Chiming in on history at St. Peter’s Residences
The former St. Peter’s Evangelical and Reformed Church on Lockhart Street in Historic Deutschtown is under renovation: It will soon become a 16-unit apartment building called the St. Peter’s Residences.
Story and Photos by David S. Rotenstein
The Northside is thrumming with new development. The former St. Peter’s Evangelical and Reformed Church on Lockhart Street will soon become the St. Peter’s Residences, a 16-unit apartment building in a space with a long history in the community. It’s a project that resonates with Dwight Lenzner. His family lived near the church for several generations.
Lenzner, 60, has lived in the Northside since he was 21. He lives a block away from the church building in a high-rise apartment building. Family genealogy brought him to the building and its story.
“I discovered that my grandfather grew up one more street up from where the church is,” Lenzner said in an August interview. “His name was William Lenzner.”
Lenzner’s grandfather didn’t talk much about his youth in what was then Allegheny City. Census records told Lenzner that his grandfather worked for the railroad and he had other odd jobs.
“My grandfather used to tell a story about when he was growing up—one of the few stories—that he worked a lot doing errands and helping horseshoeing and things like that,” Lenzner explained. He doesn’t know if William ever attended the church, though.
“When I was a kid, it was a powerful congregation on the Northside,” said Allegheny City Society Vice President John Canning. Canning grew up a few houses away from the church’s Brighton Heights parsonage. He said that the church had three congregational changes during its time in the Lockhart Street location. Long associated with the Northside’s influential German residents, the church, said Canning, was less conservative than its Lutheran counterparts. Its politics and social positions were “left of center,” noted Canning.
According to a 50th anniversary book the church published, the Lockhart Street building was completed in the late 1880s, a few years after the church purchased the lot in 1886. A school and offices occupied a second, attached building that faces Avery Street. Located in the heart of a wealthy German community, the church’s founders included commercial and industrial entrepreneurs.
“You had the business leadership, the institutional leadership, these people were part of making these buildings become buildings,” explained Barbara Burns, a civic activist and former city councilmember who owns Sweet Time General Store on East Ohio Street. Burns grew up on Avery Street, near the church.
In the 1980s and 1990s, before its membership declined and the last congregation left, the building housed several Northside community and economic development groups. Burns also noted that for a time, The Northside Chronicle occupied a second-floor office. Then, the abandoned building fell into disrepair. St. Peter’s Residence LP bought the building in 2017 with plans to redevelop it, owner and Northside native Bill West said.
Lenzner passes the church daily on his way to work. One day he saw a large bell in the vestibule and it enthralled him.
Cast in Baltimore in 1887, by the McShane Bell Foundry, the bell is inscribed with its maker’s name and casting date in English on one side and a dedication in German from the church’s young men’s association on the other.
The bell will be a centerpiece in the new development’s reception area.
“We want it as a historic monument here,” said West during a recent tour of the building. West explained that workers had to cut through two floors to lower the bell over two days.
The bell isn’t the only thing being saved. Stained glass windows have been restored and lights from the sanctuary are being installed in the apartments. The sanctuary floor is being recycled as wainscoting in hallways.
Work on the church is regulated by the Historic Review Commission because it is in a historic district. West doesn’t see the oversight as a burden. Like highlighting the bell and the church’s story, he sees the project as a labor of love.
“We are trying to be respectful to the neighborhood,” said West.
After being pushed back due to several delays, the apartments are now slated to be open later this fall.