A Pittsburgh duplex, a common local building type, is a two-story building with one residential unit on each floor. A double duplex accommodates four units, two per floor, with one or two entries to access those units. At Parkstone Dwellings, a double duplex in Pittsburgh's North Point Breeze neighborhood, four separate walkways lead to four side-by-side entry doors. Each door accesses one residential unit. The four discreet entries make these units dwellings, private beyond the stoop. As he did in various other projects, architect Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr., introduced elements expressive of a private home into a multifamily dwelling.
The four doorways are located at the center of the façade, but stretch its compositional center to the limit. They ultimately defer to the polygonal bays and large cubes of the outer portions of the building. In turn, a broad high roof with a tall central chimney reins in the differentiated massing and forcibly unifies the building. The chimney, which is unconventionally positioned over the entries and related stair halls, is first and foremost a compositional device; but it carries flues that veer over to meet it from massive stone fireplaces in each unit.
Parkstone Dwellings is highly picturesque and romantic with some exotic qualities. The roof consists of multiple folds with peaks and valleys, not unlike origami. The façades are richly textured. The masonry walls are gray Wissahickon schist, a stone that Scheibler discovered in the Philadelphia area. The schist has a high content of mica and quartz, so it sparkles and responds to changes in light. There are leaded- and art-glass windows throughout. The ornamentation includes many natural motifs, as is common in Scheibler’s work, but here some decorative elements are three-dimensional. Concrete mushroom piers are planted before each entry, and a fully sculpted bird is perched at one corner of the façade.
And then there are the two colorful rugs, permanently hung, it seems, over exterior balconies. What appear to be oriental carpets, however, are actually tilework treatments between the upper and lower stories of the polygonal bays. They provide a spectacular display of the clay tiles made at Henry Chapman Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA, a key manufactory of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. What Mercer called mosaic tiles, displaying figures and scenes composed in sections like art glass, famously pave the floors in the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Scheibler used Moravian mosaic tiles in many projects, and placed large mosaic tiles depicting panthers and kingfishers within the stone fireplace surrounds at Parkstone Dwellings. The tile rugs were presumably conceived for the client, who owned a large collection of oriental carpets. Scheibler reportedly arranged and assembled the tiles himself. He wove carpets of tile with predominant chevron motifs using Moravian plain tiles, border tiles, and what Mercer called brocade tiles, figural cutouts in deep relief depicting nuts, fruits, plants, and small animals.
Scheibler formerly used flat tilework panels (not Moravian tiles) as exterior elements at the Old Heidelberg and the Highland Towers apartment buildings; but he designed nothing else quite like the rugs at Parkstone Dwellings. Architect John Martine later evoked Scheibler’s tile carpets in a multi-unit residential project on Jane Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.
An expansive front yard with a romantic layout of walkways and plantings has been largely sacrificed to accommodate off-street parking. But Parkstone Dwellings, and its rugs, remains a head-turner for traffic on Penn Avenue.
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.
Reed, Cleota. Henry Chapman Mercer and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
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.