A Stroll Down Sarah Street on the South Side
Pair of Queen Anne Rowhouses, South Side
Obviously built together, these two houses on Sarah Street have had their separate adventures. The one on the right has had its third-floor false balcony filled in to give an upstairs bedroom a little more space; the one on the left has grown an aluminum awning (because it is the South Side, after all). But both retain most of their original details, which are fairly unusual, a sort of Queen Anne interpretation of French Second Empire.
Rowhouses on Penn Avenue, Garfield
These are Baltimore-style rowhouses, where the whole block was built at once as more or less one subdivided building. They are much less common in Pittsburgh, but we do find them occasionally, and these rows in Garfield preserve many of their original details. They were built in the 1880s, probably as rental properties, since the 1890 map shows them as all owned by Brown, Donnell & Verner. Intact rows from this era are rare in Pittsburgh, and we should take care to preserve these two rows. Above, the 5100 block of Penn Avenue. Below, houses in the 5200 block.
Terra-cotta owls decorate every house. One wonders whether they had special significance for Brown, Donnell, or Verner.
Laval House, Duquesne University
Duquesne University has overrun many blocks that were once crowded Bluff streets. The Academic Walk follows the course of what used to be Vickroy Street, and by almost random chance two Bluff rowhouses have been preserved in beautiful condition by the Spiritan Campus Ministry. In fact, on Google Maps we find that their address is still 952 Vickroy Street, even though they are the only remaining trace of Vickroy Street. In the 1800s, their neighbor used to be a brickyard, so the neighborhood has improved since they were built.
South Side Slopes Houses
The acute angle of the intersection of Crosman Street with 18th Street on the South Side Slopes creates two odd-shaped lots filled with odd-shaped buildings, both of them irregular pentagons. Above, the one on the south side of Crosman is smashed up against a cliff, with a big billboard for its neighbor: South 18th Street is the old Brownsville Plank Road, and still the main route down from the South Hills neighborhoods to the South Side. Below, the house on the north corner sits at the head of a row of little Pittsburgh rowhouses, each of them altered according to the whims of decades of owners. The corner house is festooned with aluminum awnings; three of the other houses have aluminum awnings over the front doors, and two of them (the last two down the hill) are genuine Kool Vent awnings.
These little rowhouses are a good example of the persistence of tradition in Pittsburgh vernacular architecture. They seem to have been put up in the early 1900s, with 1903 as a terminus post quem according to the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site; but they differ very little from the tiny, narrow rowhouses of the Civil War era.
Achille Giammartini House, Manchester
It looks like an ordinary Romanesque rowhouse, like hundreds of others in Pittsburgh. But as we approach it, we notice an unusually lush growth of grotesque foliage in the carved stone relief.
You can enlarge this picture to admire the many whimsical details. According to a local historian who left a comment here a decade ago, this was the home of Achille Giammartini, the uniquely talented stonecarver whose work can still be found all over the city, especially on the North Side. The comment is worth reproducing in full:
Much of the local stone carving as well as work across the North Side, downtown, Carnegie Mellon University, etc was done by Achille Giammartini who built the house at 1410 Page St, near Page St & Manhattan St, in Manchester (beside Allegheny West). Although this was his personal residence he used the exterior as a “billboard” for his considerable skills. —Mark
Some years later, we received a very interesting comment from G. Blair Bauer, a lineal descendant of the sculptor, in reply to the comment from Mark:
Thank you, Mark. He was my great grandfather and his daughter, my grandmother, told us little about him. I remember one Christmas we got delayed going to my grandmother’s for dinner in Allegheny West because they were tearing down all the old townhouses. My grandmother said that her father had carved a lot of the mantels for the living rooms. My mother was horrified and said she wished that she had known as she would have gotten a mantel for each of us 4 children. Grandma replied, “He worked with his hands; I want to forget about him.” Mother was so enraged we got up and left dinner on the table. I now have an address and will visit his house; hope there is a lot of his work visible.
Well, the front would certainly have left a good impression of his talents. A prospective client who visited Mr. Giammartini at home would get the impression that here was a remarkable artist, and the impression would be conveyed before the client even walked in the door. Even the address has a touch of Romanesque fantasy:
Romanesque Duplex in Manchester
A pair of Romanesque houses, mostly brick but with a splendid stone front. The decorations are extraordinarily fine, and Father Pitt suspects that they were by the extraordinary Achille Giammartini, who lived a few blocks away and was responsible for much of the ornamental stonecarving on the North Side.
Stair-Step Rowhouses in Oakland
Pittsburgh is full of these little two-storey rowhouses from the first half of the twentieth century. They are often more spacious than they appear, because they are much deeper than you might guess. Like every other kind of building, they have to adapt to Pittsburgh topography, so that, on a sloping street like Louisa Street in Oakland, they end up stair-stepped like this.
Early-20th-Century Rowhouses, Manchester
An attractive row of small houses built a little before 1910. One of them has had a fire and is under sentence of condemnation; we hope it can be rescued, but it may not be worth enough to restore. It is only yards from Allegheny West, a very desirable neighborhood; but that neighborhood line is there, and these houses are technically in Manchester.
From the back we can see how a good bit of thought was put into making these houses bright and airy while still using the small space efficiently.
Rooftops of Oakland and Phipps Conservatory
Looking across the rowhouses and apartments of central Oakland toward Phipps Conservatory. In the distance at upper left is the Park Mansions apartment building.