820 Liberty Avenue

820 Liberty Avenue

A splendid Victorian commercial building from 1881. The huge windows suggest showrooms or possibly workshops; the northwestern exposure would have given those rooms bright even lighting all day. Next door is the Baum Building, built as the Liberty Theater.

One Block on the South Side

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What is there to see in one block of rowhouses on one back street on the South Side? Old Pa Pitt asked that question, and then got out a camera to answer it. Here are a few little details from the 2200 block of Sarah Street.

Doorway
Lintel
Lintel and bracket
Woodwork
Tiles
Window
Lintel
Woodwork
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Corinthian
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And, of course, because this is Pittsburgh…

Aluminum awnings

Kool-Vent awnings.

Arsenal Bank Building, Lawrenceville

Arsenal Bank Building

Built in 1884 in a Victorian Gothic style—Father Pitt calls it Commercial Gothic—this was a bank until 1943, according to the Lawrenceville expert Jim Wudarczyk. After that it was offices for quite a while, and then was refurbished as a restaurant and apartments above. This is not a great work of architecture, but the details are interesting and worth a close look. The builder reveled in his corner location and made that corner the focus of the whole building. Old Pa Pitt can’t help thinking that the treatment of the windows could have been improved by making it either more interesting or less interesting; the stone accents are either too much or too little.

Dollar Bank

Dollar Bank

The adjective “tasteful” does not naturally attach itself to this structure. It has the look of a building specified by a banker who hired an expensive architect and was determined to wring every cent of his money’s worth out of the details. It is magnificent in a slightly horrifying way: this is the kind of monstrosity that was in the minds of the modernists when they condemned all things Victorian. Old Pa Pitt would not change a single swirl or swag or grotesque half-vegetable naked lady.

The architect in question was the firm of Isaac H. Hobbs & Sons from Philadelphia. Isaac H. Hobbs was a kind of celebrity architect. He was familiar to the thousands of ladies across our fair land who read Godey’s Lady’s Book, the premier fashion magazine of the middle 1800s: every month, Hobbs contributed a design for an elaborately Victorian residence for the lady readers to drool over. It was something like having a regular segment on a popular daytime talk show today. According to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s Fourth Avenue walking tour (PDF), Hobbs designed a number of houses around Pittsburgh, but Father Pitt does not know any of them; he wonders whether they were original designs, or whether they were adaptations of the many designs published in Godey’s.

It appears that the crust of 150-year-old ornamentation requires some stabilization: netting is stretched over the top half of the building at the moment.

Victorian House in Shadyside

A nicely restored Victorian house in the back streets of Shadyside. The front porch seems to have been foreshortened to accommodate a basement garage, but the work was tastefully done.