Tag: Terraces

  • Arts-and-Crafts Terrace in Squirrel Hill

    Terrace on Denniston Street

    Old Pa Pitt enjoys pointing out the many ways architects and builders have answered the terrace question. “This method of building three or six houses under one roof shows a handsome return on the money invested,” said an article about a terrace of houses in Brighton Heights, but the investment pays off only if tenants are willing to move in. The later Aluminum City Terrace development in New Kensington, designed in a starkly modern style by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, had a hard time attracting tenants in spite of cheap rents and an acute housing shortage, because locals thought it looked yucky.

    The terrace question, then, is this: How can we build economical housing that is nevertheless attractive enough to seem desirable to tenants?

    This terrace obviously had a higher budget than many, so it answered the question with fine design, elaborate decoration, and good materials. The materials were good enough that they have survived intact more than a century: these houses on Denniston Street, twenty-four of them in four rows of six each, were put up before 1923, but they still have their tile roofs and other decorative elements.

    Two houses in the tarrace

    Probably because of the steep hill they occupy, these houses have unusually generous front yards—generous enough for a whole container vegetable garden, for instance.

    Looking up at the houses
    Along the row
    Sony Alpha 3000.
  • Rowhouses on Broadway

    Rowhouses on Broadway

    It sounds like a good name for a 1930s Warner Brothers musical, but we’re talking about the Broadway in Beechview, where the streetcars still run on the street. One of the characteristic forms of cheap housing in Pittsburgh streetcar neighborhoods is the rowhouse terrace, where a whole row of houses is built as one building. “This method of building three or six houses under one roof shows a handsome return on the money invested,” as an article about the Kleber row in Brighton Heights put it. In other words, here is a cheap way to get individual houses for the working classes.

    Architecturally, it poses an interesting problem. How do you make these things cheap without making them look cheap? In other words, how do you make them architecturally attractive to prospective tenants?

    In the row above, we see the simplest and most straightforward answer. The houses are identical, except for each pair being mirror images, which saves a lot of money on plumbing and wiring. The attractiveness is managed by, first of all, making the proportions of the features pleasing, and, second, adding some simple decorations in the brickwork.

    Architects (or builders who figured they could do without an architect) often repeated successful designs for cheap housing, making it even cheaper. A few blocks away is an almost identical row.

    Another row on Broadway

    The wrought-iron porch rails are later replacements, probably from the 1960s or 1970s, but the shape, size, and decorative brickwork are the same, except that here we have nine decorative projections along the cornice instead of five.

    Now here is a different solution to the terrace problem:

    Terrace on Broadway
    Another row of houses

    Here we have two rows of six houses each. Once again, the houses are fundamentally identical, except for half of them being mirror images of the other half. But the architect has varied the front of the building to make a pleasing composition in the Mission style, which was very popular in the South Hills neighborhoods in the early 1900s. Instead of a parade of identical houses, we get a varied streetscape with tastefully applied decorations that are very well preserved in these two rows.

    Incidentally, terrace houses like these look tiny from the front, but they often take full advantage of the depth of their lots to provide quite a bit of space inside. They are common in Pittsburgh because they were a good solution to the problem of cheap housing: they gave working families a reasonably sized house of their own that they could afford.

  • The Kleber Row Newly Built, Brighton Heights

    Kleber Row in 1916

    Back in October we featured a row of houses designed by T. E. Cornelius on Davis Avenue in Brighton Heights. Thanks to an alert correspondent, here is that same row from the Pittsburgh Daily Post of March 5, 1916, with a caption describing the decidedly modern effect of the style:

    The illustration shows one row of a building operation comprising four rows on Davis avenue, Northside, erected for Henry Kleber by T. Ed. Cornelius, architect. The low raking roofs and heavy square columns give a “Craftsman” effect, and the interior is carried out in a similar style. This method of building three or six houses under one roof shows a handsome return on the money invested.

    Thirteen of these houses were built on the Kleber property. The houses still stand today, and in very good shape.

    The Kleber row today

    The architect and his clients obviously considered this design a success: T. E. Cornelius duplicated it at other sites in the city. It is a backhanded compliment to Mr. Cornelius that some architectural historians have misattributed a group of them in Shadyside to the noted progressive architect Frederick Scheibler. We might pay another compliment to Mr. Cornelius by noting that, everywhere these houses appear, they are in better shape than most of Frederick Scheibler’s rowhouses of similar size and era. These houses were built cheap, but they were built to last.

  • St. James Terrace, Shadyside

    St. James Terrace plaque

    The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation historic marker at the entrance tells us all Father Pitt knows about St. James Terrace: that it was built in 1915, and that the builder was John E. Born. Perhaps we will discover the architect one of these days.

    St. James Terrace is an enclave within an enclave: it branches off the narrow dead-end St. James Place, but with no access for vehicles. Instead, the houses are arranged around a narrow but beautiful garden court, which looks very romantic in the snow.

    St. James Terrace
    St. James Terrace
    Houses on the north side
    Bare tree branch
    St. James Terrace