Chatham Village Historic District
The Chatham Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Chatham Village Historic District is a planned garden community located in the Mt. Washington neighborhood less than two miles southwest of downtown Pittsburgh. The forty-six acre historic district contains fifty-two contributing buildings and a contributing site. There are no noncontributing buildings. The contributing buildings include the former Thomas Bigham house built in 1849 which was renovated in 1936 and 1992 into a community clubhouse called Chatham Hall; twenty-six buildings of rowhouses, one store building, two tool sheds, two garage compounds, and one garage compound with attached tool shed, all built in 1932; one store building built in 1933; fourteen buildings of rowhouses, one tool shed, and one garage compound with attached tool shed, all built in 1936; one apartment building called Chatham Manor and one garage compound with attached tool shed, all built in 1956. The hilly site was planned to locate attached rowhouses facing onto landscaped garden courts. Curvilinear roads were placed along the perimeter of developed areas and separated them from the surrounding woodland called Chatham Wood to the south and east, and Pittsburgh's Olympia Park below a steep grade to the west. Within the Chatham Village Historic District as uncounted resources are hiking trails, tennis and basketball courts, ball fields, sandboxes, picnic areas, a playground, and Chatham Wood. The site has exceptional integrity, the buildings and grounds in the Chatham Village Historic District are well preserved and have very closely retained their original appearance by the strict design review process of the community association and by a long-standing policy of common maintenance of buildings and grounds.
Although Chatham Village was constructed in three phases, the general design concepts for the buildings and the landscaping were repeated in each phase to give a visual unity to the entire development. A consistent building setback line was used along streets, and matching street trees and hedges were planted to unify the development. Since 1932 the buildings were constructed of similar materials in the Georgian Revival style with some French Eclectic style touches. Building clusters repeat similar massing and roof lines, but randomly alternate hipped and gable roof forms for variety. A consistent vocabulary of architectural details including double-hung-sash windows, French doors, wrought-iron porches, cast-stone ornamental coat-of-arms, light fixtures, decorative brickwork, state roofs, and other details give the development a distinctly unified campus feel. The architecture of Chatham Village Historic District is distinguished in its subtle use of symmetry. Several imaginary axis run though the layout, sometimes centered on sidewalks and steps, resulting in opposite houses being set like bookend twins. The terracing of the hilly site adds variety to the building groups while the extensive landscaping, large garden courts, continuous hedgerows, common greens, and surrounding greenbelt buffer contribute to the pervasive Garden City identity which distinguishes this development from the adjoining neighborhood streets.
The community context of the Mt. Washington area is that of a district of residential streets which were built and settled in the late 19th century. The houses are typically single family homes, tightly aligned along a grid of hilly streets, with minimal side or front yards. The homes were generally constructed one at a time by each single owner and their builder. There is a variety of styles and exterior materials include wood siding, aluminum siding, brick, insul-brick, and stone. Chatham Village Historic District presents a significant contrast to the existing neighborhoods which surround it, and is visually distinguished from adjoining properties as it is set apart on its own hillside ridge. At Chatham Village the roads were not laid out in a grid, but run in a curvilinear fashion which follows the contours of the hillsides. Roads were planned to loop onto themselves offering no shortcut to through traffic. Speed bumps are used to further slow down local traffic. The orientation of the houses is faced toward the landscaped parks at the center of each cluster of buildings. Front doors open to the garden court side, rather than to the road. Living rooms view the green not the street. Kitchens and the service side of the houses face the streets.
The one hundred ninety-seven townhouses include two, three, and four bedroom units that are attached as rowhouses in groups of two to eight units. There are ninety-one two-bedroom units, ninety-nine three-bedroom units, and seven four-bedroom units. Units of similar sizes are not grouped into an area, but are mixed among the buildings, however the four bedroom units occur only in the 1936 portion of the site south of Bigham Road. The building heights range from two to three and a half stories above street side. Homes ordinarily contain a full basement, a first floor with living room, dining room, kitchen, and a second floor with two or three bedrooms, bath, and linen closet. A few homes have a third floor and contain four bedrooms and two baths. All dwellings have basements, in some units a part of the basement is used as a recreation room, in others for a garage.
The rowhouses were designed in the Georgian Revival style. They are not reconstructions of period homes, but are generally a 1930's simplified interpretation of the Georgian style. Homes are constructed of a red-range brick that is detailed with brick dentils at cornices and chimney caps, and rowlock window sills. The slate roofs are steeply pitched gables and hips of various heights and slopes. Gutters, flashings and downspouts are weathered copper. Exterior doors are multi-lite glazed wood doors, and are all painted dark green. Windows are all multi-lite wood sash and are all painted ivory. Most are six-over-six double hung, supplemented by fixed lites and casements. Different window groupings lend interest to the restrained, Georgian Revival style facades. Other important details are small wood balconies accessed by French doors on the street side of most houses, and the flat-roofed porches of various sizes provided at the entry doors of some units. Green-painted ornamental iron work is used for railings and porch supports which have a crisscross pattern with small elliptical bosses at their intersection. Other entries have limestone entablatures surrounding the doorway. Integral garages are recessed into the facade by an alcove that also contains a basement entry door. All homes are separated by soundproof concrete block walls from basement to roof.
The cast stone coats of arms used as ornaments recall Pittsburgh's history. Chatham Village was named in honor of William Pitt (1708-1778), the Earl of Chatham, who served as the British Secretary for Colonial Affairs in 1757, and for whom the City of Pittsburgh is named. Other ornamental crests represent George Washington (1732-1799) and the family of the Marquis Duquesne (1700?-1778). The Colonial period also provided the street names as the Penn family is recalled in Pennridge Road and the Washington family's ancestral home Sulgrave Manor is recalled in Sulgrave Road.
Where the slope permits seventy-six integral garages were located in the basements of housing units. These are accessed by short driveways or in private cul-de-sacs. An additional one hundred thirty-two garages are grouped together into compounds. The garage compounds have flat roofs, exterior brick walls, and dark green painted wood paneled sectional overhead doors. Garage compounds have only one driveway entrance to serve as many as twenty-four garages that share maneuvering space. The garage compounds were designed with some Georgian Revival style details including brick buttresses, arched doorways, stone caps, and wrought iron lanterns.
Among the buildings in Chatham Village Historic District are six tiny but imaginative gardener's tool sheds. Their design concept follows a long tradition of creating these picturesque and sometimes elaborate garden folly structures. The six tool sheds are all built of brick with slate roofs to be in harmony with the surrounding homes, each are of different shape and have individual distinguishing characteristics. The tool sheds are Georgian Revival style and some have French Eclectic style features. One is a tall tower with hipped roof, one an octagon with hipped roof, one is cylindrical shaped with conical roof, one has an open gazebo with hipped roof, one is rectangular with a steeply gabled roof, and one is a cube with a tall pyramidal roof. Most have decorative copper or wooden rooftop finials. Some have hand-adzed solid oak lintels above the doors. All but one have heavy V-grooved plank doors and most have wrought iron thumb latches. One has ornamental wrought iron strap hinges.
The exterior appearance of the buildings remains essentially the same as when they were built. Since its inception, a policy of common exterior maintenance has resulted in consistent repair to all of the buildings in the community. Exterior alterations by residents have never been permitted. Storm windows have been added to protect the original wooden windows. Improved electrical service, underground cable TV and other improvements have been undertaken to provide contemporary amenities without diminishing the historic character. Multiple interior improvements, principally to kitchens, bathrooms, and a few flagstone patio areas, have been undertaken by residents after review and approval by the cooperative.
The social center for Chatham Village Historic District is a clubhouse facility now known as Chatham Hall which was originally the Thomas Bigham house. It can be described as a Greek Revival style residence of 1849. Facing southwest is a two-story element that contains the original living spaces of the Bigham family. The leg of the "T", extending to the southeast is an ell comprised of two stories plus an attic, and originally contained servants' rooms and kitchen. As a functioning homestead, various outbuildings had stood nearby to support the household. These included a corn crib, carriage house, barn and privy. None of the outbuildings remain.
The south elevation of the building which today faces the picnic grounds was the original front of the house. The exterior walls are smooth red brick. The brickwork is laid up to be tied back by header bricks at every seventh course. The front facade is symmetrical and is divided into three bays by two offsets which run from grade to roof. The brickwork of the center section rises up and is capped by a low slopping pediment characteristic of the Greek Revival style. The remainder of the roof is hipped and has twin chimneys. There is a gable roof on the ell extending to the rear of the building. As originally built the house had a prominent lower roofed portico which aligned to the center portion of the facade. The portico had four square wooden columns and two pilasters all with squared capitals and bases. This supported a very deep architrave surmounted by a railing of classical turned wooden balusters. The original portico was later replaced with a wider wood porch with four wood columns. The second porch was removed in 1938 and was replaced by a wrought iron porch, and a metal fire escape was added in 1950. Although the house has been renovated on several occasions, most of the interior of the "family" wing remains unaltered, including the principal staircase, standing and running trim, window and door casings, ornamental plaster work ceilings, and several marble mantelpieces. The exterior of the house is original with the exception of the porches and a few doors and windows in the ell. In 1935 the cellar was excavated into a full basement. A new heating system, toilet rooms, and hardwood floors were added. A five-bay, two-story wooden porch with metal fire stair was added on the southeast face as part of 1992 renovations which included an updated kitchen and accessible powder room. The plan has a center hall on the first and second floor. The first floor has a kitchen, dining room, ballroom, and parlor; the second floor has four meeting rooms that were formerly bedrooms.
A description of the commercial area of Chatham Village Historic District concerns two one-story store buildings for seven tenants at the north west and south west corners of the intersection of Bigham Street and Virginia Avenue. The store buildings were constructed in the Georgian Revival style with some French Eclectic style touches, and are in a scale compatible with the neighboring homes and use the same materials of red brick and slate roofs. The larger building, at the south west street corner, has two massive chimneys which give the building a picturesque effect, and a well concealed flat roofed portion at the rear. The tall hipped slate roofs have metal finials at each peak. Windows and doors are generally similar to the housing groups, however larger glass angled display windows originally faced Bigham Street at recessed shop entrances. The center portion of the larger building was altered in 1950 to accommodate a continuous glass storefront for the Union Supply Company. The glazed storefront was removed in the 1980's and replaced with wood siding and residential scale windows. Some large window openings were also bricked-in. The store fronts of the commercial buildings bear the most alteration in appearance of any part of the buildings in Chatham Village, but enough of the original appearance is evident to easily distinguish the few altered portions.
The three story, nineteen unit Chatham Manor apartment building sits on the high point of the site at the southeast corner of the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Bigham Street immediately opposite the commercial buildings. It is also a simplified Georgian Revival style building of red brick and has a stone trimmed entrance, flat roof, and wooden double hung windows similar to those in the townhouses. Each floor has apartment units off a central corridor and there is elevator service. There are three apartment types. Each has a large living/dining room, kitchen, bath, one bedroom, and sliding double door closet space. The building also contains a laundry room, and additional storage areas in the basement.
The landscape development of Chatham Village can best be described by recognizing that the buildings and the landforms were set to interlock into a comprehensive environment of terraces. The buildings engage the terrain in a succession of low walls. The site plan separates the automobile from pedestrians by lowering the roadways to basement level and by locating roads at the outer perimeter of the housing groups. The inner landscaped courts are exclusively pedestrian spaces. Chatham Village's original total landscape development for the housing area included ten acres of lawns, three miles of hedges, nearly four thousand shrubs, over five thousand square yards of ground cover, and nearly five hundred trees. In addition to this there is a natural greenbelt area. The recreation areas include a large open sloping lawn, three tennis courts, a mushball field, volleyball field, basketball court, and a children's playground with play equipment. There is also a designated area for members' vegetable gardens.
As a living garden minor changes have inevitably occurred. Some elms were killed by Dutch elm disease, and several large oaks fell in wind storms. Driveway hedges on the service side of Pennridge and Olympia were removed. In 1936 a new pedestrian scale lighting system was installed in the first phase garden courtyards and cast-iron boulevard poles which were relocated to street areas. The flag pole was added in 1945. The rose garden dates from 1952. Playground equipment and the drinking fountain are newer replacements. Some additional off-street parking was added on the east side of Sulgrave Road. In 1986 a replanting of site trees was executed using the original blueprints as a guide, under the direction of GWSM, the successor firm of the original landscape architects. Exterior courtyard lighting was replaced in 1991 with nearly matching custom fixtures.
Chatham Village's greenbelt has been named "Chatham Wood" and it is a part of the historic district. Chatham Wood comprises twenty-five acres which is more than half the total land area of the planned community. These steep, wooded hillsides are virgin woodland which have never been cleared since colonial settlement, and have been kept undeveloped to this day. Chatham Wood contains a number of towering oak trees estimated to exceed two hundred years in age, and provides an important recreational resource for the residents of Chatham Village Historic District and a preserved habitat for native plants, animals, and birds unique in its close proximity to downtown Pittsburgh. Chatham Wood is interlaced with two miles of graded trails and contains a picnic grove, cliff faced ravine, waterfall, two streams, three wooden footbridges, and a water garden. The greenbelt also serves to buffer the community and to preserve views from the residential area.
In 1936 under the direction of landscape architect Theodore Kohankie, over two thousand trees and shrubs were planted to supplement the native growth in Chatham Wood. Of the forty varieties of trees selected, practically all of them were native to the western Pennsylvania hillsides. The few alterations to Chatham Wood include the following: in 1936 the woods areas were protected by the installation of a perimeter chain link fence; in 1938 a double fireplace of rough faced random shaped stone with two metal grates and a tall stone chimney was constructed in the picnic grove; the wooden footbridges have been replaced on occasion, most recently in 1994.
Chatham Village Historic District's period of significance begins in 1929 with the planning of the first phase of Chatham Village and ends in 1956 when the third phase of development which included three story apartment building and garage compound was completed by the original owner. Chatham Village was built by the Buhl Foundation as a model for privately built, well designed, moderate cost housing. The Buhl Foundation stated its intention as to provide a demonstration of good housing as an example to the nation. Chatham Village was one of the last collaborations of America's preeminent community planning team of Clarence S. Stein and Henry Wright, and is a well preserved example of their work. The design team also included notable architects and landscape architects. The community they developed has been called one of America's outstanding examples of Garden City planning and the careful integration of a neighborhood of brick townhouses into a layout of garden courts, terraces, and parks created a distinctive setting of unusual harmony. "This was the first planned garden homes urban community built in America to be retained in a single ownership and managed as an investment." Since the initial construction in the 1930's it has been recognized as a rarely equaled achievement of the relationship of architecture to the environment. The project has been widely published and has received national and international recognition and has had an influence on planned communities for the remainder of the twentieth century.
Chatham Village was constructed as a project of the Buhl Foundation. This organization was created in 1927 at the bequest of department store owner Henry Buhl Jr. (1848-1927) who left thirteen million dollars to establish a foundation to help the people of Pittsburgh. The Buhl Foundation's first director, Dr. Charles F. Lewis (1890-1971), formulated the goals for the development of Chatham Village and declared its intent as "an effort to build a new kind of community for a new and finer kind of urban living." The Buhl Foundation's intention was to make a socially valuable demonstration of higher standards in domestic housing for people of moderate income. They used this development as a for-profit venture, managed as a long range investment without undue risk to its principal so that the income from the investment would fund the Foundation's other philanthropic programs. The project was constructed completely without public assistance.
Because the community was to be retained as a long term investment, the Buhl Foundation directed its architects to use permanent materials such as brick, slate, copper, and wrought-iron which resulted in well constructed homes. Because the goal was to create innovative model housing that was healthful both physically and socially, the neighborhood was planned to include a mix of unit sizes, recreation areas, playgrounds, community center, and a rental policy which made the units affordable to many who would not be able to purchase comparable housing. Garden City innovations included a deliberate separation of the automobile and pedestrian ways, dense housing with large greenspaces, and a greenbelt. There was also a belief that the economics of large scale works would make affordable the beautification needed to make urban areas more functional and livable and thus a lingering legacy of the City Beautiful Movement was also an influence on the design. Dr. Lewis stated that other intentions of the project were to provide jobs for "the relief of the unemployment situation," and to establish "an exemplary standard of maintenance and management."
In the days of the Great Depression the proposal for mass produced housing as stated by Charles Lewis offered to bring "good housing within the reach of the multitude." The project provided better housing in a city where decent housing had become unaffordable to many. In the 1930's it was a commonly held belief that approximately one-third of America's thirty million families lived in homes below a minimum standard of decency. This is reflected in Franklin D. Roosevelt's statement, "I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill nourished."
In 1960, the Buhl Foundation decided that its experiment in housing had reached a successful conclusion, and Chatham Village was sold to a residents' cooperative. The cooperative has sustained the traditions of professional management and careful maintenance, resulting in continued full occupancy and a steady rise in the value of membership shares. The cooperative entity, Chatham Village Homes, Inc., holds title to the property and buildings. Residents purchase memberships at market value and pay a monthly fee for maintenance and expenses.
In 1992 a further renovation to Chatham Hall was undertaken, using designs prepared by architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson for Chatham Village Homes, Inc. At this time the groundskeeper's apartment was converted into additional social space for community use. A feature of this renovation was the construction of a two-story, five bay wooden porch on the southwest side of the former servants wing.
The community planning ideas behind Chatham Village Historic District were inspired by the English Garden City movement. Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) originally published his concepts in Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898). Howard's concepts were formulated in response to the nineteenth century's blight of cities resulting from overpopulation. His ideas aspired to create new cities which combine the best qualities of both urban and rural life. To achieve these ends he theorized that communities must be developed using a limited area of land held under a single ownership which could regulate land use. Development must be compact with large open spaces and would benefit by the protection of a surrounding greenbelt of undeveloped land. Each of these concepts was implemented in the design of Chatham Village.
Two English new towns were developed to carry out Howard's concepts. Letchworth Garden City of 1903, and Welywyn Garden City of 1920. Other notable early projects which specially employed garden-city concepts included Hampstead Garden Suburb, England; Forest Hills Gardens, in Central Queens, New York; Mariemont, Ohio; Kingsport, Tennessee; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Yorkship Village of Camden, New Jersey; Alden Park Manor in Brookline, Massachusettes; Garden Court in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Chicopee, Georgia; Phipps Garden Apartments, northwestern Queens, New York.
The work of planners Stein and Wright, based directly on the English Garden City concepts, was a significant development in opposition to the trend toward suburban growth. Clarence S. Stein (1882-1975) was born in Rochester, NY. He was educated at Columbia University, 1903-04, and the Ecole Des Beaux Arts, 1908-11. He worked in the office of and as the chief designer for Bertram G. Goodhue 1911-1918. He served as Chairman of the New York State Housing and Regional Planning Commission 1923-26. In the late 1930's Stein served as consultant on Greenbelt, Maryland, and Baldwin Hills Village, Los Angeles. He also served as chief planning consultant of the new town of Kitimat in British Columbia in 1951. He authored Towards New Towns for America (1951). In 1956 he received the Gold Medal of Honor of the American Institute of Architects, and the Ebenezer Howard Memorial Medal in 1960.
Henry Wright (1878-1936) was born in Lawrence, Kansas. Mr. Wright graduated with a degree in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1901. From 1904-09 he worked with landscape architect George E. Kessler who had worked in the office of Frederick Law Olmsted, and in this way was influenced by Olmsted's work. He had been a director of the St. Louis City Planning Commission, consultant of the New York State Planning Commission, consultant of the New York State Commission on Housing and Regional Planning; a member of the board of Governors of the American City Planning Institute, consultant of the housing division of the Public Works Administration of the Resettlement Administration. He authored Rehousing Urban America (1935). At the time of his death at age forty-eight he was Assistant Professor of Architecture of Columbia University. Among those in the employ of Stein and Wright who assisted in preparing the work at Chatham Village were Allan F. Kamstra and Albert Lueders.
Stein and Wright pioneered new community layouts and house types in their work at Sunnyside Gardens, NY; Radburn, NJ; and Chatham Village. Sunnyside, and Radburn, differ from Chatham Village in that both of these larger communities were built on a speculative basis to be broken up and sold to individual owners at their completion, while Chatham Village was based on a long term single ownership with a rental basis. Both Sunnyside and Radburn were constructed of less permanent material, and their wood siding and asphalt shingles have aged poorly and have resulted in multiple reworking and renovations.
Frederick Bigger (1881-1963) planned the third phase of Chatham Village. Bigger was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He served as a planning consultant of the New Deal's greenbelt town program. In 1948 President Truman named him to serve on the National Capital Park Planning Commission in Washington, DC. From 1922-1954 he served on the Pittsburgh Planning Commission, being its chairman for two decades.
The community planning ideas used in Chatham Village Historic District are of significance to urban housing. From 1860 to 1920 the size of urban centers had increased from 20% to 50% of the nation's population. With this population came overcrowding, poorly built tenements, industrial pollution, and a crisis in housing. By 1935 one out of six Americans had moved to the suburbs. In 1932 Chatham Village was presented to the nation as an example of Garden City principles applied to the problem of model urban housing.
The rowhouse concept of Chatham Village provides a density much greater than the average suburban neighborhood. If the same fifteen acres of developed land were cut into one half acre suburban lots it would provide around thirty homes, but in Chatham Village Historic District there are two hundred sixteen families. Chatham Village is dense urban housing, but the layout makes it seem spacious. Chatham Village demonstrates that with proper planning a great number of families can live harmoniously, with light, air, and greenery on a small site of limited area. Despite the high density, Chatham Village displays a remarkable expression of comfort, accommodation, and calm.
The site planning of Chatham Village is efficient, memorable, and unique to its site. The large landscaped parks or "courtyard greens" bounded by the homes each have their own identity, owing to the geometric configuration of their layout and the topography of the land. One court is a long mall, others are roughly oval, rectangular, or triangular. Some are a series of stepped terraces. In this way places are distinct, the buildings vary, and the resulting spaces have a sense of the grand manner of eighteenth century design. Groups of buildings form a clear linear edge to the major outdoor spaces as well as to the roads. The layout provides several breaks between housing blocks which allow for pedestrian circulation, offer a possibility of choice as the way opens to another courtyard, and contributes to the open feeling of the landscaped courts. Public sidewalks are placed within the safety of the garden courts rather than along the vehicular roadways. The separation of pedestrian and motor traffic is an innovation that gives safety, increases the sense of community, and invites an appreciation of the many gardens.
The presence of the automobile is further diminished by the placement of the roads, wherever possible, at a level lower than the courtyards and the first floors of the houses. This puts the noise, headlights, and distraction of local traffic out of sight from living spaces, and allows for integral garages within the basements of many units. Innovations like shared common sidewalks and compound garages cut down on the need for pavement and provide more greenspace. Off street parking bays are provided throughout the neighborhood for visitors. In a positive way the designers of Chatham Village planned to accommodate the automobile without allowing it to control the patterns of human interaction. Chatham Village provides an excellent example for the site planning of hillside developments. All major utilities enter homes underground, this includes sewer, gas, water, electricity, telephone and more recently cable TV.
Several communities throughout the country were patterned after Chatham Village with its notable financial reputation as a dependable, long-term investment. Among the visitors and observers of Chatham Village's success were groups of bankers from New York, investment specialists from the great insurance companies of the east, trust fund administrators from the mid-west, and government housing administrators. They borrowed ideas from Chatham Village for their projects. Clarence S. Stein planned Hillside Homes in 1935 in the northern Bronx, NY as moderate cost rental housing with four story units for one thousand four hundred sixteen families, playground and community center, with landscaped courtyards remote from street traffic. Buckingham Community in Arlington, Virginia of 1937 planned by Henry Wright provided rental housing for one thousand fourteen families on approximately one hundred acres. Colonial Village in Arlington, VA, of 1935-37 designed by Harvey Warwick provided nine hundred seventy-four attached rental homes. The Falklands in Silver Spring, MD, of 1937, 1938 designed by Louis Justement provided attached homes in garden setting for four hundred seventy-nine families. Olentangy Village, near Columbus, OH of 1938 planned by Raymond C. Snow provided attached housing with garden courts for four hundred three families on sixty-seven acres. Wyvernwood, Los Angeles, California of 1940 provided two story attached homes facing inward on garden courts for one thousand one hundred two families on seventy acres, with winding streets, underground utilities, and a rental basis. Baldwin Hills Village, Los Angeles, CA, now known as the Village Green, of 1940-41 planned by Reginald Johnson, Robert Alexander, and Clarence Stein with landscape architects Fred Barlow and Fred Edmonson was a rental garden home complex of six hundred twenty-seven units on eighty acres with a large central green.
There are very few comparable projects in size, type, and period in western Pennsylvania because the Great Depression virtually brought a halt to large scale construction in the region. A few local projects which present contrasts and comparison to Chatham Village are listed below:
Dover Gables in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh, PA of 1936 is similar in many ways to Chatham Village. It provides forty attached rowhouses facing internal greens. The buildings are red brick with slate roofs and all of the English Tudor Revival style. There is also a remote range of attached garages. Although the greens are nicely landscaped they are very narrow, and with only one central sidewalk, afford little privacy, and the development lacks the community focus and amenities of Chatham Village.
Terrace Village, Pittsburgh, PA of 1938-39 by Ingham & Boyd with one hundred fifty acres of housing for two thousand six hundred fifty-three families, and the adjacent Bedford dwellings of 1939 for four hundred twenty families, are city public housing projects for low income families which utilized many of the same concepts, but resulted in severe three story red brick rows monotonously placed perpendicular to the street with geometric uniformity.
Biggert Manor in Crafton, PA is a complex of rental townhouses directly modeled on Chatham Village. It has clustered groups of Colonial Revival red brick attached row houses, many with porches, laid out on a common green with one common drive, ganged or integral garages, off street parking for visitors, and all underground utilities. Developed by Florence Biggert, Jr., a prominent insurance man and designed by Schwab, Palmgreen & Assoc. Architects in 1939-40, it has seventeen units. It is still a desirable community with well maintained homes. Although it is in look, feel, and in geographic proximity the closest kin of Chatham Village, this small development differs in scale. The Biggert courtyards lack the same focused sense of order and are not fully encircled. The open ranges of attached garages are less successful than the more resolved walled garage compounds at Chatham Village. The commercial, social, and recreational amenities are also missing.
Aluminum City Terrace in New Kensington, PA of 1941-42, planned by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer was constructed as low cost housing for wartime aluminum workers. Two hundred fifty attached homes have an almost randomly scattered layout, ostensibly positioned for solar orientation on the uneven hillside site of forty-three acres. Units were executed in an austere International Style. The layout includes some recreation areas. The development has a sparse rural look and differs widely from the Garden City feeling of Chatham Village.
The noted landscape architect Ralph E. Griswold (1894-1981) planned the landscaping for the first phase of Chatham Village in 1932. Mr. Griswold was born in Warren, Ohio. He was a 1916 graduate of Cornell University with a Masters in Landscape Architecture in 1917. He studied at the American Art Training Center in Paris in 1919. He was a fellow of the American Academy in Rome 1920-23. He practiced in Cleveland early in his career with A. D. Taylor, and was partner in the firm of Nicolet & Griswold. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1927. He began private practice in 1930. Among the many well known projects that distinguished his career are the planning for Point State Park, Pittsburgh, PA; the American Military Cemetery in Anzio, Italy; the Confederate Memorial in Stone Mountain, Georgia; and the landscape plan for the restoration of the ancient Agora in Athens, Greece. He also executed numerous designs for commercial and residential settings, He also authored the book Thomas Jefferson: Landscape Architect (1978). From 1934-45 Griswold sewed as head of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Parks.
Theodore M. Kohankie, formerly of his office, carried out the design for the landscaping of the second phase of Chatham Village in 1936 which closely follows Griswold's concepts, of tree-lined streets, hedgerows, and open lawns. Kohankie's design also incorporated keeping several existing mature trees. Mr. Kohankie had received his training in the landscape department of Ohio State University and also studied abroad. Many years later Griswold resumed private practice, and with his partner Margaret M. Winters, planned the rose garden in 1952, and also for the landscaping around the apartment building in the third phase of construction in 1956.
The landscape architecture in Chatham Village Historic District is significant because the landscape identity of the model community was created from the ground up by one of the region's most gifted landscape architects, and defined a new interpretation for the role of greenery and outdoor space in urban life. Griswold's interpretations of the Garden City concept supplied the pervasive "garden" character for the neighborhood, as a seamless setting of this planned community. The landscaping in Chatham Village Historic District is put to work to define the many different degrees of privacy needed to make such an innovative and compact layout of homes into a pleasurable community. Spaciousness is also enhanced by the plantings which seem to extend the modest physical dimensions. The importance of these many gardens is that they allow a daily contact with nature and provide open space for light, air, and recreation. The horticultural contributions were one of the strong points of the design and resulted in one of the most harmoniously landscaped neighborhoods in the city.
Chatham Wood, the "greenbelt" which surrounds three sides of the southern perimeter of Chatham Village Historic District, provides a buffer from the heavily traveled four-lane roads which abut the property, and the commercial/industrial development in the Saw Mill Run valley below. This "greenbelt" is one of the far-sighted Garden City innovations that has contributed to the continued desirability and vitality of Chatham Village Historic District. The greenbelt serves year round as a recreational resource, as a nature preserve, and arboretum, as well as a place for picnics, walks, and nature study. It provides habitat for deer, raccoon, fox, squirrels, and other animals. In 1951 one hundred ten species of birds were seen and identified in Chatham Wood.
The architect for Chatham Village was Ingham & Boyd, an architectural firm founded in 1911 with offices located in the Empire Building in downtown Pittsburgh. The firm was one of the leading design offices in the city and had a reputation for doing quality work, often displaying stylistic traits of the eclectic period of the early twentieth century. Two Pittsburgh examples of buildings produced by the firm are the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, of 1912 executed in Italian Renaissance Revival style, and the Board of Public Education of 1927 executed in High Renaissance Revival style. The firm also designed a number of high schools, churches, and private residences throughout the state. The successor firm of Ingham, Boyd & Pratt designed the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science of 1939 in a Neoclassical Art Deco style. The successor firm of IKM is still in practice.
The founding partners responsible for Chatham Village were Charles T. Ingham (1876-1952) and William T. Boyd (1882-1947). Mr. Ingham was born in Pittsburgh, PA. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania during 1893-96 and began practice as an architect in 1897. Early in his career he worked in the office of Peabody & Stearns. From 1911-1946 he was in partnership with William Boyd. Mr. Ingham taught briefly in the Architecture School of Carnegie Institute of Technology. From 1920-24 he served on the City of Pittsburgh Building Code Commission, and later on the City Planning Commission.
Mr. Boyd was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He came to the USA as a child, was educated in Pittsburgh and was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He had considerable talent in freehand drawing, drafting, painting, and design. He worked in the offices of local architects before entering his successful partnership. Among those in the employ of Ingham & Boyd who helped with the work for Chatham Village were Charles S. Ingham and Robert Schmertz.
The architecture of Chatham Village is significant as it provided an architectural form to an entire model community with an intent to incorporate the many conveniences of modern living into housing of moderate cost. The architects had to devise new approaches to accommodate the automobile, radio, kitchen appliances, heating systems, and utility infrastructures while also attempting to give full realization to the idealistic goals of the Garden City movement.
The consistent use of a clear and logical set of design principles gives the community its strong visual order. Massing, materials, colors, and architectural details are consistently repeated so that the entire complex has the look and feel of a campus constructed at the same time. The terracing of the townhouses into the hillsides shows respect for the terrain and gives a beneficial visual variety to the massing and roof line of the housing. Consistent with the Buhl Foundation's goal for a sound long term investment, the homes were constructed using durable low-maintenance materials such as brick, stone, concrete, copper and slate which offer resistance against the depreciation of aging.
To maximize on the limited space the development utilized the rowhouse concept of attached units. Its use showed the practicality of housing one family from roof to basement with direct access to grade and with individual self-contained heating and utilities. Kitchen and bathroom plumbing are stacked and grouped with heating and exhaust flues, and are set back to back to adjoining units, reducing the number and layout of supply runs and chimneys. Units are also set so that similar uses occur in adjoining units, sound-proof concrete block walls afford a good sense of privacy for family living.
The rowhouse concept also resulted in substantial cost savings in excavation, foundations, and construction, demonstrating the benefits of applying the methods of twentieth century mass production to building. The concept of single ownership with common maintenance of buildings and their mechanical and electrical systems also resulted in additional cost savings. Large scale community-wide operation takes advantage of bulk purchasing, standardized parts, skilled workers familiar with the units, and regularly scheduled inspections help assure the desirability of resale to new tenants.
The appeal of Chatham Village's brick Georgian Revival style must be credited for the identical style and materials being used for the store building at 326-328 Bigham Street which were built by a rival developer in 1933 and later purchased by the Buhl Foundation in 1936. Brick Georgian Revival style is also used for the Whittier Elementary School of 1938-39, and the Haven Heights Methodist Church of 1959, both of which were built nearby after the construction of Chatham Village.
The decision was made in the early 1930's to preserve the old Bigham home and to utilize it as a community center. Bigham House was renamed Chatham Hall and is significant as one of a very few local homes of the pre-Civil War period to survive into the late 20th century.
The period of significance extends to 1956 to include the final phase of development by the initial owner which utilized some of the original design team and was executed in compatible style though updated for its period. The final phase was constructed so that long time members of the neighborhood could retire into smaller, one floor units and not have to move from the community. Chatham Manor, the flat roofed apartment building by Ingham, Boyd and Pratt, uses the same brick and stone material as the townhouses, but lacks the romantic qualities achieved by the varied roof forms and massing of the town house groups. The scale of the apartment building also differs from the intimate human scale of the rest of the development, making it architecturally a less successful part of the total composition.
The architecture at Chatham Village Historic District, with all of its domestic thoughtfulness quietly fulfills its role as good decent housing. With more than two hundred families housed on less than fifteen acres, the sheer volume of buildings rendered in a more assertive manner could easily have been too much. At Chatham Village Historic District the architecture by intention takes a secondary role to the more persuasive sense of overall harmony. The architecture becomes the stately background to the light, air, and gardens of the Garden City concept. The subtle mastery of the architecture at Chatham Village Historic District lies in the cumulative benefit of its successful interrelationship with the planning and landscape design. It should be judged as a comprehensive development on a neighborhood scale.
In 1940, Ingham & Boyd were awarded medals by the American Institute of Architects and the Fifth Pan-American Congress of Architects for their architectural designs. In 1976 Chatham Village was awarded a national design award by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1976, when the American Institute of Architects selected the proudest achievements of American Architecture over the past two hundred years, Chatham Village was one of three sites selected in Western Pennsylvania — the others being Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Henry H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail.
The exceptional physical condition and design integrity of this site give Chatham Village Historic District a timeless quality and make it a model of good urban living for all generations. Chatham Village Historic District is still regularly visited by professional societies, students, and scholars from around the world.
Other Clarence Stein projects recognized by the National Register of Historic Places include Sunnyside, NY: Radburn, NJ; Phipps Garden Apartments, NY; Greenbelt, MD: and The Village Green, CA.
Nearly thirty years after its initial construction in an article titled "Chatham Village Revisited" Architectural Forum, May 1960, Vol.112, p.118-121, stated "Chatham Village one of the earliest, most famous, and in many ways still the most successful of America's planned 'Garden' communities."
Norman T. Newton, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, wrote "Chatham Village ...in a plan of such brilliance as to be universally accepted even decades later as one of this country's most charming and successful housing projects." Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture, 1971. p.496-500.
Listing the most important articles on Chatham village (or related personalities.)
Adams, Thomas. Harvard City Planning Studies: The Design of Residential Areas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934. .Val. 6, p.258-259. Plate X.
Bauman, John and Muller, Edward. "The Planning Technician as Urban Visionary: Frederick Bigger and American Planning, 1913-1954," Planning History Studies, Volume 10 (1996), 21-41.
Bauer, Catherine. Modern Housing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1934. p.152, 239.
Bigham, Kirk W. Major Abraham Kirkpatrick and His Descendants. Pittsburgh: J.P. Durbin Printer, 1911. (Bigham, Kirkpatrick).
Burchard, John and Bush-Brown, Albert.. The Architecture of America. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1961. p.298.
Ciucci, Giorgio; Dal Co, F.; Manieri-Elia, M; Tafuri, M. The American City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1973. p.242, 243, 288.
Fitch, James Marston. American Building: The Historical Forces That Shaped It. Shocken Paperback Edition, 1973. p.244-253.
Hunt, William Dudley, Jr. Encyclopedia of American Architecture. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1980. p.399, 504.
Hunt, William Dudley, Jr. American Architecture. A Field Guide to the Most Important Examples. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. p.104.
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1961. p.64, 80.
Kidney, Walter C. Landmark Architecture. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1985. p.81, 92, 95, 177, 204.
Lorant, Stefan. Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964. p.364, 482, 483.
Lubove, Roy. Twentieth Century Pittsburgh, Government Business and Environmental Change. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1969. p.70-77, 79-82, 150, 160.
Lubove, Roy. Community Planning in the 1920s: The Contribution of the Regional Planning Association of America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963.
Mann, William A. Landscape Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1993. p.375.
Meyerson, Martin with Tyrwhitt, J.; Falk, B.; Sekler, P. Face of the Metropolis. New York: Random House, 1963. p.5, 138-141.
Mumford, Lewis. Roots of Contemporary American Architecture. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1952. p.26, 338-340.
Mumford, Lewis. The Urban Prospect. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1956. p.188, 197.
Mumford, Louis. The Urban Prospect. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961. Plate 43 and note.
Musgrove, John, Editor. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture. London: Butterworth's, 1987. p.1411.
Newton, Norman T. Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. p.496-500.
Roth, Leland M. A Concise History of American Architecture. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1979. p.268.
Schuyler, Robert Livingston, Editor. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958. Volume XI Supplement Two, p.739. (Wright) p.737-739.
Scully, Vincent. American Architecture and Urbanism. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1969, 1988. p.164, 165.
Smith, G.E. Kidder. The Architecture of the United States. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1981. Vol.1, p.651-652.
Spann, Edward K. Designing Modern America: The Regional Planning Association of America and Its Members. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996.
Spreiregen, Paul D. Urban Design: The Architecture of Towns and Cities. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1965. p.40, 145, 152.
Stein, Clarence S. Towards New Towns For America. Liverpool: University of Liverpool, 1951. Reprinted, New York: Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1957. Reprinted, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1966. p.19, 74-85, Fig.52-66.
Stotz, Charles Morse. The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania. A Record of Buildings Before 1860. New York: W. Helburn, Inc., 1936. Reprinted, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1966. (Bigham) p.166.
Swetnam, George and Smith, Helene. A Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976. p.20. (Bigham) p.20.
Teague, Edward H., Editor. World Architecture Index. A Guide to Illustrations. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. p.156.
Tobey, George B., Jr. A History of Landscape Architecture. The Relationship of People to Environment. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Co., Inc., 1973. p.192.
Toker, Franklin. Pittsburgh An Urban Portrait. University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986. p.20N, 138-139, 157, 241, 259. (Bigham) p.138.
Van Trump, James D. and Ziegler, Arthur P. Jr. Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 1967. p.3, 15, 156, 157. (Bigham, Kirkpatrick) p.157.
Van Trump, James D. Life and Architecture in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1983. p.372, 381.
Vater, David J. Chatham Village, A Bibliography. Pittsburgh: Privately published, 1994. p.1-84. This extensive bibliography on Chatham Village and Bigham House provides specific references for this site in the following domination: over 70 mentions in books; over 120 magazine articles; over 780 newspaper articles from over 250 American newspapers; over 260 local publications including sixty years of newsletters, Club documents and fifty years of membership directories; over 30 rental and cooperative documents; over 30 reports and unpublished manuscripts; 15 pamphlets and other; 10 films; 5 historic building surveys and over 30 awards and honors received by this property. Entries are listed by author, title, publication, date, and page.
Whittick, Arnold, Editor. Encyclopedia of Urban Planning. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1974. p.939, 1117, 1170.
Wilson, Richard Guy. The AIA Gold Medal. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1984. p.82, 182, 183. (Stein) Wright, Henry. New York: 1933. p.81, 91-108. Wright, Henry. .Rehousing Urban America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935. p.44-50.
Gangewere, R. Jay. "Henry Buhl, Jr. And The Everlasting Getting On With It." Carnegie Magazine. November/December 1989. Vol.59. p.34. (Buhl) Lewis, Charles F. "A Moderate Rental Housing Project in Pittsburgh." October 1931. Vol.70. No.4. p.217-234. Mather, Alan. "Henry Wright." Pencil Points. January 1940. Vol.21. p.3-14. (Wright).
Cloud, Joseph J. "Underground Railroad Station Recalls Vivid Days." Pittsburgh Press. June 29, 1931. p.17. (Bigham).
Chatham Village News. October 10, 1982. 50th Anniversary Edition. p.1-4.
Historic Building Surveys
The Buhl Foundation. Western Pennsylvania Survey. 1932-1936. Chairman: Stotz, Charles M.
The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust. The Allegheny County . 1965-1966. Chairman: Van Trump, James D.
The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Historic Sites Survey of Allegheny County, 1979-1984. Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey Form 003-P-MTW 2-5H-78, p.1-9.
Landmark Design Associates Architects and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. African-American Historic Sites Survey of Allegheny County. 1992. Project Director: Eliza Smith Brown.
Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission. Pittsburgh Register of Historic Places. 1993. Chairman: John DeSantis.
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Landscape Architecture Survey of Allegheny County. 1997. Chairman: Barry Hannigan.
American Institute of Architects, Better Homes in America, National Competition, 1935. Bronze Medal.
American Institute of Architects, 1938. One of 150 projects selected as the finest modern buildings erected in the past four years, and represented in a photographic exhibit in the National Museum, Washington, D.C.
American Institute of Architects, 1976. One of 259 nominated as the proudest achievements of American architecture over the past 200 years.
American Institute of Architects, 1956. Gold Medal awarded to Clarence S. Stein.
Architectural Forum, 1935. Honorable Mention for row housing.
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1990 two bronze plaque historical makers awarded as follows: "Chatham Village was sponsored by the Buhl Foundation as an experiment in high-quality for-profit housing for limited-income families. The progressive garden-suburb plan kept wheeled traffic on the perimeter of the 197-unit development, leaving its center for walks, lawns, and gardens. Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation" "Historic Landmark Bigham House 1843-1844 Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation."
Fifth Pan-American Congress of Architects, Montevideo, Uruguay, 1940. Silver Medal awarded to Charles T. Ingham and William Boyd.
Town and Country Planning Association of England, 1960. Ebenezer Howard Medal Awarded to Clarence S. Stein.
United Statues Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1976. National Design Award.
† Vatter, David A., AIA, Chatham Village Historic District, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.