|Commissioning Entity||Edward C. Wefing|
Many Pittsburghers know the Shadyside Variety Store, Mazur Galleries, and Cappy’s Cafe, all longtime Shadyside businesses; but have they looked closely at the building that houses these businesses?
The Minnetonka Building was designed by architect Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. for Edward C. Wefing, a real estate man who had visionary expectations for Walnut Street in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood. When Wefing's store and apartment building was erected in 1908, it was one of the most urbane commercial buildings in the entire city, and was by far the grandest structure on a street with only a few shops. Today the building stands at the heart of a fashionable shopping district.
The Minnetonka Building entirely fills its lot. With its four commercial storefronts and eight one-bedroom apartments it is distinctly urban architecture. The building’s three-story height, horizontality, and the arrangement of the apartments around two entries recall Scheibler’s Old Heidelberg apartment building; but here the roof is flat, the entries are accented rather than minimized, and there are no suburban amenities like porches and plantings.
White brick yields a hard planar surface on the building’s upper stories and sides. The nearly flush windows (now altered) feature Scheibler’s trademark exposed steel I-beam lintels. A stucco panel at the center of the facade features half-timbering and narrow green art-glass windows. Scars remain from a pair of metalwork light fixtures that originally broke the plane of the façade. Bands of stucco and bowed windows round the corners of the building to unify the front and sides. Such rounded corner treatments were popular urban devices in contemporary Vienna, and Scheibler may have referred to such buildings in developing his design.
In contrast with the plain flat surfaces above, the first story is an artful composition of contrasting solids and voids. Here heavy stone surrounds alternate with the doorways and large display windows of the storefronts. The surrounds are dramatic compositions of projected and recessed blocks assembled as tapered square columns and heavy lintels. The surrounds are at once skeletal and massive: they are columnar in relation to the stories above, but act as solids in contrast to the voids of the doors and windows.
The two entries that lead to the apartments feature heavy wood doors and large transoms. The art-glass transoms display a delicate design of green twining foliage and abstracted red roses—composed of segments of circles—that is inspired by the work of Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Mackintosh and his peers in the so-called Glasgow School created a distinctive northern manner of Art Nouveau. Their work caught the attention of turn-of-the-twentieth-century artistic circles, but only rarely influenced American architecture. The rose motif appears in many artworks created by Mackintosh and his inner circle. Here the roses join other natural motifs found throughout Scheibler’s work, soften the Minnetonka Building’s severe architectural stance, take the place of plantings on an urban street, and captivate observant pedestrians.
By Martin Aurand, architecture librarian and archivist, Carnegie Mellon University
Aurand, Martin. The Progressive Architecture of Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.
Pittsburgh architect Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. (1872-1958) trained as an apprentice in a number of local architectural offices, and operated his own practice from about 1900 into the 1930s. Scheibler had few projects and few documented travels outside of the Pittsburgh region; but he became acquainted with progressive architectural ideas and languages through architectural books and journals that he found at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and/or acquired for his own library. Scheibler is best understood as a progressive architect with a modern streak who worked in parallel with other progressive architects and movements during a time of experimentation. His Pittsburgh buildings, mostly houses and small apartment buildings, are admired and prized for their creativity and fine detailing, and at times for their modernity. A photographic exhibition of Scheibler’s work was held at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 1962.