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.
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.
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!
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.