Mission & Brief History: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
Mission: Renewing Communities; Building Pride
PHLF is chartered to work within a 250-mile radius of Pittsburgh, Pa., although its primary focus is on the Pittsburgh area.
“There is not a preservation organization on the local level anywhere in the country that can match the work of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.”
–Richard Moe, former President
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Why PHLF Matters
Through its work, PHLF is improving the quality of life for Pittsburghers and attracting tourists to the region. Today, homes in neighborhoods such as Manchester, stores on main streets such as East Carson, and the historic buildings housing shops and restaurants at Station Square survive and flourish and attract people by their architectural uniqueness, human scale and urban character, thanks in large part to the work and determination of PHLF.
PHLF was founded in 1964 by a group of citizens who passionately believed that historic preservation, rather than massive demolition, could be a tool for renewing communities, creating pride among residents, and achieving sustainable economic development. At the time, vast amounts of public money were being spent to replace some of Pittsburgh’s most historic neighborhoods and commercial areas with characterless architecture, parking lots and roadways. After more than four decades of work, PHLF has shown that architectural landmarks and historic neighborhoods are community assets and that historic preservation can be a catalyst for urban renewal.
More than 2,000 members support PHLF’s work that is carried out under the guidance of 75 trustees by 21 full-time staff members and 2 part-time employees, plus more than 125 volunteers.
PHLF includes a nonprofit corporation, Landmarks Community Capital Corporation (LCCC), and a for-profit subsidiary, Landmarks Development Corporation (LDC). LCCC makes loans and obtains grants and investment capital which it uses to finance and develop projects that assist in the revitalization of urban centers, towns, and neighborhoods. LDC provides consulting services and develops real estate.
PHLF is known across the nation for its pioneering work in restoring inner-city neighborhoods without dislocating the people who live there. In 1966 PHLF established the Revolving Fund for Preservation with a $100,000 grant from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Moneys from the fund were used primarily on the North Side and South Side of Pittsburgh to purchase, restore and renovate historic inner-city properties. These properties were then rented or sold to low- and moderate-income families.
PHLF’s Revolving Fund has grown into a major funding source, managed by Landmarks Community Capital Corporation (a nonprofit subsidiary of PHLF), providing loans to nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh region and technical assistance to preservation groups throughout the United States.
Station Square gave PHLF the opportunity to put its urban planning principles into practice. Aided by an initial generous gift from the Allegheny Foundation in 1976, PHLF adapted five historic Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad buildings for new uses and added a hotel, a dock for the Gateway Clipper fleet, and parking areas. Now shops, offices, restaurants and entertainment anchor the historic riverfront site on the south shore of the Monongahela, opposite the Golden Triangle. Station Square is Pittsburgh’s premiere attraction. It reflects a $100 million investment from all sources, with the lowest public cost and highest taxpayer return of any major renewal project in the Pittsburgh region since the 1950s. PHLF’s sale of Station Square in 1994 created a source of funding for PHLF that continues to support its restoration efforts and educational programs.
PHLF holds preservation easements on more than 30 historic properties in Western Pennsylvania, including eight properties in Harmony (Butler County), the John Roberts House (Canonsburg), Bedford Springs Hotel (Bedford), and on the Burke’s Building, Heinz Lofts, Cork Factory Lofts, and The Carlyle––all in Pittsburgh. An easement is a voluntary legal agreement between the owner and PHLF to protect a historic building or landscape from alteration or destruction in perpetuity. PHLF is the only organization in Western Pennsylvania authorized to accept preservation easements.
Since former Mayor Tom Murphy announced his misguided plan in 1999 to revitalize the Fifth/Forbes area in downtown Pittsburgh by demolishing more than 60 historic buildings, PHLF has worked with others to successfully advocate––and implement––a revitalization strategy combining restoration and adaptive use with new construction. An outstanding example of this strategy is the LEED-Gold-certified Market at Fifth, developed through a limited partnership affiliated with PHLF. Three historic buildings––two from the 1870s and one from 1908––have been rescued from demolition, restored, and adapted to house seven apartments and two retail tenants: Heinz Healey’s Gentlemen’s Apparel and Nettleton Shoe Shop. The project qualified for the federal 20% rehabilitation tax credit. Work on a fourth building, the former John R. Thompson Building at 435 Market Street (a 1907 commercial building) is underway, thanks to funding from the Allegheny Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to the City of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County’s Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.
Since 2008, PHLF has assisted Allegheny County in its main street program, “Allegheny Together,” by providing design and construction assistance and business recruitment strategies to ten historic communities: Bellevue, Bridgeville, Carnegie, Coraopolis, Dormont, Elizabeth, Stowe, Swissvale, Tarentum, and Verona.
Since 2006, PHLF and its subsidiaries have raised more than $12 million to fund a revitalization program in the National-Register listed Hamnett Place neighborhood of Wilkinsburg. Lead donors include the Allegheny Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Allegheny County Economic Development, TriState Capital Bank, PNC Bank, FHLBank Pittsburgh, and First Niagara. Accomplishments to date include renovating seven historic houses on Jeanette Street and Holland Avenue and offering them for sale; developing the $8.6 million, 27-unit Crescent Apartments and Wilson House; restoring, opening, and offering educational programs in the Landmarks Housing Resource Center at 744 Rebecca Avenue; developing a community garden; and participating in a Neighborhood Partnership Program in cooperation with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.
Over the years, the trustees, staff and members of PHLF have successfully campaigned to save the North Side Post Office (now the Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum), the Union Station rotunda in downtown Pittsburgh, the Neill Log House in Schenley Park, the Burtner House in Harrison Township, the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, and “Woodville Plantation” in Collier Township, among many other places.
Historic Religious Properties
Thanks to year-end contributions from its members in recent years, PHLF has awarded matching grants ($3,000 to $10,000 each) to more than 100 historic religious properties in Allegheny County for bricks-and-mortar projects.
PHLF was the first historic preservation group in the nation to undertake a countywide survey of architectural landmarks. Co-founders Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. and James D. Van Trump began that survey in 1965. As a result of a second, more comprehensive survey completed by PHLF staff in 1984, more than 6,000 architecturally and historically significant sites in Allegheny County have been documented. PHLF also has surveyed steel industry sites, African-American historic sites, and historic parks and gardens, and has prepared thematic National Register nominations on Pittsburgh public schools and bridges.
Historic Landmark Plaques
PHLF has awarded “Historic Landmark” plaques to 545 significant sites in Allegheny County since 1968.
The data and research collected through architectural surveys has provided much original material for major books and brochures. Current titles from PHLF include a series of four guidebooks (2007 – 2011) and Pittsburgh’s Landmark Architecture: The Historic Buildings of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (1997) and Pittsburgh’s Bridges: Architecture and Engineering (1999), both by Walter C. Kidney. PHLF News, an annual membership newsletter, includes feature articles on current preservation issues and major programs.
Each year the staff and docents of PHLF introduce more than 10,000 people — teachers, students, adults and visitors — to the architectural heritage of the Pittsburgh region and to the value of historic preservation.
Through student/teacher workshops, tours, exhibits and a variety of educational programs, PHLF encourages people to notice and appreciate historic buildings, parks, public spaces, bridges, streets, etc. that make up the city and its neighborhoods and compose the special character of the Pittsburgh region. By exploring and discovering something about local history and architecture, people are more likely to preserve old buildings and thoughtfully consider the impact of new building proposals.
The History Channel, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies, Preservation Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission are among those who have recognized PHLF for its innovative and engaging educational programs for people of all ages.
As a result of PHLF’s leadership and assistance, numerous local preservation and civic groups have been organized to manage the day-to-day business of caring for historic neighborhoods. These include the Manchester Citizens Corporation, the Mexican War Streets Society, North Side Leadership Conference, ELDI, Lawrenceville Corporation, and the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG), among others. The PCRG now includes more than 30 neighborhood groups that work with every major financial institution in Pittsburgh; these banks have committed some $2.4 billion dollars to inner-city neighborhoods in compliance with federal regulations.