The interior of the P&LE terminal, now Pittsburgh’s most spectacular restaurant.
Grand Concourse, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Terminal
Homewood People’s Bank
Here is another small bank that gets the architectural message exactly right, as we said a few days ago about the Carnegie National Bank. How could your money not be safe in a bank that looks like this? Imagine, too, how bright and cheerful the banking hall must have been before those tall windows along the side were filled in.
Winged chimeras guard the cartouche at the top of the great front arch.
First National Bank, Castle Shannon
You might pass this little building by without a second glance as you walked along Poplar Street, if you ever did walk along Poplar Street (a very pleasant street) in Castle Shannon. But if you did pause, you might notice the tall Corinthian columns and sturdy-looking quoins (those patterns in the bricks that are meant to look like cut stone) and think, “I wonder whether that used to be a bank.”
Then you would look up at the pediment, and all doubt would be removed.
The electric vault alarm still sits prominently in the pediment where a richer bank might have had an allegorical figure of Commerce.
To judge by old maps, this bank was built between 1890 and 1906.
The adjective “tasteful” does not naturally attach itself to this structure. It has the look of a building specified by a banker who hired an expensive architect and was determined to wring every cent of his money’s worth out of the details. It is magnificent in a slightly horrifying way: this is the kind of monstrosity that was in the minds of the modernists when they condemned all things Victorian. Old Pa Pitt would not change a single swirl or swag or grotesque half-vegetable naked lady.
The architect in question was the firm of Isaac H. Hobbs & Sons from Philadelphia. Isaac H. Hobbs was a kind of celebrity architect. He was familiar to the thousands of ladies across our fair land who read Godey’s Lady’s Book, the premier fashion magazine of the middle 1800s: every month, Hobbs contributed a design for an elaborately Victorian residence for the lady readers to drool over. It was something like having a regular segment on a popular daytime talk show today. According to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s Fourth Avenue walking tour (PDF), Hobbs designed a number of houses around Pittsburgh, but Father Pitt does not know any of them; he wonders whether they were original designs, or whether they were adaptations of the many designs published in Godey’s.
It appears that the crust of 150-year-old ornamentation requires some stabilization: netting is stretched over the top half of the building at the moment.
Free to the People for 125 Years
Entrance to the Gerber Apartments, Shadyside
Otherwise not remarkable among the many classically inspired apartment houses in Shadyside, this one has an entrance that certainly stands out. It makes a spectacle of itself, in fact. The capitals on the massive square columns are more or less Corinthian, but Corinthian is usually the lightest and airiest-looking of the classical orders, whereas this construction gives the impression that it outweighs the whole building behind it.
This picture was taken with what might be called a toy camera. It was a no-name digital camera with stated 18-megapixel resolution, but clearly those 18 megapixels are achieved by multiplying some much smaller number of pixels. It may amuse you to enlarge the picture to full size and examine the results.
242 Fifth Avenue
This ostentatious little building on Fifth Avenue is in need of some restoration. Something could be done with the ground floor to make it more in sympathy with the upper storeys without spending the immense fortune it would probably take to recreate the original classical front. Even a simple modernist glass front would be more harmonious.