Tag: Fifth Avenue

  • Park Building

    Smithfield Street face of the Park Building

    The sun was glaring and the shadows were deep, but as far as old Pa Pitt knows, these composite photographs are the only complete elevations of the Park Building on the Internet. Above, the Smithfield Street face; below, the Fifth Avenue face.

    Fifth Avenue face

    And, of course, the most striking feature of the building: the telamones that hold up the roof.

    Two telamones

    The Park Building, built in 1896, is Pittsburgh’s oldest extant skyscraper. (The Carnegie Building, demolished in 1952, was a year earlier.) George B. Post of New York was the architect, and he designed it in the florid Beaux Arts style that would also be usual in the earliest New York skyscrapers. Although it was damaged decades ago by an ill-conceived modernization, the basic outlines and much of the ornament are intact. It displays all the attributes of an early New York skyscraper—the attributes that became dogma for early skyscrapers across the country. (See “The Convention in Sky-Scrapers.”) And with good reason: a bunch of these skyscrapers may create a certain monotony in the skyline, but following the Beaux Arts skyscraper formula reliably produces a good-looking building.

    “Form follows function,” as Louis Sullivan said. Modernist architects used that saying as a slogan (which probably annoyed Mr. Sullivan) meaning that the form of a building should express the structural functions of the parts. But the form of a Beaux Arts skyscraper expresses the social functions of its parts: it makes visible what different parts of the building do, in a way that modernist architecture often fails to accomplish.

    The basic formula for early skyscrapers is base, shaft, and cap. “A convention of treating them as columns with a decorated capital, a long plain central shaft, and a heavier base, was early adopted,” as the Architectural Record said in 1903.

    The base—usually the first two floors—is the public part of the building, where retail shops or banking halls and such things are located—where, in short, the public interacts with the main business of the building.

    The shaft, which is usually a repeating pattern of windows and wall, is where the ordinary business offices of the skyscraper are located.

    Up in the stratospheric heights of the cap are the very most important people—the princes of commerce, and the lackeys and flunkeys who attend to their needs.

    Now look at the Park Building, and you will see that the third floor, though more or less part of the shaft, is outlined and set apart from the rest. This is the bosses’ floor, in which the important men who supervise what goes on downstairs are located.

    Just by looking at the face of the building, you can tell what goes on in each of its parts, which is not true of a modernist glass box. Here the social functions of each floor are made visible in stone and brick. Although the form is not structural, in a human sense this is form following function.

  • The Fairfax, Oakland

    Front wall of the Fairfax

    One of our grandest apartment buildings, the Fairfax just got a thorough going-over. It was opened in 1927 as the Fifth Avenue Apartments, but changed its name with its ownership a year later and has been the Fairfax ever since. The architect was Philip Morison Jullien from Washington (that’s Big Worshington to Picksburghers from the South Hills), who also gave us the Arlington Apartments.

    Front elevation

    The architectural style is sometimes referred to as “Jacobethan,” meaning that it takes inspiration from the long period of the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, without being too pedantic about the exact period.


    This Jacobean Gothic arch is about as broad as it can be and still qualify as an arch.

    Entrance and decorations above
    The Fairfax, perspective view

    The perspective above is impossible. There is no place to stand far away enough to get a natural-looking perspective view of the Fairfax. The lens had to be at a very wide angle to capture the whole building, which created what photography critics of a century ago would have called “violent perspective.” Father Pitt has made some intricate adjustments, at the cost of some distortion of individual objects like the cars on the street, to create a more natural-looking view of the sort Mr. Jullien might have given the client in his perspective rendering. In fact, different parts of the picture are at different perspectives, and if you look closely you can see the seam running down through the blue car toward the right.

  • Carved Ornaments on Bellefield Presbyterian Church

    Stone head from the side

    Originally the First United Presbyterian Church, this congregation merged with the Bellefield Presbyterian Church down the street, which sold its building (of which only the tower remains) and moved here, with the compensation that this church was renamed Bellefield Presbyterian. The building, designed by William Boyd and built in 1896, is festooned with a riot of carved Romanesque ornaments.

    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
    Ornaments around the door
    A different cherub
    Yet another cherub
    Cherub again

    Each one of these cherubs has a different face and different ornamental carving surrounding it.

    Different capitals
    Angled frieze
    Winged cherub head
    Another face
    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
  • Soldiers and Sailors Hall with Memorial Dog Tags

    Soldiers and Sailors Hall with dog tags strung over the promenade

    Each of the 7,053 dog tags represents one soldier fallen in the War on Terrorism, defined as all the battles since September 11, 2001.

  • Fifth Avenue

  • Forbes National Bank, Oakland

    Forbes National Bank, now Citizens Bank

    This is one of the few designs by Edward Mellon that amounted to anything. In spite of boosting by his absurdly rich and powerful Mellon uncles, architect Edward Mellon played mostly second-banana roles in the architecture business. He was local architect of record on the Gulf Building, but the designing was done by Trowbridge & Livingston. He was paid for designs for the massive Mellon-financed Pitt construction that would ultimately become the Cathedral of Learning, but Pitt’s chancellor just tossed the drawings in a filing cabinet and hired Charles Z. Klauder to do something different.

    This 1930 bank, however, is all Mellon’s, and it would be hard to fault it. As an architectural message it is unambiguous: your money will be safe here. As an ornament to the streetscape it is welcome: it holds down a prominent corner and seems to cap off the block. If Edward Mellon had never accomplished anything else, he could still have been proud to point to this bank and say, “I imagined that into being.”

  • Schenley Quad, Oakland

    Schenley Quad from the grounds of Soldiers and Sailors Hall

    Originally the Schenley Apartments, but now Schenley High School has been turned into apartments as the Schenley Apartments, so using the original name would be confusing. This huge complex was built in 1922 as luxury apartments to go with the Hotel Schenley. The architect was Henry Hornbostel, with the collaboration of Rutan & Russell, the original architects of the hotel. In 1955 the University of Pittsburgh bought the Schenley Apartments (for less than they had cost to build in 1922), and since then the buildings have been Pitt dormitories. Above, we see the complex from the grounds of Soldiers and Sailors Hall; below, the steps up from Forbes Avenue.

    Forbes Avenue steps

    Since we have a large number of pictures, we’ll put most of them behind a “Read more” link to avoid weighing down the main page of the site.

  • The Back of Bellefield Presbyterian Church on a Rainy Day

    Rear of Bellefield Presbyterian Church

    Pedestrians and drivers often see the front of this magnificent Romanesque church, but few ever notice the back. It is plainer but still interesting in its masses, with the half-round auditorium characteristic of many Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the late 1800s.

    The front (seen below in a picture from last year) is also given a round bulge, so that the whole building seems to orbit around that polygonal central tower.

    Front of the church

    Old Pa Pitt will repeat what he said the last time he published pictures of Bellefield Presbyterian Church:

    The church was built in 1896 as the First United Presbyterian Church; the architect was William Boyd, who gave the congregation the most fashionably Richardsonian interpretation of Romanesque he could manage. It was more or less in competition with the original Bellefield Presbyterian, of which only the tower now remains. But in 1967 the two congregations merged. They kept this building, renamed it Bellefield Presbyterian, and abandoned the old Bellefield Presbyterian up the street, which was later demolished for an office block.

  • Litchfield Towers on a Rainy Day

    Litchfield Towers

    Ajax, Bab-O, and Comet looking a bit wet.

  • Three PNC Plaza

    Designed by Lou Astorino, this is our twentieth-tallest skyscraper (tied with Three Gateway Center), which is not a remarkable record. It was, however, the tallest building that went up in Pittsburgh during the long pause between the 1980s boom and the current boom that began with the construction of the Tower at PNC Plaza. The somewhat taller building to the right is One PNC Plaza, built in 1972 to a design by Welton Becket Associates.