By Peter Cormack
The Journal of Stained Glass, XXXVIII, 2014 [British Society of Master Glass Painters], 178-179.
Albert M. Tannler. Pittsburgh Architecture in the Twentieth Century: Notable Modern Buildings and Their Architects. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 2013. Softcover, 276 pp., 321 col. and b/w ills. ISBN 978 0 9788284 9 3, $18.95.
The work of architectural historian Albert M. Tannler, Historical Collections Director of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, is well known to readers of this Journal. As the devoted chronicler of the city’s architectural heritage, he is something of a civic treasure worthy of statutory designation himself. The latest title from his pen (or computer) is a cornucopia of informative discussion and description, accompanied by numerous fine illustrations, revealing the remarkable wealth of modern buildings in this great American conurbation.
In the minds of many people who do not know the city, Pittsburgh’s identity is still indelibly marked by its industrial past, tellingly illustrated by a late 19th-century view in the ‘Eve of Modernism’ section of Tannler’s Introduction. The present-day city, however, has lost the pall of filthy smoke and soot overhanging and coating its buildings, as almost all the traditional manufacturing has disappeared or been transformed. Nowadays, one is very aware of Pittsburgh’s beautiful setting of surrounding hills and the fine rivers that run through it, and the city’s architecture has few rivals in the USA for historical interest and aesthetic distinction. Tannler’s focus is on the successive stages of post-1900 architectural modernism, broadly defined. He describes the buildings, gives fascinating short biographies of their designers and often adds socio-economic details of their up-and-down history to the present day. In his introductory writing, he also charts the dissemination of American and European modern styles through publications and influential institutions like the Pittsburgh Architectural Club.
The book covers all types of building. Glancing through the many illustrations, one is immediately struck by the diverse cultural influences prevalent among Pittsburgh’s architects––a natural consequence, of course, of its polyglot immigrant population. The Hungarian-born Titus de Bobula designed several churches that clearly demonstrate his awareness of Art Nouveau and Secessionist trends in central Europe. The First Hungarian Reformed Church (1903-4) in Hazelwood has echoes of Medgyaszay in its rounded fenestration and determination to avoid historicist traits; it also has charming stained glass roundels (by an unidentified designer-maker), depicting heroes and heroines of Hungary’s Protestant history. De Bobula, Tannler tells us, was later under FBI surveillance and was described by his biographer as a ‘notorious architect and arms merchant’.
Leaded-light glazing is a conspicuous feature of much of the pre-First World War domestic architecture, sometimes in simple quarry patterns but occasionally in an idiom akin to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. The Lydia A. Riesmeyer house (architect Richard Kiehnel, 1914) has particularly Wrightian windows and leaded light-fittings, partly in citrus-coloured opalescent glass combined with textured whites. Interior photographs show how such detailing was very much part of a total decorative scheme that embraced all exterior and interior elements. The suburban borough of Thornburg can boast a number of houses in which this kind of coordinated design approach was capably designed by architects influenced by Midwest, California and other regional idioms. S. T. McClarren’s splendid 1132 Lehigh Road is a later version of the 19th-century ‘shingle style’, given a quasi-expressionist sweep of horizontality and beautifully positioned on a sloping wooded site.
The Austro-German influence is a leitmotif throughout much of this book, evident in Kiehnel’s 1916-31 Greenfield School, the main doorway of which ‘quotes’ Herrmann Billing’s Mannheim Museum. As almost always happened in such cases, however, the European source gains a convincingly American identity in its new setting, aided by more ample contextual space and a generally more expansive scale for the buildings themselves. Tannler devotes a section of his book to the so-called Art Deco style (more properly called ‘Moderne’) with a description of one notable interior scheme given prominence. This is the Omni William Penn Hotel’s banquet room (1929) by the great Viennese-American designer Joseph Urban. It has all the luxuriant splendour of 1920s slient-era Hollywood move décor, blended with Wiener Werkstätte sophistication (Urban was the Vienna group’s US representative). Urban’s scheme has been conserved in recent years but, as the photographs show, it would benefit from a comprehensive restoration to reveal fully its original impact.
Appropriately, since Tannler has done so much to examine the topic in a scholarly way, a chapter on ‘American Gothic 1905-38’ is at the heart of the book. As well as featuring the masterpieces of Ralph Adams Cram (Calvary Church, 1905-7, Holy Rosary, 1926-31 and East Liberty Presbyterian, 1930-35), and of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (First Baptist Church (1909-11), which all have powerful glazing schemes by Charles Connick and his contemporaries, he illustrates and discusses Carlton Strong’s equally powerful Sacred Heart (1926-54), with glass by George and Alice Sotter, and (Welsh-born) William P. Hutchins’s St James Catholic Church, Wilkinsburg. The later is notable for its eighty windows by Wright Goodhue. Stained glass was recognized as an essential component of Modern Gothic buildings, even in secular structures such as Charles Z. Klauder’s soaring Cathedral of Learning on Pittsburgh University’s campus, built in the 1930s. Along with Klauder’s Stephen Foster Memorial and Heinz Memorial Chapel, it features glazing by Charles Connick. The Heinz windows, intricately blending biblical and American historical imagery, are in themselves well worth a pilgrimage to Pittsburgh.
Glass, although rarely if ever stained or leaded, increasingly dominates much of the later architecture illustrated, as the International Modern Movement increasingly imposed its ‘functional’ ideology and rejection of tradition on Pittsburgh’s building styles. Those in sympathy with this merciless reduction of an art form to a branch of engineering science may find much to please them in the illustrations and scholarly descriptions. Your reviewer’s tastes and prejudices will be all too evident, and it will be best of conclude this review by praising unreservedly the author’s exemplary research and fluent writing, and the equally exemplary enterprise of his publisher, PHLF, which has done so much to preserve and celebrate the architectural heritage of one of America’s most historic and beautiful cities.
 István Medgyaszay (1877-1969), Hungarian architect, trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
Since the beginning of this 2015-16 school year, PHLF has offered 40 educational programs to various schools in Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Beaver counties. Through walking tours, architectural design challenges, Poetry and Art workshops, and other activities, PHLF staff and docents connect the built environment to classroom curriculum, making it relevant, meaningful, and engaging to students from pre-school through graduate school. Below is a photo gallery of several recent programs.
PHLF is grateful to BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, The Anne L. & George H. Clapp Charitable and Educational Trust, the Cindy & Murry Gerber Foundation, McSwigan Family Foundation, and Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation for contributing to its place-based educational programs that foster career awareness and help young people develop a sense of well-being as they explore and learn about the Pittsburgh region’s significant history and architecture.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess has proposed legislation that seeks to change how citizens can nominate houses, important buildings and landmarks, or even entire neighborhoods for designation as city historic landmarks or districts. Unlike National-Register designations, City historic designations establish a regulatory process for the review of the exterior appearance of all buildings that are designated (either individually or as part of a district).The Historic Review Commission (HRC) must review and approve all visible exterior alterations, including demolitions, new construction, and additions.
At its core, the proposed legislation, now before the City’s HRC, would make it impossible for the public to nominate individual buildings or landmarks for designation without the consent of the property owner. It would also require that a petitioner seeking to nominate a cluster of buildings for designation as a City-designated historic district attain 70 percent support—up from the current requirement of 25 percent—of the residents in the given area, which would make historic district designation much more difficult to attain.
We oppose this legislation because we believe it will stifle public interest in the nomination and designation of our significant historic architecture. Over the last five decades here in Pittsburgh, evidence has shown that the designation of historic buildings and the creation of historic districts is a positive way to help preserve, sustain, and build community. Allegheny West, the Mexican War Streets, and Schenley Farms, among many other historic districts, are desirable places to live today.
It has been our experience that City historic building designations and historic districts, when initiated through an educational, public process, not only help build pride in our communities, but improve and protect property investment, foster neighborhood identity, and promote economic development through recruitment of new businesses.
We also believe in working out practical solutions for designated structures, so that historic designation need not be a burden to property owners as they seek to enhance and preserve their living spaces.
While Councilman Burgess singles out historic preservation as something that should require owner consent, to our knowledge that has not been done regarding other zoning and planning requirements that the City has imposed on property owners.
Recently, Pittsburgh has been singled out as one of the eleven best cities internationally in which to live and work, wholly because of historic preservation. Councilman Burgess’ plan could deprive us of that international distinction. So we ask the question again: Why single out the City historic designation process, and not apply the same standard to the other requirements that the City imposes on owners?
Although Andrew Carnegie did request in a letter that a branch library be established in Temperanceville, now Pittsburgh’s West End, there is no report that Andrew Carnegie ever visited the West End Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. However, he did visit 116 years after the branch’s opening. Re-enactor Fred Lapisardi portrayed the philanthropist and unveiled the PHLF Historic Landmark plaque to a delighted group of friends on September 19, 2015.
One of the first branch libraries to be built (only the Lawrenceville branch preceded this), the West End branch was designed by Alden & Harlow, Pittsburgh’s leading architectural firm at the time and designers of the Main Branch in Oakland.
The West End branch was dedicated on January 31, 1899, and its original collection numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 books. It is especially famous for being the birthplace of library storytelling. Librarian Charlotte Keith offered a “Story Hour” as an experiment, since kindergartens were beginning the practice. Youngsters at the branch liked the stories and soon the main Carnegie Library and others all over the United States instituted story hours for children.
PHLF thanks the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees and staff for their commitment to renovating this architecturally significant neighborhood branch library and others. PHLF also thanks the offices of City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith and City Council President Bruce Kraus for the plaque purchase and placement.
Nineteen high school students will spend the next few months developing their designs for a vacant lot at 307-09 East Eighth Avenue in Homestead, as part of an Architectural Apprenticeship program offered by PHLF and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
After building geodesic domes out of newspaper during the first full-day class on September 25, students explored Homestead’s historic main street. They analyzed their site and visited the Mon Valley Initiative, Baron Batch’s Studio A.M., the Tin Front Cafe, and Voodoo Brewery.
Architects Paul Tellers and Eric Fisher, and Samantha Carter from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, are assisting in this year’s Apprenticeship, which is designed to help high school students determine if they want to study architecture, urban design, historic preservation, or community development.
PHLF is grateful to BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Cindy & Murry Gerber Foundation, and McSwigan Family Foundation for contributing to its place-based educational programs that foster career awareness and help young people develop a sense of well-being as they explore and learn about the Pittsburgh region’s significant history and architecture.
PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the start of construction on the Falconhurst Development, an $11.5 million historic restoration and affordable housing initiative in the Hamnett Place neighborhood in Wilkinsburg.
The project, by Landmarks Development Corporation, a real estate development subsidiary of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, will bring to market 33 units of high quality affordable housing to the National Register-listed historic Hamnett Place neighborhood, by the end of 2016.
“We’re thrilled to see this project underway and are grateful for the work of PHLF and Landmarks on this endeavor,” said Fitzgerald. “This is a long-term commitment to Wilkinsburg and its residents. The work we are beginning today is a new partnership between historic restoration and new construction to create high quality affordable housing.”
This development marks yet another major preservation real estate undertaking in Wilkinsburg, where PHLF through its subsidiary will restore four architecturally significant buildings, including the stately Falconhurst Apartments building; a four-story brick condominium building, and will also build two new townhouses that fit harmoniously into the historic neighborhood.
This is an unusual housing development in that it incorporates a number of sites in and around Hamnett Place, thus creating strong anchors throughout the neighborhood,” said Michael Sriprasert, president of Landmarks Development. “We are grateful to our partners for their commitment to Wilkinsburg and to historic preservation.”
With this next phase of housing restoration, PHLF and its subsidiaries will have restored blocks of housing along Kelly Avenue and Mulberry Street, in addition to significant portions of Rebecca Avenue and Jeanette Street, in a neighborhood where PHLF and its subsidiaries have been active in restoring single family homes, apartment buildings, and beautifying blighted and vacant lots since 2005.
This work would not be possible without various partners and investors including the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Allegheny County, and PNC Bank, among others.
“We expect to complete the work by end of 2016,” said Mr. Sriprasert.
Four Mondays, from 9:00a.m. — 10:30a.m.
- October 19 and 26
- November 9 and 23
$10 donation to The Fownes Foundation per participant. Children under 16, seniors over 65, and active duty/retired military are admitted free. Advance reservations required; limit of ten individuals per tour.
For reservations and further information, contact Oakmont Country Club (412-828-8000) or email@example.com
Explore this National Historic Landmark golf course and clubhouse that has hosted 21 national championships featuring eight U.S. Open Championships since its opening in 1903. (June 2016 will be a record ninth U.S. Open for Oakmont Country Club.) The Country Club is located at 1233 Hulton Road, Oakmont, PA, 15139.
A golf historian will lead participants through the handsomely preserved 112-year-old clubhouse to view a wealth of architectural features, historic photographs, memorabilia, early 1900s golf equipment, championship trophies, and the original men’s locker room.
Weather permitting, participants will also tour the legendary “inland links” golf course and see first-hand the extraordinary vistas, narrow fairways, iconic “church pews,” and some of the other 200-plus sculpted sand bunkers.
At the conclusion of the tour, participants may test their putting skills on one of the world-famous Oakmont putting surfaces and browse through the selection of apparel and equipment in the renowned Golf Shop.
- Please arrive at Oakmont Country Club by 8:45a.m.
- Casual attire (no jeans or denim please) and comfortable walking shoes with flat sole. Coat or jacket depending on weather forecast. Umbrellas will be provided.
- Disabled access available.
- Photography is permitted.
- Tours are sponsored by the Fownes Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of nationally recognized, historically significant golf sites.
“This summer, we were fortunate to have the help of Simone D’Rosa, Sarah Collins, Molly Soffietti, and Andrew Hyatt,” said PHLF Executive Director Louise Sturgess. We are grateful to them for volunteering their time to help with our Poetry and Art programs, Downtown’s Best, and Free Friday Walking Tours.
In addition, Andrew created a presentation on National Historic Landmarks; Simone and Sarah researched places associated with Pittsburgh Mayors and created an interactive map, and Molly researched and created tour content for our October Free Friday Walking Tour in the Gateway Center Renaissance Historic District. They also attended various preservation events and helped prepare materials for our Fall Architectural Design Challenge and Apprenticeship Program.
“Funding support from the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania is helping underwrite PHLF’s internship program in 2015, along with other career-based educational programs,” said Louise.
“Even though I have lived in Pittsburgh for most of my life, I had never felt the need to find out more about this city. I was often more enticed by foreign cities such as London and Paris. In a sense, I took Pittsburgh for granted. I learned more about Pittsburgh during this internship than I ever expected to and I am so glad that I did. By helping out with education programs that taught kids how to connect to their surrounding environment, I, too, learned a great deal about this city. I furthered my knowledge of the city when I was able to research the history of the Pittsburgh mayors. Thank you for this opportunity!” ––Simone D’Rosa (Architectural Studies/Preservation & Studio Arts, University of Pittsburgh)
“As a volunteer intern for PHLF, I was able to share my love for the city with people of all ages. I had the pleasure of working with some of the most dedicated individuals who share a passion for Pittsburgh’s past and a vision for Pittsburgh’s future.” ––Sarah Collins (Strategic Communications, Elon University)
“One often loses sight of the big picture while working towards a Master’s and toiling away in a lab all day. Every day PHLF encouraged me to explore Pittsburgh and rediscover why I am passionate about preserving our city, warts and all. Engaging with tour groups, both young and old, reinvigorated my enthusiasm and made me even prouder to display the city as both a thriving metropolis and a work of art.” ––Molly Soffietti (Historic Preservation Planning, Cornell University)
“Being involved with PHLF has truly been an amazing experience. I was able to see the incredible efforts that are being taken to revive the once-booming and bustling city and neighborhoods. Before this internship, I had no interest in Pittsburgh and its architecture and thought of it as a once-great city whose days were numbered. But PHLF showed me the true value of the historical significance of this city and how great it really is. The downtown districts and the surrounding neighborhoods full of different cultures and ethnicities really make Pittsburgh a unique city. The team at PHLF is truly a family that is so dedicated and driven to save the culture and heritage of the Pittsburgh region. It has been an honor to assist an organization that recognizes the power of preservation in keeping the community’s homes and stories alive for future generations.” ––Andrew Hyatt (Historic Preservation/Architectural History, Savannah College of Art & Design