Tag: de Bobula (Titus)

  • Titus de Bobula, Before and After Pittsburgh

    Until recently, architectural historians knew nothing of the career of the eccentric architectural genius and would-be Nazi dictator Titus de Bobula before and after his time in Pittsburgh. It was known that he had claimed to have worked in Ohio, and it was known that he moved to New York, but what he did there was a mystery.

    In the last few weeks, however, old Pa Pitt has been on the trail of de Bobula, and he has found a few more pieces of this ever-odder jigsaw puzzle.

    First, there is the advertisement de Bobula ran in the American School Board Journal every month for several months running in 1902 and 1903, before he showed up in Pittsburgh. Here he claims to have a “main office” in Zanesville, with some form of practice in Marietta and Cambridge. Father Pitt suspects all three of these addresses might be bars where the landlord agreed to receive de Bobula’s mail. He was twenty-four years old at the time, and we have not been able to identify a single remaining building by him in Ohio yet; it is unlikely that he had three offices.

    Byesville, Ohio, Public School

    The drawing of a school in Byesville is the earliest known drawing attributable to de Bobula—the earliest known to Father Pitt, at any rate. It may never have been built. A school of similar age and almost exactly the same dimensions still stands in Byesville (you can see it on Google Street View), but it is not at all the same building.

    The biggest surprise comes from after de Bobula moved from Pittsburgh to New York, and it was hiding in plain sight in a major magazine: a mansion overlooking the junction of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers in the Spuyten Duyvil section of the Bronx. Unfortunately the building no longer exists, as far as old Pa Pitt can tell, but that it was built is unquestionable. It was the subject of a prominent photo feature in the June 2, 1920, issue of the American Architect, where you can see the front, the back, some of the interior, and the floor plans. This view of the river front shows that here, at last, Titus de Bobula’s prodigious imagination had been allowed to run wild.

    River front of the house in Spuyten Duyvil

    Not long after this house was built, de Bobula was in Hungary, loafing about on winnings from gambling in currency exchange and plotting to take over the government.

    Father Pitt’s article on Titus de Bobula in the Pittsburgh Encyclopedia keeps expanding, and these are not the only surprises we have turned up. You can now read the complete text of de Bobula’s influential and insane talk on “American Style.” And if you are in the mood for more complete texts, we have also unearthed the complete text of de Bobula’s 1923 agreement with Adolf Hitler.

  • St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Hall, Carnegie

    St. Peter and St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church

    Originally Ukrainian Greek Catholic, this church, built in 1906, was designed by Titus de Bobula with an extravagantly broad range of materials that no sane architect would attempt to harmonize. We are tempted to say it was fortunate that De Bobula was no sane architect; at any rate, he has pulled the rabbit out of his hat and made harmony out of dissonance.

    Central dome
    Left dome
    Cornerstone

    De Bobula did not sign the cornerstone, as he did at the First Hungarian Reformed Church and St. John the Baptist, but the lettering is certainly in his style.

    Church and hall

    Next door to the church is a parochial hall. Old Pa Pitt does not know whether the hall was built at the same time; if it is not by De Bobula, it successfully imitates some of his quirks.

    Inscription: Ukrainska Parochiyalna Galya

    Father Pitt, who admits he does not speak Ukrainian, would translate “Ukrainska Parochiyalna Galya” as “Ukrainian Parochial Hall.”

    Hall and school
  • 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
  • Glen Tenement House by Titus de Bobula, Hazelwood

    Tenement by Titus de Bobula

    This tenement house in Hazelwood was built in 1903, making it one of Titus de Bobula’s early commissions in Pittsburgh. It is very conventional for De Bobula, but it represented him in a Pittsburgh Press roundup of local architects in 1905 (“Able Architects the Authors of City’s Architectural Beauty,” April 29, 1905), where this picture was published (we regret that we have not been able to find a better copy than this ugly microfilm scan):

    From what we can see in the indistinct old photograph, the building has not changed much at all, though Gertrude Street in front of it has been regraded.

    Front view of the tenement

    The Gertrude Street face. It is likely that many of the first residents were Hungarian millworkers: that is a bit of De Bobula’s First Hungarian Reformed Church peeking out from behind the building.

    Oblique view from the south
    Entrance

    Entrance on the south end of the building. The entrances originally had some sort of triangular pediment or small projecting roof; the Press photo is too indistinct to make out any details, but we can see the shadow of a triangle over the entrances at both ends.

    Elizabeth Street side

    The Elizabeth Street end of the building.

  • Concrete Rowhouses by Titus de Bobula, Greenfield

    Titus de Bobula houses

    These tiny houses on Frank Street have a historic importance far out of proportion to their cost and size. First of all, they are among the relatively few remaining works of the eccentric architectural genius and flimflam artist Titus de Bobula, the man who would have been Fascist dictator of Hungary if he had had better luck. Second, they are built of reinforced concrete, some of the very first American houses so built. Titus de Bobula was the apostle of concrete in his brief architectural career, and his influence would be hard to overestimate.

    A single house in the row

    The houses have had their separate adventures since they were built, including some artificial siding. This one has had windows and front door replaced, but at least it shows the simple outlines of the design, including the bay window in front.

    The row from the Greenfield Avenue end

    The house on the end may be the best preserved of the row.

    From the Lilac Street end

    Many sources say that twenty of these houses were built. Six remain, and old Pa Pitt believes there were never more than nine. The architect claimed to have built more, but we cannot rely on anything Titus de Bobula says about his work, because he was prone to exaggeration and outright fabrication.

    The houses were an investment by multimillionaire newspaper magnate Eugene O’Neill, owner of the Dispatch and no relation to the playwright of the same name. He owned the land on Frank Street and along Greenfield Avenue to either side. Some architectural historians say that De Bobula rowhouses went up on Greenfield Avenue, but that is contradicted by old maps and today’s evidence.

    Rowhouses on Greenfield Avenue

    These rowhouses on Greenfield Avenue, on the land once owned by Eugene O’Neill, were built at about the same time as the De Bobula houses, but these are standard brick. Old maps do show three more concrete houses on Lilac Street, perpendicular to the row on Frank Street, but those were replaced after the Second World War by two larger and more expensive houses:

    Where more De Bobula houses used to be

    These two houses stand where a row of three concrete houses, probably by De Bobula, stood in the first half of the twentieth century.

    For more on Titus de Bobula and his very surprising career, you can see Father Pitt’s article on Titus de Bobula in Father Pitt’s Pittsburgh Encyclopedia.

  • First Hungarian Reformed Church, Hazelwood

    First Hungarian Reformed Church

    And then there’s Titus de Bobula.

    There are few real outliers among the architects who worked in Pittsburgh before the First World War; we had brilliant architects, but we can sort most of them into groups by the styles they worked in. Titus de Bobula’s work, however, is unique here. He brought us a breath of Budapest Art Nouveau, and for a few years he was the favorite architect for East European churches of all sorts.

    And then he was gone—back to Hungary, where his regular job seems to have been trying and failing to overthrow the government. Later he ended up back in the United States, but he never again had a great architectural career. Perhaps that was because he worked with Nikola Tesla, designing the structural parts of Tesla’s never-built (and possibly delusional) superweapons. It might have been a good job at the time, but no permanent structures ever came of it.

    So we should try as hard as we can to preserve what remains of de Bobula’s work. Fortunately this church, built in 1903, still belongs to its original congregation and is still active.

    The shape of the building is similar to the shape of your average Pittsburgh Gothic church, but the details are straight from fin-de-siècle Budapest—right down to Titus de Bobula’s trademark Art Nouveau lettering in the inscriptions.

    Inscription
    Entrance

    The wildly irregular stonework around the uniquely shaped windows may remind you a bit of Gaudi.

    Isten hozott

    “Welcome” in stained glass over the main entrance.

    Signature

    Titus de Bobula made a habit of signing his buildings. The rail of a later wheelchair ramp obstructs part of this inscription (the contractor was Bodine and Co.), but we can see enough to appreciate the Art Nouveau lettering.

    First Hungarian Reformed Church
  • Art Nouveau Apartment Building in Shadyside

    This would be a fairly ordinary building, in what we might perhaps call Renaissance style, except for its curious Art Nouveau ornamentation.

    Addendum: According to a city architectural survey, this building, the Everett Apartments, was a work of the extraordinary Hungarian Art Nouveau architect Titus de Bobula.

  • 418 First Avenue

    Update: The massive survey of historic buildings adopted by the city in 1994 tentatively identifies this building as a work of Titus de Bobula. That would certainly explain its eccentric style: Pittsburgh never had another architect like him. It would also date the building between 1903 and 1910. If we read the map correctly, it first appears on the map layer dated 1903–1906 at the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site, so this might have been one of de Bobula’s early commissions here. Our original remarks appear below.


    It has not been possible to find any information about the age or architect of this curious building in the limited time old Pa Pitt was willing to devote to the task. The researchers who compiled information for the Firstside Historic District also threw up their hands. It is a mostly utilitarian small warehouse, but with angular decorations that suggest a prickly version of Art Deco. Right now you can buy it if you like, and then you might find more clues to its origin among the debris of the decades.

  • St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Carnegie

    There are two Ukrainian churches in Carnegie. The Catholic one is an enlarged Quonset hut. This one is an Art Nouveau interpretation of traditional Ukrainian architecture by the Hungarian architect Titus de Bobula. Together with its next-door neighbor, the Russian Orthodox church, it makes this corner of Carnegie look exotically East European.

    The effect is even more curious when the distinctively Ukrainian domes are seen through a distinctively American maze of utility cables.

  • Old St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral, Munhall

    Update: Some of the information about the architect was wrong in the original version of this article. Back in those days, the Society of Architectural Historians article on this church said, “Little is known about Budapest-born Titus de Bobula.” But Old Pa Pitt has fixed that. Now you can read his article about Titus de Bobula and know way too much.


    The cathedral moved farther out into the suburbs (though still in Munhall borough), and this is now the National Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural and Educational Center—an institution that keeps no regular hours and obviously can barely afford to keep the building standing. But the church is loved, and we may hope that whatever love can accomplish will be done for it. The architect was Titus de Bobula, a Hungarian who designed several churches around here. He is a fascinating character: he went back to Hungary in the 1920s and was imprisoned for plotting to overthrow the government; then he came back here and became an arms dealer, while simultaneously working on the designs for the structural aspects of Nikola Tesla’s fantastic, and possibly delusional, electronic superweapons, which of course were never built. It is not often that we find such a direct line from a Carpatho-Rusyn cathedral to the world of science fiction.

    Connoisseurs of elegant lettering should not miss the plaque identifying the architect, contractor, and building date. Father Pitt suspects that de Bobula himself designed it: there is nothing else quite like it in Pittsburgh, and the style seems very much like the Art Nouveau of Budapest. (Update: The style is identical to the lettering De Bobula used to sign some of his drawings, so we may be confident that it is his.)