TOWERS


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Late Victorian architects and their clients loved towers.  Always picturesque – often functional - towers were found on residences, commercial buildings, schools, government buildings and, libraries and churches.  The architects found ample precedent for towers in the styles they revived or emulated, most especially Gothic and Romanesque.  Given this popularity, we are not surprised to see two towers at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

The lantern itself is a tower, centrally located, cubical in form with a pyramid shaped roof.  In that sense, we worship within a tower.  More easily recognized as a tower is the cylindrical structure attached to the north side of the building that houses the pastor’s study and the music director’s office.  This round form is ubiquitous in Richardsonian Romanesque Revival architecture, along with numerous other shapes.

 

Allegheny Courthouse Main Tower & Four Tower Types at Jail

A frequent model for the church, the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail displays a wide range and large number of towers.  Of course, the dominant feature is tall main tower over the main entrance which is partially counterbalanced by two shorter towers on the opposite side of the courtyard.  These demonstrate an at least intended functionality.  The main tower was to provide storage space and to draw clean, fresh air into the building from high above the city’s sooty streets.  The lower pair exhausted air from inside.

 

Courthouse Pavillion as Tower

Many features of this government complex can be read as towers.  The corner pavilions can be seen as towers anchoring the four corners of the courthouse and were referred to as such, during the architectural competition.  Half round cylinders house judges’ chambers project from either side of the north and south entrances to the courtyard.  Might these be the model for the pastor’s study at Shadyside Church ?  The chambers and the study relate to their main structures in similar ways.

 

Similar Use of Towers for Judges' Chambers and Pastor's Study

When used as office space, such towers are both charming and awkward.  They allow views in three directions from a single vantage point.  (This made towers useful for defensive purposes in medieval buildings – not a likely feature today.)  The semicircular plan, however, yields inefficient placement of furniture, unless it is custom built.  

There is precedent at Richardson's Trinity Church, Boston, for Shadyside's Pastor's Study.

Tower at Trinity Church 

(photo courtesy Emily Slaughter, Southern Star Photography, NC)

Three firms made up of Richardson ’s apprentices made significant contributions to the city’s built environment around the turn of the twentieth century:  Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston ; Longfellow, Alden & Harlow of Pittsburgh and Boston , and Rutan & Russell of Pittsburgh .  By far the most prolific in the region was second who were responsible for such landmarks as the Carnegie Institute and Library in Oakland and downtown’s Duquesne Club. The Longfellow firm also had a thriving domestic practice.

 

Tower at Sunnyledge, Dr. McClelland Residence

Several of the private residences of the firm feature towers.  Shadyside member Dr. James McClelland built his home on the steep hillside above Fifth Avenue just a block from the site of the church.  Now adapted for use as a bed and breakfast, Sunnyledge is anchored at its east end by a tower that served as the physician’s office.  In basic form, the tower is similar to the church’s which followed it by three years.  The home was designed by Frank Alden who sheathed it in smooth, subtly detailed brickwork, reminiscent of Richardson ’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church on the city’s North Side.

 

Similar Towers at Boggs House & Shadyside

Towers often enclose stairwells and express their function clearly. The North Side home of R. H. Boggs has such a tower.  Longtime Pittsburghers will remember Boggs & Buhl department store.  In terms of feature for feature correspondence the Boggs tower closely foreshadows Shadyside Church ’s tower.  Both begin with a battered (inward sloping) base and are formed of random course, quarry-faced ashlar, imparting a stable and rugged appearance.  The windows are sharply incised into thick walls.  The Boggs home has a gabled roof extension, tying the conical tower roof to the main building roof.  A similar feature joins the pastor’s study to the main church.  Like Sunnyledge, Longfellow, Alden & Harlow designed this home, which is also being adaptlively re-used as an inn.

 

Tower carried over from medieval times by Sir Christopher Wren at London's St. James Church

A principal purpose for church  towers is to call attention to themselves.  Their height distinctive shape allow them to be located among other buildings from a distance.  Also, they often house bells to summon worshippers.  Towers were a feature extensively developed in medieval churches.  During the Renaissance, when Classical architecture was emulated, towers with spires were retained, especially in the London churches designed by Christopher Wren.

 

Popular Tower of Richardson's Brattle Square Church

Some towers achieve greater esteem than the buildings they serve.  When H. H. Richardson’s Brattle Square Church proved too expensive for its congregation to support, it was threatened with destruction.  Its tower, although only a few years old, was so popular that the public began a fund to preserve it.  When another congregation took over the structure, the tower and building were saved.

 

Bellefield Tower & Cathedral of Learning Tower:  All that remains and All there is

A similar situation occurred in Pittsburgh ’s Oakland section.  A Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Fifth and Bellefield was razed, and the tower is all that remains.  Directly across the corner is the Cathedral of Learning, where the tower is all that there is.

 

Two Towers at Pittsburgh Central Korean Church

Shadyside Church ’s closest ecclesiastical neighbor is the Pittsburgh Central Korean Church , at the opposite end of Westminster Place .  Also Richardsonian Romanesque it, was built as a Methodist church, designed by Pittsburgh ’s flamboyant architect, Frederick Osterling.  Its robust, tapered square tower looks incomplete.  The corner buttresses look like they were meant to support a taller tower, a spire or at least a substantial roof.  Osterling, however, was known for unusual personal taste and furnished a proportionally tiny roof (since removed).  In counterpoint to the main tower’s  purely visual purpose, he engaged a functional round stair tower to it.  Stair towers often express their purpose though the spiral disposition of their windows.

 

Apse at Shadyside Church

Speaking of engaged towers, we might well identify a third tower at Shadyside.  In 1938, the apse was added to the east end of the sanctuary for the communion table and mosaic.  Its external form is a half-round tower.

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Below is a Sampling of Towers