Tag: Relief

  • W. J. Gilmore Drug Company Building

    W. J. Gilmore Drug Company Building

    This feast of deco-Gothic terra cotta on the Boulevard of the Allies was designed by Joseph F. Kuntz, who worked for the Wm. G. Wilkins Company. It opened in 1925. Several of Kuntz’s buildings are notable for their terra-cotta fronts: see, for example, the Maul Building and the Hunt Armory.

    View along the front
    Probably cast iron
    Perspective view
  • Under the Rotunda at Penn Station

    Skylight in the Rotunda

    The rotunda of Penn Station is such a remarkable structure that it has its own separate listing with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The skylight is a fine example of abstract geometry in metalwork.

    Arch in the rotunda

    The current owners of the Pennsylvanian hate photographers and tourists who come up to see the rotunda, and post signs on the walk up to the rotunda warning that this is private property and no access beyond this point and, with dogged specificity, NO PROM PHOTOS. But old Pa Pitt walked up through the parking lot, taking pictures all the way, and therefore saw the signs only on the way back. Sorry about that, all ye fanatical upholders of the rights of private property, but these pictures have already been donated to Wikimedia Commons, so good luck getting them taken off line.

    Face above Philadelphia

    The four corners of the earth, or at least the four corners of the Pennsylvania Railroad, are represented on the four pillars of the rotunda.


    “Pittsburg” was the official spelling, according to the United States Post Office, when the rotunda was built in 1900.

    New York
    New York
  • Terra Cotta on Penn Station

    Union Station, Pittsburgh

    The front of Union Station, which was the official name of what we usually call Penn Station in Pittsburgh, was completely illuminated by winter sun the other day, so old Pa Pitt took the opportunity to pick out some of the multitude of terra-cotta decorations with a long lens.

    Terra cotta
    Terra cotta
    Above an arch
    Face in relief
    Another face
    Corner ornament
    Broken pediment
    Clock and shield
    Face above the shield
  • The Mysterious Heads in Coffey Way

    Arbuckle Coffee building

    The Liberty Avenue face of this building has been modernized and remodernized so many times that no one would take it for anything remarkably old. But it is actually one of the very few commercial buildings remaining downtown from the Civil War era. It was built in about 1865 for Arbuckle & Company, a dealer in coffee and sugar in the days when Liberty Avenue was the wholesale food district, with a railroad running right down the middle to bring the food in at its freshest. And if you will come around the back with us, you will see one of Pittsburgh’s odd little hidden treasures.

    Coffey Way

    The short alley behind the building is still called Coffey Way, and the back of the Arbuckle building shows the very old bricks we might expect. And among those bricks, in an alley that hardly anyone even knows about, we find “some of the oldest surviving architectural sculpture in the city,” according to Discovering Pittsburgh’s Sculpture by Marilyn Evert.

    Figure 1

    These medallions are obviously meant to represent specific figures, but no one is quite sure which specific figures. This one has been identified as George Washington or Colonel Bouquet (the one who built the blockhouse).

    Figure 2

    This keen-eyed lady has been identified as Jane Grey Swisshelm or Mary Croghan Schenley.

    Figure 3

    This is probably an allegorical head of Liberty, although it has also been identified as an “Indian head” of the sort common on nineteenth-century coins.

    Figure 4

    This one is very likely to be Abraham Lincoln, but “very likely” is the most certainty we can summon up. It could also be John Arbuckle himself, the head of the firm, who appears in a later photograph with a beard and distinctively hollow cheeks. We note that this is the only one of the faces turned left instead of right; if you like to find symbolism in things like that, go ahead.

    John Arbuckle, incidentally, was the inventor of processes for preserving coffee and automating its packaging, so we may regard him as the founder of coffee as a mass-produced consumer product. This little alley, therefore, ought to be on every coffee-lover’s pilgrimage list.

  • St. Mark’s School, McKees Rocks Bottoms

    St. Mark’s School

    This is a Catholic school with more than the usual touch of whimsy. Old Pa Pitt does not yet know the architect, but whoever it was decided to make a school that would strike its pupils as something out of a fairy tale. [Update: We have found that the architects were the well-known Link, Weber & Bowers, “Link” being A. F. Link and “Weber” being Edward Weber.1] It is sadly vacant and decaying right now, although at least the grounds are kept. The cornerstone tells us that the building was begun in 1928:


    Since old Pa Pitt considers this school endangered, he has many pictures to show you, so the rest will be behind a “read more” link to avoid cluttering the front page for a week.

  • Mission Pumping Station, South Side Slopes

    Carved face

    Imagine the uproar that would ensue if your city government today decided to hire a Beaux-Arts master like Thomas Scott to design a monumental palace for such a utilitarian purpose as a water-pumping station. Imagine the inquiries that would probe the vital questions of how much each of those carved faces cost and why stone trim was used when the same object could be accomplished with aluminum. The world has made a lot of progress since Scott, architect of the Benedum-Trees Building downtown (where he kept his architectural office, naturally), gave us this $100,000 pumping station on an out-of-the-way street on the South Side Slopes.1

    Mission Pumping Station

    There were doubtless security reasons for bricking in the towering windows that used to flood the place with light. But Father Pitt cannot help suspecting that the real reason is that the workers here constituted a sort of men’s club, and men’s clubs in Pittsburgh abhor natural light.

    Corner of the Mission Pumping Station
    Carved face and wreath
    Carved face from the side
    Carved face from below
    Entrance ornament
    Carved face from the other side
    Mission Street front

    Even in November, much of the building is obscured by trees.

    End of the building
    1. Our source is the Construction Record, March 4, 1911: “The City of Pittsburg, Bureau of Water, will receive estimates until March 13th, on constructing a one-story brick, terra cotta and steel pumping station on Mission street, South Side, to cost $100,000. Plans were drawn by Architect T. H. Scott, Machesney building, and contract for foundation work was awarded to M. O’Herron & Co., First and McKean streets, South Side.” The Machesney Building was the original name of the Benedum-Trees Building. ↩︎
  • Carved Ornaments on Bellefield Presbyterian Church

    Stone head from the side

    Originally the First United Presbyterian Church, this congregation merged with the Bellefield Presbyterian Church down the street, which sold its building (of which only the tower remains) and moved here, with the compensation that this church was renamed Bellefield Presbyterian. The building, designed by William Boyd and built in 1896, is festooned with a riot of carved Romanesque ornaments.

    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
    Ornaments around the door
    A different cherub
    Yet another cherub
    Cherub again

    Each one of these cherubs has a different face and different ornamental carving surrounding it.

    Different capitals
    Angled frieze
    Winged cherub head
    Another face
    Bellefield Presbyterian Church
  • Church of St. Stephen Proto-Martyr, Hazelwood

    Statue of St. Stephen
    Date stone

    The Baroque style is unusual, but St. Stephen’s is a Frederick Sauer church through and through, starting with that yellow Kittanning brick he favored. We’ll have to wait till the leaves drop to get a view of the front, but since the building is slowly crumbling, it’s good to get the details as soon as we can.

    Front of the church obscured by trees
    Chimney and tower
    Elizabeth Street side of St. Stephen’s
    Main entrance
    Main entrance.
    Left entrance
    Left entrance.
    JMJ shield over the left entrance
    Right entrance
    Right entrance.
    MR shield
    Capitals with crosses
    Column swags
    Mark and John
    The Evangelists Mark and John.
    Luke and Matthew
    The Evangelists Luke and Matthew.
    Pilaster decoration
    Capital with cherub
    Capital with cherub
    Side window
    One of the side windows.
  • St. Rosalia Church, Greenfield

    St. Rosalia Church

    Designed by A. F. Link, this Romanesque church was begun in 1923 and opened in 1925. The style is transitional: it uses traditional Romanesque elements, but it is already veering toward the Art Deco modernist interpretation of those elements that would become common in the 1930s through the 1950s.


    The cross at the top of the (liturgical) west front sets the modernist tone for the decorations.

    West Front of St. Rosalia

    These abstract capitals continue the streamlined modernist theme, as do the three lunettes (Mary, Jesus, Joseph) on the west front:

    Lunette with Mary
    Lunette with Jesus
    Lunette with Joseph
    Rose window

    Though it is a complex design, the rose window echoes the streamlining of the capitals and other details.

    Oblique view of the church

    In contrast to the Deco streamlining of the front, the side of the church, with its crenellations and complex brickwork, could almost pass for a middle-1800s church by Charles F. Bartberger. Yet the styles fit together; there is no dissonance between the different views of the church.

    For those who are interested, here is a Pittsburgh Catholic article published March 27, 1924, that identifies many of the contractors and artists who worked on the church.

    Imposing New Church of Saint Rosalia Is a Token of Parish Progress and Triumph of Architects and Builders
  • Minersville Public School, Upper Hill

    Monkeys on the Minersville Public School, Pittsburgh

    Ulysses L. Peoples was the architect of this school, which opened in 1902 and even then was something unique.

    The building itself is a tasteful but not extraordinary example of Romanesque style with Renaissance overtones—something we might call Rundbogenstil, because we like to say the word “Rundbogenstil.” It is a little bedraggled-looking now, because it closed in 2005. The more modern addition (by the time it was added this was known as the Madison Elementary School) has been adapted for the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, but nobody seems to know what to do with the original section.

    Minersvill Public School

    A fine piece of work for a small school, like many another Romanesque school in Pittsburgh. But the carved decorations around the entrances are like nothing else in the city, or possibly on earth.

    Alligators, rams, lions

    It seems as though the architect and the artist had conceived the curious notion that children should find school delightful, and that the entrance should convey the message that here is a place where we are going to have fun.

    Monkey capital
    Front entrance
    Front entrance
    Rams’ heads
    Monkey capital
    Side entrance
    Battling lions
    Battling lions
    Lions and rams
    Cherubs, dolphins, and salamanders
    Side and rear

    The side and rear of the building. The rear, facing an alley, is done in less expensive brick.

    Later addition

    The later addition, from 1929, is by Pringle & Robling in quite a different style, a lightly Deco form of modernism.

    A map showing the location of the building.