The Other Romanesque Revival
We can excuse someone
with a casual interest in architecture who, upon hearing Romanesque
Revival, thinks of Henry Hobson Richardson.
Dignified, muscular structures were conceived by this American
genius in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
They certainly had the most intense impact on architecture in the
round arch style in the
The revival of the
Romanesque began in
associated with its predecessor Early Christian architecture and,
therefore, the “primitive” Church.
This appealed to certain nineteenth century Protestant
denominations, in the
Some of the typical features of these "Other Romanesque Revival" structures are the round arch, masonry construction (often brick in Pittsburgh), a triple doorway entrance, windows divided into two smaller round-arch openings, the arcuated corbel, and a rose window on the front facade. A more-or-less prominent vertical element was usually introduced in the form of a single tower, paired towers, a spire or a belfry. A favored tower was the campanile, adapted from Italian sources, incorporating a low-pitched hip roof. Many had a semi-circular apse for the altar or communion table. Often, these churches were grounded to their sites by a "battered water table" or a projecting base.
Birmingham Methodist, South Side Enlarge
In Pittsburgh's Landmark Architecture (3), Walter Kidney identifies Birmingham Methodist Episcopal Church as an early (1859) local example of Romanesque Revival. This structure, in the heart of the South Side, is now home of The City Theater. Without its original belfry, it looks incomplete. While it clearly has Romanesque features, its pure classification is problematic. Round arch windows, an arcuated corbel at the roofline and pilasters point to Romanesque (although perhaps not exclusively). The Classical entrance portico says something different altogether.
The prominent belt
line molding separates the (straight-sided) ground floor from the main
(second) floor. This is
typical of Greek Revival structures, where the lower story functions as a
Up the South Side
slopes, we find a much more elaborate yet contemporary church,
prototypical of a
Monongahela River and
over the hill in Lawrenceville, we find a Protestant example in another
German neighborhood. Zion
Evangelical Lutheran was founded in 1823, but the present building was put
up about a decade after the South Side churches.
This is a simple, dignified brick box.
Here, like Birmingham, the worship space is raised above the street
and is terminated by a semi-circular apse with a connecting vestry.
St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, Lawrenceville Enlarge
St. Augustine's Doorway with Terra-cotta Trim
Once a dominantly
German Parish, St. Augustine's
shares a feature with
St. John the Baptist, Lawrenceville (after removal of its campanile tower) Enlarge
influenced Romanesque church for a German neighborhood is a few block
south and east:
Stewart Avenue Lutheran Church, Carrick Enlarge
Next we return across
the Mon River and continue south to Carrick. There, we discover that
while Richardson’s Revival spanned
little more than two decades, the “Other Romanesque Revival” survived
until the onset of the Depression (and beyond).
Even on the elevated
low-pitch roof, the tile covering is visible and imparts a distinctly
Mediterranean flavor. The 1958
addition was made most sympathetically (especially in a era when church
additions were often flat-roofed, steel-paneled boxes.)
The polychrome banding on the gable end relates to the original
structure, without attempting to hide the addition’s later construction.
Once again, the picturesque quality of Romanesque adapts to hilly
Clearly, the Romanesque Revival had a strong start in Pittsburgh by the 1870s, facilitated by churches for German neighborhoods. The city seemed to sit back and watch the early development of Richardson's architecture before embracing it in his Emmanuel Episcopal Church and Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in the mid 80s. East Liberty and McClure Avenue Presbyterian and West End Methodist started a trickle of churches by his disciples. With the Shadyside Presbyterian commission in 1889, a flood of Richardsonian Protestant churches dominated the the landscape for just over a decade. All the while, the "Other Romanesque Revival" quietly continued and extended well into the twentieth century. Their substantial construction and strong faith communities preserve these churches as a vital part of Pittsburgh's architectural fabric.
(1) Kathleen Curran, The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics and Trans-national Exchange, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. See also Curran's "The Romanesque Revival, Mural Painting and Protestant Patronage in America" Journal article The Art Bulletin, Vol. 81, 1999
(2) William H. Pierson, "Richardson's Trinity Church and the New England Meetinghouse" in American Public Architecture European Roots and Native Expression, The Pennsylvania State University, 1989 Note: Pierson's characteristic writing style, cogent and concise, make this difficult to find reference worth the search.
(3) Walter Kidney, Pittsburgh's Landmark Architecture: The Historic Buildings of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 1997