It was another weekend visiting churches without services. This past Saturday I toured three Pittsburgh churches designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram. This tour was more structured than last week’s South Side Crawl; it was organized by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and included a presentation at each church. The first church on the tour at 1 PM was Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in Homewood; I was late. Being late for the first church carried through to the next two churches. An hour was really too short to look around though and then get from one church to the next.
Holy Rosary Church
I entered the stone-cold Holy Rosary Church about 1:15 PM with a couple of other latecomers. A priest from the St. Charles Lwanga Parish to which this church belongs was at the edge of the sanctuary speaking to the audience as I walked in. I walked along the end of the pews to the back of the church and then back down the other side of the pews where confessionals were ensconced along the wall. I sat down about halfway up the nave. I listened but could not catch all the words even with the microphone. I wonder how many parishioners missed the salient points of sermons. I eventually stopped trying to pay attention to the words and just looked around at the stained glass windows and the statues in the front and to the organ pipes climbing the wall above the left side of the sanctuary. When the speaking and questions ended, I walked up to the sanctuary and then down the hall to the sacristy. Robes hung on hangers and vestments or altar coverings were folded in drawers. Atop the built-in rows of narrow wooden drawers on one wall sat religious artifacts. Stained glass windows lined two walls. Plaster was hanging in patches from the ceiling and plaster debris crunched underfoot. I walked out and then climbed the dark stairs to the organ loft that overlooked the sanctuary. I looked into the closet where the organ pipes originated and then turned to trip back down the steps of the tiered pews for choir members probably. I left the church and walked up the street towards the Holy Rosary School.
I stopped for a photo of the outside, and a man walked toward me with his camera. He asked if I was from here. No. He told me that he had grown up in Homewood and his family members attended this church and were married here and children went to this school. I commented that his family must feel sad for this church’s future. I walked up the street and turned into the alley to get back to my car parked on Hamilton Street. A boy stepped out from an abandoned brick building with some street art on the outside wall. He looked at me and said his friend was inside peeing. I asked him if there was graffiti on the inside of the building. He said, “What, sweetie?” I do not usually get called sweetie by 12-13 year old boys. I laughed and repeated my question. He told me there was a little graffiti inside the building. I said I would just let his friend finish then and decided to try to remember this spot for another time.
East Liberty Presbyterian Church
I drove to East Liberty, parked in the lot beside Domino’s Pizza, and walked out to Penn Avenue. People were milling about on the streets enjoying the warm weather. A purse sidewalk vendor had set up on one of the trees encased in the sidewalk. A couple of children had plopped down on the sidewalk as two adults stood talking beside them. People were waiting at the bus stop. Across the street in front of the next church on the tour, men lounged on the front steps to the church. A few others sat on the concrete benches and tables at the edge of the sidewalk. I have many pictures of this church taken from all sides; it towers above the neighborhood.
The entry for the tour was on Highland Avenue; this is probably always the entrance to be used. I walked down a hallway where a man – concierge? guard? – was sitting at a desk. Further down the hall past offices stood a woman handing out maps of the church. I veered to the left guided by the sign for a unisex bathroom. I reached the door labeled handicapped bathroom and entered a door with no lock and then another with no lock and the stall with no lock. I hoped nobody else came in. I walked back to the woman with the maps who was chatting with two other women. She did not look at me as I passed, so I entered without the guide. There were clusters of people in areas of the church being addressed by a tour guide. I do really prefer to just wander anyway. I stopped at the railing of the sanctuary beside a raised pulpit and listened and looked. A man in bicycle spandex turned as I took a picture of the organ. He said he was looking for the original label because the organ had been rebuilt. I walked into the sanctuary to look at the carvings and then stopped to listen as the guide talked about a bowling alley on a lower floor. He added that they had not installed a pool at the time of construction because the neighboring YMCA already had a pool. One listener commented that this really was a community center. This was like no church I had ever attended. I walked up the stairs to the balcony and looked down on the pews in the nave below. I walked behind that balcony area to a hall that partially encircled the outside wall and looked out through screened openings to Penn Avenue and the men sitting on the front steps. I walked up and down stairs to other overlooks into the church. I thought how much fun this church could be for children with all its hiding places. I walked down a hall near the main worship area to a small chapel. Then I walked outside into a courtyard that was enclosed and surrounded by the church walls. There was no direct exit to the streets outside. This was a huge church that is almost intimidating in its size.
Calvary Episcopal Church
I left my car parked in East Liberty and walked up Highland Avenue into Shadyside turning left then to reach the last church on this tour, Calvary Episcopal Church. I walked into another beautiful example of architecture and craftsmanship. Visitors were seated listening to a guide talk about the history of this church, but again I wandered on my own. The guide was answering a question about beliefs and comparing the Episcopalians to Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Someone asked about the Frick pews, and he said he had not attended long enough to know which pews were Frick pews. He told a story about a worshiper being asked to move because it was Miss Frick’s pew; and even though she was not there, no one else was to sit there. Then he said that ownership of pews was abolished at some point. I remember a similar thing in my childhood Lutheran Church. Members donated money to replace the pews and were recognized with a plaque nailed to its back. Some of those members felt that pew then belonged to them. Most of the time it was not an issue of having a place to sit.
I wandered a bit more into a room beside the kitchen where food sat on the counter. I was suddenly hungry. The room beside it for some reason reminded me of Hogwarts. I wandered back up the hall and into a hallway that boasted a hotel-style desk and a bookstore to the left of the doorway. I walked out into the sunshine. A couple of people directed me to the front door for the tour. I said I was finished with the tour and headed down the street toward the busway. I crossed over and then over again at Target to my car.
I had finally melded the exterior with the interior of three churches I had passed on my walks through the neighborhoods. The interiors seemed in harmony with the exteriors or perhaps they did sing a little louder. I was not disappointed. Probably I had missed many salient points in those talks that I had avoided. I thought about the cost to build these structures years ago. The replacement cost would be prohibitive as well as the craftsmanship being unattainable today. I wondered what the neighborhood thought as these churches were erected and overshadowed all the buildings surrounding them.