Wednesday, February 7, 2018


 This column first appeared in the February 2018 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The Democrat Messenger, now Observer-Reporter Building, January 2018. 

Although Waynesburg is best known for its rich collection of 19th century buildings, its downtown has a modern building that’s an important piece of 20th century architecture by renowned Pittsburgh architect Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. Designed in 1939 for “The Democrat Messenger,” a local daily newspaper, today it is owned by the Observer Publishing Company. The location is Church Street beside the court house.
Early view from the Carnegie Mellon University Archives.

Architect Frederick Scheibler has been called “undoubtedly the most important ‘original’ architect that Pittsburgh produced, as well as a distinguished and unique pioneer of the modern architecture in Pennsylvania“ by architectural historian James van Trump. The Democrat Messenger Building was his last completed commission, capping a 43-year career that was largely in the eastern neighborhoods and suburbs of Pittsburgh. 

Elevation drawing from the Carnegie Mellon University Archives.

His work is fully documented in The Progressive Architecture of Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. (1994) by Martin Aurand, librarian and archivist at Carnegie Mellon University. Scheibler designed many single-family homes, small apartment buildings and commercial structures. Among his most highly touted are three multi-family residences: Old Heidelberg (1905) on South Braddock Avenue, Point Breeze; Highland Towers (1913) on South Highland Avenue, Shadyside, and Parkstone Dwellings (1922) on Penn Avenue, Point Breeze. 

Early view of the Old Heidelberg apartment building.  Source: "The Progressive Architecture of Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr.," by Martin Aurand.

The Democrat Messenger Building is among his most severe designs, ornamented only with Moravian tiles on the front façade and doorway surround. They were hand-made at the famous Doylestown, PA tile works. Inside the entrance hall are more tiles and another fine example of 20th Century Arts-and-Crafts work, an iron staircase rail that has been attributed to Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia. 

One of the Moravian glazed tiles adorning the front entrance surround. January 2018.

The building design is "functionalist" with its simple box of buff-colored bricks, flat roof and groups of metal casement windows. The interior plan is unusual, designed to accommodate shipping facilities in the basement, a printing plant in the rear of the first floor and offices, all branching from a central hallway.
Front entrance stairway with glazed tile inserts and important Arts-and-Crafts style handrail.  January 2018.

The mystery of how this central lot came to be available 140 years after the town was established is answered in the Downey House Fire of December 1925. One of the buildings destroyed in this tragic conflagration was the Presbyterian Church that previously stood on the lot, giving its name to “Church Street”. Afterward, the congregation moved to its current location at Richhill and College Streets. Today, there is no church on Church Street. 

One of two Moravian tile medallions ornamenting the front facade.  January 2018.

Next, Waynesburg Borough acquired the lot for a new municipal building, but bids were twice rejected as being too high.  They abandoned plans in 1929, selling the lot to Robert H. Robinson, a Monongahela businessman who owned "The Democrat Messenger" and other local papers.  During the Depression when there was little work for architects, Robinson almost single-handedly kept Scheibler employed, first in 1935 with a printing plant for the Canonsburg “Daily Notes,” then four years later with the Democrat Messenger Building. In the same year, he hired Scheibler to design a “Model Dwelling” to address a shortage of affordable modern housing in the Mon Valley. Robinson publicized the project often in his Monongahela “Daily Republican,” and when complete, opened it to the public. Later it became the home of his son, John Robinson.

Model home in Monongahela, PA, designed by Scheibler in 1939. Source: Carnegie Mellon University Archives.
“The Democrat Messenger” ceased publication in March 1986. Since then, the building has been the home of the Greene County Office of the “Observer-Reporter”. The office of Habitat for Humanity is another current occupant.

Thanks to Martin Aurand and Lucy Northrup Corwin for assistance in preparing this article.