Sacred Row

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This is a fascinating structure I discovered on the South Side Flats. A friend and I were going around the neighborhood looking at adaptively reused church buildings. While going from one building we knew of to another location, we stumbled upon this building. From what I’ve pulled together so far, this building was built sometime between 1876 and 1884 as four rowhouses. In 1926, the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church of the South Side purchased the property. The deed described the structure as four 4-room houses. When the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church sold the property in 1959, the deed described the property as four 2-story brick party wall houses.

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However, when you look at the side of the building facing 23rd St, it appears that at one time, this property was used as a church. The middle of the three boarded up openings on this side looks like it used to be a door for an entrance into a church that has been partially bricked up. From this I assume that while the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church owned the property, they renovated to use as their place of worship with a main front door and two windows.

I look forward to learning more about this structure and its history. I suspect there is an interesting story that connects this building to the 1st St John the Baptist Greek Church which is still in operation at the corner of E Carson St and 7th and the 2nd St John the Baptist Greek Church that set up just down the block at 615 E Carson St before moving to Jane St. From the pieces I’ve found so far there was a severe split in the South Side congregation that involved boycotts and arrests of arguing members and former members.  I’m not sure yet how this rowhouse/church may have fit into that struggle.

 

 

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Conquering the Dome

St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

Shortly after facing the dilemma of how to create a dome for my Blue Mosque Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, I saw an gingerbread creation of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral which used rice crispy treats to form the shape of the domes of this cathedral.  I held onto this idea for almost a year in preparation for my Third Annual Architectural Dessert Masterpiece.

St Paul's Dome  St Paul's Cathedral

For this one, presented and eaten December 2012, I chose St. Paul’s Cathedral.  First, because it has the perfect dome for trying the rice crispy method.  Second, because St. Paul’s was a significant part of my trip to London earlier in the year.  I experienced a wonderful view of the City despite minor issues with heights and major issues with claustrophobia.  I successfully climbed to the top of St. Paul’s (at least as high as they allow tourists to go) and made it back down again.  The first flights of stairs to come back down were particularly challenging as they were very narrow and steep with very short ceilings–it reminded me of the first and last time I went caving as part of a school trip in 8th grade, where I somehow managed to crawl through impossibly small places.  The praise of my teacher, Mr. Wolfe, from that occasion was essential in helping me make it down the stairs at St. Paul’s.  Thanks, Mr. Wolfe, you were my hero this time!!

Top of the Dome Looking Down

In making my St. Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, the design was influenced by the memory of how long it took to create the Gingerbread Blue Mosque.  I determined to take a quicker route this time around by baking sheet cakes and cutting them out in the shape of St. Paul’s.  Again, I referred to my textbook from my Western Architecture course (see Parthenon Cake post) to determine what the appropriate proportions were in cutting out the shape of the Cathedral.  To approximate the proportions in height, I made a double layer cake, plus additional layers at the towers and dome.

Aerial St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

The dome was made using the rice crispy treat method, which ended up being much more challenging than I anticipated due to the stickiness of rice crispy treats.  It did not work to try and shape the dome in my hands.  I ended up using wax paper to form the shape, but found the rice crispies still stuck to the wax paper, but not as badly as to my hands.  Then, I frosted the whole creation, using chocolate frosting as an accent color to suggest the different color of the domes (including those on the front towers) from the rest of the building.  I also used the chocolate frosting to indicate the break in design from the lower and upper portions of the exterior walls.  Chocolate Crunch Bells were used for the small domes on the front towers.

This one was easy to cut like a normal cake for eating and tasted quite good.

The World’s Tallest Church Building

Chicago Temple

Everything in Chicago is stretched–even churches.  My eye was caught by this building as I looked to cross a street in Chicago and saw the steeple on top of this skyscraper a couple blocks down.  I was very confused at first, trying to figure out why an office building had a steeple on top of it.  Then I saw the name of the church, First United Methodist Church, carved into the side of the building.  The only other indication on the exterior visible from a distance that suggested the religious use of the interior was the doorway.

Chicago Temple Doorway

This building is also known as the Chicago Temple.  The congregation was founded in 1831 and has been worshiping at this site since 1838.  The current building was built in 1924 and has 23 floors.

One of my souvenirs from Chicago was the book “City of the Century” by Donald L. Miller, which describes the history of Chicago up to the 1893 World’s Fair.  So it doesn’t talk about the building of this church building, but it does describe the building of the Auditorium–Chicago’s multipurpose Opera House.  The book notes “there was no government support of the arts in the United States, so the Auditorium would have to pay for itself” (361).  As a result the theater was enclosed in a office/hotel complex.

It seemed like there might have been similar thinking in the design of this church building–as real estate was expensive downtown, covering the church with office space could help it afford its location.  However, if that is why the building is mixed-use, it was not inspired by the Auditorium, which was built in the late 1880s.  According the history page of the church’s website, there has been a multipurpose church building on this site since 1858.  The first one was a 4-story structure with stores and businesses on the first two floors and the church above.

First Methodist Church

The new building has a two-story sanctuary on the first floor.  Accounts differ as to how many this can hold (500, 1000, 1200 people).  The second floor has another smaller sanctuary.  Floors three and four hold the accessory rooms–classrooms, meeting rooms, etc.  The parson’s house is also located in the building.  The remaining floors are office space.  The crowning jewel, is a small chapel underneath the steeple.

I regret that I did not take the time to stop and investigate whether I could explore the inside of the building.  As I was focused on a specific task when I came upon the building, I did not even think about trying to see inside.  If you are interested, I found a YouTube video that shows what I take to be the first floor sanctuary and the small chapel under the steeple.

A Lofty Location

St. John German Evangelical Lutheran Church

This little gem in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is full of surprises.  In the 20-some years I’ve been passing through this area, I never noticed the building.  It was brought to my attention a few years ago when I began researching adapted church buildings in Pittsburgh.  If you are in the nearby vicinity, the building blends into its surroundings.  But from other parts of the city it stands out (see 31st Street Bridge, Bloomfield Bridge, Busway Bridges: Herron Street, Busway Bridges: 28th Street).  It is also visible standing out along the ridge in the second photo in my Washington’s Crossing Bridge post.

40th Street Rise

There are two characteristics that make it stand out from a distance.  The first is its location at the highest point on 40th Street in Lawrenceville.

St John's/Choir Loft Condominiums

The second characteristic is one of the most intriguing parts of this building: the fellowship hall is at ground level and the sanctuary is above, reached by a flight of stairs.  This is the only church building I have been in where the sanctuary is a full flight of stairs above ground level.  I’m very curious to know if there are any others–please share, if you’ve come across one!

St John's Evangelical Lutheran Church Choir Loft Condominiums

The building was built in 1896-97 for the German Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Congregation, which later became St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In 2002, the congregation merged with St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and closed the doors on this location.  A real estate agent purchased the property and prepped it for conversion into 3 condominiums–one unit each for the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and parish house–before the current owners purchased the property and completed most of the rehab work creating the Choir Loft Condominiums.  (A side note that may be of interest is that the current owners considered purchasing the building that is now the Union Project but chose this one instead.)

The owner reported that the building was essentially empty for nearly 2 years before he acquired it.  The floors were in bad condition–the pews had been ripped out, tearing the sanctuary’s floor, and the choir loft’s floor was completely missing.  He said his goal in renovating the building was to “not destroy the architecture and the interior.  We wanted it to feel like a church still because it is a church.”

Having gotten a tour of the interior of the sanctuary unit, I’d say they succeeded in this goal.  The former sanctuary space is an open loft configuration with hardwood floors.  The raised steps for the altar area were kept and made into the kitchen.  The choir loft remained open and served as the bedroom.  The gorgeous stain glass windows were also intact.  While I was there on a winter evening after sunset, I loved the description of how the colored pattern from the stain glass gradually moves across the floor like a very colorful sundial.  My other favorite part was that there was still a bell in the tower, which the owner rang for me.  While inside the sound was muffled, it sounded like it could have woken sleeping neighbors.

Gingerbread Blue Mosque

Gingerbread Blue Mosque Blue Mosque

Figuring out how to design an accurate representation of the Parthenon out of cake and cookies (see post) was an intriguing task that set me on a new hobby of designing models of existing buildings out of deserts.  Beginning with my second Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, all my creations are based on buildings/structures that I have personally encountered in my urban explorations.

I created my second desert building in December 2011.  While eating the Parthenon the previous year, suggestions were put out about how to create other shapes and buildings such as using jello and creating round shapes.  I was particularly engaged by the idea of how to create a dome.  I had not figured out how to create a dome such as those on capital buildings in the US, but I thought I could create one that would be close to those on the mosques I visited in Istanbul.  I chose the Blue Mosque as a visually interesting structure that would require a diversity of desserts to create.

Gingerbread cookies seemed to be the best way to design the frame of the building given the variety of heights and shapes of the building.  I used sugar cookies for the larger domes and half domes.  I knew someone growing up who was able to create perfectly rounded sugar cookies, no matter how I try I have never been able to create the same effect.  My sugar cookies worked well for the medium-sized domes, but I had to put two cookies together for the larger domes.  M&Ms made great small domes–they were also the base unit that determined the scale of my model.  I think another reason why I chose to create a mosque was so I’d have an excuse to use the Pirouette cookies again, this time as minarets.  I love these cookies, but hardly ever get them.  Using my piping set, I was able to create pointed tops on the minarets and add balconies.

This was by far the most time-consuming Architectural Dessert Masterpiece to create (at least of the four I’ve made so far) because of having to design the required sizes and shapes for the gingerbread cookies and cutting them out and then also baking sugar cookies, which somehow always takes forever.  I also played with “whitewashing” the gingerbread walls, but the method I tried didn’t create the desired effect so I gave up on it.

Eating Architectural Dessert Masterpieces is also an interesting experience, as they often require creative thinking to destruct them.  With the Parthenon, I employed a karate-chop method for cutting through the wafers.  On the other hand, with the Blue Mosque a free-for-all of pulling it apart with your fingers seemed most appropriate.

Gingerbread Blue Mosque Blue Mosque

Parthenon Cake

Parthenon Cake

My hobby of creating Architectural Desert Masterpieces began about three years ago, when I was an AmeriCorps volunteer.  Searching for activities to do with my kindergartners in the after-school program, I somehow came across a recipe for making an Ancient Temple Cake.  While this was not at all feasible to do with my students, I thought it was an awesome idea and saved the recipe to try one day.

The following December, I decided it was time to try the Ancient Temple Cake.  By that point I was back in school and had taken a history of Western Architecture course, which included detailed discussions of ancient temples including the Parthenon.  When I pulled out the recipe, I decided it needed some improvements to make it a reasonable imitation of the Parthenon.  The directions were to bake a sheet cake, frost it, stick Pirouette cookies around the edge and top the Pirouettes with wafer cookies.  However, from my architecture course I knew that proportions were important as were the steps up to the temple.

I created a step to the temple but cutting off the edges, cutting them in half (height-wise) and reattaching the bottom halves to the cake body with frosting.  Then I added a number of Pirouette cookies based on the proportion of columns on the long and short sides of the Parthenon.  When I was done, I had a much better representation of the Parthenon in cake form than the recipe I started with.

Unfortunately, my cake temple aged rather quickly resulting in the collapse of the columns on one side.

Ruined Parthenon Cake

The Union Project: Engaging Community

The Union Project

Every adapted church building I’ve come across has something that makes it unique.  Of all the ones I’ve come across so far, the Union Project used the most creative method in restoring/adapting the building.

In the late 1990s, a small group of people came together and said that they wanted a “space for art and faith” in their neighborhood.  (The quotes in this post are from one of the founding members, who I interviewed for a school project.)  By 2001, this group and this sentiment had grown and they purchased the vacant, former Union Baptist Church at the intersection of Negley and Stanton Avenues, two major roads in the East End of Pittsburgh, to convert it into a community center.

When the community center acquired it, the church was still considered active, but it had not been used regularly for two to four years.  The building was in very poor condition: the roof leaked, there were broken windows, and pigeons and rodents lived inside.  It took four years to prepare the building for occupancy and an additional six years to completely restore the structure.

The part that I like the most about how this building was adapted, was the alternative method they came up with for restoring the stain glass windows of the structure.  All the windows needed restoration, which I’m sure would have added up to a colossal expense.  Instead of giving up or attempting to raise all the funds to pay for a professional restoration, they offered community classes in stain glass restoration using the church’s windows as the class materials.  Some of the windows needed to be completely reconstructed in which case the instructor, a stain glass professional, created the new windows.  Beside these, all the windows were restored by community members at the classes.

Stain Glass Restoration

Stain Glass Restoration

I took one of the classes a few summers ago.  It was a lot of fun and quite interesting to learn how stain glass windows are put together.  At least a couple of the people in my class were taking the course so they would be able to restore the stain glass windows in their homes.  Much of the housing stock in the neighborhoods surrounding the building feature at least one stain glass window, so this was a useful skill for the local homeowners to learn.  A 2012 article in the Post-Gazette announces the completion of this restoration project.

Over the years since the Union Project began, the building has slowly been restored one piece at a time.  The former classrooms behind the sanctuary were restored first and converted into office space.  Several of these offices are used for the administration of the Union Project, while the rest are rented out to other community groups including a church group.  The basement was converted into an art space.  This is where the stain glass restoration classes were held.  There is also a pottery studio which offers classes.  Hula-hooping classes are held in the atrium, or out on the lawn in nice weather.  The sanctuary is used as a rental hall for receptions, community events and the like.  The narthex is a little coffee shop.

Restored Sanctuary

By the summer 2012, the building finally looked like a completed project: the stain glass windows were restored, the sanctuary was finally completely repainted, and the black soot was cleaned off the stone facade.  Because of Pittsburgh’s past as a major industrial city, all stone facade buildings collected black soot–many of these buildings have been cleaned in the last ten to twenty years.  In cleaning the soot off the Union Project, the crenellations on top of the towers were left black, leaving a respectful reminder of the past, while the change from a black building to white brightened up this corner of the neighborhood.

This is a project that showed me, and the group who completed it, that “anything is possible.”