Trinity Cathedral Parish House

Trinity Parish House, Front & Basement - Copy

Trinity Parish House, Sixth Street Entrance

Photo by Jack Carpenter 2002

Posted March 9, 2016

The Trinity Cathedral Parish House in the heart of Pittsburgh was designed   by Architect Wm. J. Carpenter A.I.A. of the Carpenter and Crocker firm in 1907 .   Planned and constructed in the Gothic style as a compatible addition to the historic Episcopal Trinity Church sanctuary of 1872 it added up-to-date congregational and community facilities  that were needed by the Church that was soon to become Trinity Cathedral. The old chapel was demolished and the new Parish House was designed fronting on the Burying Ground of the Church  on Sixth Street but with functional entrances open onto Oliver Avenue at the rear.

This project is one of the best documented of Mr. Carpenter’s designs. Why Carpenter & Crocker were selected to design this project is unknown.  Perhaps it was because of their Gothic design of the  St. James and St. Andrews Episcopal  churches in the Pittsburgh area the previous year.  The latter is now on the National Register of Historic Buildings. (NHRB.)

The Trinity congregation is very proud of their church and several books and many public articles have been written about them.  We appreciate that this information has been made available to us and allowed us to consolidate it with an emphasis on the Parish House itself.  We were able to take a grand tour of the Sanctuary and Parish House during a visit to Pittsburgh in 2001 and it was easy to grasp the significance of this church to the community.

The earliest information we had about this building was the review by Walter Kidney in Pittsburgh Landmark Architecture shown below:

Trinity Cathedral ,"Guide to Landmark Architecture", Kidney

Trinity Cathedral ,”Guide to Landmark Architecture”, Kidney

Planning for a Parish House for Trinity had begun early in the Twentieth Century.  Original plans were to use the chapel, which had been built at the same time as the construction of the church in 1872, but due to major plans of the city for development in this area the plans had to be put on hold until the effect of these plans on Trinity’s land could be determined.  Finally, the city’s plans were finalized, requiring the removal of the chapel in order to widen the street to the south of the church.  As soon as the dust settled “…after removal of the Chapel and the paving of Oliver Avenue, the cornerstone for the new Parish building was laid and construction was under way.

Parish House Floor Plan

The Parish House was to be completed before the planned celebration of Pittsburgh’s 150th anniversary in 1908, as part of welcoming visitors from all over the world.  “…The members were so eager to complete the new addition that they started to build it while still tearing down the old Chapel.  In fact, the last of the old Chapel was removed after the dedication of the new on January 25, 1906”.  This must have presented a challenge to the architect and the contractor!

Evidently, the dedication was considered to be a newsworthy event.  The Pittsburgh papers contained frequent columns, describing the current status in the building of this new type of meeting place.

“…The Dispatch, on March 26, 1905, noted that the new Parish House “has two fronts.” … As visitors entered the church grounds from Sixth Avenue, they followed the path through the burying ground, just as we do today.  An entry with a porch-like roof had been added.  The architect had cleverly created the Chapel’s connection with the Trinity Church built in 1872, so that they seemed to have been built at the same time.

“This entry from the Burying Ground led to a vestibule on the main floor, from which visitors might reach locations in the Church, as well as the many facilities provided on the main floor of the Parish Hall.  At the rear of these halls were stairways leading to the lower hall, known as the ‘undercroft,’ with its many rooms.  It was here that the gymnasium was situated  Or, one could ch0ose to ascend a nearby stairway to the second floor, where offices and social rooms of many sizes were available.  From this floor a stairway led to the third floor, with additional rooms and apartments flexible enough to meet many needs.  Later, when Trinity became the Cathedral, this floor provided for the needs of the Bishop and the Diocese of Pittsburg, Returning to the main floor,; visitors were able to leave the Parish House by doors which formed the Oliver Avenue exit.  The view of the Church from this side is impressive with its four stories, its large, often ornate windows, and its carved, Gothic-like walls.

“The descriptive articles in the various newspapers all note that the addition to Trinity was three stories in height from the Sixth Avenue side and four from Oliver Avenue frontage, there being a slight slope in the terrain.  The Parish House was built of sandstone to harmonize with the original church and was 55 feet wide, containing 26,700 square feet on the four floors.  Reporters marveled at the gymnasium, with its galleries for spectators, and especially, the bathtubs with showers!…”(Harriss)

An early contact with Mr. Jim Cole, the Building Superintendent elicited this email:

“We have a historical book titled ‘Trinity & Pittsburgh (The history of Trinity Cathedral) written by Helen L. Harriss and a pamphlet titled The Architecture of Trinity, Pittsburgh by Robert Clarke Grove, A. I. A.  We also have some blueprints of the Parish House but not originals.  If you are in the Pittsburgh area, please feel free to stop in and look around.”

I took him up on the invitation while visiting Pittsburgh in 2001 and had the   grand tour.  One of the first areas of interest was the basement, where the integrity of the construction was very obvious.  The steel beams are riveted together and supported by sandstone outer walls , in a similar manner as in the Putnam Hotel in DeLand.

Trinity Parish House, Front & Basement

Basement View of Floor Joists

Photograph by Jack Carpenter 2001

On my tour I had lunch in the cafeteria, which has been in use since 1914,   serving lunch to downtown working girls, who had no place to eat when they first started working in the Pittsburgh men’s world, which controlled all of the downtown clubs.

Lunch Room & Entrance

Lunch Room & Bookstore

From Trinity & Pittsburgh

From the City of Pittsburgh Mellon Square Tour Map:

“This is the third church building for Trinity Cathedral, which occupies another of the church lots donated by the Penn family in 1787.  It is designed in the Decorated English Gothic style that was favored by mid-Victorian Episcopalians.  The parish house at the rear, on Oliver Avenue, was designed in 1907 by Crocker & Carpenter(sic).  Trinity Cathedral is located on a terrace that is the remains of a low hill that had been used as a graveyard by Native Americans, French, British, and American Settlers; a portion of that graveyard still survives between Trinity and First Presbyterian.”

Scan0009 (2)Parish House Rear

Oliver Avenue views of Parish House, Photographs by Jack Carpenter

Contemporary architect Robert C.Grove A.I.A. had this to say about the Parish House in his review of the Trinity Cathedral architecture:

…This building was designed in the Perpendicular English Gothic style by Pittsburgh architects Carpenter and Crocker.  The structure, handsome and dignified but without ornate character, cost $155,000.  In it’s day, it was looked upon as the most complete parish house in the state.  It included a new chapel (now the choir room), gymnasium with shower facilities, chambers for visiting clergy, kindergarten, choir room and committee/society rooms on the ground and second floors.  A 36-by-50-foot auditorium/Sunday school room was built on the third floor using bridge construction in order to eliminate columns.  The interior of the parish house was finished in hard plaster and oak trim.

Information for this article came from

Trinity & Pittsburgh-The History of Trinity Cathedral, Helen L. Harriss, Chas M. Henry Printing Company

The Architecture-Trinity Cathedral Pittsburgh, Robert Clark Grove, A. I. A., Charles M. Henry Printing Company.

Guide to Landmark Architecture, Walter C. Kidney, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Pittsburgh Dispatch, March 26, 1905.

http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/wt/html/mellom_square_map.html.

If you have read this far and have any further information about this design,, please add a comment below.  Your email address will not be revealed.

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