An eclectic commercial block on the steep slope of the last block of Wabash Street, this building was probably put up in the 1890s.
This building probably dates from the 1890s, and it looks from the style as though the well-preserved painted sign may date from the same era.
The building still belongs to a kind of bank and is kept in good shape, though its ground floor was unfortunately modernized back when that seemed like a good idea.
On the back, facing traffic coming down the hill from Noblestown Road, was another sign advertising the West End Savings Bank & Trust Co., but it was later painted over with an advertisement for Heselbarths Real Estate—Insurance.
Old Pa Pitt is simply guessing that this building on Island Avenue at John Street used to be a hotel, in the old-fashioned Pittsburgh sense of the term: that is, a bar with rooms for rent upstairs. The ground floor was obviously a commercial establishment of some sort, though it has been filled in and made an apartment; the location is right above the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad shops and roundhouses, making this an ideal stop for railroad men who were not virtuous enough or poor enough for the Railroad YMCA four steps away across John Street. It was built before the YMCA, probably in the 1890s. The painted billboard on the side once advertised Pittsburgh Home Savings to the traffic inbound on Island Avenue.
Whoever invented those ubiquitous front doors with the three staggered lights probably made a billion dollars and retired to the Cayman Islands.
There are some spots in McKees Rocks where time seems to have stopped moving forward a while ago, and this building is one of them. Note the truck cab parked beside it.
The original school was designed by Samuel T. McClaren (or McClarren; we see it spelled both ways) in 1895. Over the decades it was encrusted with annexes and additions, until much of the original building was hidden behind later growths.
This is a small section of the original building peeking out between later additions. Note the tapestry brick on the second floor.
The care that went into designing and assembling this chimney ought to make us denizens of the twenty-first century ashamed of ourselves.
Annex No. 1 was built after 1903 but before 1910, obscuring the whole eastern side of the original building. This addition was probably also designed by McClaren, and matches the original very closely.
What is that little rectangular block of wood below the small central windows on the first floor?
It’s a sign, probably almost as old as the building to judge by the style of the lettering, and with some effort we can read almost all of it:
FOR THE ARREST AND
CONVICTION OF ANY PERSON
OR PERSONS FOUND GUILTY OF
DESTROYING OR COMMITTING
A NUISANCE ON THIS
Old Pa Pitt has not succeeded in deciphering the very last line, which probably tells us where to apply for our ten bucks.
In 1922, Annex No. 2 was built, obscuring the west side of the original building. Insofar as Pittsburgh topography allows, it is identical to Annex No. 1, but this time it is dated:
The difference in brickwork indicates that there were probably windows here originally.
What this town needs is more utility cables.
In 1958, the school got its last major addition, which covered most of the Davis Avenue front of the original building. By that time it was simply impossible to match the architecture of the original, but the architect made some attempt to echo it with similar Roman brick and three Rundbogenstil arched windows on the front. The brickwork here looks the same as the brick infilling of the windows in the annex above, which probably dates that work.
The school is still in use as Morrow Elementary School.
This Romanesque—or shall we say Rundbogenstil? Because we like to say “Rundbogenstil”—firehouse was built for the city of Allegheny, probably in the 1890s to judge by our old maps. The alterations since then can be explained by the fact that a firehouse is basically a men’s club, and men’s clubs in Pittsburgh gradually fill in their windows and block as much natural light as they can. It does make one wonder what they expect to do with that tower now, but perhaps firemen have secret initiation rituals for which a dark tower is the ideal setting.
This little country church is now surrounded by suburbs, though there are still farms nearby. The date stone on the front of the building tells us it was built in 1868.
Our great ecclesiastical architect John T. Comès designed a fine church for St. Martin’s parish in the West End, but the church was demolished long ago. The rectory, however, remains, and it is a remarkable piece of work itself. We might call it Romanesque, or Art Nouveau, or Arts-and-Crafts, or perhaps even Rundbogenstil. Father Pitt is tempted, however, to call it Pre-Raphaelite. It reminds him of Pre-Raphaelite paintings; we can imagine it as a backdrop for figures by Burne-Jones.
The rich colors and deliberately handmade look of these ornamental tiles add considerably to the effect of the façade.
Sharpsburg has a paucity of street names and has to double up on many of them. At the western end of the borough, Main Street splits into two Main Streets. On South Main Street we find two similar hotels from the 1890s, both in the kind of German classical-Romanesque hybrid style that old Pa Pitt has learned to call Rundbogenstil. “Hotel” meant “neighborhood bar with rooms for rent”; such hotels popped up in neighborhoods everywhere in our area, because it was much easier to get a liquor license for a hotel than for a bar.
First, the Lafayette Hotel (probably not its original name), which not only still has a lively and beloved bar on the ground floor, but even still has rooms for rent.
The date stone: built in 1896.
This probably tells us the initial of the original name of the hotel.
An oval stained-glass window.
A block away, we have the Sharpsburger Hotel, now apartments.
Built in 1893.
A bit of Romanesque carved foliage and a street sign that probably dates from the 1890s. Old Pa Pitt is collecting old street signs on the sides of buildings, by the way, which was the usual place for them in the 1800s. Both these hotels retain their corner signs.
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.
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.
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.
The side and rear of the building. The rear, facing an alley, is done in less expensive brick.
The later addition, from 1929, is by Pringle & Robling in quite a different style, a lightly Deco form of modernism.
A Romanesque—perhaps even Rundbogenstil—commercial building in the back streets of Sharpsburg. It has lost its cornice, and the second floor has received incorrect “multipane” windows, but the storefront with inset entrance is almost perfectly preserved.