Did Our Chapel Have a Skylight?
Drawings made in the
late nineteenth century to win building design commissions and to
publicize existing buildings are small works of art.
Some architects and their draftsmen specialized in producing
these pen & ink renderings and were often identified as
”delineators.” Among the
most talented were D. A. Gregg, Harvey Ellis, E. Eldon Deane, Bertram
Grosvenor Goodhue and Charles D. Maginnis.
Some were responsible for the architectural design and the
rendering, others were responsible just to make the design as attractive
as possible. Using only
black ink lines on white paper, the best delineators could make a
drawing sparkle. For a
number of years, their work graced such periodicals as The American
Architect & Building News.
Rutan & Coolidge, the architects of Shadyside Presbyterian Church,
provided an excellent example of such renderings.
It is a perspective view of the church and chapel within a
stylized context of Amberson Avenue and Westminster Place. (The lovely
Shingle Style manse to the left of the church was never built.)
The delineator did not sign this drawing, but it is in a hand
similar to Gregg’s. This
depiction is in such close agreement with the built structure, that it
must have been produced near the time of completion of construction,
probably for publication.
Pen & Ink Rendering of Shadyside Church (Enlarged)
presence of what appears to be a skylight in the roof of the chapel has
long been somewhat puzzling. There
is no evidence on the chapel today of such a feature.
Since the main church was completed in 1890 and the chapel in
1892, one might speculate that the rendering was done in the interim,
and the skylight was removed from the final plans.
However, the rediscovery in Shadyside’s archives of an old
photograph gives evidence that eco-friendly, natural lighting may have
been used in the chapel.
inspection of the image reveals a faint but definite rectangular outline
on the chapel roof, in the precise location of the skylight in the
rendering. The photograph is
not dated. However, the
height of the trees implies it was not taken immediately after the
buildings were finished. The
absence of the 1908 chapel extension to the north indicates an earlier
time than that, perhaps around 1900.
Early photo of Shadyside Church with chapel (Enlarged)
were in use in the late nineteenth century, especially on industrial or
mill buildings. Shepley, Rutan
& Coolidge's mentor H. H. Richardson had a skylight in his private
design office. Given a propensity to leak, though, why would one
have been chosen for the chapel? The
architects’ specifications call for the buildings to be fitted for
both gas and electric lights. Given
Pittsburgh’s sooty atmosphere, perhaps a skylight was for supplemental
illumination.* The building
proposal calls for the chapel main floor to comprise a single large
room, with movable dividers. A
skylight would be effective in such a space.
Detail of chapel showing skylight
Why and when was the skylight removed? Pure speculation here: electric lighting improved and roof leaks were a concern leading to replacement with slate during the 1908 extension of the chapel. This little mystery is part of the unfolding of the history of our landmark buildings at Shadyside Presbyterian.
NOTE: Further evidence of the existence of skylights on the chapel was found during Shadyside's Building Community construction project.
* Smog may not have been so strong a consideration on the Lord’s Day. The Masons held a convention in Pittsburgh in 1898. Visitors were urged to include a Sunday during their stay in the city. As many mills ceased operation on the Day of Rest, the skies cleared of the usual bituminous coal smoke, affording good views of Pittsburgh.