Tag: Terra Cotta

  • Some Details of Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Mellon University

    Rotunda of Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall

    Of all the buildings on the Carnegie Mellon campus, Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall (named for Andrew Carnegie’s mother) probably makes the most jaw-dropping first impression. It was originally built in 1907 as a separate but related school, the Margaret Morrison Carnegie School for Women, where women would learn the skills women were fitted to learn. When it was discovered that women were fitted to learn everything, the school dissolved into the larger university.

    Henry Hornbostel’s design makes its opening statement with a grand and stripey rotunda that is impressive and welcoming at the same time.

    Entrance to Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall
    Polychrome ornament

    The polychrome ornament found throughout the campus is laid on lavishly here.


    One of the sconces in the rotunda.

    Side porch

    A side porch with some unusually intricate decoration that nevertheless does not look at all fussy.

  • Gimbels Building

    This was built in 1914 as the Kaufmann & Baer Department Store, the Kaufmanns in the name being brothers of the Morris Kaufmann who owned the Big Store two blocks away. It was bought out by the Gimbel Brothers eleven years later, and for generations of Pittsburghers this was the Gimbels Building. Its name is now officially Heinz 57 Center, but most people still call it the Gimbels Building. The architects, Starrett & van Vleck, were specialists in department stores from New York.

    Terra cotta swag and head

    Acres of terra cotta went into decorating the Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue faces of this building.

    Terra cotta
    A different terra cotta swag and head
    Terra-cotta panel
    Corinthian capital
    Beside a window

    And of course there was the clock. It was not as famous or elaborate as the Kaufmann’s clock, but it was another good place to meet someone downtown. This is obviously a good bit more recent than the building itself: it has a streamlined Art Deco look.

  • Art Deco Commercial Building in the West End

    Front of Art Deco building at Main and Wabash

    This Art Deco building probably dates from the 1930s. The sharply rectangular forms are softened and enriched by textures in terra cotta, making a composition that should please both classicists and modernists.

    Corner view of building at Main and Wabash, West End
  • Apartment Building on Wightman Street, Squirrel Hill

    Apartment building on Wightman Street, Squirrel Hill

    This apartment building has a few details worth appreciating, though it appears to have lost its cornice. This building also has the biggest art store in Pittsburgh on the ground floor. You walk in the Hobart Street entrance and find yourself in a fairly big art-supplies store. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. Then you walk back and realize there’s another whole room that size. In fact the whole ground floor of this building is given over to art supplies.

    Floral ornament

    This floral ornament presides over the light well.

    Ornamental frieze
    Terra-cotta scallop

    Addendum: The building was put up in about 1924; the architect was Charles R. Geisler. Source: The American Contractor, October 27, 1923: “Apt. Bldg. (36 suites): Hobart & Wightman sts. Archt. C. R. Geisler, Ferguson bldg. Owner & Bldr. L. L. Noffah, 5843 Forbes st. Sketches.”

  • Art Nouveau Apartment Building in Allentown

    Apartment building on Walter Street

    You walk up Walter Street past the usual Hilltop cacophony of vernacular houses with aluminum and vinyl siding, and then suddenly you come upon this explosion of Art Nouveau. The building has lost its balconies (a long time ago, to judge by that tattered aluminum awning) and its cornice, but it retains its utter uniqueness, right down to the balcony doors to nowhere on the second and third floors, which appear to be original and designed specifically for this building rather than ordered from a catalogue.

    This strange and wonderful little building is obviously the work of a strange and wonderful architect. But which one? It was built after 1903 but before 1910, and we are sorely tempted to attribute it to Titus de Bobula, whose entire Pittsburgh career blossomed and faded in that period. The treatment of the decorations strongly reminds old Pa Pitt of the Everett Apartments in Shadyside—in fact the decorations are so similar that Father Pitt is nearly convinced they have to be by the same architect. He is not the only one to notice the similarity. A city architecture inventory (PDF) also points it out: “Its similarity to another apartment building in the East End (at Ellsworth Avenue and Copeland Street in Shadyside) further sets the design of 404 Walter apart from the local vernacular found throughout the rest of Allentown.”

    To see what both Father Pitt and the city’s architecture experts are talking about, consider these decorations:

    Abstract decoration
    More decoration

    Now compare this decoration from the Everett in Shadyside:

    Decoration from the Everett Apartments

    The similarity is certainly marked; many of the pieces are identical. Since the Everett is attributed to Titus de Bobula, we are justified in saying that he is a strong possibility for this one, too.

    Another De Bobulesque feature is the lack of a main entrance: instead there is a small door off to one side that appears to lead into a stairwell. This is also the case with his Glen Tenement House in Hazelwood and with the Everett. The narrow verticals with asymmetrically staggered windows remind us of St. Michael’s School in Braddock, another De Bobula design (Father Pitt promises to make a pilgrimage to Braddock soon and come back with pictures).

    Father Pitt will regard this as a De Bobula building until someone proves otherwise. But he would be delighted to have someone prove otherwise, because then he would be introduced to another eccentric but talented architect.

    Apartment building
    Oblique view
  • Werner Building, East Liberty

    Werner Building, Highland Avenue front
    Werner Building, inscription

    This beautiful building has a long and varied history. It seems to have been built a little before 1910 by a dry-cleaning company. After a while the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce moved in to preside over the slow decline of East Liberty. In 2001, when the East Liberty revival was barely beginning, the Werner Building became a performance-art space. Now, with East Liberty booming, it’s a profitable property.

    Corner view

    The metalwork on top supported a billboard where artists spelled out messages, but in 2018 one artist posted a message so offensive that the building’s owner had it removed and shut down the billboard scheme. What was this offensive message? “THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE.” That was all. Father Pitt can only say that, if you are offended by the idea that there are Black people in the future, then you can go off and get yourself your own future, because old Pa Pitt does not want to be part of it.

    Terra cotta
    More terra cotta

    The whole building is lavishly festooned with terra cotta and stained glass.

    Stained glass
    Baum Boulevard side
  • The Liberty Theater As It Was Built

    Update: Once in a while old Pa Pitt has a chance to boast about his architectural instincts, and here is one of those occasions. In the original article, he wrote that he suspected Edward B Lee of having designed the remodeling of the theater into an office building. He was right. Source: The American Contractor, December 15, 1923: “Store & Office Bldg. (remod. from theater): $150,000. 5 sty. & bas. H. tile. Liberty av. & Strawberry Alley. Archt. E. B. Lee, Chamber of Commerce bldg. Owner The Fidelity Title & Trust Co., Wilson A. Shaw, chrm. of bd., 343 Fourth av. Gen. contr. let to Cuthbert Bros., Bessemer bldg.”

    The original text of Father Pitt’s article follows.

    Edward B. Lee was the architect of the Liberty Theater—or Theatre, as theatrical people often insist on spelling it—when it was built in 1912. These pictures were published in The Brickbuilder in 1913, so they show the theater as it was when it was new. Either the theater failed or the owners decided it would be more profitable as an office building, because only eleven years later, in 1924,1 it was remodeled into the Baum Building, and it still stands today.

    The shell and outlines are the same, but quite a bit was changed externally. Old Pa Pitt suspects that Lee was the architect of these changes, too, and they were accomplished so elegantly that we would never know the building had not been planned that way from the beginning.

    These small drawings (orchestra, first balcony, second balcony) show the aggressive adaptations Mr. Lee had to make to the irregular shape of the lot—a common difficulty for buildings on the southeast side of Liberty Avenue, where the two grids of the irrationally rationalistic eighteenth-century street plan collide.

    Detail over the entrance. These decorations disappeared when the building was converted to offices.

    Corner detail. The cornice and pilasters survive, but the elaborate terra-cotta decoration between the pilasters vanished in 1924.

    1. In the original version of this article, Father Pitt had given the date as 1920, following a city architectural survey. The listing from the American Contractor proves that the date was actually no earlier than 1924. ↩︎
  • One Block of Sidney Street on the South Side

    2109 Sidney Street

    The 2100 block of Sidney Street has some of the finest high-Victorian houses on the South Side, and several of them have unusual decorative details worth a closer examination. Old Pa Pitt took an evening stroll down Sidney Street the other day and, as always, came back with a few pictures. We’ll start with No. 2109. Note the multiple shapes of roof slates, the woodwork in the dormers, and the rusticated lintels in the picture above.

    Since we have fifteen pictures, we’ll put the rest below the fold to avoid slowing down the main page for a week.

  • 819 and 821 Penn Avenue

    819 and 821 Penn Avenue

    A pair of commercial buildings with striking terra-cotta details—especially No. 819, on the left. The huge windows would have allowed light to pour into workshops on the upper floors.

    Greek key and egg and dart
    Vitruvian scroll

    Truly enlightened zoning regulations would mandate cornices with lions’ heads on all buildings more than four storeys tall.

    Side by side
  • Terra-Cotta Decorations, Carnegie Mellon University

    Polychrome terra cotta

    Henry Hornbostel was one of the first architects to employ polychrome terra cotta. Here are three different patterns from buildings at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.

    Terra cotta thistles

    Thistles, in tribute to Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish pride.

    More terra cotta