Tag: Sanctuary Upstairs

  • Union Methodist Episcopal Church, Manchester

    Manhattan Street face of the Union Methodist Episcopal Church

    Barr & Moser were big names in the architecture of the up-and-coming city of Pittsburgh in the middle 1800s. This church, which opened in 1867, is one of their few surviving works. It is in some ways a typical Pittsburgh neighborhood church, with the sanctuary upstairs. But the three arches at the top of the Manhattan Street face of the building are anything but typical. Some replacement brick in the large center arch suggests that some decorative element decayed and was filled in, but even as the building stands now we can see how modern it must have looked in the time just after the Civil War.

    This picture took six separate photographs to render, but the result is the front of the church almost as the architects drew it.

    From the corner of Manhattan and Pennsylvania
    Cornerstone: New Zion Baptist Church

    The church has belonged to at least three different congregations. It was the Union Methodist Episcopal Church through the early 1900s; by 1923 it belonged to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church; then in 1961—as this replacement cornerstone records—it was bought by the New Zion Baptist Church. The building does not appear to be in use right now, but we hope it can be maintained.

    Pennsylvania Avenue side of the church
    Union Methodist Episcopal Church
    Canon PowerShot SX150 IS.
  • Nativity of Our Lord Church, Observatory Hill

    Nativity of Our Lord Church

    Here is an interesting demonstration of how many Catholic parishes developed in the first half of the twentieth century, and a reminder of how ecclesiastical priorities have changed. Father Pitt does not know the whole history of this building, and perhaps a parishioner could fill us in. But the main outline is this:

    Cornerstone: A. M. D. G. Nativity of Our Lord Parish School

    The cornerstone tells us that the building was put up in 1925. But it tells us that this was the parish school—and indeed, if we look at the picture at the top of the article again, we can see that the lower level was built first. Many parishes built a school building first, and worshiped in a space in the school until they could afford to build a sanctuary. In Brookline, for example, Resurrection parish built its parish school first and worshiped in the gymnasium until the main church could be constructed. The Lutherans a couple of blocks away did the same thing: St. Mark’s still worships in the building that was intended to be the Sunday-school wing, with a much grander church that never went up next to it. It was taken for granted that the children would be educated, and in Catholic parishes it was taken for granted that there would be a parish school to give them their daily education; if priorities had to be set, the school went up first, because it was easier to adapt a school for worship than to adapt a church sanctuary for schooling.

    In this case, the sanctuary was built on top of the original school, which was probably the plan from the beginning. We can therefore add this to our list of churches with the sanctuary upstairs, although, because of the steep Pittsburghish lot, the corner entrance is only seven steps up from the sidewalk.


    The belfry is one of the most picturesque aspects of the building.

  • Garages in Shadyside, Coming and Going

    Carron Street Baptist Church

    Above is the old Carron Street Baptist Church, which as you might guess is on Carron Street. It has not been a church for quite a while, and it has gone through some substantial alterations on its way to becoming a garage, so old Pa Pitt is not quite sure whether it ought to be added to the collection of churches with the sanctuary upstairs, or whether it simply had a high basement. (Update: The answer is that it had a high basement. The church was designed by the Beezer Brothers, and we have found the architects’ original rendering.)

    From the church that became a garage we walk just about a block to the garage that became a high-class furniture store.

    Highland Garage

    This was the South Highland Garage, and as a work of architecture it is probably more distinguished than the Carron Street Baptist Church ever was. If you like, you may formulate your own sarcasm about the true American religion and our fitting sense of architectural priorities. But then you can remember that Calvary Episcopal Church and Sacred Heart are just a short stroll away, and your sarcasm will wither on your tongue.

  • First Church of the Brethren, Garfield

    First Brethren Church

    This modest Tudor Gothic church, probably built in the 1890s, is another one to add to our collection of churches with the sanctuary upstairs. It is now the Bethesda Temple.


    The parsonage is in an extraordinarily rich and accurate Tudor style for such a small house. Compare the details to this medieval house in Canterbury.

    Addendum: It appears from the Inland Architect and News Record for July, 1900, that the architect of the house was the extraordinary John T. Comès, working for Beezer Brothers. The design was featured in the Pittsburgh Architectural Club’s exhibition that year:

    Mr. John T. Comes renders an admirable Pastor’s Residence for “First Brethren Church,” by Beezer Brothers, which leans hard to an old church and breaks away from the sidewalk in a most happy manner, winding up the stone stairs to a reserved and “strong door.” The drawing itself is a happy one. The pots on the chimney are swelling beyond redemption.

    In the magazine Architecture we find the sketch our critic was describing:

    Pastor’s Residence for First Brethren Church

    The chimney pots (were they really beyond redemption?) are gone, and the porch is a later replacement. But Comès’ design is still striking.

    From the east
    Bethesda Temple
  • The Old Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Old Old Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mount Washington

    Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

    Built in 1929, this church on Boggs Avenue is a fine example of the elegantly streamlined Gothic style that was fashionable for a few years before Gothic architecture disappeared entirely from our design vocabulary. It now belongs to a real-estate company, which uses it as offices but keeps the exterior well.

    Perhaps you are thinking that this does not look very much like a Pittsburgh church, because there are no utility cables in front of it. Here:

    With utility cables

    That’s better.


    A block or so away on the other side of Boggs Avenue is an older church, much altered but still recognizable:

    Ev. Luth. Zions Kirche

    Though it is festooned with artificial siding and expensive new brickwork, with a comically inappropriate broken pediment over the front door, this is clearly a church from the late 1800s. In fact it was built in 1884, as we can tell because whoever did the renovations was kind enough to place the old date stone in the new brick front:

    Date stone

    And there is the name of the church: Evangelische Lutherische Zions Kirche, which is German for Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. This is the original home of the congregation that later built the splendid Gothic edifice down the street.


    You will note that this was one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs; we have added yet another to our growing collection.

  • Fifth United Presbyterian Church, California-Kirkbride

    Fifth United Presbyterian Church

    Here is another one of those churches with the sanctuary upstairs, which have become one of old Pa Pitt’s small obsessions. This is quite typical of its time: it was built in 1870, and it has all the usual marks of the typical Pittsburgh smaller church: the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. It now belongs to Northside Common Ministries.

    Date stone, 1870
    Front of the church
    Fifth U. P. Church
  • St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Manchester

    St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

    Here is another entry in our expanding catalogue of churches with the sanctuary upstairs. Now the Northside Church of God, this church, built in 1890, is a typical rowhouse-neighborhood church, making the most of its small lot. The mansard roof over the tower section looks later; it is possible that a tower or spire was damaged and replaced.


    We can just make out the not-quite-obliterated name “St. Paul’s” above the date.

    Front of the church

    This cornerstone was obviously added later, and the most probable explanation is that it marks the date when the church passed out of the hands of the Lutherans.

    Side of the church
  • Swedish Congregational Church, Lawrenceville

    Swedish Congregational Church

    There is something about men’s clubs: when they take over a building, the first thing they do is block out as much of the natural light as possible. But the outlines of the old windows are clear enough: it is not hard to imagine this building the way it was when it was a Swedish church.

    This is a late example of the style of modest church more typical of the middle 1800s. It has all the elements—the shallow-pitched roof, the walls divided into sections by simple pilasters, the date stone in the gable, the crenellations. We also note that typical nineteenth-century Pittsburgh adaptation to a tiny lot: the sanctuary is on the second floor, with social hall and schoolrooms or offices on the ground floor.


    Without the date stone, old Pa Pitt would have guessed that this church was twenty years or more earlier.

    Oblique view

    The Amvets seem to have moved out, and it looks as if the building is vacant now. Considering the mushrooming value of Lawrenceville real estate, it will probably be filled or demolished soon.

    Swedish Congregational Church
  • Mount Washington United Methodist Church

    Mount Washington Methodist Episcopal Church

    We continue our study of churches with the sanctuary upstairs. Like the First German Evangelical Church we saw recently, this one sits on a steep hillside lot, and therefore requires a considerable climb even before you get to the downstairs entrance.

    With stairway
    Note the angle of the parked cars: the street itself is also a steep slope.

    The building has been converted to apartments, but the front of it has been maintained without serious alterations.

    Mount Washington Methodist Episcopal Church
  • First German Evangelical Church, Mount Washington

    First German Evangelical Church

    Here is another church with the sanctuary upstairs, but that is only part of the story. You had to be in good shape to go to services here, because the downstairs entrance is already a full flight of steps up from the street.

    Stairways from street

    Note the direct entrance to the basement or sub-basement from the street level.

    It was not as challenging as it looks to be a member of this church, though. This is the Southern Avenue front; the back extends to Greenbush Street, with an entrance level with the sanctuary. It’s a typical Pittsburgh lot with a two-storey drop from back to front.

    Stained glass

    This stained-glass inscription over the entrance is in abbreviated German. Father Pitt reads it as “Evangelical German United Protestant Church,” but anyone who knows German abbreviations is invited to make a correction in the comments. This was a very German part of the neighborhood a hundred years ago: diagonally across the street was a Männerchor hall, now replaced by an incongruous 1960s suburban-style split-level house.


    The parsonage was built at about the same time as the church (between 1910 and 1923, according to our old maps). The style is a lightly modern arts-and-crafts interpretation of the usual Pittsburgh foursquare house.

    Addendum: It appears that the church and parsonage were built in about 1914 or shortly after, and the architect of both was John A. Long. From the Construction Record for May 16, 1914: “John A. Long, Machesney building, has been selected architect to prepare the plans for the erection of a brick church and parsonage in Mt. Washington, for the German Evangelical Protestant Congregation.” But just a week before, on May 9, 1914: “Architect H. Gilchrist, Frick building, has been selected to prepare plans for a church and parsonage, to be built on Mt. Washington, for the German Evangelical Protestant Congregation. No definite location for the building has been selected.” Since Long also appears a few months later as architect of the parsonage in particular, we are inclined to say that Long was the final choice. September 19, 1914: “Martsolf Brothers, House building, have secured the contract to build a two-story brick veneer parsonage, on Southern avenue, Mt. Washington, at a cost of $6,000, for the First German United Evangelical Protestant Congregation. Architect John A. Long, Benedum Trees building, prepared the plans.” (In the time between the listings, the Machesney Building had changed its name to the Benedum Trees Building; Long had not moved his office.)

    Meanwhile, old Pa Pitt leaves his speculation about E. V. Denick below, so that you can see how wrong he was, unless he was right.

    The former speculation: We have not yet found evidence of the architect of the church, but without a shred of documentation we are going to attribute it to E. V. Denick or Dennick (we find his name spelled both ways). His Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Allentown is smaller, but has the same topographic problem to solve—being set into a steep hill—and solves it in a very similar way. The two churches share so many quirks of style that old Pa Pitt is inclined to say that they are the responses of the same architect to the same problem with two very different budgets. That they were both built for German congregations, and very near each other, is social evidence to add to the stylistic evidence.

    Parsonage and church