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.
…Turn it into an art gallery, of course.
As I am preparing to shift the focus of my blog from bridges to adaptive reuse (particularly of church buildings), the timing coincides well with that of a project by an enterprising group of people in Pittsburgh. The Leslie Pool in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is one of many city pools that were closed in recent years. A group of people formed the LESLIE Park Collaborative (see their Facebook page) to re-imagine how the space could be used. The current solution is an outdoor art gallery called Project: Lido.
An announcement for the opening reception on the group’s Facebook page called the event “a pool party…minus the water.” The reception was Aug. 30, but the gallery will be open to the public on Sundays starting Sept. 16.
“What do you do with an empty pool?” is an interesting question. It poses different and, in some respects, perhaps greater challenges than adapting a church building to a new use, particularly the fact that it is outside which means it is not easy to use in the winter time. However, the art gallery is just one of the new uses presented for this pool. A 2010 article discusses the first event at the Leslie Pool (an Accordion Pool Party) as well as other ideas being circulated at the time. It will be interesting to what happens at this site next.
To date I have walked the 31st Street Bridge twice. The first time was a few years ago when I had over two hours to kill between an event downtown and a meeting in the Strip a few blocks from the bridge. So I naturally decided to spend it by walking from the first to second location along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It was winter and I saw the first flurries of the season as I crossed this bridge. For that reason, I remember the walk and the bridge fondly though I was disappointed and surprised when I arrived at the Strip District end of the bridge to realize how far away I was from the stores in the Strip. I had been planning on getting a snack at one of the nice little ethnic groceries or perhaps at the bakery. As I was in a car every other time I had been to the Strip, I never realized how little of the neighborhood the stores took up. Fortunately, there was hot chocolate and a good spread of fruit and pastries at my meeting.
As I sat down to write this post, I realized that I have already discussed most of the observations I had or at least something similar in other posts. So I went to PGHbridges.com to look for some inspiration of something new to write. It has a nice description of the decorations on the bridge (see link), which I completely missed as I walked it this summer either because they aren’t there or because I looked in the wrong places as I thought there might be some decoration. The other thing that intrigued me on the website was the name of the bridge which is 31st Street Bridge, Number Six Allegheny River. I thought perhaps this meant it was the sixth bridge at this location; however PGHbridges.com says that the 31st Street Bridge replaced a former bridge at 30th Street. While the streets aren’t that far apart, it seems more likely that “number six” refers to it being the sixth bridge up the Allegheny from the Point, yet this would have to be only counting road bridges (not railroad). The 1929 G.M. Hopkins map shows that the sixth bridge from the point is the 16th Street Bridge when you count the railroad bridge between the 9th and 16th Street bridges.
These are the pictures that go with the topics I’ve discussed in other posts. On the left is the cookie-cutter, perfectly manicured housing development on Herr’s Island. In my Converted Railroad Bridge post, I mention how I feel like a trespasser when I walk through this part of the island. Except for the little lighthouse/widow’s walk attachments on top of the houses (the circular, red peaked roof thing), the development looks identical to some of the newer developments (older being 1960s) in the California town I lived in for several years.
The view downriver, above on the right, shows again the two clusters of tall buildings downtown that I first observed on the 16th Street Bridge (see July 13 post).
Several well-known landmarks (which I have mentioned in other posts) are visible from the 31st Street Bridge. First on the downstream side (above left) is the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Perhaps because of the lighting and angle, I don’t think it appears as impressive in the picture as it does in real life. I mentioned this landmark previously in my post about the Fort Duquesne Bridge. On the other side of the bridge (above right), the most famous landmark is Children’s Hospital, which came up in the 9th Street Bridge post. Before doing this project, I don’t think I realized just how big Children’s Hospital is. I thought it was big, but I’ve learned from observing it from the 9th and 31st Street bridges that it is actually huge. Closer to the bridge a little lower on the hill from the hospital is the St. Augustine Church in Lawrenceville, one of the many large, old, and beautiful churches in the city. I’d also like to point out the little church on the right-hand side of the photo towering above its surroundings. I don’t want to go into much detail about it now, but it is one of Pittsburgh’s repurposed churches and I will be coming back to it in a future post.