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Group notices architect’s gems

By Ellen James
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Pittsburgh architect Henry Hornbostel might be best known for designing the City-County Building, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and several buildings at Carnegie Mellon University.

But some of his last, and smallest, buildings have gotten attention recently.

In 1936, Hornbostel left his position as an architecture instructor at what then was Carnegie Tech to become director of parks for Allegheny County. There, he designed the golf course clubhouses at North and South parks. The clubhouses recently were designated historical buildings by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

Walter Kidney, architectural historian for the foundation and author of a 2002 book about Hornbostel, said the South Park clubhouse overlooking the 18-hole course is particularly notable. The structure uses Yucatan and Mayan designs, which the architect never used elsewhere.

“I think it’s one of his most audacious works, but kept to one of his smallest buildings,” Kidney said.
Hornbostel traveled to Yucatan, in southern Mexico, in 1917, Kidney said.

Hornbostel’s eclectic style relied on elements of modernism along with traditional Renaissance or Grecian influences.

The South Park clubhouse, built in 1938, is a two-story, flat-roofed red brick building with an arch through the middle. Most notable are the figures of golfers, captured mid-swing, built into the structure using layers of brick.

“It’s like a picture was taken of a golfer and frozen into the brick. It’s quite astonishing,” Kidney said.

The North Park clubhouse, built in 1937, is a one-story, brick structure.

“What I think is interesting are the Doric columns in front,” he said. “They are reinforced concrete on the outside, but the inside is sheet metal.

“I think that shows the mischievous side of his personality. When someone may tap on the columns, they’ll be surprised to hear a loud, metal clang.”

Hornbostel was a Brooklyn native who settled in Oakland in 1920, after working on local projects for more than a decade.

He designed 110 area buildings and homes, according to Kidney’s book, “Henry Hornbostel: An Architect’s Master Touch.”

Other projects included the Grant Building, Downtown; Webster Hall, in Oakland; and Rodef Shalom Temple, in Squirrel Hill.

In addition to the golf clubhouses, Hornbostel designed the boathouse at the North Park lake.

The park buildings were swan songs for Hornbostel. He retired to Connecticut in 1939 and died in 1961.

The foundation’s designation of the clubhouses as historical buildings marks them as significant parts of the region’s past, but offers them no special protection from change or demolition.

Jack Lehrman, assistant manager of the South Park clubhouse, said few patrons comment on the building.

“I don’t think many people notice. We’ll point out the figures to them, they think that’s interesting,” Lehrman said. “It’s a nice historical building. Very solid. I think if a bomb got dropped here, it would be the only structure standing.”

Ellen James can be reached at or (412) 380-5609.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633