Ghosts of Shadyside's Past


We will take a short detour from our series on Liturgical Furnishings to follow some ghosts that reveal details of Shadyside Church’s architectural history.  These ghosts are the type that show where a building feature has been changed.  The church is in the midst of remodeling to be a more welcoming place for ministry and for gathering.  The process is being guided by a building committee of church members.  Day-to-day liaison and coordination is handled by our Executive Pastor, the Reverend Jim Tinnemeyer.  Jim is the only person I know who is as obsessed with Shadyside’s architectural history as I am.


The wooden framing is resting on the pavement of the porte cochere driveway

Jim’s close monitoring of the building progress has turned up several clues that touch on the history of the chapel and a church entrance.  In Good Enough for Horses, we looked at evidence that archway of the cloister was originally a porte cochere – a covered entrance for horse-drawn carriages.  It gave convenient access to the main sanctuary and to the chapel in bad weather.

That cloister and courtyard are being re-purposed as an enclosed gathering space and an identifiable entrance on Westminster Place.  While excavating the cloister, workers found buried pavement through the archway at street elevation.  When they asked Jim about it, he recognized it as the drive of the porte cochere.  He also noticed the “ghost” of stairs that led from the pavement elevation to the level of the sanctuary.


The ghost of stairs on the wall of the cloister/porte cochere, behind the steel rod

This entrance is visible, if tangentially, in drawings and photographs.  A recent inspection with Jim and Shadyside members Janet & Ed Wood revealed how “monumental”  the entrance was, with its full elevation stretching from street level.  The view through the porte cochere from Westminster would also have been quite picturesque.  The apse and office wing in the courtyard were 1930s additions to the church.  In 1890, a still very rural Shadyside was seen through the archway – scattered residences in an era before automobiles were commonplace.


Early drawing of Shadyside Church, showing chapel skylights and porte cochere  Enlarged

The broad roof of the chapel seems timeless today.  However, photographs and drawings hint at skylights near the peak of the roof.  The present construction in the parlor and chapel has led to work in the attic of the building.  Once again, Jim’s attention was drawn to changes: the wooden roof structure had sections that are obviously newer than original material.  These correspond exactly with the location of the former skylights.


Interior of chapel roof, lighter wood in former location of skylights - Ghosts of lath for plaster (lower left) - See sketch below for location of photo

“Ghosts” once again give clues to the original appearance.  Below and beside the skylight sections, wood lath was once present, indicating that a sloped, plastered ceiling was in the first floor of the chapel – which originally was a room that stretched across the full building width, now occupied by the present parlor and worship space.  Architectural literature and the recollection of life-long member, Henry Hoffstot, confirm this arrangement.  Mr. Hoffstot recalls the space being equipped with movable dividers, which allowed the chapel to accommodate Sunday School rooms.


Sketch of Chapel cross-section (facing Westminster Place).  Built in 1892 as a large room, today the space is divided:  the Chapel occupies the area to the left of the sketch, with the Parlor on the right.

There is no evidence of a finished ceiling in the sections adjacent to the skylights.  This led Ed Wood to speculate that translucent panels may have filled the space between horizontal beams (see sketch).  These would have admitted light to the room below, much as was done at the nearly contemporaneous Carnegie Library in Oakland.

The new openness of the courtyard revealed some information previously lost to present observers.  Jim Tinnemeyer noticed that the stone of the original sanctuary building, cloister and chapel is all a uniform tan-buff color.  The apse, however, has a slightly grayer tone to much of its stonework.  It is interspersed with stones with an obvious rusty hue.


Gray & rust-colored stones - infill of former window location on East wall of sanctuary building

On the sanctuary building walls, to either side of the apse, stones with the gray and rust cast appear.  Jim realized that the pattern of new stones on the wall to the North of the apse is consistent with in-filling of a window.  A similar “ghost” is partially visible to the South.  No documentation of the original architectural design of this wall is available.


Exterior of apse - variegated color of stonework

However, writing in 1981, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, Jr., son and namesake of Shadyside’s long time pastor, described the area behind pulpit platform and organ pipes.  There were doors to the pulpit area, one behind the American flag to the minister’s study, and the other behind the gold service flag to the choir dressing and music room.  But, there was also a door from this music room directly to the choir loft.”  That there would have been windows in this music room is entirely logical.

Perhaps surprising, but wholly fitting, we learn more about the gift of earlier Shadyside generations to us, in the midst of a new building campaign which represents our gift to future members of our community.