Now the New Zion Baptist Church. Here is another of those city churches where the most use is made of a tiny lot by putting the sanctuary on the upper level. This church was built in 1867, just two years before the South Side Presbyterian Church; and without finding any historical pictures, old Pa Pitt would hazard a guess that the South Side Presbyterian Church looked rather like this before the grand front with tower was erected in 1893.
This picture was made from multiple photographs taken in fading evening light, so it is not perfect; but Father Pitt wanted to show you another example of these upstairs city churches.
To Father Pitt’s eyes, the remarkable thing about the interior of this church is how Presbyterian it looks. Later Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh are Gothic cathedrals, or miniature versions for smaller congregations, since the Presbyterians were overwhelmingly the moneyed class in the late 1800s; but this church was built in 1869, and retains the flat-ceilinged simplicity of traditional Presbyterianism. As in several of our churches in crowded city neighborhoods, the sanctuary is on the second floor, reached by either of a pair of flights of stairs in the front (one with an elevator chair for those who need it); the ground floor is the social hall and other rooms. The front was part of an expansion in 1893, built to a grander and wealthier taste.
A beautiful basilica-style church remarkable as much for its site as for its architecture. It stands on an eminence on the precipitous South Side Slopes, with a magnificent view of the city skyline. The west front is precisely at the upper end of Monastery Street, making a startling vista for lost tourists who find themselves turning off Brosville Street. The interior is full of rich marble and gorgeous sculptures, with a pipe organ installed right at the front of the church by a former rector who considered music important.
The South Side Church Crawl brought a good number of tourists to see a number of South Side churches. This is probably the church that says “South Side” to Pittsburghers in general; its distinctive domes are prominent from the Liberty Bridge, the McArdle Roadway, and across the river.
John T. Comes (sometimes spelled Comès) designed a splendid Romanesque church for this congregation. It was built, however, on an improbably narrow street in the most crowded section of Lower Lawrenceville, so it is impossible to see the front as Comes designed it—unless we appeal to technology, merging fifteen separate photographs to produce one overall picture. In spite of the distortion caused by taking the pictures from a low position and altering the perspective, this imperfect picture comes very close to presenting the front of the church as the architect drew it.
Franklin Toker suggests that, per square foot, this is the most expensive church ever built in America. It was built with Mellon money, so it is sometimes called the Mellon Fire Escape by locals who see it as an atonement for the sins inevitable on the way to becoming the richest family in America; but the congregation prefers the nickname “Cathedral of Hope.” The architect was Ralph Adams Cram, who could easily be called America’s greatest Gothic architect, and the Mellons gave him free rein and an unlimited budget. The result was Cram’s ultimate fantasy Gothic cathedral, whose massive central tower dominates the skyline of the neighborhood. To the left, in the distance, we see the Highland Building.
“Mrs. Thaw’s Chocolate Church,” as it was called when it was put up, this splendid building was designed by Theophilus P. Chandler, Jr., and opened in 1903. Mary Thaw, the widow of Henry Thaw, paid for most of it, and doubtless specified the architect; Chandler had also designed the Thaws’ mansion, which (alas) is long gone. Chandler was also the architect of First Presbyterian downtown and the titanic Duncan mausoleum and column in the Union Dale Cemetery.
The picture of the front above is put together from eight different photographs, which is the only way old Pa Pitt could get the whole building from this angle.