This beautiful and tasteful Colonial Revival church by the Beezer Brothers was featured in the December 15, 1900, issue of the American Architect and Building News. You search Google Maps for it in vain today, and you may be thinking what a shame it is that it disappeared.
But it didn’t disappear. It’s still there.
It looks a little more working-class now, but it’s recognizably the same building. Is there a tasteful and wealthy congregation looking for a church? This one is ripe for restoration.
Above is the old Carron Street Baptist Church, which as you might guess is on Carron Street. It has not been a church for quite a while, and it has gone through some substantial alterations on its way to becoming a garage, so old Pa Pitt is not quite sure whether it ought to be added to the collection of churches with the sanctuary upstairs, or whether it simply had a high basement. (Update: The answer is that it had a high basement. The church was designed by the Beezer Brothers, and we have found the architects’ original rendering.)
From the church that became a garage we walk just about a block to the garage that became a high-class furniture store.
This was the South Highland Garage, and as a work of architecture it is probably more distinguished than the Carron Street Baptist Church ever was. If you like, you may formulate your own sarcasm about the true American religion and our fitting sense of architectural priorities. But then you can remember that Calvary Episcopal Church and Sacred Heart are just a short stroll away, and your sarcasm will wither on your tongue.
Now it belongs to a contractor, and the filling-in with concrete blocks and artificial siding is probably a fair sample of a Pittsburgh contractor’s taste. But the building is, on the whole, in an excellent state of preservation. It shows up on our 1923 map as the Horst & Mooney Garage, and we can probably guess what brand of cars it sold and serviced.
Update: Mr. John Hempel has pointed out that this was a Packard dealer in 1930. “In your fascinating Car Dealers page, Horst & Mooney may have been a Chev dealer more recently, but it was originally a Packard dealer. Pitt archives has a photo – just search Horst & Mooney.”
Many thanks to Mr. Hempel for pointing out the old photograph. Here is the picture he mentions, and the signs certainly leave no doubt about what cars this dealer was selling:
You can see a very-high-resolution scan at the Historic Pittsburgh site. Because the resolution is so high, we can see that the little decoration at the peak of the roof was there from the beginning:
It is possible that this is not meant to be a Chevrolet logo, but both the shape and the blue color seem hard to mistake.
So Father Pitt’s working hypothesis is that this was a Chevrolet dealer before it was a Packard dealer, but the well-to-do Brighton Heights clientele justified moving up in the world.
The 1930 photo gives us a good look at the original state of the building and confirms that, except for the filling-in of windows, it has not changed very much. As a bonus, we also get a good look at the California Methodist Episcopal Church and, right at the corner of the garage lot, a streetcar shelter.
A whimsical Postmodernist design that opened in 1984; it echoes Pittsburgh landmarks without pretending to be anything other than a parking garage. Father Pitt believes the architects were Burt Hill Kosar Rittelman Associates, who also designed Liberty Center (including the Federated Tower). If anyone has better information, it will be accepted with gratitude.
Connoisseurs of brutalism in architecture regard this as a remarkably fine example of the style. (Father Pitt could not find the architect with a short search, and he was not willing to do a long one.) “Brutalism” is the modernist school that makes its aesthetic statements through exposed raw concrete. The “raw” part is very important here: the architectural world blew a collective gasket when, in Washington, D.C., the Metro authorities responded to the increasing grubbiness of 1970s Brutalist subway stations by painting over the grime, which was blasphemy. Old Pa Pitt is not a great lover of brutalism (except for the Metro stations in Washington, which are like modernist cathedrals), but he can appreciate the care that went into making the most of concrete as a material in this building—the curved surfaces, the geometric forms, the play of light and shadow. It is also notable that, instead of killing the whole block, the builder put storefronts on the ground floor, so that some life could remain on the streets below the garage.
A garage from the early days of the automobile; on a 1923 map it is simply marked “Garage.” The fundamental simplicity of the Spanish Mission style made it popular for garages, and this front on Melwood Avenue looks almost like a cartoon drawing of a Spanish mission. We have already seen the ghost sign on the south side of it revealed by the demolition of the old Chevrolet dealer next door:
On the other side of the building is another ghost sign, probably later, advertising the Overman Cushion Tire Co.—a name that is still, or again, in use today by an Ohio restorer of antique tires.
If the plans go through, this building is about to undergo a curious transformation: it will be surrounded by and encrusted with new development, leaving the façade exposed. It was originally the Mugele Motor Inn. (In the early days of the automobile, “Motor Inn” was a popular name for a garage.) More recently it belonged to the city Department of Public Works. It has a good location across from the restored Fifth Avenue High School, and it will be along the new “bus rapid transit” line to Oakland.
This concrete spiral on the Smithfield Street side of the Smithfield-Liberty Garage is certainly a striking addition to the streetscape. Whether it is a good addition may be left to other critics. Father Pitt’s own opinion is that it would be welcome on a street of other modernist buildings, but it harmonizes poorly with its Victorian neighbors.
Old Pa Pitt sometimes wonders what the architect told the client when he presented the plans. “It’s like a Guggenheim for cars,” he imagines the architect saying.