ELPC’s History and Architecture
East Liberty Presbyterian Church has a rich history dating to 1819 when the first church building was constructed on this site. Today’s church was completed and dedicated in 1935.
The architect who designed the current structure was Ralph Adams Cram, of Cram and Ferguson in Boston. Cram also designed Calvary Episcopal Church (1906) in neighboring Shadyside and Princeton University’s Chapel. When Cram was hired by the Mellons to build the current East Liberty Presbyterian Church building, he was given absolute freedom to build the finest and most beautiful church to the glory of God that he could create.
In his own words (from the Presbyterian Banner, May 23, 1935), “Of all the cathedrals and churches I have built this is my masterpiece. This church has been the most profound spiritual experience of my life.” ELPC was built in the style of the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. This style emerged in the twelfth century, mainly under the influence of the Cistercian Order and Abbot Suger of St. Denis, Paris. The Gothic style is characterized by the use of pointed arches, the emphasis on light mediated through colored stained glass, and the cruciform floor plan. There is a wonderful video in the church library about the building of such cathedrals.
Planning for the church occurred twice weekly for three or four years, and the meetings were held mainly at the Duquesne Club. Mr. McKelvy was the committee chairman prior to his passing. He was succeeded by Mr. Fisher, president of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Sessions lasting two or three days would be held to discuss things like the hundreds of doors in the church, each of which had to be studied to determine which way the door should open, and the placement of each knob.
The building, which occupies one city block, cost approximately $4 million to construct. Interior dimensions of the Sanctuary are as follows: Nave length, 202 feet; nave height, 75 feet, breadth of transepts, 117 feet. The windows are the work of eight stained glass studios, and a number of skilled craftsmen in wood and stone contributed their remarkable talents. The original pipe organ in the Sanctuary was built by the Æolian-Skinner Company.
Groundwork began August 18, 1931, with Mr. Mellon laying the cornerstone on June 19, 1932. Mr. Mellon died suddenly December 1, 1933, but construction continued as his family carried the work to its conclusion. On May 12, 1935 the work was completed and the building dedicated. 5,500 people attended the dedication services. 1,700 members of the church, bearing admission cards, filled the pews of the sanctuary, while 3,800 people listened to the service in the chapel, social hall and other rooms throughout the church via a permanent speaker system.
See 360° views of the interior of our church, along with some additional comments and history details. You can also read more about the church’s history and architecture here, or view a list of pastors here.