After 1940

The coming of World War II brought an end to building construction in the Highland Park district. After the war, when construction began again, the paucity of building lots constrained the amount of building that could occur in the district. Occasionally an older house or two were demolished to provide room for new buildings, but construction usually took place on the few empty lots scattered across the district and on a small number of large estates that were sold and subdivided during this period. Examples of single-family houses built after the war can be found at 826 N. Highland Avenue (ca. 1950, photograph #69), 6715 Stanton Avenue (ca. 1960, photograph #70), and at the end of Elgin Street near the King Estate (ca. 1960, photograph #71). Much of the construction that took place in the second half of the twentieth century, though, was apartment buildings, which reflected the relatively high land values and continued demand for housing the neighborhood. Highland Park experienced some of the same problems that bedeviled many city neighborhoods after World War Two. The demand for housing for war workers during the war led to the conversion of many houses into apartments, which led to overuse and deterioration of the housing stock in the district. The migration and expansion of Pittsburgh’s poorer African-American population from the Hill District into East Liberty affected the southern section of the neighborhood, especially in the southwestern quadrant, as absentee landlords cut up houses into rental units and abandoned their maintenance. However, neighborhood residents actively resisted these developments through the Highland Park Community Club and the Highland Park Community Development Corporation, ensuring that the district would remain relatively stable and prosperous. Renovation activity returned many rental buildings to single-family use, and the renovation of houses and apartment buildings in the neighborhood had a substantial effect on its appearance in the past two decades. The Negley Park Apartments, on N. Negley Avenue between Hampton and Wellesley, were built around 1948-1949 on the site of the Barnsdale estate (photograph #72). Their style, strangely enough for this late date, is the modernistic Art Deco that had its peak of popularity in the late Twenties and the Thirties (but which apparently was never employed in Highland Park in those decades). The horizontal masses of the brick apartment buildings are interrupted by emphatically vertical ornament at their entrances. Post-war houses can be found on cul-de-sacs such as High Park Place and Sheridan Court (ca. 1950, photograph #73). In addition, new apartment buildings went up on corner lots along Stanton Avenue (such as 5800 Stanton, ca. 1960, photograph #74), and the twenty-two-story Park View Apartments high-rise came to loom over the district after 1961 from the site of the demolished streetcar barn at the corner of Bunker Hill and Mellon Streets (photograph #75). Most of the post-war buildings, whether they are houses or apartment buildings, are simple brick buildings that have little or no stylistic character. However, a few of these newer buildings are representative examples of 20th century modern architectural styles. The house at 826 N. Highland Avenue, for example, was designed in the International style promoted in the 1920s and 1930s by the early Modernist architects, with simple cubic massing, simple square detailing, and aluminum railings. The Park View Apartments high-rise, on the other hand, is a Miesian design, designed by Pittsburgh architect Tasso Katselas. It has a base raised on plain columns (“pilotis”) and gridded glass-and-steel curtain-wall facades that are based on the designs of the mid-twentieth century Modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Whether non-stylistic or Modernist in style, post-war buildings in the Highland Park district contrast with the traditional and historically-derived architectural styles that characterized construction in the district prior to 1940. [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.]