Tag: Greek Revival Architecture

  • Burke Building

    Burke Building

    Designed by John Chislett, our second resident professional architect (Benjamin Latrobe was our first), the Burke Building opened in 1836. It just missed the Great Fire nine years later, and it was substantial enough to remain valuable through the many booms that followed, so that it has survived to be the oldest building downtown outside Fort Pitt. That seems astonishing when we recollect that there had been a city here for 78 years before this building was put up, but flood and fire wiped away much of what came before, and prosperity destroyed the rest.

    We are lucky to have the Burke Building. It is a particularly elegant example of Greek Revival design, and it manages to create a very rich appearance with minimal ornament. Young architects would do well to imitate it.

    Scallop lintel

    The Brookline Connection site has a page on the Burke Building with some interesting historical pictures.

  • Welsh Congregational Church, South Side

    Welsh Congregational Church, South Side

    We are going to use our imaginations here to bring the East Birmingham of a century and a half ago back to life.

    Take a good look at this VFW hall. Now erase the belligerently patriotic mural. Then strip away the improvised vestibule at the end. Then take away the side entrance. Then unblock the windows along the side (old Pa Pitt does not know what demonic secret rituals the veterans practice that would be spoiled by natural light, but they seem to have an aversion to it).

    What you will have left is a little old church building, probably from just after the Civil War. It appears on an 1872 map as “Welsh Cong. Ch.,” and so for many years after; but by 1923 it had been transferred to another congregation, and appears as a “Polish M. E. Ch.” (M. E. for Methodist Episcopal). At least half a dozen churches on the South Side were bought by East Europeans around the turn of the twentieth century. We might call it Nordic flight: people of northwestern European ancestry fled the South Side as undesirable East Europeans poured in.

    Methodists were never a large segment of the Polish population, and at some point the church changed hands again, going out of the religion business entirely. But not much has really changed about the exterior. The outlines of a typical small middle-1800s church are clearly visible. It would be fairly easy and inexpensive to restore it to something like its original appearance, and—unlike large churches—small churches like this have many uses. If the Veterans of Foreign Wars are ever interested in selling, they should ask Father Pitt first.

  • Bedford Public School, South Side

    Bedford Public School

    Built in 1850 for the borough of Birmingham, this is the oldest public-school building left in the city of Pittsburgh. It was built in the still-fashionable Greek Revival style, and it originally had a cupola in which the Birmingham town clock was installed. It remained a school of some sort until 1960; then it was sold to be used as a warehouse. In 1997 it was converted into lofts by serial restorationist Joedda Sampson, who has left a trail of beautiful restorations wherever she went.

    Note the identical but separate entrances. As in many mid-nineteenth-century schools, one was for girls and one was for boys.


    If your eye detects a not-very-subtle difference between the name “Bedford” and the rest of the inscription, you can tell your eye that it is because the old Birmingham Public School No. 1 was renamed after Birmingham was taken into the city of Pittsburgh in 1872. The name “Bedford” honors Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, who had been a surgeon at Fort Pitt before the Revolution, and later laid out the borough of Birmingham on his wife’s family’s land.

    Oblique view
  • The Burke Building Stands with Ukraine

    Burke Building with Ukrainian Flag

    The Burke Building was built in 1836, and rather surprisingly (considering that Pittsburgh was founded in 1758) it’s the oldest building downtown outside Fort Pitt. The Great Fire of 1845 just missed it. The architect was John Chislett, Pittsburgh’s first resident architect, who also designed the Butler Street gatehouse for the Allegheny Cemetery.