Notable Church Buildings in Pittsburgh

By Heaton, Charles Huddleston | The Tracker, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Notable Church Buildings in Pittsburgh


Heaton, Charles Huddleston, The Tracker


MANY AGREE THAT PITTSBURGH HAS MORE DISTINCTIVE AND remarkable church buildings than any other city of comparable size in the United States. Many of these will be visited during the forthcoming OHS convention in June, including several mentioned here, but you may want to see them all, if time permits.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have three church buildings designed by Ralph Adams Cram.

CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH

315 SHADY AVENUE

This is the earliest Cram church, 1907, designed on the traditional cruciform plan. The outside walls are primarily of smooth stone with little ornamentation. In his 1936 book, My Life in Architecture, Cram wrote, "The central tower I look upon with a certain satisfaction . . ." and further indicates that the church early on showed "my Anglican predisposition."

The striking spire, supported internally by latticed steel framework, is crowned with a brass cross that James H. McIlvaine, the rector at the time, helped to install by climbing the outside scaffolding.

The 1963 Casavant organ was renovated and enlarged by Casavant in 1991 to its present 137 ranks.

HOLY ROSARY R.C. CHURCH

7120 KELLY STREET

Cram wrote of this beautiful building, the "church had to have a very large seating capacity, the building area was not large, and available funds were even smaller." The interior shows the Catalonian influence of widely spaced columns with side aisles almost as high as the nave. Despite its less than ideal location today, the church seems to be very well maintained and used.

The Casavant organ, its original nameplate unfortunately missing, undoubtedly dates from the early days of construction, between 1928 and 1930. A three-manual organ of about 35 ranks, it has a lovely sound in the building. The console is original, with the typical metal Casavant swell pedals and dials for the crescendo pedal and blower.

EAST LIBERTY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

116 SOUTH HIGHLAND AVENUE

Cram waxes poetic in discussing of his last great building in Pittsburgh: "This was one of those opportunities that come no more than once in a lifetime ... a church of cathedral size and general design. [It] is the sort ofthing an architect sees in his dreams but hardly hopes for in realization." The complex contains over ioo rooms, including a gymnasium and bowling alleys.

The nave seating capacity is over 1,200 and the great central tower rises 300 feet. During my 21-year tenure as organist-director (1972- 1993), we increased the size of the magnificent Aeolian- Skinner from 108 ranks to 129. Additions were mostly upper work, a hooded Trumpet in the chancel center arches, and an en-chamade reed in the rear.

SAINT ANDREW'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

5801 HAMPTON STREET

Dating from 1837, this is the second-oldest Episcopal congregation in Pittsburgh, having been an offshoot of downtown Trinity Church, now the cathedral. The present building, a Gothic Revival creation by the local firm of Carpenter and Crocker, was first used for a service on Easter of 1906. The building is replete with beautiful stained glass windows, and clearly resembles an English parish church.

In 1913, E. M. Skinner installed his Opus 202 instrument. It was rebuilt and expanded in 1992 with a new four-manual console, and now contains about 3,500 pipes in some 61 ranks, including two 32' stops. Peter J. Luley, who did the work, is also organist-choirmaster of St. Andrew's.

THIRD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

5701 FIFTH AVENUE AT S. NEGLEY

This congregation also migrated eastward from downtown; it dates from 1833. The present building was completed in 1903 and is the creation of architect Theophilus Chandler.

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