This former synagogue in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh is actually just an alteration to an existing residence with the addition of a striking mid-century facade. The stone and cement front wall incorporates a stylized menorah design topped by electric bulbs.
The building is featured in the recently published The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey by Julian Preisler. A historian with a strong interest in synagogue architecture, Julian’s books feature a wide variety of mid-century examples, some of which have been featured on this blog.
According to Julian’s book, the Orthodox congregation of Torath Chaim was established in 1927 with their building being altered in 1931 and 1948. The front facade obviously dates from this later work. The congregation closed in 2004 and it now serves as an artist’s studio.
Our next few posts will take in a core group of mid-century commercial buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, next to “The Point.” The locally named point is actually Point State Park, sited at the meeting point of Pittsburgh’s rivers. Creation of the park started in the 1950s, around the time many of the neighboring buildings were being constructed. Much of the land was taken through eminent domain to remove the existing industrial uses in the area.
Our first building, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building was actually built in 1927 for the newspaper. The original building was a Romanesque style warehouse structure. However, as the city and state started developing this area into a new office hub in the 1950s and 60s, instead of tearing down their building, the Post-Gazette simply covered it in a curtain wall facade of unusual design. The new facade was added in 1962.
The building was listed as a contributing resource to the Pittsburgh Renaissance Historic District in a recent National Register nomination by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which incorporates many of the mid-century buildings nearby. In the summary of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Building, the nomination form describes the 1962 facade as such: “The spandrels and an accent vertical band on the north elevation were overlain with aluminum screens of staggered squares and rectangles that are somewhat reminiscent of the contemporary art screens of Harry Bertoia.” It is unclear from the National Register report what architectural firm was responsible for this alteration. Regardless the building’s facade remains intact from this period and is an interesting comparison with other neighboring buildings of the era.
The building is still owned and used by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today. Much of the information in this summary was adapted from the National Register nomination form, which provides considerable historical background on the area and its architecture.
Donner House is a residential building on the Carnegie Mellon campus. With its eye-catching aqua brick, blue-tinted glass, and metal panels, it is distinctly mid-century and like nothing else nearby.
It was designed by Mitchell & Ritchey in 1952-54, one of three buildings that Ritchey designed on the campus (the other two being Cyert and Wean Halls). The firm was short-lived, dissolving in 1957, although Ritchey remained in Pittsburgh and went on to numerous other iterations. He had a hand in such major projects as Three Rivers Stadium and the Civic Area (the Igloo)–both now demolished.
Donner Hall is long with three stories at front and built onto a slope so the rear is five stories with two lower basement stories exposed. The front entrance is a centered, metal framed one story pavilion with aqua brick and enamel panels. The rear elevation gives a good opportunity to really see the blue-tinted window panels and how they alternate and change the impression of the building through color.
The building is a freshmen residence hall, originally built as an all-male dorm and one of the largest on the campus. Based on online comments it is not well loved.
This is an interesting mid-century building sited awkwardly in an odd location. The Immaculate Conception Church is at the corner of Edmond Street and Corday Way in Bloomfield, just off Liberty Avenue. It’s a small site and Corday Way functions much like an alley, so the church faces the back of the commercial buildings on Liberty.
It’s possible it was built here because it replaced an older church that was demolished in 1959. This one dates to 1961 and is part of a larger complex including a school and possibly a convent. The church has a central, slightly convex entrance of glass and metal with a lobby behind and two distinct facades extending out on either side. Both principal facades incorporate a bay of three, two-story stained glass windows set into concrete arches. The glass is of an abstract design and looks to have the glass embedded into concrete. There is also a round chapel to the right of the entrance with a stone veneer facade and a visible internal stairwell in metal in glass.
The church was designed by Edo Belli, a Chicago-based architect of Catholic schools and churches mostly. It’s unclear on why he was chosen for this Pittsburgh commission, although he designed buildings across the country and for at least two Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania. One of Belli’s most well-known works, Cuneo Hospital in Chicago, is currently proposed for demolition.
What is now the Tepper School of Business was originally built as the Graduate School of Industrial Administration. It sits elevated above the corner of Frew and Tech Streets, across from Skibo Gynmasium.
It was built in 1951 and designed by Burton Kenneth Johnstone, a Pittsburgh-based architect and former chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Architecture. He also served as dean of Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts until 1952, so this building was designed as he was transitioning from academia to private architectural practice. According to his obituary, Johnstone later became known for designing medical buildings and facilities for the disabled.
The design of the Tepper School is restrained and uses varying heights on the building and unified materials including tan brick and limestone. The most prominent design elements are both the exterior and interior sculptures. On either side of the main entrance, Pittsburgh artist George Koren designed reliefs in limestone. According to a guide on notable sculpture in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, the reliefs “present the materials of Pittsburgh’s historical industries: steel, coal, and oil, and their uses in manufacturing, transportation, and construction.”
On the interior lobby space, artist and Carnegie Mellon professor Robert Lepper sandblasted images into the dark red marble walls. The images denote sources of industry, a topic of recurring interest for the artist.
Hunt Library is one of a few mid-century buildings on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, dating from 1960. The majority of buildings were built earlier or just recently. The architects were Lawrie and Green; the firm was formed in 1922 and closed in 1972. They designed many buildings throughout Pennsylvania, especially in Harrisburg where they were based.
A great focal point to the library is the cantilevered entrance canopy–one side features the names of the library donors, Mr. and Mrs. Roy A. Hunt, and the other side features the name of one of the library’s special collections and the primary reason for its construction, the Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Botanical Library. According to the Carnegie Mellon library website, the Hunt family gave the funds for this new library in 1958 and stipulated that Mrs. Hunt’s collection of books on botany be housed in the new building.
The rest of the building is rather staid, although it was most likely quite a shock when built, as compared to the rest of the campus designed in yellow brick and limestone. The library’s exterior features metal fins forming a cage around the largely glass curtain wall. The building now has a dramatic exterior LED lighting scheme at night.
Facing Allegheny Commons Park on W. North Avenue is Trinity Lutheran Church. The surrounding blocks are mostly in the Mexican War Streets Historic District, so it’s unclear why the strip along W. North Street includes this building and at least two other mid-century churches. This one, built in 1963, features a low, sloped roof of wood shingle that dominates the overall appearance of the building and site. The facade and retaining walls are finished in a horizontal stone.
The stained glass on either side of the entrance looks to be embedded in concrete as in the Dalle de Verre technique.