Date of Origin



I have not yet uncovered evidence of the explicit reasons behind Shadyside Church’s remarkable 1937-38 sanctuary remodeling to a liturgically oriented divided chancel arrangement.  There are two lovely architect’s renderings associated with the church in the Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives. One clearly relates to the sanctuary remodeling.  [The second is investigated at A NEW Chapel for Shadyside Church]


Renderings for Shadyside Church, Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives

Martin Aurand, Head of the CMU Arts Library and Special Collections kindly arranged for me to see and photograph the renderings.  Records indicate they were a gift from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation in 1993.  Mr. Aurand, who has additional responsibilities as Architecture Librarian and Archivist, also wrote two well-received books on Pittsburgh’s built and natural environment.


Comparison of rendering & actual sanctuary remodeling of 1937-38

Executed in pencil-and-watercolor, the two depictions were apparently created at about the same time.  One shows many of the interior features that were eventually executed at Shadyside in 1937-38.  There is a deep chancel, with its floor elevated slightly above the nave floor, which appears to be flat (the original sanctuary floor was sloped).  The walls have a light colored dressed stone facing with carved ornament inside the chancel.  The ceiling of the lantern is coffered (we have no photographs indicating whether the original ceiling had this feature).  Instead of our magnificent mosaic in a semi-domical apse, the chancel terminates with a rose window and flanking round arch windows.  The transepts appear to have a plaster finish (even retaining circumferential bands, as in the original sanctuary) rather than the Guastavino tiles actually used.  Indistinct depictions of wooden liturgical furnishings indicate, perhaps, that design of details was incomplete.


Inscription on sanctuary rendering, Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives

None of this would be particularly notable, if it was part of the design development, by the architect of record, close in time to eventual execution of the sanctuary remodeling.  The date of origin of the renderings, however, is in question.  The only identification on the sanctuary depiction is a hand-written (rather than draftsman-lettered) pencil inscription “proposed plan for / Shadyside Presbyterian Church / Pgh / J T Steen-arch”  James Steen was a respected and prolific Pittsburgh architect who might well have been engaged by the church on the sanctuary modifications.  If so, the depicted concept was quite early:  Steen died in 1923, a decade-and-a-half before the actual execution. The remodeling design was eventually awarded to the Philadelphia firm, Wilson Eyre & McIlvaine.   

(Below are photos of the Fidelity Building, one of Steen's important downtown designs.)

Excerpt from 1930 report to Shadyside congregation from the Session

The earliest reference at the church to the remodeling is in a 1930 report to the congregation that recommends proceeding when "... the way be clear...” with “...plans already designed or similar ones...” to include a “...Church School...with a Chapel and the alteration of the Church auditorium.”  We know that, at one time, the church had drawings from a Chicago architect, Dwight G. Wallace, for chancel alterations.  There is a scenario that allows for production of the rendering much later than 1923.  Steen’s sons, James H. and Marion M., entered practice with him as James T. Steen & Sons, and both practiced architecture in Pittsburgh long after his death.  It is conceivable that a broader reading of “J T Steen-arch” could include someone in the family firm other than the patriarch. The existence of the rendering also raises the question of the source of the design concept.  It seems unlikely that Steen and Eyre would have independently offered such similar schemes.  Did one influence the other, or was there a third source from which both drew?

Large view of rendering showing detail, Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives

The medium points to this being a preliminary study for the worship space, but likely one intended to be shared with the client.  The graphite lines of a pencil define the outlines of the sanctuary and its furnishings.  While the scale and perspective of the view are quite accurate, it does not appear to have been laid out with mechanical instruments.  Rather, it seems to be a careful freehand sketch by a talented draftsman.  The concept was well enough developed, however, to support the indication of color, shadow and texture with the skilled application of tinted wash.  While such a technique might have been used for an internal office study, the high degree of detailing points to an early presentation rendering for the client’s consideration.


Whatman Drawing Board - reverse of sanctuary rendering, Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives

One other artifact of the medium helps narrow the time frame of origin.  On the back of the rendering is the identification as “Whatman’s Drawing Board” a heavy paperboard stock that has a pressed white finish on one side, suitable for accepting ink or wash.  W.R. Balston furnished Whatman Board through its U.S. distributor, H. Reeve Angel of New York City, both British firms.  H. Reeve Angel was established in 1908 and appointed in North America by Balston in 1914.  This precludes the renderings being submissions for the 1889 architectural competition, which awarded the church commission to Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston .


Ralph Adams Cram, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 1935

Why would an early date for the concept shown in the proposal be significant?  It is true that the “liturgical impulse” (1), which prescribed features such as the divided chancel (as opposed to a platform/central pulpit auditorium), was already influential in Protestant churches by the early decades of the twentieth century.  We can credit much of that influence to Ralph Adams Cram, both from his design work and his extensive writing and lecturing.  His liturgical concepts were most emphatically realized in a Reformed-tradition church at nearby East Liberty Presbyterian. 

The key would be if the Shadyside rendering represents the work of James T. Steen (before 1924) or if it evidences “plans already designed” (by 1930) by one of the sons.  Either would indicate that the plans or execution of Cram’s 1935 East Liberty Presbyterian were not a factor in the conceptual design of Shadyside’s remodeling.  Liturgical architecture ideals, in that case, would seem to have had currency at Shadyside long before their realization in either congregation.  On the face of it, though, the creation boundary dates turn out to be 1914 and 1937.


Richardsonian Romanesque Fidelity Building (Pittsburgh) by James T. Steen, 1889

The companion rendering points to another intriguing and puzzling possibility.  It shows a worship space with a long, narrow nave as opposed to a central lantern-style sanctuary.  It is labeled “Chapel” and a sketch on the reverse ties it to the location of Shadyside’s 1892 chapel.  This rendering is explored at A NEW Chapel for Shadyside Church


1.  This term for the movement was used by David R. Bains in his doctoral dissertation "The Liturgical Impulse in Mid-Twentieth-Century Mainline American Protestantism"