1920 - 1940

After the end of World War I and the recession that followed in 1919 and 1920, the Highland Park district experienced its second major building boom. By this time, the automobile had become a common sight on Pittsburgh’s streets, and had opened up for development areas of town that had previously been considered undesirable because of steep hillsides or distance from streetcar lines. Such areas in Highland Park – remote Cordova Road in the western section, the central section rising north of Bryant Street, and much of the hilly eastern part of the neighborhood – became the sites of the most intense construction activity. The 1400 block of N. Euclid (photograph #54), the eastern blocks of Jackson and Stanton (photograph #55), and all of Wellesley Road (photograph #22) and Winterton Street (photograph #56) were built up in the decade after 1920. In addition, the continuing growth of the city increased the pressure on the neighborhood for higher-density development. Double houses became more common, and some small apartment buildings were built, but the primary effect of this pressure was the demolition of large houses and the subdivision of their lots for new houses. Large houses at N. Highland and Stanton Avenues were replaced by closely-built double houses (photograph #57); Thomas Bigelow’s mansion on N. Highland Avenue (across Jackson Street from his brother Edward’s house) was razed to make way for Wayne Road and sixteen houses (photograph #58); forty-one building lots were platted on William Flinn’s property at the entrance to Highland Park (1924), including twenty-three on the new cul-de-sac Greystone Street (photograph #59); and the Morrison estate on N. Highland Avenue was subdivided for the construction of another twenty-three houses along Browning Road (photograph #60). The most spectacular mansion in the neighborhood (that of Alexander Peacock, the “Carnegie millionaire”) was demolished in 1924 and the block – between Jackson and Wellesley, Highland and Farragut – subdivided into building lots for twenty-two smaller houses (photograph #21). In addition, the empty lots on Bryant Court and around the corner of N. Negley Avenue and Callowhill Street (photograph #61) were built up in this period. In all of the increasing density, however, the new construction maintained the established quality and character of the neighborhood. The new housing plans respected the established patterns of the district. The development of cul-de-sac streets provided access into the hearts of large estates and permitted their subdivision into smaller lots for single-family houses. The construction of double houses that looked like large single-family houses allowed them to fit in visually with their older neighbors. Even the apartment buildings from this period shared the height and architectural detailing of the houses around them, so that they did not appear out of place (a number of apartment buildings on Stanton Avenue, in fact, were developed by adding on to and subsuming existing houses – including 5701 and 5721 Stanton [photograph #62]). At the beginning of the decade, the principal means of maintaining the character of a development was by the use of restrictions written into the property deed. Such deed restrictions might require that a building be set back a certain distance from the street, or be used only as a single-family residence, or cost a minimum amount to build. However, in 1923, the City of Pittsburgh adopted its first zoning ordinance, superseding deed restrictions and regulating the use of property and the density of construction. In subsequent years, the zoning regulations had the general effect of maintaining and reinforcing the existing patterns of development in the district. Nonetheless, as Highland Park filled up, and building lots in the district became scarce, the district’s share of the growth of the city’s population declined. Already, in the 1910’s, the growth rate in Highland Park (a 17% increase) was lower than that of the city as whole (23%). By the 1920s, other East End neighborhoods, such as Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, and Homewood, as well as Observatory Hill on the North Side and the South Hills communities south of Mt. Washington, became the foci of new construction and population growth in the region. The onset of the Great Depression after the Crash of 1929 slowed construction in the district, though it did not stop it. Many of the single and double houses built during the 1930s were constructed on the edges of the district (along Stanton Avenue as it curves to the north above Negley Run and approaches the lower entrance to Highland Park [photograph #63], in the blocks bordering Heth’s Avenue) and on cul-de-sacs carved out of large estates (such as much of Greystone Street [photograph #59]). These buildings were generally small and simple in form, often with minimal historical detailing (sometimes only a Colonial frontispiece on an otherwise plain brick façade). During the decade of the 1920s, a few Colonial Revival houses were built – an example being 1010 Heberton Street (photograph #64) – and the Craftsman style continued to influence the design of some buildings, such as the house at 5552 Elgin Street (1924, photograph #65). However, the Tudor Revival and English period architectural styles became dominant in the district. Generally smaller and less formal than the earlier versions of the Tudor style, these houses had brick-veneered exteriors and asymmetrical forms. The roofs were usually steep, and often one side swept down over a door or a porch. The exterior detailing was much sparser and simpler than before, in line with the general simplification of architectural detailing during the Twenties. Good examples are found lining Greystone Street and Wellesley Road (photograph #22), and include individual houses like 1134 N. Sheridan Avenue (photograph #66, with some French Norman influence as well). Another architectural influence became evident during this decade in Mediterranean-styles houses. The Mediterranean influence did not refer to specific historical styles, but made use of ornamental elements derived from Italian and Spanish architecture: red-tiled roofs and round-arched windows and doors, classical columns and cornices, and occasionally stucco walls. Buildings showing this influence appear on both sides of N. Highland Avenue at Hampton Street (photograph #25 and 67). The last major architectural type to be introduced in the 1920s was a very stripped-down vernacular builder house. While these houses, with their steep-gabled roofs modified by large shed dormers and relieved by little or no exterior ornament, are found in the greatest numbers in the easterly blocks of Jackson and Stanton (photograph #68), they can also be found scattered through the rest of the neighborhood. Frederick Scheibler is noteworthy as one of the first Pittsburgh architects to be affected by the progressive architectural movements of the early 20th century. Two of his designs in Highland Park in the 1920s are significant: the Clara Johnston House at 6349 Jackson (1921, photograph #16) and the Alan Klages House at 5525 Beverly Place (1922, photograph #15). These houses show Scheibler’s turn from abstract modern design to the romantic and picturesque, and give a strong sense of shelter through their broad, widely-overhanging roofs. [Text adapted from Mike Eversmeyer's final nomination documents for the Highland Park Residential Historic Distict. Mike has given explicit permission for its inclusion on the Highland Park web site.]