Continuing our visits to car dealers of the past, we visit the White Motor Company dealer on Melwood Avenue, which has fortunately found a new use in the medical-industrial complex.
White started in the automobile business with a successful steamer (more Whites were built than Stanleys), but as gasoline-powered cars took over the market, White abandoned steam and went with the crowd. At some point around World War I or after, White left the car business and concentrated its efforts on trucks and buses. The company was very successful in that business, and remained a manufacturing force until it was bought out by Volvo in 1980.
The double arch inside a single arch, with a circle to fill in the gap, is characteristic of the style of classically influenced Romanesque the Germans called Rundbogenstil, the round-arch style. It may not be exclusive to the Rundbogenstil, but Father Pitt likes to say the word “Rundbogenstil.” The B. M. Kramer and Co. building on the South Side, built as a beer warehouse, is one of the masterpieces of industrial architecture in Pittsburgh.
We continue our look at the remarkable number of early automobile dealers preserved in Oakland and Shadyside. This old Packard dealer on Baum Boulevard is still in the luxury-automobile business. Only the marque has changed; the building has been sensitively updated for our century, but in outline it is much the same as it was when Packards gleamed in its generously large showroom.
These buildings were put up in the 1880s, with additions in the 1890s; they later became part of the United States Glass Co. More recently the South Side was associated with steel, but in 1872, when the Birminghams, South Pittsburgh, and Ormsby were taken into the city, glass was at least as important. Just looking at the 1872 map, we find—
Knox Kim & Co. Glass Works Est. of Wm. McCully Glass Works Pittsburgh Glass Works Bakewell, Pears & Co. Glass Works Whitehouse Flint Glass Works Doyle & Co. Glass Works Adams & Co. Glass Works Tremont Glass Works C. Ihmsen & Sons Glass Works McKee & Bro. Glass Works Bryce, Walker & Co. Glass Works Sl. McKee & Co. Glass Works A. King Glass Works
We have probably missed a few, but the list is quite enough to show us that glass was a big deal on the South Side. Of all the old glass factories, this is probably the only one left in such a splendidly original state, if any of the others remain at all.
Charles Bickel designed this Romanesque industrial building with considerable inspiration from H. H. Richardson’s Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store in Chicago, which set the pattern for Romanesque industrial buildings for a generation. Bickel’s design is simpler, and by placing the arches at the top he makes the building feel taller (in fact it is shorter by one storey than Richardson’s building was).
The Reymer Brothers were in the candy business, but Pittsburghers remember them best for Reymers’ Blennd, or Lemon Blennd, the deliberately misspelled lemon-and-orange-flavored drink that cooled off generations of children in the summer. The Reymers’ Blennd brand was picked up by Heinz at some point; It seems to have vanished just this year with the demise of its last owner, Byrnes & Kiefer. It is certainly fondly remembered. Here is what claims to be the World’s #1 Lemon Blennd Site, and there are others if you go looking.
When the Liberty Tubes opened in 1924, they had no ventilation system. They didn’t need one, the engineers said. Cars whooshing through the tunnels would carry the bad air out with them.
If you have ever driven in the Liberty Tunnels at rush hour, you can probably spot the flaw in that theory.
It did not take long for the flaw to become obvious. On May 10, 1924—when a transit strike was going on—a traffic jam filled the tunnel, and more than forty people passed out and needed medical attention. It was lucky no one died.
The fan house finally went into service in 1928. It has four giant chimneys, two for intake and two for exhaust. They’re a prominent landmark on the back side of Mount Washington, although it can be fiendishly difficult to find one’s way to them in the warren of precipitous streets.
We should note that sources disagree about whether the fan house was part of the original plan. In some tellings (like the Wikipedia article), it was a reaction to the disastrous traffic jam of May 10. In others (like this very interesting feature from WESA), it had been planned all along, but the tunnels were opened well before the ventilation system was completed. Father Pitt has not been able to sort out which version is the real story in the limited time he was willing to devote to research, and he invites anyone with a good source to speak up in the comments.
This started out as a fine Romanesque design for an industrial building; it sprouted more and more haphazard additions, and became something more like a European castle with its layers of contradictory history. Today, after an adventurous history of abandonment and adaptation, it is called “The Brew House” and is filled with lofts and artists’ studios.
Old Pa Pitt can only say this is not bad for a first try. He has always admired this little masterpiece of industrial architecture (which surprisingly still houses a pipe, valve, and fittings company), and set himself the task of getting a picture of the Sidney Street face, which covers the entire block between 20th Street and 21st Street on the South Side. The evening sun was not kind to him, so he may try again on a cloudy day; but this is still the only picture of the whole Sidney Street face on the entire Internet, so Father Pitt gives himself credit for that much. Below, a more conventional (and much easier) view from the corner of 20th and Sidney Streets, with the usual utility cables.