau and related movements—we generally have a very short list: Frederick Scheibler, Kiehnel & Elliott, and the incomparable Titus de Bobula, the man who gave up his promising career as an architect because he would rather be a millionaire playboy Nazi dictator. Now Father Pitt proposes to add the name of John H. Phillips to that list. Here is the Ukrainian National Home, built in 1913 in a shockingly unconventional style.
We have to use our imagination to see the building with the colossal windows the architect designed to flood the building with light, because men’s clubs in Pittsburgh always block in their windows. But the outlines of the building are unaltered, and the ornamental brickwork is remarkable. Note in particular those squares above downward-pointing triangles at the entrance: they will reappear on other Phillips buildings, almost like a signature.
Where did this obscure architect get his Art Nouveau style? There could be any number of explanations, but Father Pitt suspects that Phillips took a lot of inspiration from Titus de Bobula. We will see some evidence for that speculation when we come to Phillips’ most prominent work in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, Holy Ghost Church. Meanwhile, this extraordinary building may serve as John H. Phillips’ initiation into the exclusive little club of early modernists in Pittsburgh.
This Romanesque—or shall we say Rundbogenstil? Because we like to say “Rundbogenstil”—firehouse was built for the city of Allegheny, probably in the 1890s to judge by our old maps. The alterations since then can be explained by the fact that a firehouse is basically a men’s club, and men’s clubs in Pittsburgh gradually fill in their windows and block as much natural light as they can. It does make one wonder what they expect to do with that tower now, but perhaps firemen have secret initiation rituals for which a dark tower is the ideal setting.
This little clubhouse on a narrow back street is modest to the point of shyness: you can walk right past and never notice it, partly because of the well-grown tree in front, but mostly because it is a good citizen of the streetscape. Yet it rewards a closer look. It was built in about 1914 to an Arts-and-Craftsy Spanish Mission design by Edward B. Lang. In the Construction Record, it is credited to E. M. Lang. The address, however, is right for Edward B. Lang; and that magazine is so full of misprints that one often finds an architect’s name spelled three different ways on the same page.
Edward Lang is an architect who is not much spoken of these days, but he had some significant buildings to his credit—St. Mark’s Church in the McKees Rocks Bottoms and the Passionist convent in Carrick, to name two. The firm of Edward Lang and Brother was quite productive in the southern city neighborhoods, the Brother being Herman Lang, who is credited with St. George’s Church in Allentown and St. Basil’s in Carrick, among many others.
For readers who are interested, here is an example of the kind of detective work old Pa Pitt does for you. Why would someone write “E. M. Lang” instead of “E. B. Lang”? The answer is obvious when we remember that the Linotype was by far the most popular machine for typesetting periodicals. The Linotype has its own keyboard arrangement, and the M and B are right next to each other, where a fumblefingered typesetter can easily hit one for the other.
We have a good number of houses from a century and a half or more ago, but very few public buildings remain in Pittsburgh from the Civil War era. Here is one. This Odd Fellows Hall was built in 1865, when the West End was Temperanceville. It seems to have been extended by one bay on the right not long after it was built.
It seems to old Pa Pitt that this ought to be one of our high preservation priorities. It is nearly unique in being a secular public building from the middle nineteenth century; Pittsburgh’s prosperity and rapid growth meant that most others were replaced by bigger ones around the turn of the twentieth century. It is also in very good historical shape: aside from the mutilated ground floor, it is in very close to original condition. But it is in a neglected neighborhood where it could not yet be turned into profitable loft apartments, in spite of ongoing efforts to turn the West End into an artsy village.
This building inspires Father Pitt to imitate the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and classify our vulnerable landmarks in six categories: Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Demolished. We shall call this building Vulnerable, because it is a large building in a neglected neighborhood, on a street where a majority of the buildings have been demolished.
Addendum: Note the comment from David Schwing below, citing the definitive book on Scheibler, which old Pa Pitt really needs to add to his library:
According to Martin Aurand in “The Progressive Architecture of Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr.” this building was built in 1902 for Robert L. Matthews. This predates the Ohio Boulevard Bridge to the left of the building.
This makes the building one of Scheibler’s early works; he had left Longfellow, Alden & Harlow in 1898, and apparently carried some of that illustrious firm’s classical aesthetic with him. Many thanks to Mr. Schwing for the information.
Another addendum: The building was the Robert L. Matthews Departments Store, according to an Architects Tour Program from the Allegheny City Society.
The original article is below.
Down in the Woods Run valley, crammed between the Ohio River Boulevard bridge on the one side and the California Avenue bridge on the other, is this strange building, obviously much altered over the years, which once belonged to the Kazimier Pulaski Society. What makes it even more fascinating is that a city architectural survey identifies it as the work of Frederick Scheibler, one of the most interesting early modernist architects in Pittsburgh.
The building seems to be in use by a “social club,” which as old Pa Pitt understands it differs from a “bar” in that it closes at 3 a.m. instead of 2 a.m. A building permit for alterations to the second-floor interior was issued in October and is still taped to the door.
You may have noticed the doors to nowhere on the second, third, and fourth floors. We can only assume that a fire escape was installed on the front of this building at some time in its history, or possibly balconies. At least we hope that is what those doors indicate. (Update: A reader points out that the fire escape was present as recently as 2017 and can be seen in earlier layers of Google Street View.)
Although the details of most of the front have disappeared, the interesting treatment of the fourth floor is mostly preserved.
The monogram “RLM,” or possibly “LRM,” in this cartouche suggests that the Kazimier Pulaski Society was not the original builder.
As you can see, it takes some effort to achieve this kind of symmetry in Pittsburgh, a city where the phrase “ground floor” is ambiguous at best. Pittsburgh’s premier women’s club hired Pittsburgh’s premier architect of clubs, Benno Janssen, to design this splendid Renaissance palace, built—according to the inscription—in 1930. The inscription also tells us that the club was founded in 1894. The rest (on the right) is the club motto: “Not for ourselves alone, but for the whole world.” The building now belongs to Pitt.
The entrance on the Bigelow Boulevard side, at lower ground level.
A relief over the Bigelow Boulevard entrance bears the club motto again. For context, here is an older picture from the corner of Bigelow Boulevard and Bigelow Boulevard (no one said navigating Oakland was easy); the lower entrance is behind the elegant stone wall.
Now the Gardner Steel Conference Center, the Central Turnverein was German Pittsburgh’s most elegant athletic club. The building is an extraordinary early-modern design by Kiehnel and Elliott, and they trimmed it with geometric decorations inspired by the latest Jugendstil architecture overseas.
Another of Benno Janssen’s imposing clubs. We have seen this building from the front before; this corner view gives us an impression of the scale of the whole structure. It is now Bellefield Hall of the University of Pittsburgh.