When you discover a church in what seems to be an odd location, you know there has to be some interesting history. My experience is that you can’t always find that history, but in this case, it couldn’t have been easier. I saw the church featured today when Faith and I were trying to find a gift shop in the PPG Paints Arena a.k.a. The Paint Can, a.k.a. the place where the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team plays. The Pens were in the playoffs, and we wanted some new gear.
A quick Google search on: “the church next to PPG Paints Arena” brought me straight to the church’s website. That’s where the history gets interesting:
“To understand the history of Epiphany Parish, it is necessary to briefly review the history of St. Paul Cathedral. St. Paul Church was built in 1834.”
If you want the long story version, staring one of Pittsburgh’s most famous robber barons, Henry Clay Frick, you can read the entire history page. As the Devil says in the Twilight Zone Episode “The Escape Clause”, I’ll just give it to you thumbnail.
St. Paul Church, was built when Pittsburgh was still part of the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia. Just knowing about that connection would be enough to make some Pittsburgh sports fans change religious affiliations. The church was built at a prominent downtown location, across from the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. The church struggled as the city grew. Eventually, the church was destroyed by fire. For some reason, the bishop ordered the church rebuilt, on the same location, at a cost that couldn’t be supported by the parish.
Long story short, the church was sold to Mr. Frick for $1.3 million, which in 1901, was a huge amount of money. The bishop erected the Church of the Epiphany and started working on a new cathedral in Oakland. Mr. Frick built what became The Union Trust building. The church was doing well. One bit of history that caught my attention was how the church started holding a 2:30 am mass for Catholic printers from the seven daily newspapers in the early 1900s. They continued holding that mass until 1991, as it was also popular with late-night partiers.
Unfortunately, the early 1960s brought urban renewal to Pittsburgh. While many good things were done under the banner of “improvement,” one that wasn’t so good was the razing of what was known as The Lower Hill District. Again, according to the history page:
“…Although it took a number of years to plan, the effect of Urban Renewal in the Uptown – Lower Hill District neighborhoods had a ravaging impact almost overnight. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the neighborhood surrounding Epiphany Parish was bulldozed off the map. In less than six months, eight thousand people were relocated. Homes and businesses were torn down, and the rubble was hauled away. No one in living memory remembered seeing so much flat land in the Uptown neighborhood waiting to be developed. The effect was devastating…”
One of the bits of development in the Hill District, as it was known to us, was the Civic Arena. This was a mixed-use arena with a retractable domed roof. It was home to the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey team, which later became the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the early part of this century, the Penguins lobbied for a new home, and what is now PPG Paints Arena was the result. Ironically, the ideal location for the arena was partially occupied by the property belonging to the Church of the Epiphany. A deal was reached. The church would remain, and with the proceeds from the sale of a couple of church buildings, a four-story rectory and residence was built next to the church.
Today’s gallery includes photos of the church, the Paint Can, the Union Trust and the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. Since I mentioned the Devil in this post and since, at the point of the previous period, there were 666 words, I’ll remind you that Thursday Doors is the brainchild of Norm Frampton. As interesting as it might be, I won’t be casting Norm as a robber baron, bishop or as the Devil. I’ll just say that you can visit his site, admire his doors, click on the blue frog and see all this week’s doors.