Courthouse Connections


Allegheny County Courthouse Tower Enlarge


It is hard to look at the Allegheny County Courthouse pavilions and not see correspondences in the Shadyside Presbyterian Church lantern tower. Not only the shapes are similar, but the proportions are as well. Each has a band of very similar round arch windows - the Courthouse five, the Church seven.  (In the Courthouse competition drawings, seven are shown.) Dormers are centered on the faces of the towers - the Courthouse has lucarne style, the windows flush with the wall, Shadyside uses hip-roof dormers to allow ventilation.

The Courthouse has a prominent cornice above the windows. The Church uses a more pronounced sprung roof with a slight overhang to demarcate its juncture with the walls. Its cornice with dentil­like protrusions resembles the termination of the Courthouse main tower. The battered (sloping) bands of the pavilion cornice are relocated just below the Church lantern's windows.


The original massing of the Courthouse shown in Richardson’s competition drawing resembles the way the Church was actually built.  The soaring tower at front and center of the Courthouse was originally in a position analogous to the church’s lantern.  In its place was a gabled front similar to the one that houses the church narthex and west end of the nave.  

Courthouse Competition Drawing, H. H. Richardson (1)

The Jail can be said to have its own lantern.  A short, octagonal lantern tops the “crossing” of the various cell-block wings at the guard room.  Clerestory windows there admit light, but it had bars to prevent what would have been a daring escape attempt.  There is no record that either prisoners or parishioners ever attempted to flee by way of the lantern.


Courthouse interior photo used by permission - Paul Rocheleau

It is striking that the interiors of the two buildings became more alike with Shadyside’s 1937 worship space remodeling.  Philadelphia architects Wilson Eyre & McIlvane opened up the chancel and extended it with an apse.  The new axially aligned arches echo those seen at the Courthouse entrance.

The original exterior similarities are natural and intentional. Certainly, Charles Allerton Coolidge, Charles Rutan and George Shepley were heavily involved in the Allegheny County Buildings in Richardson's office. Shadyside Church wanted a Richardsonian building, and they had the master's own favorite a few miles away as a model. The adaptations did not stop with the tower and pavilions. The facade dormers of the Courthouse appeared on the chapel of the church, finished in 1892. The sharply incised rectangular windows with heavy mullions from the ground story of the downtown building are repeated at the Shadyside chapel.


The sprung roof and low, spreading mass of the Church show that Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge took a turn deeper toward the medieval from the tall, symmetrical Courthouse.  A decade later, the Classical influence overtook them.  The 1893 Columbian Exhibition's "White City" ushered in a Renaissance Revival. At the time of Shadyside's design, the firm returned not only to the Romanesque, but to a lantern for the proposed Memorial Church for Stanford University. This church was built to a different architect's plans in 1903.  The lantern was subsequently lost to an earthquake.  

     Emmanuel Episcopal

There is a second route from Richardson to Shadyside that passes through another Pittsburgh building.  In 1883, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Allegheny (now the North Side) commissioned a new church from the Boston architect.  The executed building was a masterpiece of simplicity, the landmark church at East North and Allegheny Avenues.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church - first design (2)

A simple structure was not the immediate result of Richardson’s work.  The congregation rejected his first design as being too expensive.  There is evidence that Richardson used the rejected design as a basis for  Immanuel Baptist in Newton, MA.  A comparison with Shadyside Presbyterian shows that the overall arrangement and many elements are common to the two churches:  the central lantern, short gabled transepts, an extension toward the front with a round-arched entry, even the inset panels of the lantern walls.                                            


Immanuel Baptist, Newton, MA

The proportions of the individual elements and the composition are notably different.  The “long-legged” appearance of Immanuel results from the worship space being raised above ground elevation.  This arrangement is common to Baptist churches.  Immanuel’s nave is narrower than Shadyside, which causes the sloped roofs to end higher.  Shadyside’s roofs reach closer to the ground, giving a more stable, organic appearance.   Therefore, the somewhat awkward appearance of the Newton building may be a result of the client’s program.  That does not explain the over-busy treatment of the lantern roof (was it shortened?) – or the outsized urn-like termination of the front gable.  (A similar termination was executed and proportioned well at Emmanuel Episcopal).

It seems that the first projected church for Emmanuel Episcopal is a more likely model for Shadyside.  A drawing of the project (above) shows that structure to be somewhat lower, broader and more stable looking than Immanuel-Newton – but with a similar witch's hat roof.*  The stepped buttresses of the tower (twelve of them!)  make it look even more like the proverbial “dignified pile of rocks.”  Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge streamlined the lantern tower at Shadyside, making it rise more freely from the surrounding gabled roofs.  They kept the lantern dormers (in reduced numbers) but gave them more graceful hipped, flaring roofs.

Even accounting for differing needs between the two congregations, Immanuel-Newton is not generally considered one of Richardson’s better efforts.  Why would this be true so late in his career?  It may not have received full attention, because he was not to be paid for the design unless it was executed.  Critic Henry Russell Hitchcock blamed his reliance on the office staff for poor quality during a busy time.  However, that does not square with the refined building produced by exactly these same office assistants three years later at Shadyside.

Could it be that Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge drew from their work on the Allegheny County Buildings to improve the proportion and details used at Newton?  Did the Shadyside client know of the Newton design and insist on something closer to the downtown Pittsburgh work?  Did the happy results of simplification at Emmanuel Episcopal lead to a quieting of the Newton church lines when translated to Shadyside?  In any case, it is interesting to trace features of earlier Richardson work to a successful outcome at Shadyside. 

*In fact, the rather ugly corner projections seem to be penciled in – or was this a later edition at the time of the Immanuel design?  

(1)  Van Trump "Majesty of the Law"  Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

(2) James F. O’Gorman “Selected Drawings - Henry Hobson Richardson and His Office”