This building has been much altered and diminished. There was originally more building behind it, and the façade has been drastically remodeled. The front entrance is now a pair of windows, and the original grand arches have been bricked in, with small and mismatched windows. The city’s Hilltop architectural inventory (PDF) classed this as a building with low architectural integrity. But it is very interesting for two reasons. First, the front gives us a good lesson in urban archaeology: enough is left so that we can try to imagine how the original building looked. Second, the fact that there was such a thing as a prominent school of rhetoric in Knoxville is itself an interesting window into times past. The briefest exposure to any of our politicians today will be enough to convince us that a school of rhetoric would be welcome in these parts.
A small school by a distinguished architect: Charles M. Bartberger, who gave us several fine schools. (He is often confused with his father, Charles F. Bartberger, who designed some prominent churches.) The Lee School is now a retirement home under the name Gualtieri Manor.
The entrance is surrounded by tasteful terra-cotta ornamentation.
This pattern is called a Vitruvian wave, named for Vitruvius, the ancient Roman author whose manual on architecture became the arbiter of everything that was proper in design during the Renaissance.
The arms of the city of Pittsburgh over the entrance.
The old Mount Oliver Public School and its annex have been beautifully restored for non-academic uses. Mount Oliver residents now get their schooling from Pittsburgh.
The Annex is almost a duplicate of the original school, except for the tower section.
A school built in 1911 in the fashionable Tudor Gothic style. The elegant lettering of the inscription is worthy of imitation.
In an out-of-the-way corner of Beechview is this particularly fine school by Press Dowler. The original part of the school was built in 1908 in the borough of West Liberty, because the line between the boroughs of Beechview and West Liberty ran right across the street grid of the developed section of Beechview. “Beechwood” was the name of the original community that became the borough of Beechview, and the company that developed the land on both sides of the border was the Beechwood Improvement Co. In 1909 the two boroughs were both annexed by Pittsburgh, and by 1922 the school was bursting at the seams. Press C. Dowler was hired to design an expansion that more than tripled the size of the school, and he came through with a magnificently ornamented building in the Tudor Gothic style that was all the rage for schools in the 1920s. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural merit.
The name and date inscribed over one of the entrances.
The south section is the original 1908 school, but Mr. Dowler completely rebuilt the façade to match his plan for the expanded school, so that today the whole building appears to have been put up at once.
Mr. Dowler did not stint on terra-cotta decoration.
The lamp of learning.
These urns flank the entrances; old Pa Pitt suspects they were designed by the architect himself.
As a bonus for his loyal readers, old Pa Pitt includes a typically Pittsburghish cacophony of utility cables.
Like many ethnic churches, St. Michael’s, a German Catholic church on the South Side Slopes, was the center of a whole village of ethnic institutions. This was a German girls’ school. The building will eventually disappear, but it has sat in this decrepit state for many years now. You can find photographs on line of the wreckage of the once-magnificent interior; old Pa Pitt is not enough of an urban adventurer to risk trespassing charges and serious injury to bring you such pictures himself.
Perhaps in an expensive neighborhood this building would find a use, but this neighborhood is not likely to become expensive enough to repay the several million dollars it would probably cost to rescue a school of this size.
Curiously, the girl’s school was much larger and more magnificent than the boys’ school. That building, next door, was clumsily and unsympathetically converted to apartments some years ago; the conversion itself is already showing its age.
The children of Allegheny millionaires could walk around the corner to this school, where they would presumably be prepared to go on to college and become better educated than their merely rich parents, or perhaps just become wastrel thugs like Harry Thaw. It is now a training center for the city police, most of whom are not children of Allegheny millionaires.
Old Pa Pitt does not know the original purpose of the low industrial-looking building to the left of the school in this picture. It seems to date from between 1910 and 1923, to judge by our old maps, and it belonged to the school. Can anyone enlighten us?
Built in 1909, this is a grand classical schoolhouse with a distinctive tower; except for the tower, we can imagine it as an English earl’s house from the 1600s. The architects were William J. Shaw and Thomas Lloyd. The school has been abandoned for years, but there is hope now of turning it into apartments. In the huge picture above, note the way the building defies the typically Pittsburghish slope of the street. In fact it sits on a mound in the middle of the block, and you need some legs to get up to it from any direction.
Someone left one of those temporary storage modules in front of the building, which mars our otherwise architecturally perfect picture of the Fifth Avenue façade. There is only so much old Pa Pitt can do.
This Flemish Gothic palace, built in 1894, was designed by Edward Stotz, who would later give us Schenley High School. His son Charles Morse Stotz was more or less the founder of the preservation movement in Pittsburgh: he wrote the huge folio The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania, still an invaluable reference as well as a gorgeous book. It is fitting, therefore, that the father’s great landmarks have been among our preservation success stories.
The school was closed in 1976, and after that it sat vacant for more than three decades. A generation knew it only as that looming hulk Uptown. It is a tribute to the architect that it survived in fairly good shape. In 2009 it was finally brought back to life with a years-long restoration project that turned it into loft apartments, which sold well and suggested that there might be some potential in the Uptown neighborhood. (It certainly helped that the new arena—currently named for PPG Paints—opened at about the same time.)
Here is a large institutional building whose story of abandonment and decay has a happy ending.
South Hills High School was Pittsburgh’s second great palace of high-school education, right after Schenley High School. For this one, the city hired Alden & Harlow, arguably the most prestigious institutional architects money could buy. They were responsible for the Carnegie Institute and all the branch libraries, in addition to multiple millionaires’ mansions and skyscrapers downtown.
The site of the school is improbably vertical. In those days, “South Hills” meant the back slopes of Mount Washington, and a walk along the side of this school is a steep climb. But the architects met the challenge with a Tudor Gothic palace that seems to have grown on the site. It takes up a whole city block.
The Ruth Street side of the school opened in 1917; the rest of the school—planned from the beginning—opened in 1925. For many years the school took in students from the South Hills and beyond—“beyond” meaning Banksville, Beechview, and Brookline. In 1976, a monstrously modernist new school—Brashear—opened in Beechview, which took in all the students from the southern neighborhoods. With population declining and the building getting old, the city decided to close South Hills altogether in 1986.
And then it sat and rotted for 23 years.
But, as we said, the story has a happy ending. As you see from these pictures, the building is well taken care of now. In 2010 it reopened as apartments for senior citizens, so that once again it is an ornament to its neighborhood.
The wonderfully thorough Brookline Connection site has a long article about South Hills High School, including the architects’ plans.