Tag: Domestic Architecture

  • Mary L. Bayer House, South Side Slopes

    Just about every ugly thing that can happen to an old house has happened to this once-grand Second Empire mansion on the back end of Warrington Avenue. It has been sheathed in artificial siding. All the windows have been replaced with windows and doors in the wrong shapes. Almost all the trim has been removed (if you enlarge the picture, you can find a tiny remnant in the pediment over the front entrance). The porch has been replaced with treated lumber, which manufacturers assure us never has to be painted and therefore is always allowed to decay into even uglier colors than it was originally. The front entrance has been replaced with cheap doors from a home center.

    Yet, with all that, there is still a pleasing symmetry to the house that gives it a kind of senescent dignity. At present, it stands in a nice working-class neighborhood where houses are worthless, or at least not worth enough to make any substantial work on this one profitable. But it has a magnificent view of the city, and if someone with a little money were to adopt it, it could be remade into an attractive single-family mansion again, or a more attractive apartment house.

    Old Pa Pitt does not know the history of this house. On the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site, it first appears on the 1890 layer, suggesting that it was built in the 1880s. From then until 1923, it is marked as belonging to Mary L. Bayer or M. L. Bayer.

  • J. J. Matthews House, East Liberty

    Architect’s rendering

    In 1903, this rendering of a “House for J. J. Matthews, Esq., North Negley Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa.,” was published in the American Architect and Building News as one of the week’s outstanding examples of new architecture. The architect was Charles M. Bartberger, well known in Pittsburgh for some prominent schools and the Industrial Bank on Fourth Avenue. The house still stands in a somewhat bedraggled state today, with its porch filled in and a couple of stained-glass windows missing; otherwise the front has not been altered.

    Front from across the street
    Oblique view
    Porch detail
    Dormer
    Front from near side of street
  • Houses on the South Side Slopes

    Improbable houses on the Slopes, with a view of Oakland in the background.

  • The Tudor Style in Schenley Farms

    Tudor house

    Schenley Farms is that quiet little enclave of grand houses in the Oakland university district. It is a museum of styles that were popular in the early twentieth century, and one of the most popular for grand houses was the Tudor style. Half-timbering (ostentatious beams with stucco between them), steep-pitched roofs, bays, and oriels (overhanging bays) are frequent marks of the style. Here’s a little gallery of Tudor houses from a short walk in the neighborhood.

    Another Tudor house
  • Domestic Stained Glass in Beechview

    A stained-glass window in an early-twentieth-century house in Beechview. Stained glass like this was especially popular between about 1890 and 1920, just when the streetcar suburbs that later became city neighborhoods were mushrooming. These windows are often stolen if the house is vacant for a while, but even so thousands still decorate houses all around the city.

  • Rowhouses on Fifth Avenue, Uptown

    Uptown is a neighborhood in transition, and it still is not entirely clear what it will become. Will these rowhouses become valuable properties worth restoring? Or will they be knocked down for skyscraper apartments? Or will the development mania grind to a halt before it reaches this block? These two houses are in pretty good shape and worth preserving for their nearly intact fronts. Both have some fine woodwork. The one on the left has had some unfortunate renovation done to the dormer, but otherwise nothing bad has happened to it. It has newer windows, but in the right size and shape, and if you painted those aluminum frames they would be indistinguishable from the originals. The one on the right is even more perfectly intact. Note its proper Pittsburgh stair railing: in Pittsburgh, railings are a plumber’s art.

  • Frame House on the South Side Slopes

    A good example of how a frame house can be restored to look very attractive without breaking the bank. The most important thing is to preserve the trim if at all possible, or to substitute new trim that has the same proportions as the old. This house in what we might call vernacular Second-Empire style is on Pius Street.

  • Warwick House, Squirrel Hill

    Stairwell window

    Warwick House was built in 1910 for Howard Heinz, son of the ketchup king H. J. Heinz. The architects were Vrydaugh and Wolfe, and the construction budget was $75,000. After the Heinzes it passed through the Hillmans, and now it belongs to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, from which it is rented by Opus Dei, the Catholic organization famed for its albino assassins. But the organization seldom sends the assassins out against anyone but renowned curators; the rest of us are quite safe. At an open house this summer, old Pa Pitt was graciously allowed to take a few pictures of the beautifully maintained Jacobean interior. Above, the window in the grand staircase.

    Front of the house

    This picture of the front is not the best; the light was from the wrong direction. It means we will have to return soon at a different time of day.

    Front door

    The front door.

    Front hall

    The front hall; the door to the library is on the right, the grand staircase on the left.

    Decorative woodwork

    A little bit of the decorative woodwork in the front hall.

    Grand staircase

    The grand staircase.

    Ceiling

    Modern American houses forget about the ceiling, as if people never looked up. Warwick House does not make that mistake. This is the decorated ceiling in a side hall.

    Chapel
    Chapel

    The former ballroom was converted into a chapel by the late Henry Menzies, an ecclesiastical architect whose specialty was refurbishing modernist churches of the 1960s and 1970s to make them suitable for liturgical worship. He liked to use a baldacchino to give proper emphasis to the altar. (The ballroom was added to the house later, probably in 1929 according to the current residents.)

    Ceiling of the ballroom

    The ceiling of the ballroom.

  • Italianate House, Uptown

    This is a particularly grand rowhouse: note how much taller it is than its neighbor, indicating high ceilings. It seems to be abandoned right now, but perhaps it has a chance if the urban pioneers moving into the neighborhood get to it before it mysteriously catches fire. There is much worth preserving: the woodwork is in fairly good shape, and the windows—mostly unbroken—are still original and proper for the period. The location of the house on Fifth Avenue might make it attractive, but also might put it in the way if development mania reaches this part of the street.

  • Alley House

    A charming little house in an out-of-the-way alley on the South Side.