A Vine

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is still in its early stages, but it already has a definite personality. Its emphasis is on native plants and local environments, and rather than planting an ideal landscape, it has mostly taken the landscape that was there and added a few interesting plants. This enthusiastic vine was a sight that struck Father Pitt along one of the trails.

Once again, Father Pitt brings you a picture in imitation two-strip Technicolor, because it seemed to emphasize the striking shape of the vine.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked).

St. Mary’s Church, McKees Rocks

Now the home of St. John of God Parish, this is a splendid Gothic church that many another Catholic diocese would be proud to have for its cathedral. The fact that there are literally dozens of churches equally splendid in Pittsburgh and its surroundings is something Pittsburghers simply accept, but it absolutely astonishes outsiders. This one took four years to build; it opened in 1905. The architect was Akron-based William P. Ginther.

Camera: Olympus E-20n.

Here we see the main entrance and the top end of the improvised wooden wheelchair ramp, which looks like a Kennywood ride—perfectly safe but rather exciting.

Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

This was originally the German parish in this part of McKees Rocks. Above we see it from the parish cemetery, which is on a hilltop overlooking McKees Rocks in Kennedy Township.

William P. Ginther also designed the adjoining rectory, which is certainly a fine place to keep one’s priests.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked).

Camera: Olympus E-20n.

Father Pitt does not know the original purpose of the building that is now the Xavier Personal Care Home. It looks like a work from the 1920s or 1930s, executed in the storybook fantasy Gothic that was popular then. Was it a convent for the sisters who taught at the parish school? Perhaps a parishioner will enlighten us.

Bracket Fungi

A small collection of interesting bracket fungi from a walk in the woods.

Cameras: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3 and Olympus E-20n.

St. Francis de Sales Church, McKees Rocks

This church was closed in 1993, and the building was sold after that; but right now it appears to be abandoned.  It is a tragedy to abandon such a magnificent building, especially since this Renaissance style is very rare in churches around here. But McKees Rocks had half a dozen Catholic parishes in a very small space, and more than one magnificent building among them. The parish was merged into St. John of God Parish, which worships at St. Mary’s a couple of blocks away—also a magnificent church, and one that we are happy to see still going.

The building was opened in 1900. Father Pitt does not know the architect, and would be happy to be enlightened. It has a curious dearth of windows, perhaps to emphasize the light pouring in from the dome. Mid-nineteenth-century Catholic churches in Pittsburgh sometimes avoided windows on the ground floor because the Know-Nothings would invariably smash them, but 1900 seems far too late for fear of such Know-Nothing activity in Pittsburgh.

Cameras: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked) and Olympus E-20n.

St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church, Four Mile Run

To most Pittsburghers, this is best known as That Church You See from the Parkway. Unless you are very well versed in Pittsburgh lore, you do not know how to get to it. It is in the Four Mile Run neighborhood, which on city planning maps is part of Greenfield, but in fact exists in an alternate dimension. There is only one way in or out for motor vehicles: Saline Street, which begins at Greenfield Avenue and Second Avenue along the Monongahela, and then instantly disappears into a hollow. (Pedestrians have the choice of a rather bracing climb up the stairs to Greenfield, and bicyclists can ride in from the trails in Schenley Park.)

The neighborhood was settled by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, one of those nationalities without a nation in which Europe abounds. The whole hollow is dominated by the Parkway viaduct, and indeed much of the neighborhood is directly under the Parkway.

In addition to its visibility from the Parkway, this church is also famous for having been Andy Warhol’s home parish when he was growing up. Warhol remained a Byzantine Catholic to the end of his life, and a very devout one in his own peculiar way.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked).

Rodler Hotel, Mount Oliver

Pittsburghers who remember the days of steel doubtless remember when every working-class neighborhood had its own collection of small hotels like this. Outsiders wondered why working-class Pittsburgh was so devoted to the hospitality industry, but the explanation—according to former hotel owners—was very simple. A certain quirk in Pennsylvania’s notoriously quirky liquor laws made it very hard to get a liquor license for a bar, but very easy to get one for a “hotel.” Thus anyone who aspired to the exalted station of neighborhood-bar owner might smooth his way considerably by purchasing a building with a few dusty upstairs rooms that could, in theory, be rented to travelers if any ever showed up. Meanwhile, the real business of the neighborhood bar went on just as if the “hotel” part of the building had never existed.

Mount Oliver itself is an interesting phenomenon. Half of Mount Oliver is an independent borough, completely surrounded by the City of Pittsburgh. It was the lone holdout when the little boroughs on the back slopes of Mount Washington were absorbed into the city. The other half of Mount Oliver is in the city, forming a neighborhood of its own: the street signs at major intersections (though calling any streets in the neighborhood “major” is a bit of a stretch) identify the neighborhood as “Mount Oliver Neigh”—the only bilingual English and Equine signs in the city.

Camera: Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS.

Old Hazelwood Branch of the Carnegie Library

The original Hazelwood Branch, built in 1890, was abandoned in 2004 in favor of a larger building on Second Avenue. Since then this fine building has been vacant, as far as Father Pitt knows. It is just a short stroll up Monongahela Street from the John Woods House, and an enthusiastic preservationist might be able to get a good deal on both of them at once.

Before he even went looking for the architects, Father Pitt was fairly sure that they must have been Alden & Harlow, Andrew Carnegie’s favorite architectural firm and the architects of numerous other Carnegie libraries, including the big one in Oakland. Old Pa Pitt’s instinct was correct. This is a typically tasteful and substantial Alden & Harlow design. Their branch libraries always feel welcoming: they are proud ornaments to their neighborhoods, but never overwhelmingly ostentatious. They seem to embody Andrew Carnegie’s ideal that no workman, however humble, should ever feel that the neighborhood library is too good a place for the likes of him.