An interesting building, published in this issue, built after the style of the early English Parish Church, and executed in that character exceptionally well both interior and exterior.
The exterior of the Church is of Rubble Masonry which as a material blends well with the immediate surroundings, the site being on Brownsville Road, Carrick, and of a rural atmosphere. The interior (as the interior of the early English Parish Church) is carried out in a very simple but dignified design, of plaster and timber, finished in a warm color scheme.
The Church has a seating capacity of 500, the Sunday School accommodating 450.
The architect, as the page with the photograph above tells us, was George H. Schwan. Although the immediate surroundings were “of a rural atmosphere” in 1915, they would not remain that way for long. Already in the photograph above you can see the great engine of urbanization: streetcar tracks.
Until a few years ago, this building was the home of Weldin’s, the venerable stationer that had been selling pens, ink, and paper since well before the Civil War. Weldin’s itself is no more—the business moved to the Gulf Tower for a few years, and then vanished in the early months of the COVID pandemic. But the extraordinarily rich Italian Renaissance front of this building remains as a highlight of an extraordinarily rich row of small commercial buildings on Wood Street.
Addendum: Although the building itself is considerably older, the front is the work of architect George Schwan, who designed a new front for the building in 1913. From the Construction Record, December 13, 1913: “Architect George H. Schwan, Peoples Bank Building, has plans nearly completed for altering a three-story brick mercantile building on 415 Wood street, for J. R. Weldin & Company, 431 Wood street. Cost, $10,000.” In 1913, $10,000 would have bought an entire replacement of the front and much of the interior.
This building was dedicated in 1915, but its congregation was organized in 1831—and really dates from before that, since local members had been meeting before the Presbytery recognized them as a church. This was a country church that was engulfed by city in the early 1900s; in its old country churchyard are the graves of a number of early settlers and the third mayor of Pittsburgh.
Addendum: The architect of the church was George Schwan. From the Construction Record for October 11, 1913: “Architect George Schwan, Peoples Bank building, is working on plans for the proposed church building, for the Concord Presbyterian Congregation, Carrick. The building will be one-story, either brick or stone, and cover an area of 72×90 feet. Cost $35,000.”
About seven years ago old Pa Pitt published this big composite picture of the old Strand Theatre on Forbes Avenue across from Oakland. A little while ago Father Pitt came across this item in The Moving Picture World for August 14, 1915.
New House in Oakland, Pa.
Natatorium Building Being Remodeled—Will Be Made Into Up-to-Date Picture Theater—Located Between Atwood and Meyran Avenues—Designed to Seat 750 People—Those Who Are Interested in the New Project.
Special to Moving Picture World from Pittsburgh News Service.
OAKLAND is to have a new moving picture theater in the Natatorium building. The lower floors, being remodeled, show careful attention to details and give promise of a thoroughly up-to-date and practical theater. The building, between Atwood and Meyran avenues, runs to a paved alley way in the rear, and with this private alley complies fully with the city laws on the subject of exits. The plans call for the abandonment of the present swimming pool and the lowering of the auditorium floor to the Forbes street level. The present stone steps leading to the entrance will be done away with. The auditorium ceiling will be 24 feet high. The floors above the auditorium will not be disturbed by the alterations, although the stairs will be moved to the left of the entrance, and a new elevator lobby constructed. It will seat 750 persons.
The owners of the Oakland Natatorium building are the Oakland Amusement Company; George H. Schwan is the architect; C. H. Keer Construction Company are the contractors, and the lessee is James B. Clark. The operation company will be the Rowland and Clark theaters, which also operates the Regent, in East Liberty, the Belmar in Homewood, the Arsenal in Lawrenceville, the Bellevue and the Oakland and the Schenley Photo play in Oakland, which latter house will be discontinued on the completion of the new house. Construction starts July 26, and the date set for the opening is November 1.
Was this the building? None of Father Pitt’s sources had mentioned that it was a converted bathhouse, but once he had the name “Natatorium” it took only a short time to find this picture:
This is from the Historic Pittsburgh site, which has an incredible collection of treasures. Unfortunately they are served up by a fiendishly complicated system that builds each picture from a mosaic of tiny pieces, so the high-resolution versions are impossible to get with any reasonable amount of work. Librarians often restrict access to public-domain works, either out of proprietary feeling or, more likely, out of a hope that it will make them less likely to get sued if they make a mistake about the copyright status. It is also true that “There may be a fee to acquire hi-res files,” according to the site FAQ, which adds a profit motive.
At any rate, here’s our building, with a sign out front advertising “Turkish Bath—Swimming Pool,” and a huge painted sign on the side probably advertising the same (we can see only the bottom of the sign in this picture). We can also see the Iroquois Building across the street, and the Schenley Hotel in the distance. So, yes, the Strand Theatre was originally a high-class bathhouse.
There is a slight mystery about the architect. The article above mentions George H. Schwan, a Pittsburgh architect more famous for his work in Akron. Other sources listed Harry S. Bair, the architect of the same company’s Regent Theater in East Liberty. Perhaps one was the architect of the original building, and the other of the renovations.
This is classicism walking the knife edge between Art Deco on the one side and modernism on the other. The architect was George H. Schwan, a Pittsburgher whose only other major commission in town that old Pa Pitt knows about is the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland. [Update: The Twentieth Century Club is usually attributed to Benno Janssen. Schwan may also have designed the Natatorium Building in Oakland, or the renovations that made it into a movie theater.] Schwan did not starve, however: he was a much-employed designer of attractive smaller houses, and his most famous commission was designing practically all the original buildings in the model Akron suburb of Goodyear Heights.