Supervising Architect


Many buildings, Shadyside Church among them, are misattributed to H. H. Richardson.  The church has a closer connection than most, having been designed by Richardson ’s designated successors, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (SRC).  That firm’s presence in Pittsburgh was occasioned by their work finishing construction supervision of the Allegheny County Courthouse after their mentor’s death in 1886.

Richardson, based in Brookline, Massachusetts , had sent his employee, Frank Alden, to oversee the Pittsburgh work.  Supervising architect was a key position with various duties.  He was to assure that contractors adhered to specifications.  He interpreted the architect’s drawings and resolved conflicts and mistakes.  A nineteenth century builder often engaged in drafting work, producing, for example, working drawings for construction details.  They were subject to the supervising architect’s approval.  He was usually a liaison with the client, a relationship that often led to soliciting new business for the firm.  Alden performed similar duties for the construction of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in what is now the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Allegheny Courthouse & Jail where Frank Alden & Frank I Cooper were among the supervising architects

The position called for a talented, decisive person.  A number of architectural luminaries filled this job for Richardson:  Stanford White, Langford Warren, A.W. Longfellow and George Shepley.  That these individuals had the competence to strike out on their own is not surprising.  The equally talented Frank Alden had hoped to have it both ways, for a while at least.  He asked Richardson for permission to engage in independent design work while in Pittsburgh, and was denied.

This prohibition was apparently loosened somewhat when Alden continued Pittsburgh supervision work for Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.  He entered an informal arrangement with A. W. Longfellow, who had left Richardson ’s office to design buildings in Boston and Pittsburgh.  The team had some success winning contracts that SRC had solicited.  This led to business disputes between SRC and Longfellow’s firm.  Such a dispute over the contract for the Duquesne Club forced Alden to resign from SRC.

Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge proposal to Shadyside Church through Frank I Cooper

SRC replaced Alden with Frank Irving Cooper, a former Richardson draftsman who had been trained in both architecture and engineering.  SRC clearly hoped for more Pittsburgh work, as Cooper stayed on after the completion of the Courthouse as their resident architect.  It was through Cooper that SRC submitted their successful proposal to design Shadyside Presbyterian’s third church building.  (Newspaper accounts mention two other unnamed competitors.  It seems likely that Longfellow, Alden & Harlow was one of them, as they already had contracts for three important Pittsburgh churches).  Cooper then supervised construction at Shadyside after the contract award in November 1888.

Construction Photo of Shadyside Church

It seems unlikely that Frank Cooper participated directly in the design of Shadyside Church .  While a draftsman might follow his office work on a project with field supervision, Cooper probably remained in Pittsburgh while designs were in progress in Boston.  Charles Allerton Coolidge, a principal in the firm, was designing a church for the Stanford University campus at about the time Shadyside Church was being conceived.  Similarities in overall massing as well as some details argue for Coolidge as the main creative force for both churches.


Spinelli House, Westminster Place, where Frank I Cooper lived during construction of Shadyside Church

Members’ recollections in the church archives indicate that Cooper purchased a home a short distance east of the construction site on Westminster Place.  This charming Gothic Revival cottage is known today as the Spinelli House.  Its style and wooden construction speak of the rural nature of Shadyside in the late nineteenth century.

Frank Irving Cooper had an eventful year in 1890.  The first phase of the Shadyside project, the main church building, was completed and dedicated.  Cooper married Anna Wellington Sawyer of Bridgewater, MA.  Cooper also left Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge and launched his own practice, initially based both in Boston and Pittsburgh.  Whether he was involved in construction of the Shadyside chapel over the next two years is unknown.  He may have been available to SRC to continue supervision on a contract basis.

Shadyside Presbyterian Church shortly after completions of church and chapel

We do know that he maintained an interest in the busy Pittsburgh architectural market.  He is listed as once of the participants in the nationwide competition for the design of Carnegie Institute in 1891.  His submission was made with another former Richardson draftsman, Welles Bosworth.  The project was awarded to other former colleagues, Longfellow, Alden & Harlow.  Incidentally, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge also competed, the loss apparently convincing them to withdraw from the Pittsburgh market to concentrate on Boston, St. Louis and Chicago.  In 1891, Cooper created a presentation drawing for the Standard Underground Cable Company facilities at Brinton in Western Pennsylvania (still listing his location as both Pittsburgh and Boston).

 Bristol County Superior Court Building (photo courtesy of Marc N. Belanger) (Marc has told me the dome had a flame) & Syrian arch at Allegheny County Jail

Thereafter, Cooper concentrated on business in New England .  His experience at the Allegheny Courthouse and in Richardson ’s Romanesque designs was put to good use for a commission in Taunton, MA  His Bristol County Superior Court Building reflects many of the Allegheny Courthouse details, as well as its symmetrical composition centered on a prominent tower.  The mullions and oculus detail of the triplet windows recall those of Shadyside Church more than the corresponding features at the Pittsburgh courthouse.  Some drama is added to the entrance using a Syrian arch – a much more modest version of those on the Allegheny County Jail. A most appealing feature is the copper roof.  The patina harmonizes with the ashlar granite walls.  One wonders how it might have appeared before the oxidation took place.  This roof, however, is not original to the building.  Red Akron tiles were used, but did not stand up to harsh New England winters.

Bristol County Superior Court Building (photo courtesy of Marc N. Belanger) & Shadyside triplet windows

Cooper, who lived until 1933, became widely recognized for expertise in two fields:  heating and ventilation of buildings and the design of school houses.  He spoke and wrote extensively on the requirements of school buildings and served on numerous national committees and boards.   

Osborn Street School, Fall River, MA

In the 1890s, taste turned abruptly from Richardsonian medieval to a Classical renaissance, exemplified by the “White City” of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.  Cooper and some of his former colleagues in Richardson ’s office, produced a more gradual and pleasing turn toward Classical.   At Osborn Street School in Fall River, MA, he retained the proportions of the Romanesque arch, but the delicate moldings around windows was more in keeping with Classical details.  The Classical symmetry of the façade is softened somewhat by the steep hip roofs, sprung at the edges. 


Woolslair School

The Osborn Street School (1893) may look familiar to Pittsburghers who know the Woolslair School in Bloomfield.  Designed in 1897 by Samuel Thornburg McClarren, it has a similar composition and combination of medieval and Classical details.  It is possible that McClarren knew Cooper’s Fall River school, perhaps by a published image.  It seems more likely that both schools had a common source of inspiration.  McClarren is known to have been influenced by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow.  Cooper may have watched the designs of his increasingly successful former colleagues while he was still in Pittsburgh. 

Corner pavilion and details at Loretto and Woolslair

It is not difficult to perceive sources for both schools in the massing and details the Convent of the Sister of Mercy of Loretto (1892) in Cresson, PA,  by LAH.  All three are anchored by cubical corner pavilions topped by sprung hip roofs, which in turn, find precedent in the pavilions of the Allegheny County Courthouse.  Richardson’s Pittsburgh pavilions also may have been an inspiration for the composition of a structure well-known to Frank Irving Cooper:  the central lantern tower of Shadyside Presbyterian Church.


Allegheny Courthouse pavilion and Shadyside central tower