Tag: Sanctuary Upstairs

  • 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.

    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.

    Parsonage and church
  • Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische St. Paulus Kirche, Uptown

    St. Paul’s Lutheran

    Since he ran across that article marveling at a church with the sanctuary upstairs, old Pa Pitt has been inspired to make a special study of these churches. Don’t be surprised to see more of them as Father Pitt accumulates the pictures.

    St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1872. Since Uptown was a dense rowhouse neighborhood, the church had a tiny lot, and resorted to the common expedient of putting the sanctuary on the second floor. Today it is home to the Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, and we caught it in the middle of some spiffing up.

    We might point out that this church is marked on an 1882 map as “Dutch Lutheran Church.” When misinformed pedants insist on calling East Allegheny “Deutschtown” (a pedantry that is flat-out wrong and makes old Pa Pitt’s skin crawl every time he hears it), you can point out that “Dutch” was the usual word for “German,” and English-speakers in Pittsburgh commonly referred to the Germans as “Dutch” even as late as the 1880s.

    Side view
  • Churches with the Sanctuary Upstairs

    Old Methodist church

    Take a look at this old Methodist church on the South Side. Do you notice anything unusual about it? Yes, you do notice, because you already read the title of this article. But just passing by, you might not have noticed that the sanctuary—the main worship space—is on the second floor.

    When he was publishing his pictures of the old St. John’s Lutheran Church on the border of Bloomfield and Lawrenceville, old Pa Pitt ran across an interesting article about the conversion of that church to apartments, which apparently was done with minimal alteration. In fact the whole “Urban Traipsing” site is worth a long exploration, and you can go there and spend a few hours as soon as you’ve finished here. To stick to our current subject, Father Pitt was struck by the author’s reaction to finding that the sanctuary was upstairs:

    This is the only church building I have been in where the sanctuary is a full flight of stairs above ground level. I’m very curious to know if there are any others—please share, if you’ve come across one!

    Well, that article was written nine years ago, so Father Pitt will not bother the author with comments now. But this is actually a very common adaptation in Pittsburgh. Churches in dense rowhouse neighborhoods had tiny lots, and they had to make the most of those lots. If you can’t build out, you build up. It would be aesthetic nonsense to have any other facilities above the sanctuary, so obviously the sanctuary goes at the top.

    The South Side has a larger collection of these churches than any other neighborhood, so we’re going to stay there for this article. In fact Father Pitt believes that this article will give you a complete census of the remaining churches on the South Side with the sanctuary upstairs; if anyone knows of any others, please step forward.

    South Side Presbyterian

    The grandest of the lot is South Side Presbyterian. It was originally more modest, looking like many of the other churches here, but the congregation prospered and added the impressive front with bell tower.

    Interior of South Side Presbyterian

    Here is the sanctuary of South Side Presbyterian, which is reached by a pair of stairways at the front of the church.

    Bingham United Methodist

    The Bingham United Methodist Church is now the City Theatre; the building dates from 1859. Birmingham and East Birmingham, the boroughs that became the South Side, were full of Methodists and Presbyterians in the middle 1800s, and many of the churches on the South Side began as Methodist or Presbyterian churches.

    St. George’s Serbian Orthodox

    This was also built as a Methodist church, but at some time around the First World War it became St. George’s Serbian Orthodox Church. The onion dome cannot disguise the typically American Protestant shape of the rest of the Victorian Gothic building.

    Holy Assumption of St. Mary

    The German Baptist Church on 19th Street is now Holy Assumption of St. Mary Orthodox Church.

    Polish Falcons

    First Methodist Episcopal Church, East Birmingham, became a nest of Polish Falcons; then the Falcons moved to a smaller nest a block and a half away, and this building was converted to apartments as “Falcon Court.”

    First Associated Reformed

    The First Associated Reformed Church of Birmingham was built in 1854.

    Tabernacle of the Union Baptist Church

    The Tabernacle of the Union Baptist Church was built in 1881 in a curiously angular style, an abstract machine-age Gothic.

    These are eight churches on the South Side alone that have their sanctuaries upstairs. Have we missed any? There were almost certainly others; if Father Pitt recalls correctly, the Walton Church, demolished more than twenty years ago, was one of them, and there are other churches that did not make it into our century.

    There are also others in other neighborhoods: we already mentioned St. John’s Lutheran in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville, and we have pictures of Grace Lutheran in Troy Hill and the Union Methodist Church in Manchester. These are all churches built in densely crowded neighborhoods where they had to make do with a tiny patch of land.

    Now that you have been alerted to their existence, you will start to see these churches everywhere, and you will have old Pa Pitt to thank for your new hobby.

  • St. John’s Lutheran Church, Bloomfield

    St. John’s Lutheran, Bloomfield

    This is on 40th Street in the end of Bloomfield that sticks like a thumb into Lower Lawrenceville. It is another of those city churches where the sanctuary is on the second floor, as we often find in dense rowhouse neighborhoods where the church must make the most of a tiny lot. Like many of those churches, it is now apartments.

    St. John’s Lutheran
    St. John’s Lutheran
    Choir Loft Condominiums