Tag: Rowhouses

  • A Walk on the South Side with a Black-and-White Camera

    Corner of 16th and Sarah Streets
    Corner of 16th and Sarah Streets.

    It was not really a black-and-white camera; it was old Pa Pitt’s nineteen-year-old Samsung Digimax V4, a strange beast that was made for photography enthusiasts who wanted something that would fit in the pocket but still had most of the options of a sophisticated enthusiast’s camera. Father Pitt has set the user options to black-and-white. There is no good reason for doing so: obviously the camera collects color data and throws the colors away, and the colors could just as well be thrown away in software after returning from the expedition. But knowing that the picture must be black and white forces one to think in terms of forms rather than colors. So here are half a dozen pictures from a walk through the South Side Flats.

    Building on 17th Street
    Building on 17th Street, probably from the 1920s.
    Entrance to St. Adalbert’s
    The entrance to St. Adalbert’s Church.
    St. Adalbert’s Rectory
    St. Adalbert’s rectory.
    Rowhouses on Sarah Street.
    Front steps
    Front steps.
  • Civil-War-Era Houses on 15th Street, South Side

    Buildings on 15th Street

    These three buildings date from before 1872, since they appear on our 1872 map. The two exceptionally large houses on the left look like Civil War engravings of street scenes. Some of the details, like the gutters, have changed, but the overall appearance is very 1860s. The smaller frame house on the right has suffered every external indignity a house can suffer, but the simple shape with narrow projecting dormer still says middle 1800s.

  • Row of Houses on 13th Street, South Side

    Row from before 1872

    From both the old maps and the style it seems fairly certain that this row of four identical houses dates from before 1872. On the whole they are very well preserved, with a few alterations, but nothing to change the essentials.

    Houses on 13th Street

    The larger house on the end probably dates from before 1872 as well, although it looks newer than its neighbors; its original front is mostly intact, but it has sprouted an ugly third floor that could be removed or rebuilt by some future owner.

  • Condemned Row from the Civil War Era

    Row on Seneca Street

    Uptown is a good-news/bad-news sort of neighborhood right now. The good news is that, after decades of gradual abandonment and decay, the neighborhood is rapidly turning upward. The bad news is that much of the neighborhood is still in danger. The Soho end of Uptown, near the Birmingham Bridge, is not yet feeling the effects of the prosperity radiating from the new arena, the restoration of Fifth Avenue High School, and the proximity of downtown to the western end of Uptown.

    Here is a row of houses on Seneca Street that probably will not be here much longer. The blue CONDEMNATION stickers have appeared on several of them. These are houses from the Civil War era, which are not as common as they used to be. A few more such rows remain Uptown, and some of those are also in danger—either from decay or from the even more dangerous force of prosperity. On two of these houses, the façades have been replaced with architecturally worthless curtains of brick; but the remaining four retain many of their original features.

    Until recently, it was inevitable that condemned houses like these would be razed to leave an empty space behind them. Now it is just possible that at least the space will not be empty forever. That would be moderately good news; unfortunately, the rolling waves of prosperity will not reach Seneca Street in time to make it profitable to save these houses. A century and a half of history will vanish, and almost no one will notice. But at least these pictures will serve as a memorial and a document.

    Houses of the Civil War era
  • Frame Houses of the Civil War Era

    Frame houses on 24th Street

    It is remarkable how unremarkable these two tiny houses on 24th Street are. The one on the left has had its parlor windows replaced with the usual mid-twentieth-century picture window, but most of the rest of the detail is intact; the one on the right probably looks not much different from the day it was built. And it was built at about the time of the Civil War or right after. These two houses appear on maps all the way back to 1872, the earliest detailed map of the area Father Pitt has been able to find. Brick houses from that time are common, but tiny frame houses like these seldom survive with original (or equivalent) wooden siding, which is almost always replaced with one of the Four Horsemen: aluminum, vinyl, Insulbrick, and Perma-Stone. If old Pa Pitt were dictator (and let it be known that if chosen dictator he would not serve), he would make these two houses a preservation priority.

    In the picture below, note the size of the houses relative to the cars parked in front of them.

    Frame houses
  • The Rolfe Houses, South Side

    Houses on Carson Street

    Our 1872 map shows the house on the left as belonging to J. Rolfe and the one on the right to H. H. Rolfe. At some point the one on the left had a storefront added, which at some later point was blocked in by a competent contractor who was certainly not an architect. Otherwise, these two elegant houses on Carson Street probably look very much the way they looked a century and a half ago, when they entered the city of Pittsburgh with the annexation of Birmingham.

  • 150 Years of the South Side

    Row of houses from before 1872

    These houses on South 26th Street are more than 150 years old, and nobody cares. That is one of the fascinating and delightful things about the South Side: you have to discover history for yourself, because history is not labeled and pickled in brine for you here.

    As of this year, the South Side has been part of Pittsburgh for a century and a half. In 1872, the boroughs of South Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East Birmingham, and Ormsby were taken into the city. Since then quite a lot has changed, but it’s surprising how much has not changed. Father Pitt has decided to celebrate the 150 years of the South Side by looking for the things that were there in 1872 and are still there now. In the coming weeks you’ll see quite a few more remnants of old Birmingham and East Birmingham.

    But how do we know which buildings date from that era? The Pittsburgh Historic Maps site is Father Pitt’s favorite research tool. You can look at a detailed house-by-house map from 1872, and then switch to a current satellite view. Many familiar shapes will appear on both maps. This row of once-identical houses is one of them.

    Face-on view

    Most of the oldest houses on the South Side are fairly modest, and these were more modest than most. In the years since they were built, each house has had its separate adventures. Today they all look different, each one bearing alterations from different eras. One of them has sprouted an outsized dormer that gives it a third floor. One has ornamental shutters by the windows. One has star bolts holding it together. One has smaller horizontal windows upstairs. Two of them have mid-twentieth-century picture windows in the front parlors. Two have aluminum awnings. Several have had the front doors reconfigured, losing the wooden doorframe and transom.

    Second row

    There were originally two identical rows of seven houses in this block of 26th Street, separated by the alley (Larkins Way). The second row is down to four houses now, all of which have been through similarly various adventures.

    But if we put all these houses together in our minds, we can come up with the Platonic ideal of the South Side rowhouse of the middle 1800s. This is what we’ll be doing as we celebrate 150 years of the South Side: looking through the modern accretions to find the Birmingham and East Birmingham (and maybe South Pittsburgh and Ormsby) of a century and a half ago.

  • Howley Street, Lawrenceville

    Howley Street

    A typical street of miscellaneous rowhouses in Lower Lawrenceville. This part of the neighborhood has become desirable enough that the houses are well maintained, but not desirable enough that they are pseudo-Victorianized yet, so that we still see the full cacophony of things Pittsburghers have thought it might be a good idea to do to a Victorian rowhouse. Below, an Italianate house that seems to be under renovation (note the expensive but asymmetrical new front entrance).

  • Second Empire Row, South Side

    Second Empire rowhouses

    A modest but distinguished row of Second Empire houses on 22nd Street. Note the patterns in the roof tiles.

  • Carey Way, South Side

    Houses on Carey Way

    In Pittsburgh, a “rowhouse” is generally any house that shares a wall with its neighbors. But there are rowhouses in a stricter sense: rows of houses built all at once, as more or less one building divided into individual residences. One such row is in the 1800 block of Carey Way, a row of modest Italianate alley houses all put up at once. If he had to guess, old Pa Pitt would date it to the 1870s. One of its remarkable features is its breezeway. Most breezeways in Pittsburgh are narrow passages between houses, but this row has one breezeway in the middle big enough to drive a wagon through. That is probably the point: it leads to a courtyard from which deliveries of coal and other staples could be made to the backs of all the houses. Under separate ownership, the houses have ceased to be entirely identical, but their common origin is still apparent.

    Carey Way
    Carey Way
    Carey Way