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.
An update: When Father Pitt first posted this article, the pictures were distorted. That was because old Pa Pitt had not figured out how to choose the proper projection in the Hugin panorama software. What a difference it makes!
By stitching together multiple photographs, we get these impossibly wide-angled views of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland. Since the street in front is busy, we also get some ghost figures on the sidewalk and ghost vehicles driving past.
This church sits on one of those impossibly narrow Pittsburgh streets, and it would have been very difficult to get a picture of the whole front this way without the marvels of Hugin stitching technology. A little wide-angle distortion makes the pinnacles turn inward, but overall this is a very good representation of the front of the building. It is no longer a church; now it is an apartment building, but either an appreciation of the architecture or a limited budget has kept the current owners from making any significant changes to the exterior.
Designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the successors to H. H. Richardson, this church has an honest Richardsonian pedigree to go with its Richardsonian Romanesque style.
Can you tell that old Pa Pitt is enjoying his new software toy? The picture above is a wide-angle shot stitched together from nine separate photographs. The fisheye view below is stitched together from six; if you click on it, you can have it at about 38 megapixels.
Finally, here’s a picture from the north side of the church, where there is room to get far away enough to take the picture all in one shot.
Here is a huge picture of the front of St. Mary of the Mount on Grandview Avenue, Mount Washington. It’s made from eight individual pictures, all cleverly sewn together by Hugin. If you click on the picture, you can enlarge it to 4,692 × 6,569 pixels, or about 30 megapixels. (It could have been larger, but old Pa Pitt decided that 30 megapixels was probably large enough.) Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for being willing to host huge pictures at such a level of detail.
The architect was Frederick Sauer, whose conventionally attractive churches do nothing to prepare us for the eccentric whimsy he could produce when he let his imagination run wild.