Tag: Steen (Marion M.)

  • The A. Leo Weil Elementary School, Hill

    Entrance to the A. Leo Weil Elementary School

    Marion Steen was staff architect for the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education for two decades, from 1935 to 1954, and in that time he gave us some striking Art Deco schools. One of the most striking things about them was how different each of them was. Someday soon old Pa Pitt will take a tour of Mount Lebanon to photograph Ingham & Boyd’s schools there, and when he does, you will see that they all have a certain Ingham & Boyd sameness to them—which is not a bad thing: they are good variations on a good theme. But Marion Steen was like a jazz musician who could never play the same solo twice.

    The most striking thing about the 1942 Weil School, which is still in use as a charter school, is the four-storey vertical that marks off the main entrance.

    Sculpture over the entrance

    Old Pa Pitt does not know who is responsible for the strongly Deco allegorical figure pouring out floral treasures for the delighted children below. But he is certain that education is supposed to look something like this.

    Side view of the statue

    The auditorium is an exercise in Deco classicism. Note the textures in the brickwork.

    Auditorium and Soho Street entrance
    Centre Avenue end

    We hope someone will put some effort into preserving the wavy Art Deco metalwork in the railings at the Centre Avenue end of the building.

  • South Vocational High School, South Side


    The South Vocational High School was designed by Marion M. Steen, who gave us many impressive schools around here. His father, James T. Steen, was a distinguished architect as well; Marion followed in his father’s classicist footsteps, but gradually adopted more and more Moderne mannerisms until he became one of our leading Art Deco architects. This school was a kind of vocational annex for the South High School across the street. Construction began in 1939, and it opened in 1940, just in time to be adapted to round-the-clock wartime training for mechanical trades.

    This is Steen’s most aggressively modern design. He seems to have imagined a building that would look like a cross between school and factory.

    Sarah Street front of the South Vocational High School
    This composite picture is huge: if you click on it, expect more than 18 megabytes of data.

    Here is the Sarah Street front. As in all Steen’s other schools, the decorative details are imaginative and appropriate. These suggest a new world of technological wonder.

    Sarah Street entrance and window
    Sarah Street entrance
    Corner view

    Now let’s walk around to the Tenth Street entrance, where we’ll find a remarkable decorative aluminum panel in the transom.

    Tenth Street entrance

    And…wait a minute…is that an inscription in…



    Yes, it is a cuneiform character. It represents the Sumerian or Akkadian word for “to sow” or “to cultivate,” which is very appropriate over the door of a school.


    We have many public buildings with inscriptions in Latin. But is this the only school in North America with a cuneiform inscription over the entrance? Father Pitt would love to have any others pointed out to him.

    Do not suppose, by the way, that old Pa Pitt is fluent in Akkadian, much as he would like to be able to read the adventures of Gilgamesh without a translation. It was, however, easy to trace the character and feed it into an image search, and although Google did not come up with the exact character at the top of the list, it took only a bit of scrolling to find the character we were looking for. Father Pitt wishes he could say he had thought of that solution to the problem himself, but, having recognized that this was a cuneiform character, he got no further until a cleverer friend suggested the way forward.

    The building is in use as the Pittsburgh Online Academy (which needs a building for some reason; perhaps our school board has only a fuzzy notion of what “online” means), so for the moment it is well kept and externally in original condition.

  • The Knoxville Junior High School

    Knoxville Junior High School

    This splendid Tudor Deco palace takes up a whole large city block; in fact, it’s the symbolic center of Knoxville, occupying the lot where the original W. W. Knox house stood until the early twentieth century. The school was built in stages, beginning in 1927; the Charles Street front was finished in 1935. The architects were Press C. Dowler and Marion M. Steen, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance, as part of a package deal with a number of Pittsburgh public schools.

    The school closed in 2006. It may stand for many more years, since Knoxville is not a prosperous enough neighborhood to make it worth demolishing; but it will eventually become too dangerous to let stand, so it is in danger until another use is found for it.


    The main entrance is designed to impress us with the idea that education is important but also delightful.


    These shields above the entrance express an ideal of balance in public education: Art, Science, Trades, Play.

    Side entrance
    Blackletter K

    Even the side entrances are finely decorated.

    View along Charles Street

    A view along Charles Street.

    Zara Street

    The rear of the school along Zara Street.