We’ll have to wait for winter to get a good view of the whole front of this interesting church, which is obscured by a lush growth of mimosa trees. But we can appreciate some of the details now.
The architect was James N. Campbell. Old Pa Pitt knows of only two churches by Campbell still standing in Pittsburgh: this one and the old Seventh Presbyterian Church on Herron Avenue, Hill District. (There are probably others as yet unidentified.) Both churches have similar styles, and both have similar histories. They both became African Methodist Episcopal churches: this one was Avery Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church for quite a while. They both were abandoned. This one may still have some hope: it looks as though someone has been trying to refurbish it, perhaps as a private home. But it also looks as though the renovations have stalled.
Since Father Pitt considers this an endangered building, he has collected some pictures of the more interesting details to preserve them for posterity in case the worst should come to pass.
This tiny one-lane Timberland Avenue bridge over Saw Mill Run closed in about 2014, isolating two houses that had probably already been abandoned. The green one further back dates from the 1880s, the other one from the 1890s. There was once a group of about half a dozen houses here; these are the last remnants, and they will be either torn down or eaten by jungle eventually. It will become another vanished village along Saw Mill Run, like Seldom Seen, and almost no one will remember that there was a tiny country hamlet here in what is now the middle of the city near the south end of the Liberty Tubes.
This little bridge isn’t much to look at, but it certainly dates from before 1909.
What caused the houses to be abandoned? Probably the same thing that caused them to be built in the first place: their proximity to Saw Mill Run. In southwestern Pennsylvania, minor rivers like this one are subject to flash floods once in a while that might have reached some of the houses here, and certainly would have isolated them if the bridge was under water. Perhaps a worse problem was that, as the South Hills developed farther upstream, Saw Mill Run became something like an open sewer, known for its pollution and noxious stench. Both floods and pollution made houses along the run undesirable. There is much less pollution now, but it is not likely that this property will become valuable enough to make it worthwhile rebuilding the bridge.
On planning maps, these houses are in Bon Air, but right on the border with Brookline. The Brookline Connection site has some information about Timberland Avenue. The first picture in that article shows these two houses as they appeared in 1909, and the second shows this bridge.
An attractive row of small houses built a little before 1910. One of them has had a fire and is under sentence of condemnation; we hope it can be rescued, but it may not be worth enough to restore. It is only yards from Allegheny West, a very desirable neighborhood; but that neighborhood line is there, and these houses are technically in Manchester.
From the back we can see how a good bit of thought was put into making these houses bright and airy while still using the small space efficiently.
A block away from the magnificent Calvary Methodist Church was another Methodist church, almost as magnificent—but Methodist Protestant, whereas Calvary was Methodist Episcopal. Calvary is exuberantly Gothic; this is a heavier Romanesque style. For some reason it has never made anyone’s landmarks list, but in Father Pitt’s opinion it deserves recognition and preservation as a fine example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
The building later became home to the Carter Chapel C.M.E. Church, a historic Black congregation that had previously been on the Hill in the former Congregation Kaiser Torah synagogue.
Now it is abandoned, and under sentence of condemnation since it started shedding bits of stone. According to a passing neighbor who struck up a conversation with the man with the camera, it was bought for $300,000 some time ago, but the owner seems not to have been able to do anything with it. It is just on the edge of Allegheny West, a very desirable neighborhood, but neighborhood boundaries are everything in real estate, and this church is technically in Manchester.
Since the building may vanish soon, old Pa Pitt spent some time documenting the exterior. To avoid weighing down the front page for the next week and a half, the rest of the pictures are below the metaphorical fold.
A matched set of probably doomed apartment buildings at the intersection of Negley Avenue and Rural Street, seen on an appropriately gloomy day. They were built between 1910 and 1923, and although they are mostly utilitarian boxes of apartments, their fronts are distinctive and interesting.
The treatment of the balconies creates a pleasingly complex rhythm, with broad and shallow rounded arches at the top, and slightly peaked Jacobean arches on the two lower floors. The windows in the center may have been stained glass, long since replaced when they were sold either by thieves or by an owner who could not afford to maintain them. The brick quoins add pleasing complexity to the texture.
Some kind of cornice or decorative strip has done missing from the fronts, revealing cheaper red brick behind it that was never meant to be seen.
Art Deco is not very common in Pittsburgh, although there were a few Art Deco apartment buildings in the East End. Here is one on Negley Avenue that probably will not be with us much longer; it looks as though it is scheduled to be replaced. It is a late Art Deco style; old Pa Pitt would guess it dates from the 1950s. Most of the building is just a modernist block, but the horizontal stripes give it more than average decorative flair, and the vertical forms of the entrance lift it into the realm of Art Deco.
Almost certainly nothing can be done to save this grand old Romanesque church on Herron Avenue in what used to be called Minersville. It has been abandoned too long and decayed too far to be revived except by some miraculously heroic effort, and miracles like that seldom happen on the Hill, where even the New Granada Theater has been languishing abandoned for decades. But enough remains of this church that we can at least admire the architecture of it before it comes down. It was built in 1894 as the Seventh Presbyterian Church (some online sources say First Presbyterian of Minersville, but it appears that the smaller frame building that formerly occupied this site was already called Seventh Presbyterian by 1890). By 1923 it was known as the Herron Avenue Presbyterian Church. It would later be bought by the John Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1836, but by the 2000s that congregation apparently could no longer maintain the building. Water from mine runoff was a constant problem, according to the church’s long-out-of-date Wikipedia article.
There are pictures of the vandalized interior various places on line if you look for them. Father Pitt follows his usual policy of not trespassing, so he brings you only a few pictures of the exterior, which is an interesting kind of Romanesque verging on Rundbogenstil—a word old Pa Pitt uses at every opportunity, because he likes to say it.
Addendum: According to a city survey of historic buildings (spreadsheet), the architect was James N. Campbell.
An iron ornament at the pinnacle of the main tower.
St. Canice is an unusual Romanesque church that closed in 2005. Since then it has sat vacant. It was sold to Lion of Judah Church in 2012, but it seems nothing came of the plans to refurbish the building, and as it ages it will only get more expensive to refurbish. Churches are hard to find alternate uses for, and Knoxville is not a neighborhood where trendy loft apartments—the only consistently profitable use Pittsburghers have found for old church buildings—would sell. This is an endangered landmark.
It took eleven separate photographs to make this composite of the Orchard Place front of the church. Except for the inevitable distortion of the tower, this is a very close approximation of the way the architects imagined these buildings. The main Romanesque church was built in 1894, according to this city architectural inventory (PDF); the Gothic chapel additions were built in 1928 and 1932.
Like many Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, St. Canice was not just a church: it was a whole village, forming the heart of a community. There was a school, and a convent for the sisters who taught for the school, and a rectory for the priests who served in the church. The tragedy of decaying communities like this is that, at a certain point, it becomes too expensive to maintain the church; but, once the heart is ripped out, the decay is immeasurably accelerated.
The rectory and convent are in good shape.
The rectory, built in 1928. Addendum: The rectory was designed by William P. Hutchins.
The convent, built in 1913 with additions in 1930. Addendum: The original 1913 convent was designed by A. F. Link.1
The school, on the other hand, is half-swallowed by jungle. It was repurposed as Hilltop Catholic High School for a while, and more modern buildings (from 1960) are behind this entrance; but the school has been abandoned for years, and will eventually have to be demolished. It was bought by a Baptist church at the same time St. Canice Church was bought by Lion of Judah, but the church seems not to have been able to do anything with the buildings.
Source: The Construction Record, September 13, 1913: “Architect A. F. Link, 407 N. Craig street is taking bids on erecting a two-story brick convent on Knox avenue and Orchard street, Knoxville, for St. Canice’s Roman Catholic Congregation.” ↩︎
UPDATED UPDATE: The building is now demolished, but the terra-cotta façade will supposedly be re-erected on the new building.
This sadly abandoned building, which has its own Wikipedia article, has been sitting empty in what has become a valuable part of Oakland for at least three years. It has come into the hands of the University of Pittsburgh, as everything in Oakland does sooner or later, and Pitt wants to demolish it. Preservationists want to keep it, because it is an important part of Croatian-American history. Pitt usually wins.
The architect was Pierre A. Liesch, a disciple of the great Frederick Osterling. Liesch is credited with some of the detail on the Union Trust Building downtown: “Liesch was a native of Luxembourg and later used a similar Flemish Gothic style for his design of the Croatian Fraternal Union Building,” says Wikipedia. “Similar” is generous. The Union Trust Building is, in Old Pa Pitt’s opinion, a work of colossal genius. This building is interesting and, again in Father Pitt’s opinion, not in the best taste. (His opinion might be different if the building still had the “highly ornate overhanging cornice and a pointed-arch apex topped with a sculptural element” mentioned in the Wikipedia article.) Of course it may well be that the Croatian clients had no budget for colossal genius, and Mr. Liesch gave them what they could afford.