Old Allegheny Rows Historic District: A Glimpse into Pittsburgh’s Architectural Heritage
Nestled in the California-Kirkbride neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is a treasure trove of architectural splendor. This historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, boasts a collection of row houses dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With its diverse architectural styles and rich history, the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District offers a fascinating glimpse into the development of row housing in Pittsburgh and the changing needs of its urban working class.
A Tapestry of Architectural Styles
The Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is a testament to the evolution of row housing in Pittsburgh. The district is home to a variety of architectural styles, ranging from the grandeur of the Richardson Romanesque to the elegance of the Italianate and Victorian vernacular.
Richardson Romanesque: A Symbol of Grandeur
One of the standout architectural styles in the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is the Richardson Romanesque. This style, named after the renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson, is characterized by its robust stone construction, rounded arches, and intricate detailing. The row of four Richardson Romanesque-styled houses on California Avenue between B Street and St. Mark’s is a prime example of this architectural style. Constructed in 1888 by Francis J. Torrance, these houses feature stone exteriors, flat roofs with corbelled brick cornices, and ornate details such as small and large round arch windows and elaborately detailed stone lintels.
Italianate: Timeless Elegance
Another architectural style found in the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is the Italianate. This style, popular in the mid-19th century, is characterized by its symmetrical facades, decorative brackets, and tall, narrow windows. While the district’s Italianate row houses may be more modest in scale compared to their Richardson Romanesque counterparts, they exude a timeless elegance. These houses often feature mansard roofs, dormers, and bracketed or corbelled cornices, adding a touch of sophistication to the streetscape.
Victorian Vernacular: Charming and Eclectic
The Victorian vernacular style is yet another architectural gem found in the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District. This style emerged during the Victorian era and allowed for more individual expression and creativity in design. In the district, a row of fourteen identical houses built in 1892 by Herbert DuPuy showcases the charm and eclecticism of the Victorian vernacular style. These two-story-plus-mansard brick houses feature corbelled brick cornices, decorative pinnacles, and paired dormer windows with decorative mullions. The houses’ distinctive peaked gables and curved wood details on the porches add a touch of whimsy to the streetscape.
The Development of the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District
To fully appreciate the significance of the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District, it is essential to understand the historical context in which it developed. The growth of industry and manufacturing, advancements in transportation, and the rise of the urban working class all played a role in shaping the district’s architectural landscape.
The Rise of Allegheny City
In the mid-19th century, Allegheny City experienced a significant expansion due to the growth of industries such as iron, coal, steel, and railroads. This rapid growth prompted the need for housing to accommodate the growing workforce. John Taggart, Jr. was among the first to recognize this need and constructed a row of twelve small brick houses in the vicinity of the street railway in 1872. These simple, no-frills houses were likely intended to house workers employed in the nearby tannery.
Speculative Development and Architectural Sophistication
As the demand for housing continued to rise, developers in the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District embraced the concept of speculative row housing. Speculators like Francis J. Torrance and Herbert DuPuy embarked on ambitious projects, constructing rows of houses designed to appeal to the urban working class.
Francis J. Torrance, a prominent businessman, constructed a row of four Richardson Romanesque brick houses on California Avenue in 1888. These houses, with their stone exteriors and ornate details, reflected Torrance’s appreciation for architectural style.
Herbert DuPuy, an industrialist, undertook an even more substantial development known as “Hollywood Place” in the early 1890s. This large-scale speculative housing project aimed to meet the demand for small, modestly priced rental houses. DuPuy’s vision included architecturally resplendent houses on the main streets and more modest residences on the alleys. The completion of the project, however, was hindered by the Panic of 1893 and the Homestead Riots. Despite the setbacks, DuPuy managed to construct 137 row houses, each showcasing unique architectural elements.
Exploring the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District
A stroll through the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is like stepping back in time. The streets, arranged in a grid pattern, offer picturesque views of the row houses and the surrounding neighborhood. The district’s architectural diversity and consistent scale create a captivating atmosphere. Let’s explore some of the significant structures and notable features within this historic district.
The New Brighton Theater: A Reflection of Art Deco
One of the district’s significant buildings is the New Brighton Theater, located on the southwest corner of Brighton Place and California Avenue. Erected in 1928, this three-story, seven-bay building boasts an Art Deco-style terra cotta facade adorned with zig-zag designs, sculpted faces, and art deco sculpted elephant heads. Although the theater no longer operates, its architectural beauty remains intact.
The Row of Four Richardson Romanesque Houses
A row of four houses on California Avenue between B Street and St. Mark’s is a standout feature of the district. Constructed in 1888 by Francis J. Torrance, these Richardson Romanesque-styled houses display the grandeur of the architectural style. The alternating designs of these two-bay, three-story houses, with their stone exteriors and intricate detailing, make for an eye-catching streetscape.
The Row of Victorian Vernacular Houses
Another noteworthy feature of the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is the row of fourteen identical houses built by Herbert DuPuy in 1892. This row represents the largest and most ornate surviving section of DuPuy’s “Hollywood Place” development. These two-story-plus-mansard brick houses, with their corbelled brick cornices and decorative pinnacles, showcase the charm and eclecticism of the Victorian vernacular style. The distinctive turret of 1000 Kirkbride, which serves as the entrance to the development, adds a touch of grandeur.
The Significance of the Old Allegheny Rows Historic District
The Old Allegheny Rows Historic District holds immense historical and architectural significance. It stands as a testament to the changing needs of the urban working class in Pittsburgh and the evolution of row housing. The district’s architectural styles, including Richardson Romanesque, Italianate, and Victorian vernacular, reflect the diversity and creativity of the era. Furthermore, the district’s grid layout, consistent scale, and picturesque streetscapes contribute to its distinctive character.
The Old Allegheny Rows Historic District is a captivating glimpse into Pittsburgh’s architectural heritage. With its diverse collection of row houses spanning different architectural styles, the district tells the story of the city’s growth, the urban working class, and the development of row housing. As visitors meander through the streets of this historic district, they can’t help but be transported back in time to an era of architectural grandeur and craftsmanship. The Old Allegheny Rows Historic District stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving our architectural heritage for future generations to appreciate and cherish.