Tag: Streetscapes

  • The Craig Street Automotive Row, All at Once

    Old Pa Pitt obsessively documented every building in the Craig Street automotive row. But he was even more obsessive than that. The thing that is most impressive about that row is that it is contiguous and intact: not a single one of the buildings, all put up at about the same time in the early years of the automobile, has disappeared or been seriously mutilated. Individual pictures do not show that impressive fact. Therefore, Father Pitt has made this composite view—by hand, he might add, since no automatic software was up to the task.

    Click on the picture to make it very big.

    The brands these dealers sold, left to right: Nash, Oldsmobile, Jordan, Kelly-Springfield tires, B. F. Goodrich tires, Franklin, and Oakland.

    Much of the background had to be filled in with plain blue, and the joints are very obvious if you enlarge the picture. But this is the only way to convey the extraordinary fact that this whole row has survived intact. How long will it last? We can only keep our fingers crossed. But if these buildings disappear, at least this picture can show future generations what this row was like.

  • 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).

    Rowhouse
  • Pearl Street, Bloomfield

    Pearl Street

    The last rays of evening sun strike little rowhouses on Pearl Street in Bloomfield. This picture was taken in 1999, but except for the cars the view has changed very little. Bloomfield still has one of the city’s best collections of Kool Vent aluminum awnings.

  • Grant Street in 2000

    Grant Street in 2000

    Photographed on Elite Chrome 100 film with a Kodak Retinette.

  • Hawking Conspiracies on the South Side, 2000

    Larouche supporter on the South Side

    Father Pitt does not normally indulge in what they call “street photography,” but back in March of 2000 this scene seemed to invite a picture, and Pa Pitt’s faithful Argus C3 was in his hand.

    Just think of all the things you will have to explain to your children or grandchildren (if available) about this picture. You will have to explain who Lyndon Larouche was, and that conspiracy theories like his were not part of mainstream American politics in those days. You will have to explain that this man is hawking things called newspapers, which were sort of like long-form Twitter. You will have to explain that those things on steel posts (the nearest one has been decapitated, which you will try to avoid explaining) were individualized parking kiosks, one for each parked car, which sounds like such a brilliant idea that it must be about time for a revival. You may even, if you are feeling brave, end up explaining the idea of creating photographs with light-sensitive chemicals.

  • Fifth Avenue in the 1990s

    Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh

    Father Pitt is not quite sure when he took this picture (some of his records are in a sorry state of disorganization), but it is easy to give it a rough date. In the middle distance we can see the Farmers Bank Building, with its mural of Pittsburgh sports legends by Judy Penzer, an artist who had the good luck to be the sister of a real-estate developer, and the bad luck to be on TWA Flight 800 when it exploded in 1996. That mural was painted in 1992, and the building was imploded in 1997 to make way for the new Lazarus department store.

    The Farmers Bank Building was a great loss to our architectural legacy, but we could argue that it had been lost for three decades by the time it was demolished. It was built in 1903, one of our earliest batch of skyscrapers.

    Farmers Bank Building

    In the 1960s, the owners covered the embarrassingly passé Beaux-Arts exterior with a generic modernist shell, making the building indistinguishable from other International Style boxes except for being uglier. When the building was scheduled for demolition, there was some argument about whether the original exterior could be restored; but the indomitably bland personality of Mayor Murphy overcame all opposition to his project to fill downtown with department stores. Tom Murphy was a brilliant politician, probably the most powerful mayor since David Lawrence, but in this case he was badly misguided. Lazarus failed in a few years, and soon downtown went from four department stores to none at all.

  • Lanark Street, Fineview, in 1994

    Lanark Street, Finevier

    Most of the houses along the right are gone now, perhaps destroyed by a fire; one of the remnants has been so tastelessly mutilated that destruction might have been kinder. There is now a little park with an overlook at the bottom of this street. Fineview is an odd Pittsburgh phenomenon: a working-class neighborhood with cheap houses and magnificent views. In most other cities, the views would have driven house prices into the astronomical range, and houses would be destroyed to be replaced with luxury condos instead of vacant lots. But Pittsburgh has so many magnificent views that the demand simply cannot outpace the supply—at least not yet.

    Lanark Street, Fineview
  • Try Street

    Try Street

    There are few entirely indoor streets in Pittsburgh, but this is one of them: Try Street, after which the Try Street Terminal is named. The street is entirely covered by the subway viaduct leading north from the First Avenue station. In other words, Try Street is a kind of subway under the subway. Here we see it from the First Avenue exit; metal doors along the right-hand side lead into the Try Street Terminal.

  • Belgian Block

    Belgian Block

    A surprising number of Pittsburgh streets are still paved with Belgian block, which Pittsburghers usually call “cobblestone.” (Real cobblestones are irregular round stones.) In some better neighborhoods, all the streets were paved with Belgian block. In other neighborhoods, more-or-less flat sections were paved with brick, which is much cheaper but very slippery when wet, and the more expensive Belgian block was reserved for steep slopes.

    This pavement is on Elgin Street in Highland Park.

  • Smallman Street

    Smallman Street

    Smallman Street in the Strip changes over time, but it keeps its traditional link with the food business. The Strip became the wholesale-food district because the Pennsylvania Railroad unloaded the culinary treasures of the earth here. Today those treasures arrive mostly by truck.

    The glory of Smallman Street is the broad plaza from 16th to 21st Streets, leading to St. Stanislaus Kostka, the mother church of Polish Catholicism in Pittsburgh, and one of Frederick Sauer’s most distinguished works.

    Smallman Street