Work Continues on Wilkinsburg Restoration Projects

Work continues on the Crescent Apartments and Wilson house project in Wilkinsburg, to restore two historically significant buildings and bring 27 affordable housing rental units to the market. The project is over 30% complete, with apartment walls now being installed along with electrical wiring and plumbing. Both buildings are on schedule for completion in fall 2011.  Social services will be offered at both buildings, on and off-sight, through Hosanna House. This $8.6 million development is being funded with assistance from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Allegheny County, through its Department of Economic Development and office of Behavioral Health, PNC Bank, and the Federal Home Loan Bank Pittsburgh.

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The New Granada Theater Listed on National Register of Historic Places

The New Granada Theater, which housed a prominent Hill District civic organization, and was also used as a movie theater, live entertainment venue, and community center for decades, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The listing, announced January 7, is the result of a submission of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) and the Hill Community Development Corporation (Hill CDC).

Designed in 1927 by Louis A.S. Bellinger, Pittsburgh’s first African American architect, the three-story building located at 2009-11 Centre Avenue was the Knights of Pythias Temple—an African American fraternal organization—from its opening in 1928 to 1936. It re-opened as the New Granada Theater in May 1937, under the management of the Handel Theater Corporation and remained active until the 1970s when it closed under private ownership. After years of vacancy and deterioration, the Hill CDC purchased the building in June 1995, with the help of a loan from PHLF.

The Hill CDC and PHLF collaborated on a $1.1 million stabilization of the New Granada in 2007-10, funded by The Heinz Endowments, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program, and Allegheny County’s Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.

African American architect, Milton Ogot, and Repal Construction Company assisted with the stabilization project.

“The renewal of this building will anchor future development in the entire area. We look forward to the results of the visioning process now underway by the Hill CDC,” said PHLF President Arthur Ziegler.

The New Granada is one of 32 sites in Pittsburgh’s Hill District featured in PHLF’s forthcoming book, August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays, by Laurence A. Glasco and Christopher Rawson, with introductions by Kimberly C. Ellis and Sala Udin. A book signing and celebration, free to the public, will be on Saturday, February 26, 1-3pm, Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Reservations required: marylu@phlf.org; 412-471-5808 ext. 527.

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Row-House Museum Harrison Group’s Top Goal for 2011

By George Guido,
FOR THE VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bill Godfrey of Natrona Comes Together, the grassroots neighborhood improvement group, says the group has a list of goals for this year for this aging, riverside neighborhood that’s nestled between two steel mills.

One is establishing a row-house museum on Federal Street.

The project would restore a row house to its original state and be operated by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Residents have been donating artifacts to the proposed museum, but the discovery of a $6,000 tax lien on the property possibly could complicate the project.

A steel heritage sculpture is proposed for the corner of Federal and Blue Ridge Avenue.

Natrona Comes Together needs $1,300 to buy the vacant property.

The sculpture will resemble the coal miners’ memorial sculpture in the Harwick section of Springdale Township and will be sculpted by New Kensington native Steven Paulovich. The parklet will be managed by the Rivers of Steel Group, based in the Mon Valley.

Another project involves ongoing additions to the Natrona playground.

A concession stand, bike racks, landscaping and a horseshoe-pitching court are among the planned items for the $142,000 federal grant.

Godfrey’s group hopes to have the former bank building renovated to the point where it could be sold, rented or leased to a private business.

The Natrona group also hopes to get AmeriCorps members to help manage the park and mow grass on vacant properties in the community.

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Buying Here: Thornburg

Saturday, January 22, 2011
By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This home in Thornburg is on the market. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Bidding wars are not common in Pittsburgh. Every once in a while, though, multiple buyers will set their collective hearts on a house in a much-desired neighborhood. Linda Padget and her husband, John Miller, had to outbid eight others to buy the nearly century-old Craftsman-style house at 508 Yale Road in Thornburg that is currently for sale by owner for $389,900 (www.oldhouses.com, No. 5121).

The Living Room. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The couple adored the big Victorian they’d spend years restoring in nearby Crafton, but not its location at a noisy intersection.

“We wanted peace and quiet,” recalls Ms. Padget, who paid $243,500 for the house in 1999. “This was out of the way, with virtually no traffic.”

A closer view of the living room fireplace. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Laid out in 1899 by two cousins who subdivided 250 acres of family farmland, Thornburg has curving, shaded streets named after Ivy League colleges and many large, Craftsman-style homes that appealed to turn-of-the-century Edwardian sensibilities. The Thornburg Land Co. advertised the new development in the Chartiers Valley Mirror as a “high-class residence district.” The borough, most likely modeled after New York’s blue-blood Tuxedo Park, also had one of the first private golf courses in Allegheny County (members cut the grass on Saturdays and played on Sundays) along with a community club and a community theater founded in 1937.

The Home's Sitting Parlor. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Just 10 minutes from Downtown, Thornburg has remained a family-centered town with a lively community spirit: Both the Thornburg Community Club and Village Players are still active; the golf course, which fell into private hands for a time, is now a conservation area with walking trails for residents.

A few of Thornburg’s homes are true mansions, including the Frank Thornburg House built in 1907 on Lehigh Road, which has 7,000 square feet of living space, seven bedrooms and 10 fireplaces. The Miller-Padget house, built in 1904, is more modest, with five bedrooms, three working fireplaces with original tile hearths and just under 4,000 square feet of space.

The dining room has a fireplace and a curved wall of windows. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Located on a professionally landscaped lot in the historic district, the 21/2-story house is believed to be one of the borough’s original dozen or so houses. Its exterior is constructed of fieldstone and cedar shakes; there’s also a driveway leading to a two-car detached garage. While it has been updated with cosmetic changes, none of its six or seven owners over the past 100 years made the mistake of significantly modernizing its rooms or exterior.

“Everyone took very good care of it,” says Ms. Padget. “They kept the integrity intact.”

An overhead view of the kitchen. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Original hardwood floors, brass hardware and leaded-glass transoms are among the period details that dress up the first floor, which includes a 15-by-19-foot family room. There’s also a 20-foot oak bay with a cushioned window seat in the 13-by-19-foot dining room, parts of which are wallpapered with pale blue silk grass cloth.

An adjoining 12-by-15-foot living room has mahogany paneling, with windows overlooking the side yard. At first, the couple wasn’t too keen on the light blue tint of the stain on the paneling (probably not original). But they feared the room would be too dark if they stripped it and stained it dark mahogany. The color ended up growing on them.

The refrigerator sits in a pantry off of the kitchen. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The recently updated eat-in kitchen features stainless-steel appliances, cherry cabinets and granite countertops; they also turned a closet into a butler’s pantry with glass-fronted cabinets, fridge and a wine rack. Accent tiles in the backsplash depict Italian scenes; the copper ceiling is faux.

The second floor holds a 14-by-29-foot master bedroom with a pair of walk-in closets and a window seat. The master bath, brightened by a skylight, has a whirlpool tub. The smaller of two additional bedrooms serves as a home office, and there’s also a newly remodeled main bath with a porcelain floor.

The second-floor office. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The attic has two more bedrooms — one with a wood floor and the other carpeted — and a 10-by-16-foot “bonus” room that’s currently used for storage.

The finished basement has a game room/den with wall-to-wall carpeting, a 9-by-14-foot cedar closet and a store room/shop with built-in shelving. A vintage quartersawn-oak Banta icebox is used by the current owners as a bar. Since it’s too massive to move, it comes with the house.

The master bedroom. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The fenced-in backyard is surrounded by mature trees that cloak the house in privacy in spring and summer. Year-round, there’s a fabulous view from the 14-by-33-foot deck off the kitchen, outfitted with a built-in gas grill, below-railing lighting and stereo with quadraphonic sound.

“At night, you can see the sparkling lights of Sheraden and Ingram,” says Ms. Padget, It is, she says, their favorite spot in the house. “We spend seven months of the year out here.”

The "his" bathroom ... Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

No properties have changed hands on Yale Road in the past several years, but homes have sold on other streets in the neighborhood with prices ranging from $160,000 on Cornell Avenue to $347,5000 on Harvard.

... and the "her" bathroom. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

To request a brochure on 508 Yale Road, call 412-921-0508 or e-mail padgetmiller@verizon.net.

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Children’s Museum Has Bulk of Funds to Build Park

Friday, January 21, 2011
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Children’s Museum is $2.2 million away from raising the funds it needs to transform the sunken concrete square outside its doors into the Allegheny Public Square Park and make upgrades inside the museum.

Officials Thursday announced they had raised $6.3 million of the $8.5 million needed and that the remainder would be solicited as public donations.

The bulk of the money to date has come from foundations. A $250,000 challenge grant from the Buhl Foundation will match $1 for every $2 contributed by the public.

The existing square was created in the 1960s as part of the Allegheny Center Mall. A sunken area housed a fountain encircled by amphitheater-like seating. The area now is a walk-through zone, sometimes used by skateboarders but otherwise ghostly.

The museum chose San Francisco landscape architect Andrea Cochran in a design competition in 2007, when it embarked on its capital campaign. Ms. Cochran’s design for the new park calls for native plants, a meadow, 75 additional trees, solar lighting, a rain garden and a V-shaped walkway with benches and movable seats and tables.

The park’s art feature will be a stainless steel sculpture by Ned Kahn. Called “Cloud Arbor,” the piece will stand as rows of stainless steel tubes with nozzles to create “a sphere of mist,” said museum executive director Jane Werner. “It is a companion to our wind sculpture,” called “Articulated Cloud,” which Mr. Kahn also designed as 43 panels on the building that create the illusion that the building is moving with the wind.

A north-to-south row of cypress trees along Children’s Way will be kept while about 10 others will be replaced, said Ms. Cochran, adding that arborists had determined them to be unhealthy.

Plants have been chosen for their contributions to green design, she said. “We are teaching by example, with plants that don’t need pesticides or fertilizers.”

“Everything we all say we care about — the environment, green space and kids — all comes together here,” said state Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, a museum board member.

The project’s budget will also cover alterations of the museum’s nursery, store and cafe.

“We are hoping to break ground sometime this year,” said Ms. Werner. The project may be completed next year.

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Tax Incentives for Historic Buildings

Federal Preservation Tax Incentives for Historic Buildings

The Federal Preservation Tax Incentives Program encourages the reuse and rehabilitation of historic buildings through two tax benefits: federal rehabilitation tax credits and charitable contribution deductions for the donation of preservation easements.  Both incentives are available for historic buildings or buildings within districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) and/or are contributing structures to “registered historic districts,” which includes National Register-listed historic districts and state or local historic districts that are certified by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior (Secretary).  The programs are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) on behalf of the National Parks Service and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

Rehabilitation Tax Credits

Two levels of rehabilitation tax credits are available: a 20% rehabilitation tax credit for projects that the Secretary designates as certified rehabilitation of a historic structure and a 10% rehabilitation tax credit for the rehabilitation of non-historic buildings placed in service before 1936.  The 20% rehabilitation tax credit is more frequently used in the Pittsburgh region.  It was instrumental in the financing of the Heinz Lofts, the Armstrong Cork Factory, the Bedford Springs Resort, and Market at Fifth­­––a project of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

To access the 20% rehabilitation tax credit, owners and developers must fully comply with the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements.  The process is overseen and managed by PHMC and includes, among other things, a three-part application that: (i) certifies that the building is a certified historic structure; (ii) approves the plans and specifications for the rehabilitation work, and (iii) certifies that the rehabilitation was completed in accordance with the plans after the work is complete.  The 20% rehabilitation tax credit requires that:

  • the building is a certified historic structure (as discussed above);
  • the building is depreciable, i.e. income producing such as offices or rental housings;
  • the rehabilitation is substantial; and
  • the property must be placed in service or put into use after the rehabilitation, among other things.

More information on rehabilitation tax credits can be found at the PHMC and NPS Web sites.

Preservation Easements

Section 170(h) provides a charitable contribution deduction for a donation of a preservation easement on certified historic structures to a qualified organization such as PHLF.  In exchange, the donor of a preservation easement receives a federal charitable contribution deduction equal to the fair market value of the preservation easement as determined by a “qualified appraisal” conducted by a “qualified appraiser.”

A preservation easement is a legal agreement negotiated between the donor/property owner and PHLF that places restrictions on the exterior, and sometimes the interior, of a historic property so that it will be preserved forever or in perpetuity.  The owner retains the right to make changes to the property in accordance with the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation.  The preservation easement is recorded in the local recorder of deeds office and runs with the land.  PHLF is then responsible for monitoring the property on an annual basis to ensure compliance.

PHLF has received over 30 preservation easements on buildings in Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties.  These include single-family homes, large industrial complexes that have been rehabilitated into apartments, downtown condominium buildings, historic farms and farmland, and a historic resort hotel.  More information on preservation easements and PHLF’s preservation easement program can be found at the following Web sites: PHMC, NPS and PHLF.

NOTE:  PHLF does not provide tax or legal advice. The above information is for informational purposes only and does not include all of the details and requirements of the Federal Preservation Tax Incentive Programs or the Internal Revenue Code.  Please consult your own attorney and tax advisor if you are interested in these programs.

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The Making of a Mural: Series of Coincidences Led to Collaboration Between Artist and North Side Homeowner

Saturday, January 15, 2011
By Kevin Kirkland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Artist Ken Heusey in front of the mural he created for David McAnallen's renovated kitchen on the North Side. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

Life is sometimes like a movie script. Or maybe it just seems that way to Ken Heusey because he worked in Hollywood for 16 years.

Only in a movie would absentmindedly leaving your cell phone on a table in an airport restaurant lead to painting murals in a South Side restaurant and a restored North Side townhouse. The work has been a triumph and a treat for Mr. Heusey, an accomplished photographer and native of Fombell, Beaver County, who did fashion shoots and lighting on movie sets, including making Matt Damon look good in “Oceans 12.”

David McAnallen, who is finishing a nine-year renovation of an 1860s brick townhouse in the North Side’s Manchester neighborhood, is glad fate brought them together. No one else could have imagined and created the classical mural that draws your eyes up the moment you step into his kitchen.

“The collaboration with Ken was wonderful. As you walk around, you’re captivated. It sucks you in,” said Mr. McAnallen, a psychologist.

Detail from the back of a McAnallen family heirloom chair. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

Mr. Heusey, 46, was heading back to Los Angeles a year-and-a-half ago when he stopped to eat at the T.G.I. Friday’s at the Pittsburgh International Airport and left his cell phone. Upon his return, he stopped in and asked to see the manager who was holding it for him. The server he spoke with recognized him — She was his 10th-grade date for the homecoming dance at Riverside High School.

That connection led to an introduction to the owners of Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh on the South Side. Last fall, Mr. Heusey painted a large two-section mural of 19th-century barmaids and beer drinkers on the terrace overlooking the beer garden. He was finishing that project when he met Mr. McAnallen while the two men were working out at the North Side YMCA. When Mr. McAnallen saw his photos of the Hofbrauhaus project, he decided he’d found the artist to decorate his newly renovated kitchen.

A detail from the mural Ken Heusey painted for David McAnallen's renovated kitchen. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

“I had thought about a mural before, but it never happened,” he recalled. “The space is so angular. I wanted to soften the angles.”

The space is an alcove around a new Velux skylight Mr. McAnallen added to the kitchen. Although Mr. Heusey had in mind a prominent spot visible from the doorway, it ended up closer to the ceiling, revealing itself gradually as a visitor enters the kitchen. The homeowner wanted something subtle.

“It was too big, too bold there,” Mr. Heusey agreed.

This in-progress photo shows Ken Heusey's mural below the skylight.

The artist suggested a trompe l’oeil painting in which old sandstone walls and a fragment of an old mural peek out from beneath layers of plaster. His inspiration for the classical scene came from a Gustave Dore engraving, “Isaiah’s Vision of the Destruction of Babylon.” He liked the mood of the drawing, especially the stormy sky. Mr. McAnallen liked it, too, but he asked the artist to take out the debris. He also added a pond similar to the one the homeowner had installed in his side yard. Isaiah was replaced with one horseman, then two.

“I like to create a story,” Mr. Heusey said, adding that he leaves the story’s details to the viewers’ imagination.

He copied the pattern of the faux stone corbeling beneath the scene from a nearby building and the carved lion’s face from an oak chair that is a McAnallen family heirloom.

Mr. Heusey spent about three weeks working on the painting, interrupted by the holidays. Before he started, he warned Mr. McAnallen that he would probably have concerns in the middle of the project, when he was still roughing in the design. He was right:

“I panicked only one time,” Mr. McAnallen admitted. “A lot of orange was coming through. I thought ‘Did I do the right thing?’”

David McAnallen at his home on Sheffield Street in Manchester on the North Side. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

The artist explained that the orange was underpainting and that it would not look that way in the final painting. And it doesn’t.

The two men declined to say what the project cost. Mr. Heusey, who spends about half of his time painting murals and the other half doing commercial photography, said his price depends upon the size, detail and complexity of the project. He says collaboration between artist and client yields a painting that pleases both.

“We let it evolve,” he said. “By going back and forth, we created something better.”

To contact Ken Heusey, call 310-963-6772 or go to www.khprod.com, which includes photos taken as he worked on the McAnallen project.

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Denis Theatre Foundation Names Executive Director

Thursday, January 13, 2011
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Denis Theatre Foundation on Wednesday named Valerie Golik, the former executive director of The Pittsburgh Philharmonic, as its new executive director.

She replaces board member Jennifer Smokelin, who has served as interim director since the fall.

“We are delighted that Valerie is joining the Denis Theatre Foundation,” Ms. Smokelin said in a news release. “She brings with her an excellent background in arts management, programming, and a strong track record in fundraising and planning.”

When Ms. Golik, of Marshall, assumes the role Jan. 17, she will direct the foundation’s goal of restoring and re-opening the Denis Theatre on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. The theater, which opened in 1938, closed in 2004 in a state of disrepair. The nonprofit Denis Theatre Foundation formed in 2007 and began a fundraising campaign, with the goal of purchasing the building and restoring it as an independent film theater and community cultural center.

In September, the foundation announced it had raised enough money to purchase the building. Ms. Golik will assist with the capital campaign to raise $2.5 million to open the first of three planned screens. So far, the foundation has raised $900,000.

The foundation hopes to open the first screen in mid-2012.

“We are counting on broad support from individuals, businesses and charitable foundations from throughout the Pittsburgh area,” Ms. Golik said. “Once re-opened, the Denis will be a true regional asset.”

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‘Location’ is Only Part of Marketing Downtown Homes

By Bob Karlovits, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, January 9, 2011

The condos at Gateway Towers, Downtown, offers postcard-like views of PNC Park, Point State Park and the headwaters of the Ohio River. Joe Appel | Tribune-Review

Cindy Clifton stands at the corner of a condo in Gateway Towers overlooking postcard-like views of PNC Park, Point State Park and the headwaters of the Ohio River.

What sells this $1 million condo, like others that can be about $200,000 in the Downtown high-rise, is what has become a mantra of real estate sales, the building manager explains: “Location, location, location.”

But at the same time, she adds, the management of the building also recently spent about $80,000 to bring the lobby, hallways and other public spaces out of the 1950s. It is an attempt to make the building “hipper” and to compete with some other, newer residences.

The need to make a lobby more attractive, to have it “say” something, points to a twist in the marketing of Downtown’s places to live. The vertical lifestyle Downtown creates a different market than the lawns and properties of the suburbs. For many, that upkeep is the reason for leaving the suburbs.

Liz Caplan, real estate broker for Remax, says there is one requirement that is shared in all Downtown homes.

“People want a worry-free lifestyle,” she says. “They don’t want to worry about the garden or cutting grass. They want to be able to take off for a couple weeks in Florida without thinking about anything.”

Debbie Roberts, general manager of the Cork Factory apartments in the Strip District, says urban living is “not for everyone” and those who accept it also are lured by the features their building offers.

Frank Berceli, from the firm that handles leasing for the Heinz Lofts on the North Side, says those amenities are even more important than higher or lower rents or mortgages.

“If your dealing with a person who can afford $1,300 for rent, $50 more or less won’t matter,” he says. “But a good workout room will.”

Roberts says the Cork Factory thrives on amenities such as the picnic area, a marina and the building’s historic architecture

But, she adds, its closeness to Downtown also makes it attractive even if it is not right in the business district.

The newly remodeled lobby at Gateway Towers, Downtown. Joe Appel | Tribune-Review

Similar comments are made at many Downtown residences, pointing to sales pitches that are far different from those for single-family homes.

Those pitches also point to how these buildings would seem to present different lifestyles, even if they seem similar.

It is all in what is offered

Both David Bishoff and Frank Berceli are big on privacy — but even that can take on a different nature.

Bishoff is president E.V. Bishoff Co., the Columbus, Ohio, firm that developed the Carlyle condos at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street. Berceli is general manager of Amore Management of Monroeville, which leases homes at the Heinz Lofts.

They both say they market their residences as offering a form of “privacy,” but Bishoff brags about how his “privacy” is amid bustle. Berceli’s, meanwhile, is in a suburb in the city.

Bishoff says one of the strongest aspects of the Carlyle is the 14 to 18 inches of concrete above and below condos and the walls that are lined with sound-deadening material. That makes the silence in the condos similar to that which residents experienced in their suburban homes before they moved Downtown.

“We don’t want to listen to our neighbor’s stereo,” he says of life in the condos, many of which cost about $300,000. “We did that in college, but we don’t want to do it now.”

Still, though, he adds, the Carlyle is in the middle of town, blocks from restaurants, shows, shops and health clubs. That gives it a location in the middle of activity that has lured many of its residents.

Berceli, on the other hand, says his clients tend to want to get away from urban life, but remain close enough to dip into it at a whim.

For that same reason, Berceli continues, the Heinz Lofts provide a better workout facility: it allows residents to stay at home instead of going to a commercial gym, no matter how close.

By living on the other side of the Allegheny River, the noise of traffic and business activity is gone. But the Downtown life is minutes away when it is wanted.

He says Heinz Lofts tenants are lured by that quiet as well as such features as the bicycle-hiking trail in front of it.

The ‘product’ is everything

William Gatti, president of Trek Development, which owns the Century Building on Seventh Avenue, Downtown, says the total “product” is the most important element in the marketing of a Downtown home.

Apartments there range from $600 a month rent-control units up to $1,500, and are being taken mostly by people who work Downtown or, in some cases, are retired but active as docents or other volunteer jobs.

“It puts people on the street,” he says. “They are out there going to work or going to restaurants. It is part of the whole urban lifestyle.”

He knows of some people who use Downtown residences as a part-time city home and suggests that strategy does not create a lively Downtown.

Brett Malky, a partner in 151 First Side, the upper-end condos on Fort Pitt Boulevard, says ultimately the “success” of all the Downtown residences is one of the best ways of marketing Downtown living.

“It is a lifestyle choice, but the fact that there are places appealing to young workers or empty nesters makes it possible to market Downtown living,” he says.

As he spoke, he was closing in on agreements that would leave only nine units available in the 82-place site that opened in 2007.

For condos that can top $1 million, that bespeaks the success he sees.

“With the small number left, it shows the fear of living Downtown is over,” he says.

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Friendship May Get Aldi Grocery

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Discount grocer Aldi appears to be headed to the East End as part of the redevelopment of a former car dealership.

Michigan-based Warner Pacific Properties is expected to brief the city planning commission today about its plans to convert the Day Automotive dealership into a grocery, offices and other retail uses.

The grocer in question is believed to be Aldi, although Leslie Peters, an attorney for Warner Pacific, said the developer did not yet have an agreement with any particular store.

Asked if Warner Pacific were talking to Aldi, Ms. Peters replied, “I think you can infer that.” City Councilman William Peduto, who represents the area, said Warner Pacific had stated that Aldi would be the grocer.

The developer is proposing an 18,000-square-foot grocery at the site at Baum Boulevard and Roup Street in Friendship. It is also planning 44,000 square feet of office space and 3,000 square feet of retail space.

Ms. Peters said Warner Pacific planned to keep the exterior intact.

The building, with a corner tower that once displayed pulsating light after dark, has some historic value. Built in the early 1930s as a Chrysler sales and service building, it remained as an auto dealership until it was closed in 2009 by the Day Automotive Group.

“We’ll be reusing the existing building,” Ms. Peters said. “We believe it’s a significant structure, at least for Pittsburghers. Everybody knows the building.”

She added that the developer did plan some interior renovations to upgrade the space. The total project cost is estimated at $4 million.

Because the property is a former auto dealership, Mr. Peduto said there are ramps within it that will allow for parking on the upper floors. The grocery will be on the first floor. He said an adjacent structure would be converted for office use.

Mr. Peduto said the project has the support of the Baum-Centre Initiative group. Through a community process, the developer is also addressing concerns about traffic patterns and other issues, he said.

After a planning commission briefing today, Warner Pacific is expected to appear before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment Thursday to request a special exception that would allow the property to be used for a grocery and office space.

Ms. Peters said the developer hoped to get all permits needed for the project by February or March and then start construction.

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Buying Here: Oakmont

A fine arts-and-craft home for a young family

Sunday, January 09, 2011
By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This home on California Avenue in Oakmont is on the market for $249,900. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

Oakmont is probably best known for its luxurious country club, home to a famously difficult golf course that’s hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in America. But its roots actually were planted in industry; early employers along the Allegheny River included Allegheny Valley Railroad, Woodings-Verona Tool Works and Agnew & Co., one of the most prolific glass companies in Pittsburgh at the turn of the 20th century.

Along with the elegant (and uber-expensive) homes that sprang up on Hulton Road about the same time as the club, the borough is blessed with a variety of more modest turn-of-the-century homes. Pretty as a picture is a 11/2-story Craftsman bungalow at 710 California Ave. (MLS No. 842126), constructed 11 years after Oakmont incorporated as a borough in 1889. It is being offered by Howard Hanna Real Estate’s Shadyside office for $249,900 (www.howardhanna.com; 412-361-4000).

The Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in England in the mid 1800s. Yet the style — marked by architectural simplicity and natural materials — didn’t catch on in the U.S. until decades later, in the early 1900s. After the fussy opulence of the Victorian era, American homeowners welcomed uncomplicated designs that were easy to envision, build and maintain. Architect/furniture designer Gustav Stickley’s “The Craftsman” magazine, first published in 1901, proved so popular that the 200-plus house plans he designed for its pages eventually were published in two books.

Situated on a double corner lot within easy walking distance of the shops and restaurants on Allegheny River Boulevard, this house features the style’s characteristic low-pitched, gabled roof and covered front porch. Inside, the rooms are large, with minimal ornamentation, high ceilings and lots of windows. Some could some updating.

First-floor bedrooms might seem like a Baby Boomer invention, but they actually were fairly common in Craftsman bungalows. This 2,500-square-foot house has two on the main level, including a 13-by-13-foot master, plus two more upstairs. Something else that will appeal to modern sensibilities: There’s a full bath on both floors.

The 15-by-10-foot eat-in kitchen opens onto a 15-by-14-foot formal dining room. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

The updated, eat-in kitchen measures 15 by 10 feet and is brightened by white wood cabinets and white appliances. It opens onto a 15-by-14-foot formal dining room, which adjoins a 20-by-14-foot living room with built-in bookcases and a working fireplace. Hardwood floors run throughout the first floor; out back is a one-car detached garage.

The large yard and quiet, tree-lined street make it a perfect starter house for a young family, says listing agent Justin Cummings. With most of the living space on the first level, it also should appeal to older couples who are downsizing but still need bedrooms for grandchildren and other visitors.

The 20-by-14-foot living room features built-in bookcases and a working fireplace. Hardwood floors run throughout the first floor. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

The current owner paid $265,000 for the house in 2007. It has a 2010 full market value of $175,000

(www2.county.allegheny.pa.us).

In the past three years, eight homes have changed hands on California Avenue, ranging in price from $167,500 in May 2007 to $285,000 in July 2008 (www.realstats.net).

There will be an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. today. For more information, contact Justin Cummings of Howard Hanna’s Shadyside office at 412-361-4000 or www.howardhanna.com.

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Owner Wants to Raze Iron City Building

Commission worries demolition will hamper future development at the historic Lawrenceville landmark
Monday, January 10, 2011
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The pipe shop portion of the closed Iron City Brewery is falling apart at the Lawrenceville landmark, on which the city has bestowed historic status. Bill Wade/Post-Gazette

Iron City Brewing Co. president Tim Hickman sounded urgent Dec. 1 when he asked the Historic Review Commission to let him tear down one of five buildings the city had granted historic status earlier in the year.

“The roof has collapsed,” he said, describing the original ice house in the former brewing complex in Lawrenceville. “The wooden I-beams have rotted and collapsed and the west wall is collapsing.”

Last week, the commission reconvened for a hearing, and Mr. Hickman was fighting to calm his agitation as the discussion drew out. A photo projected onto a screen showed twisted metal trusses hanging in a blue background — a rectangle of sky through the roof.

The brewing company had been cited by the Bureau of Building Inspection to abate the condition, which acting bureau chief John Jennings called “very dilapidated.” But the Historic Review Commission had a longer-term concern about the building, which dates to the 1890s.

And that concern is this: Would demolition of the old ice house prove to be a terrible mistake, jeopardizing a developer’s chances of getting a 20 percent tax break should this property become part of the National Register of Historic Places?

Although Mr. Hickman said a year ago that he embraced the historic status for the economic redevelopment possibilities, he told the commission last week he has not sought national status.

This raised some commissioners’ eyebrows.

Any future development project would almost assuredly depend on the tax credit, without which the company could be stuck with a white elephant.

“Is it your intention to seek tax credits to market this property?” acting chair Ernie Hogan asked him.

“We are still trying to determine that,” said Mr. Hickman, citing the company’s uncertainty over two other buildings that are unusable unless giant tanks can be removed from them. “If I can’t get them out,” he said, “who cares that it’s historic?”

The city approved historic designation for the complex of buildings in February, which automatically kept the company from dismantling any except for one that was exempted — a non-contributing 1970s rectangle. The company still has headquarters in the original building at 3340 Liberty Ave.

Mr. Hickman originally had wanted to demolish all but the headquarters, but preservation advocates seemed to have convinced him the complex was more valuable intact.

“We’re as concerned with the history as anybody in this town,” he said last week, “but if we lose a life, I don’t care about tax credits. I have security 24/7 running off copper thieves.”

As the owner, Mr. Hickman argued, shouldn’t it be up to him whether he wants tax credits?

Mr. Hogan said the commission is responsible for making sure historic buildings have available resources for preservation.

“If that demolition were to jeopardize the integrity of the assemblage, it could jeopardize any federal money to the site,” Mr. Hogan said. “[Mr. Hickman] would be turning his back on any public subsidies.

“I think this property is important. It could be eligible for federal transportation money [being on a bus route], sustainable communities grants, HUD money, all sorts of money.”

The Penn Brewery in Troy Hill was restored using federal tax credits, he said. Similar restoration “could be a huge economic driver” for the Lawrenceville portal.

Scott Doyle, grant manager for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission in Harrisburg, said the determination of a building’s importance to an overall site “comes down to hardship or a level of significance.”

One way a building in a historic cluster could get a pass is “if it’s outside the period of significance for the property.” Other provisions exempt properties that “lack significance and do not occupy a major portion of the site, and if evidence is presented to show that retention is not economically feasible.”

The hardship provision applies “if a property is so deteriorated or altered that its integrity has been irretrievably lost,” he said.

In order to review the case, the PHMC would need a structural engineering report, photographs, historic documentation and cost estimates for repair.

The brewing company was a regional economic powerhouse in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Founded in 1861 as Frauenheim, Miller & Company, it brewed one of the country’s first golden lagers. It became the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in 1899 in a merger of 20 regional breweries.

Among the brewery’s firsts were the snap-top can, the twist-off resealable bottle top, draft beer in cans, aluminum beer bottles and the original light beer, Mark V.

Brewing operations moved to Latrobe in summer 2009.

Last week, Mr. Hickman said he is “trying to embrace this process, but what’s the time limit? I have the city [building inspection] telling me you must do something, so I come here to do something and I’m told ‘Let’s wait.’ ”

The commission is expected to consider demolition in February, when an answer is expected about the building’s importance.

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Saxonburg Gets $1.4 Million for Main Street

By Tom Fontaine
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, January 7, 2011

Saxonburg has received a $1.4 million state grant to make long-awaited improvements along historic Main Street without robbing any of its 19th century charm.

“We’re going to take new materials and create an atmosphere like it was in the 1850s and ’60s,” said Ray Rush, who will oversee the project for the tiny Butler County borough.

Saxonburg’s grant was the largest of six totaling more than $4.4 million announced Thursday by PennDOT. The agency awarded almost $25 million statewide through its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative. The program provided $59.2 million for transportation projects in 2009.

Saxonburg will use its money to install new curbs, brick sidewalks, planter strips with trees, and period lighting along 1,100 feet of Main Street. That will cover roughly half of the area that is recognized as a historic district both nationally and by the state.

The borough can trace its roots to engineer John Roebling, famed for his designs of wire cable and suspension bridges. He designed and developed Saxonburg almost four decades before he began designing the Brooklyn Bridge in the late 1860s.

“It’s important to celebrate the old. It’s something all communities should be concerned about,” Rush said. The work will begin next fall and should be completed in 2012.

The city of Pittsburgh will receive $280,000 for a traffic study in the Strip District and Lawrenceville related to its Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard development project. The city wants to help make its largely industrial Allegheny riverfront home to lush green spaces, trails, housing, commercial development and commuter rail.

“This most recent grant will allow us to continue the positive momentum that is happening in these vibrant neighborhoods,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Other grant recipients include:

• Richland, $1.3 million, to improve pedestrian access and traffic flow near the intersection of Route 8 and Ewalt Road.

• Airport Corridor Transportation Association, $700,000, to reduce congestion and provide better transit, pedestrian and bicycle access in the Robinson and North Fayette commercial area.

• Washington County, $443,500, to develop 9 miles of recreational trail to complete the Panhandle Trail between Carnegie and Weirton, W.Va.

• Armstrong County, $300,000, to perform a traffic study in Kittanning.

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Historic Panel Gives a Reprieve to Igloo

Thursday, January 06, 2011
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Civic Arena has won a bit of a lifeline.

A bid to protect the 49-year-old landmark from demolition got a boost Wednesday when the city’s historic review commission gave preliminary approval to its nomination as a city historic structure.

The 5-1 vote clears the way for a formal hearing Feb. 2 on the proposed designation, one opposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the arena’s owner, the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. John Jennings, acting chief of the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection, cast the no vote.

Even as it gave preliminary approval, the commission stated that the decision was not a determination on the merits of the application for historic status filed by Hill District resident Eloise McDonald.

In fact, nine years ago, the commission gave preliminary approval to the arena’s designation as a historic structure only to reject it in a final vote.

Nonetheless, Ms. McDonald said afterward that she was thinking “very positive” on the chances of getting a final vote in favor of the nomination. But she added it could be a tough sell since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who appoints historic review commission members, favors demolition.

“I’m going to stay optimistic to the final decision,” she said. “But like I said, I know the politics of the game.”

However, Ernie Hogan, the commission’s acting chair, said afterward that the mayor is “not telling us what decision to make” on the nomination.

“We have a charter to uphold regarding preservation standards. That’s all he’s saying, do your job,” Mr. Hogan said.

In arguing the case for the nomination, Ms. McDonald said the arena, with its retractable roof, is unique.

To tear it down would be “just awful,” she said. “There’s a lot of young kids, if they would ever see that dome open, there would be a whole lot more support for it. If you’ve never seen it open, you have no idea how extravagant and beautiful it is.”

The preliminary finding is a setback for the SEA and the Penguins, who have the development rights to the land that includes the arena. The team wants to demolish the structure to make way for a residential, office and commercial development.

Travis Williams, the Penguins’ senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, declined comment on Wednesday’s decision.

But Shawn Gallagher, an attorney for the SEA, said the agency does not believe the Igloo meets the criteria for historic status. Describing Ms. McDonald’s nomination as “frivolous,” he said the same criteria used to nominate the arena eight years ago — and rejected — is being used this time.

And while Ms. McDonald spoke of the marvel of the retractable roof, Mr. Gallagher said it “never really worked” and doesn’t work anymore.

“It’s not worthy of preservation,” he said of the arena, adding it is costing the SEA and taxpayers about $65,000 a month to maintain it.

The Penguins moved from the arena to the Consol Energy Center across the street last summer.

Scott Leib, president of Preservation Pittsburgh, noted that state preservation officials have determined that the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re not trying to obstruct progress. We just have a totally different view of what progress is,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote prevents the SEA from demolishing the structure until a final determination is made on its status. However, the agency did not plan to start the razing until spring at the earliest.

Once the historic review commission has completed its work, the nomination must be considered by the city planning commission and city council before the arena’s final fate is known.


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Steelpan City

Pittsburgh City Paper

For the Week of 01.05.2011 / 01.12.2011

BY ANDREW MOORE

Jonnet Solomon-Nowlin - Steelpan Drum Instructor, owner of The National Opera House in Lincoln-Lemington - Brian Kaldorf

A local woman is hoping that the sounds of steelpan drums can revitalize one of the city’s most historic homes and the lives of young people.

The National Opera House, located on the border of Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington — and once the home of the National Negro Opera Company — has sat vacant for years. But now Jonnet Solomon-Nowlin, the building’s owner, believes her family’s U.S. Steelpan Academy can add value and structure to young lives, while bringing attention to the neighborhood’s often-overlooked past.

Steelpan drums were invented in the Caribbean — in countries like Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago — during the 1930s. Steelpans were originally crafted from discarded 55-gallon oil drums.  To achieve their signature pitched sound, two rubber-tipped mallets strike the surface of the pan, where notes have been marked onto the stretched steel surface.

Starting at the age of 14, Solomon-Nowlin’s father, Phil Solomon, founded several steelbands in Guyana; he was named Musician of the Year in 1971. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1984, he founded Solomon Steelpan Company and began manufacturing steel drums for organizations throughout the country. Solomon was the first manufacturer of steelpans in Pittsburgh.

After dedicating years to this instrument, Solomon wants the next generation to take over.

“The whole idea of the academy,” he says, “is to launch the steelpan into the 21st century, for me to pass this knowledge on to younger people.”

Solomon-Nowlin hopes not only to pass on that knowledge, but to teach young people a skill that can add value to their community.

“I would like to see steelpan and the arts and music help young people,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “by giving them an opportunity to express themselves through art.”

While she’s working to restore the Opera House, for the past several years Solomon-Nowlin has been able to teach lessons through community partnerships. And when she begins a new series of classes at the East End’s Union Project this month, it will be a step closer to running the academy within the National Opera House.

The Union Project lessons are important, she says, “and the first set of students will be a marketing piece for the house.”

Using the house as the home base for the Steelpan Academy makes sense. After all, the building has always had a role in the emerging African-American art scene, especially during the previous century.

The three-story Victorian home sits on a terrace overlooking Homewood. Built in the Queen Anne style in 1894, it was home to many prominent black Pittsburghers over the years, including Roberto Clemente, Lena Horne and Woogie Harris, brother of famed photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris.

But its most significant tenant was Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company. Launched in 1941, the NNOC was the first African-American opera company in the country.  The NNOC held productions for 21 years and traveled to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.

Solomon-Nowlin says she learned about this history through the advocacy efforts of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh (YPA) and the group’s executive director, Dan Holland.

The YPA is a preservation group that encourages young people to be involved in researching, documenting and eventually restoring historic places. Once a year, the organization releases a Top Ten list of the best opportunities for preservation in the region. In 2003, the Opera House was on that list.

“Their Top Ten list and the education around it, and why it’s important to preserve,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “is one of the key things that brought awareness to the project.  They were able to reach a lot of people.”

And that’s what Solomon-Nowlin is hoping to do with Steelpan.

The Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association, headquartered on Pittsburgh’s North Side, has been teaching steelpan for 15 years, and the Solomon family has been involved since the beginning. Lessons were first taught by Phil Solomon and later his daughters, Janera and then Jonnet. Jonnet gives lessons on Saturdays at the New Hazlett Theatre.

Janice Parks, executive director of the heritage association, says the steelpan is a good fit for her students.

“It’s an easily accessible instrument,” Parks says. “You don’t have to have years and years of experience to be great. [Students] can pick up two mallets and an hour later they can play the melody line of a tune that’s familiar to them.”

Adam Warble, an instructor at the academy, agrees, and says “it’s definitely a popular instrument — it’s fun.” Warble says that his young students get particularly excited when he mentions current hip-hop songs that feature steelpan. But Phil Solomon stresses the versatility of the instrument. “Steelpan was actually created to play classical music,” he says.

Parks says her students learn to play everything from “Bach and Beethoven to Stevie Wonder.”

When the academy begins teaching at the Opera House, Warble thinks it will be “absolutely wonderful. Especially since the steelpan was invented in the Caribbean” — where the culture is heavily influenced by the African diaspora. “[And] since [the home] was a hub of African-American cultures, I think it’s wonderful to bring that back to the Opera House.”

The next step is bringing back the house itself. Solomon-Nowlin has recently hired grant-writers to find funding for the home’s restoration. Architects, electricians and carpenters have all agreed to work with her, and some have already donated time to the project.

Now, she just needs to raise enough money to begin the restoration, and to begin turning the Opera House back into a home for music. But she’s quick to point out that because her forte is music, she can use all the help she can get on the restoration side of this dream.

“I’m not in the preservation business,” she says with a laugh, “I’m just in it by default. My key thing is to just make sure it’s preserved. We really have to push forward.”

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Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House

Friday, December 24, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Julia Tomasic of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society is trying to save the last great Victorian home in Carrick, at 1425 Brownsville Road, by nominating it for historic status. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

At one corner of Brownsville Road and The Boulevard in Carrick sits state Rep. Harry Readshaw’s funeral home. Across The Boulevard, a late-19th-century Queen Anne house is the last of the grand Victorians remaining on the main drag.

Its owners want to sell and may have a buyer in Mr. Readshaw, who said he is interested in buying the property and that demolishing it to provide parking “might be a decision to be considered.”

Mr. Readshaw’s interest has spurred the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society to try to save the house.

Historical society member John Rudiak documented the property and this week nominated it for historical designation. He said demolition of the house would put an end to any evidence of Carrick’s Victorian heritage.

The nomination would stall any plan to demolish the house until the Historic Review Commission could determine whether it is eligible, based on a set of federal criteria. Eligibility ultimately must be decided by Pittsburgh City Council. Historic status regulates changes to a building’s exterior but not to its interior.

Richard C. Gasior, whose wife’s family has owned the four-bedroom home since 1952, said the family needs to sell it and has been advised that $150,000 would be a fair price. “If I can’t get anybody to buy it, I’m going to go with Readshaw,” he said.

Known as the Wigman House, it was built in the late 1800s by William Wigman, owner of Wigman Lumber on the South Side. The nomination states that it is “the last remaining example of several homes of the wealthy South Side gentry who lived in Carrick.”

The current owners gave a tour to members of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society several weeks ago, said Julia Tomasic, a founding member of the society.

“We’d love to buy it, but there are just three of us” in the society, which has no money, Ms. Tomasic said. “It has a brand-new furnace, a slate roof and the interior woodwork and walls in original hardwood, with six fireplaces, including one converted for wood. Nothing has been done to alter it.”

According to the Pittsburgh code for historic preservation, a property must meet at least one of 10 criteria to be eligible for preservation.

The nomination papers cite several possible eligibilities. One is that the home, a classic American Queen Anne, has not been modified. Its features include an asymmetrical facade, front-facing gable, overhanging eaves, polygonal tower, shaped and Dutch gables, a porch covering part or all of the front facade, a second-story porch or balconies, pedimented porches, dentils, spindles, differing wall textures including fish scales, and oriel and bay windows.

“We heard rumors for a year that Harry [Readshaw] would buy it to tear it down, and we thought it was a joke because we consider Harry a friend of the neighborhood,” Ms. Tomasic said. “Parking? You park on the street. We’re city people.”

“It’s not like I’m sitting here champing at the bit with a sledge hammer,” Mr. Readshaw, D-Carrick, said, “but business is business and any business is looking to improve its services.”

“And if we don’t get it, what happens to it?” he said. “Somebody dying to live in a big Victorian who would be a wonderful neighbor would be a positive.” A Section 8 landlord is a more likely prospect, he said, adding, “The 29th Ward has been inundated with Section 8 housing.”

Brownsville Road once had several grand Victorian homes owned by prominent businessmen. As a hilltop neighborhood, Carrick was a refuge from the smoky city. Through much of the 20th century, it was solidly middle class and owner-occupied. It remains so, but some of its stability is eroding.

In its argument for historic status, the historical society calls the Wigman House the most prominent home in Carrick, “our crown jewel Victorian.” Losing it would be a shock, the document reads, and “one more loss that we cannot sustain.”

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This Beautiful Structure Must Be Saved

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, January 05, 2011 05:00 AM

*Open Letters is a place where the letters to the editor published by the Post-Gazette are offered up for broader comment and discussion.

The late 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian house on Brownsville Road in Carrick (“Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House,” Dec. 24) is a gem that must be preserved.

The Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society has done a yeoman’s job by documenting the property known as the Wigman House and nominating it for historical designation. One hopes that other area historical societies and individual philanthropists will join together to assure its salvation.

While I was growing up on Madeline Street in Carrick, dozens of comparable homes in the area reflected the personalities of the moguls who built them on high ground in order to contemplate the night sky burned red by the glow of steel mills blazing far below.

My family’s physician, Dr. Askins, was able to purchase one such mansion on Brownsville Road during the Depression. The exterior, painted contrasting shades of green, emphasized the eerie atmosphere that would have captivated the Addams Family.

Each time we visited his office, I was startled by creaking sounds — veritable moans — coming from one of the turrets. When I asked him about them, he tossed me a sly smile. “Those are the ghosts of the original owners,” he said. “They cannot bear to leave the tower and lose sight of the city they built.”

Just as those ghosts clung to the past, so must the ghosts of the last remaining Victorian mansion in Carrick be appeased.

EMILY PRITCHARD CARY
Scottsdale, Ariz.

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Downtown Honus Wagner Store has Finally Struck Out

A sporting goods fixture for 93 years


Wednesday, January 05, 2011
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


The Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store on Forbes Avenue is closing after 93 years in business Downtown. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

First it was Gimbels, then Joseph Horne, Kaufmann’s and Candy-Rama. Now another iconic Pittsburgh retailer is preparing to fade from the scene.

After 93 years Downtown, Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods store plans to close its doors permanently within the next six weeks after a going-out-of-business sale.

Harriet Shapiro, who co-owns the store with her husband, Murray, said Tuesday that the family, after four generations of ownership, simply had no one left to take over the reins.

“We’re very sad to see it go. It’s been a Pittsburgh landmark for so many years,” she said.

While word of the closing filtered out Tuesday, the clock has been ticking on the store for some time. In 2009, Point Park University reached an agreement with the owners on an option to purchase the property as part of its plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown.

Under terms of the agreement, the university had the right to take over the property once the Shapiros vacate it or in four years, whichever came first.

Mrs. Shapiro said she and her husband had considered selling the store but were unable to find anyone with an interest in purchasing it.

She said the store was not closing because of poor business.

“Absolutely not,” she declared. “It’s a closing sale. It’s not a desperation sale or a bankruptcy sale or anything like that.”

Opened in 1918 by the legendary Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pirates, the store has been a sports fans oasis Downtown for decades, jam-packed to the rafters with jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, tennis shoes and other merchandise.

At one time, the store also supplied uniforms for the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as semipro and high school teams in the region.

The Shapiros purchased the store from Mr. Wagner about 1928. The shop first was housed on Liberty Avenue but moved to its current location on Forbes Avenue nearly 60 years ago.

On Tuesday, the store with the black-and-gold awning and sign (what else?) was closed for inventory, but will reopen today for its final days.

Patrons were saddened to hear about its demise.

Ron Gruendl, spokesman for BNY Mellon Downtown, said he still had a Frank Robinson model baseball bat he bought at the store in the mid-1960s.

“For many people who grew up and came into the city during the baby boom era, we’re losing part of our childhood,” he said. “Before there was Dick’s [Sporting Goods], before there was anything, it was Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner and Chatham Sports, those were the places.”

David Vance, a former Pittsburgher who now lives in Hudson, Quebec, just outside of Montreal, remembers driving to the store with a friend to pick up their first Little League uniforms.

“Along with standing out in the right field [seats] section of Forbes Field hoping to catch a home run and see [Roberto] Clemente up close, that visit to Honus Wagner was a cherished memory of my youth. It will be missed,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The closing likely will be a boost for Ace Athletic, a sporting goods store that opened on Forbes a short distance from Honus Wagner in September. Manager Tim Piett, however, found no joy Tuesday in knowing that the old store was closing.

“I worked there 27 years,” he said. “I was very close to the family. They’re very good people.”

The store will eventually be reborn as a performing arts center. Point Park intends to use it and several adjacent properties it owns to relocate the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown. The new complex would feature three theaters ranging from 150 to 500 seats each, production and teaching areas, a residence hall and retail space.

University spokeswoman Mary Ellen Solomon said the move wouldn’t occur until the second phase of the school’s academic village initiative Downtown and that that was still “several years down the road.”

For some, though, the promise of new development did little to soothe the pain of seeing another local landmark disappear.

“It’s sad. It’s a long-standing store in Pittsburgh. Downtown is getting empty,” said Brenda Lane of Scott, who stopped at the store Tuesday, hoping to purchase a Winter Classic T-shirt. “All our retail places are going by the wayside.”


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Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, Downtown, to Close After 93 Years

By Sam Spatter, FOR THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store will be closing its doors after 93 years of business. The store was started in 1919 by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor, and relocated to Forbes Avenue in the mid-1960's. Philip G. Pavely | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store, Downtown — started by the Pirates baseball legend 91 years ago — is closing.

Harriet Shapiro, who with her husband Murray are the fourth generation to own the store, confirmed Tuesday the closing by phone from her Florida home. She said “there was no one in her family willing to operate the store.”

Plans are to begin a “Going-out-of-Business” sale within the next few days — or by the end of the week, a sale that could last for up to 60 days.

The building, at 320 Forbes Ave., is under option to be purchased by Point Park University. About 10 are employed at the store, Shapiro said.

The store was closed Monday and Tuesday for the staff to take inventory, said Joe Melcher, floor manager.

The store will be reopened at 10 a.m. today.

Melcher said the economy probably had more of an impact over the past year on sales than did major sporting-goods stores, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, although it did have some impact on sales.

“If Dick’s had a Downtown location, the impact might have been more,” he said.

The floor manager at Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, in Downtown heads to the back of the store to discount merchandise Tuesday. The store will be closing its doors after 93 years of business after being started in 1919 by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor and relocated to Forbes Avenue in the mid-1960's. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

The Honus Wagner store dealt mainly in shoes and sports apparel, although it did some business in team-licensed goods, Melcher said.

The store usually is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The store is closed Sundays, except for home Steelers games, Melcher said.

“It’s always unfortunate that a Pittsburgh institution, such as Honus Wagner Sporting Goods closes, but with the generational change, those things happen,” said Mike Edwards, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, a group of business and community leaders, property owners, civic organizations and residents that promotes Downtown interests.

The store always seemed “surprisingly busy,” Edwards said.

The store was started in 1919 — at 813 Liberty Ave., Downtown — by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor, two years after Wagner retired, said Shapiro.

Wagner is widely regarded as one of Major League Baseball’s greatest players. He was one of five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in its inaugural Class of 1936.

Although the store carried the Honus Wagner name, that wasn’t enough to make the business a success — even with Wagner occasionally stopping at the store in the 1920s.

In 1928, the store was in bankruptcy. That year, Shapiro’s father, E. Louis Braunstein, purchased it. At one time, Braunstein operated 15 stores, she said.

In the mid-1960s, the store was relocated to its present site on Forbes Avenue, said Shapiro.

“The problem of a single-store retailer is that it does not have a lot of leverage with its vendors,” said Sam Poser, senior retail analyst with Sterne and Agee, based in New York. “If traffic is slow and there’s a lot of inventory but cash is slow, the single-store operator can easily be impacted by the national economy.”

Poser covers such retailers as Dick’s, Columbia Sportswear, Hibbett Sports Inc., Nike Inc. and Wolverine World Wide Inc.

Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner was a Carnegie native who played Major League Baseball for 21 seasons — from 1897 to 1917. Wagner was with the Pirates for all but the first three of those seasons.

The shortstop won eight batting titles and batted .300 or better for 17 consecutive seasons. He played in nearly 2,800 games; had 10,450 at-bats; recorded 3,430 hits; and amassed a .328 lifetime average. He had 651 doubles, 252 triples and 722 stolen bases.

A Honus Wagner statue originally was outside Forbes Field in Oakland and later stood at Three Rivers Stadium. The statue was moved to PNC Park after the new North Shore ballpark opened in 2001.

Born in 1874 in Mansfield — which merged with Chartiers in 1894 to become Carnegie — the Pirates legend died Dec. 6, 1955, while living in Carnegie.

A nearly mint condition Wagner baseball card sold in 2007 for $2.8 million — believed to be the most ever paid for a baseball card. Another one, in poor condition, sold for $262,900 in November.

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South Side Site Gets Development Go-Ahead

Retail, apartments slated for former Goodwill headquarters
Friday, December 24, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A $28 million project to convert the former Goodwill headquarters on the South Side into apartments and retail space is good to go, thanks in part to a $5 million state redevelopment assistance grant.

The grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell last week, will help close a gap in the financing and enable the project to move forward, city Urban Redevelopment Authority board members were told Thursday when they authorized the receipt of the money.

Green Tree developer Burns & Scalo Real Estate plans to convert the seven-story building on East Carson Street into 87 market rate apartments and 10,000 square feet of ground level retail space.

James Scalo, Burns & Scalo president, said he expects the apartments to rent for about $1,500 a month.

He said the state money will be used to help build a parking garage within the complex, an amenity he believes will be a big selling point. He said it would be the only residential project on the South Side with secure parking within the building.

With the money committed, Mr. Scalo said he hopes to start demolition work inside the building next month. Construction work is expected to start in April, with an opening slated for spring 2012.

Burns & Scalo will clean and preserve the facade and also seek to have the Renaissance Revival building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in part to make the project eligible for historic tax credits, Mr. Scalo said.

Burns & Scalo came under some fire last summer when it received permission from the city Historic Review Commission to demolish an adjacent Goodwill building to make way for an Aldi supermarket.

Mr. Scalo said there’s a reason the developer is seeking to preserve the Goodwill headquarters while it demolished the other structure.

“This building has a lot of historic value. The other one did not,” he said. The structure used to be the mercantile store for the J&L Steel plant on the South Side.

Also Thursday, the URA board approved a deal that allows Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises to make a $9 million lump sum payment to the URA to close out a $20.8 million loan dating back to 1984.

The loan was used to build Liberty Center, the 27-story skyscraper that houses the Westin Convention Center hotel and Federated Investors. Since the loan’s inception, Forest City had made about $9.5 million in payments. The developer, about three weeks ago, approached the URA about discontinuing $400,000 in yearly payments in exchange for one final lump sum amount.

In agreeing to the deal, the URA will be accepting about $2 million less than the original loan, not including interest. However, Rob Stephany, URA executive director, said there was a chance that future yearly payments, which were tied to cash flow, could decrease, depending on the tower’s occupancy and lease arrangements. He said Forest City originally offered $3.5 million as a lump sum payment.

A consultant hired by the URA also analyzed the deal and concluded that a $9 million buyout was a “very fair number.”

Mr. Stephany said the URA plans to reinvest the $9 million in city neighborhoods that are eligible for federal community development block grants.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said

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$289,500 in Funding Will Help WCDC Continue to Revitalize Wilkinsburg

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pop City Media

On December 28, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation received its second annual installment of funding from Tristate Capital Bank, totaling $289,500.  The funding is part of a six year, $1.8 million commitment by the bank in order to assist the WCDC’s Business District Revitalization efforts.

“The money is split 50/50,” says Tracy Evans, executive director of the WCDC.  “Half goes to our office, staff, and projects, primarily infrastructure improvement projects we’re working on as well as marketing money for the overall borough.”  The other half of that money is allocated for projects that the WCDC is collaborating with Landmarks Community Capital Corporation, a division of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, to achieve.

The first installment of the Tristate Capital funds were used by the WCDC and LCCC to open Wilkinsburg’s Landmarks Community Resource Center last October, and this year’s funds will contribute to two new Wilkinsburg housing projects totaling $10 million.

“This funding stream has been key to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation opening an office in the borough in 2010 and hiring three full-time personnel to further our goals in revitalizing the Wilkinsburg business community,” says John A. Thompson, WCDC president and mayor of Wilkinsburg.

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Writer: John Farley
Source: Tracy Evans, WCDC
John A. Thompson, WCDC

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Report Cites Downtown Dynamics

Tuesday, January 04, 2011
By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Downtown Pittsburgh is a more diverse and dynamic place than it was just seven years ago — more residents, more students and workers, more people riding bikes and running.

That’s the conclusion of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership President Michael Edwards, based on the group’s new report about living, working and commuting Downtown.

Among the findings:

• The peak age of Downtown residents is 25 to 29.

• One-third of Downtown residents have incomes of more than $100,000.

• Of the 126,000 people working Downtown, two-thirds are in the service or finance industries.

• The proportion of students jumped from 4 percent to 13 percent since 2003.

• The use of public transit also jumped, from 48 percent to 53 percent in the same period.

• The average commute to Downtown is 13 miles, or about 38 minutes.

The report comes from four different surveys conducted in 2010. For the most part, the studies are looking at the “greater Downtown” area that includes the Golden Triangle, the north and south shores, the near-Strip District and Uptown.

The full report is available at www.downtownpittsburgh.com.

Most of the indicators are positive, Mr. Edwards said.

One piece of data that never registered before is the growing number of people coming Downtown on weekends to exercise. That, he said, speaks to the work of Riverlife, the nonprofit advocacy group, and increased riverfront activity, from kayaking to biking and running the trails.

“This is the first time we’ve seen that,” Mr. Edwards said. “It shows a more compelling place to locate, with the whole Downtown as your backyard.”

But there are two trouble spots in the report.

Commuting costs are up anywhere from 8 percent to 89 percent, looking at parking, gas, bus fares and tolls. At the same time, fewer employers are contributing to those costs with bus passes or discounts. So, while Downtown is holding its own as the region’s employment hub, those costs are a concern for the future.

Also of concern: The cost of developing new housing Downtown is 25 percent higher than what the market will bear.

There’s not much the partnership can do about commuting costs, but it does have an idea to lower the cost of building new housing. Mr. Edwards said he and others will be lobbying in Harrisburg for a state historic tax credit, a financing tool that could fill 20 percent of the gap.

“That would lower the cost to the developer significantly,” he said.

It only makes sense to make Downtown development more affordable, he said, because the residential population there has more than doubled in the past decade, from 3,050 to 7,260.Right now, the occupancy rate for Downtown residences is 97 percent, so there is good reason to believe that new units would fare just as well.

For office space, overall occupancy is 90 percent, the highest in 20 years. Hotel occupancy, at 65 percent, is still higher than national average.

“So we are performing pretty well,” Mr. Edwards said. “This information allows us to tackle the nuances and make things even better.”

The spike in students is attributable to Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Point Park and Duquesne universities and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. That influx, Mr. Edwards said, adds to the district’s depth because “they come at different times and spend money on different things.”

For example, comic books.

“This location thrives off the college students,” said Humes Grossman, a clerk at Comic Book Ink on Smithfield Street.

Downtown regular Premo Masullo, 40, of Brentwood, is a server at the Omni William Penn Hotel. He’s noticed changes for the better.

“I’ve been working here almost 20 years, and it’s more thriving than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “There are [more] smaller businesses Downtown. There are more kids, college kids, which increases business.”

But not every part of Downtown is benefitting equally from the positive trends, said Julina Coupland, 29, of Point Breeze.

“Pockets of it seem to be [thriving] and others are moving more slowly,” she said. “The Cultural District, the new Market Square are pretty vibrant. But mostly when I’m down here on weekends and evenings, it’s pretty quiet, not a lot is going on.”

Other findings in the report include:• Average household size increased to 1.5 people from 2008, and 4 percent of households have children.

• Top reasons for moving Downtown were convenience, desire for city living and appeal of the buildings.

• Weekly average of spending at Downtown restaurants and retailers was $183.

• Four in 10 commuters are ages 35 or younger.

• The Boulevard of the Allies is mostly traveled by students.

• Market Square and Fifth Avenue are among the busiest pedestrian areas due to recent revitalization.

Staff writer Katie Park contributed. Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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PHLF in 2010

This year, we had more than 10,000 people participate in creative educational classes, public tours, and special events offered by our staff, with the help of many dedicated volunteers. We had a splendid “Legends and Landmarks” evening at Oakmont Country Club, where Carol Semple Thompson was honored with our Living Landmark award for her contributions to golf and preservation. We also enjoyed an evening reception at the Lehn’s historic Fifth Avenue home, honoring those who have been members of PHLF for 25 years or more.

In 2010, we fully leased Market at Fifth and we have begun to assemble the funding for a creative reuse of our fourth building downtown— the Thompson Building. Renovation is scheduled to begin in the coming months. Work in Manchester continues with the Manchester Citizens Corporation, restoring seven historic houses with funding from PHLF and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

We also reached an agreement with the City of Pittsburgh for them not to demolish any more historic houses in Manchester until a plan is in place. We also continue to engage the City in further analysis of how to increase restoration and reuse of historic buildings in downtown.

As a result of over three years of effort by many parties, work began on the Crescent Apartment and Wilson House, for an affordable housing restoration project in Wilkinsburg.  We completed all of the negotiations and acquisitions for the next phase of restoring derelict houses and planting vacant lots, and we opened our Housing Resource Center to serve Southwestern Pennsylvania homeowners with educational programs.

Our Allegheny Together Main Street program with Allegheny County has created considerable investment in building restoration, in developing new businesses, and in upgrading existing ones.  The same is true for our Main Street programs in Vandergrift, Freeport, Leechburg, and Apollo.  In Pittsburgh, we continue to work with North Side residents and the cultural institutions there on opening some of the historic streets in Allegheny Center.

Our Historic Religious Properties Program of financial and technical assistance was reactivated, thanks to a generous challenge grant from two PHLF members and many matching gifts from members and friends. In 2010, we accepted an easement for the oldest office building downtown, the Burke Building (John Chislett, architect, 1836), resulting in the preservation of the building’s façade in perpetuity.

The Civic Arena presented enormously complicated problems. We talked with many groups: those who feel that it absolutely must be saved; those who feel it absolutely must be demolished; the Hill District residents; the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA); the Penguins; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ultimately, we articulated our position in the paper that we published in October 2010. We desire to see the Federal Statute called “Section 106″ honored in order for SEA to see the process through to a sound solution.

All in all, I have tried to demonstrate how the foundations have been laid for a productive 2011. And, as the New Year begins, we are eager to hear from you as to your priorities for historic preservation in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Arthur Ziegler

President

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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Wilkinsburg Celebrates New Developments

On October 12th, PHLF held a press conference at the Landmarks Housing Resource Center in Wilkinsburg to announce the commencement of four major initiatives.

In the span of one year, these initiatives will bring nearly $10 million to the community and will result in two fully restored apartment buildings, three restored single-family homes which would represent the second phase of housing in Hamnett Place, the start of year three of the Neighborhood Partnership Program, and the launch of the Landmarks Housing Resource Center.

County Executive Dan Onorato, an important funder and supporter of the housing work ongoing in Wilkinsburg, stated that, “In working with these public and private partners for the last four years, we have demonstrated our commitment to the revitalization of Wilkinsburg.  We have renovated homes and developed commercial property, all while preserving the historic feel of this community. We know that businesses and housing go hand-in-hand with economic revitalization.”

Brian Hudson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, a major funder of the Crescent and Wilson restoration development, also stated that by “working together, we will be able to restore these historic buildings and not only provide affordable housing, but also provide supportive services for the new residents.”

Speakers at the press conference also lauded the success of the past two years of the Neighborhood Partnership Program, an initiative of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, and talked about the programming for the upcoming year.  With funding from TriState Capital Bank, which has committed $2 million dollars over a seven-year period, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation will use the funds for initiatives ranging from vacant lot management, to programming for the Landmarks Housing Resource Center, to clean and green programs on the Wilkinsburg main street.

Lastly, the site for the press conference, the Landmarks Housing Resource Center, was praised by attendees as being a new important ingredient for community revitalization in Wilkinsburg and beyond.  The HRC is located in the heart of Hamnett Place across from the Crescent Apartments.  Programming throughout the year, will focus on workshops and seminars ranging from how to restore your historic home, how to acquire and improve a vacant lot, and to how to make your home more energy efficient.

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Golden Triangle Buildings Could Get Face-Lifts

Sunday, December 26, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city is looking to brighten up some “dark corners” Downtown.

Aided by a $4 million state redevelopment assistance grant, the Urban Redevelopment Authority hopes to target rundown buildings Downtown and work with property owners to upgrade them.

The project is designed to supplement a larger revitalization in the Golden Triangle that already has included the construction of the Three PNC Plaza office tower and the redevelopment of a former five-and-dime store and a department store into residential, retail and other uses.

With much of that work completed, the URA has decided to go after properties “in need of some reinvestment” — not to buy but to approach and work with the owners about making improvements.

“This is really a building-by-building, block-by-block approach,” said Yarone Zober, URA board chairman and chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Mr. Zober said the genesis for the idea came during walks he and Mr. Ravenstahl had Downtown.

“One thing the mayor and I noticed at street level were individual buildings that needed work … or didn’t have street-level appeal. They detracted from the general feel and look of the Downtown corridor,” he said.

“It became very clear that we needed new tools to continue the revitalization of Downtown.”

Funds from the grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell earlier this month, can be used to make facade improvements or to address “life safety” issues that prevent property owners from using upper floors for residences or other purposes.

Life-safety improvements could include stairwells, elevators or other measures to bring buildings up to code. URA executive director Rob Stephany said such improvements typically run $250,000 at the minimum.

While projects like Three PNC, Piatt Place and Market Square Place have helped to transform Downtown, there are other buildings still in need of work, including some near the upscale Capital Grille restaurant at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, Mr. Stephany said.

“You go to wait for the valet to bring your car back and there’s blight staring you in the face,” he said.

Properties the city initially is targeting for possible work include the Thompson Building on Market Street between Fifth and Market Square and a building owned by the Order of Italian Sons & Daughters of America at Wood and Forbes Avenue that once housed a McDonald’s restaurant.

Also on the list are three buildings at the western corner of Fifth and Wood that house a jewelry store and other retail outlets and a couple of buildings on Wood owned by the URA itself.

Mr. Zober said the URA already has had discussions with the property owners about potential improvements.

David Kashi, owner of the Fifth and Wood properties, said he hopes to secure funds to upgrade the facades of the buildings. He plans to install new windows and perhaps add a marquee to the front of the buildings. He also is thinking about placing a “big clock” on the corner building.

“We’re going to make Downtown beautiful,” he said.

Mr. Kashi said he already has had one meeting with the URA and plans to have another next month to work out plans and budgeting. He had no estimate for the cost of improvements.

He likes the city initiative.

“Downtown is the center of the whole Pittsburgh area. I think it’s about time someone took the initiative and improved the look. Nothing has changed in 50 or more years,” he said.

Improving the overall ambiance also “attracts investors to bring money into Downtown Pittsburgh,” he said.

The program will require property owners to match amounts received from the URA. Mr. Kashi is not thrilled about having to do so but said he would to increase the value and curb appeal of his properties.

The Thompson Building, which once housed the Ciao Baby restaurant, is owned by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which already has redeveloped three adjoining buildings at Market Street and Fifth.

Arthur Ziegler Jr., president of the foundation, said the organization plans to restore the facade of the Thompson Building, which likely will play host to some type of restaurant, bar or cafe.

Mr. Ziegler said the building once housed a restaurant operated by the Chicago-based Thompson restaurant chain. The chain at one time had six restaurants in Pittsburgh, but the Market Square building is the only one that has survived.

It was purchased by John R. Thompson in 1926, but dates back farther than that, perhaps to the turn of the century.

“It is an important part of Pittsburgh history,” Mr. Ziegler said.

Besides restoring the exterior, the foundation will “try to meet the green standards that we’ve established down there and we want to get the building in service as soon as possible in 2011,” he said.

The foundation spent $3 million restoring the original facades of the three adjoining buildings, which house a men’s clothing store, a shoe store and apartments. It plans to make a substantial investment in the Thompson Building but also is looking for help from the URA to fill in the gap.

“We did not do that with the first three buildings. We provided the funds. We need some help with this fourth one,” Mr. Ziegler said.

Like Mr. Kashi, Mr. Ziegler believes there is a need for the type of program the URA is starting.

“I think it’s excellent. We need to continue to recognize the value of these historic buildings and improve their exteriors and their basic interiors to meet building codes,” he said.

At the site of the former McDonald’s restaurant, the city would like to remove the burnt-orange metal facade that covers the upper floors and restore the building’s original exterior.

Mr. Ziegler said that underneath the current facade the building features an attractive stone architecture. “It was a handsome corner and we would like to see it be that again,” he said.

Officials at the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters could not be reached for comment.

While the URA has targeted some real estate, any Downtown building owner interested in upgrading a property can contact the agency about possible aid, Mr. Zober said.

The city’s effort is unrelated to six acquisitions totaling $15.15 million made by an unidentified buyer on the east side of a block bordered by Wood, Fifth and Forbes over the past eight months.

While the identity of the buyer is not known, many in the real estate community believe it is PNC Financial Services Group, which built Three PNC Plaza. A PNC spokesman has said, “We don’t comment on speculation.”

There’s much talk that the block could be the site of the next big development Downtown. In the meantime, the city is hoping to fill in the cracks.

“Our goal is to really make Downtown look complete,” Mr. Zober said.

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Collier to Preserve Historic Photographs

Thursday, December 23, 2010
By Carole Gilbert Brown

The decision by Collier commissioners to spend $1,134.20 to scan and frame historical township photographs is an award winner for Gene Czambel, 67, of Steen Hollow Road.

Mr. Czambel, a lifelong resident who traces his family’s roots in Collier back to 1882, has been on a crusade for several years to preserve the township’s history through photographs and other memorabilia.

He has offered 16 photos from the Beechmont area and beyond to be scanned and framed so that residents can view them in the township building and the Nike Site property. Many date back to the early 20th century and late 19th century.

If the township forms a historical society, he promises to donate the originals, as well as about 30 more historical photographs.

“I have a museum here between my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather,” he said.

But, with no descendants, he adds, “When I’m gone, it’s gone.”

Among the approximately 50 photos are shots of the Pittsburgh Coal Co.’s Essen No. 2 Mine in Burdine, a photograph of the now-gone Beechmont School with his mother shown, too, as well as pictures of the former town of Hickman, which was named after farmer Joseph Hickman but developed by Mr. Czambel’s great-grandfather, who was an engineer and entrepreneur.

Burdine, Beechmont and Hickman have been incorporated into what is now Collier.

The town burned down in a fire, but included at one time a post office, store, and a hotel with a bar. Mr. Czambel even has photographs of the fire.

Mr. Czambel has donated photographs to other area communities, too, including Bridgeville, Carnegie and Oakdale.

Besides photographs, he possesses historical memorabilia, too. For example, the cement pads that once were in front of the boys’ and girls’ outhouses at Beechmont School are now in his front yard.

Anyone interested in donating historical photographs or memorabilia, or in helping to form a historical society, should contact the township.

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Blast From the Past: Old Steel Mill Forges New Life as a Park

Ben Muessig
AOL News

(Dec. 2) — Preservationists outside Pittsburgh are fighting to put an abandoned steel mill back to work — not so it can produce metal, but so it can protect history.

Since the blast furnaces fired up for the last time at the Carrie Furnace in 1978, the decaying steel mill on the bank of the Monongahela River has served as a solemn reminder of the industry that turned Pittsburgh into a thriving city — then left it polluted and jobless.

Now, more than three decades after the Carrie Furnace went from being a bustling workplace for 4,000 employees to a 168-acre ghost town, a team of preservationists is trying to convert the remains of the hulking factory in Rankin, Pa., into a museum dedicated to the region’s steel history.

“Pittsburgh is known for steel,” said Sherris Moreira, a spokeswoman for Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., the group spearheading the preservation project. “There is this pride that people here have for their steel heritage — and this is a tangible way for people to connect with that history.”

Rivers of Steel hopes to preserve the remaining structures, transforming the industrial ruin into an interactive historical center inside a park.

At the heart of the proposed preservation project are the two remaining blast furnaces, which were built in 1907 and left largely unchanged until U.S. Steel halted operations at the Carrie Furnace.

The massive ovens are rare examples of pre-World War II steel-making technology — and they could make the perfect centerpiece for the proposed museum, according to Rivers of Steel curator of collections Tiffani Emig.

“They were never invested in for improvements and they were never upgraded. Everything was done by hand up until the day it closed,” Emig said. “That’s what makes them special.”

Those industrial relics — along with five other furnaces that were demolished — manufactured as much as 1,200 tons of iron per day, creating metals used in the construction of the Empire State Building and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.

When the blast furnaces were operational, they turned ore, coke and limestone flux into a molten metal that was transported by rail across the aptly named “Hot Metal Bridge” to U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, where it was converted into steel.

The Homestead Works were razed in 1988 and the site was converted into a shopping mall in 1999. Today, all that remains of the historic steel mill are the smokestacks, which tower over a movie theater parking lot across the river from the Carrie Furnace.

The Carrie Furnace has already been deemed a National Historic Landmark, meaning it likely won’t meet the same fate as the Homestead Works. But that doesn’t mean the site isn’t in danger.

When industry moved out, nature moved in. Tree roots have undermined the stability of some Carrie Furnace buildings, and grapevines scale the superstructure of the sprawling mill. Foxes, hawks and deer have recently been spotted on the site — and they’re not the only new visitors.

Since U.S. Steel halted operations at the Carrie Furnace in 1978, nature moved in. Trees tangle their way through the plant, and grapevines crisscross the catwalks. Ben Muessig for AOL News

The abandoned steel mill has become a destination for graffiti artists, paintball players, vagrants and vandals who strip the site and sell the stolen scrap metal.

“The wiring and anything else that can be scrapped has been taken out,” said Emig, who told AOL News she’s often chased away uninvited visitors. “With the graffiti, the paint wears off. It’s the people who are physically stripping the site who are the problem.”

Rivers of Steel plans to restore some parts of the Carrie Furnace to look the way they did when the plant was operational. But other parts — like a massive sculpture of a deer head built from metal and wire in the 1990s by the Industrial Arts Co-Op — will remain as they are today.

“We will preserve some of the graffiti, definitely the deer,” Emig said. “This site didn’t die in 1978. This place continued to be used, and we want to show that.”

Even if Rivers of Steel gets its wish and is able to preserve the remaining steel mill structures, the rest of the 168-acre property could look very different in the coming years. Allegheny County owns the entire site and began renting the Carrie Furnace buildings to Rivers of Steel in May.

County officials are looking for builders interested in bringing light manufacturing and residential development to the rest of the grassy plot.

New businesses or homes near the old steel mill will certainly change the site’s context, but they won’t compromise the Carrie Furnace as a historic site, according to Emig.

“It’s already compromised,” she said. “There’s only two furnaces left; there used to be seven. You work with what you have.”

The most important thing the Carrie Furnace has is its historic site, according to Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

“We have saved artifacts from the mills — blowing engines, a Bessemer converter and so forth — but we had to relocate them,” Ziegler said. “But this will be the first time it’s all preserved on site.”

Obviously, making the dilapidated steel mill a safe destination for sightseers isn’t going to be easy — or cheap.

Turning the decaying steel mill into a park and history center won't be cheap -- but preservationists say residents of the "Steel City" are rallying behind their plan. Ben Muessig for AOL News

The group’s “bare-bones cost estimate” for the project is $78 million. Current funding only allows for repairs of a severely damaged roof at one of the powerhouses.

To fund other projects, like securing shaky catwalks, clearing out tons of debris from the mill’s stock house, or perhaps building a monorail like the one depicted in flashy conceptual images of the historic center, the group will seek public funding and private donations.

There’s talk of approaching the National Parks Service for help, but it’s unclear whether the cash-strapped agency would be interested in or able to offer assistance.

Though finances are a concern, Moreira says she’s been encouraged by the interest in the project.

“Heritage matters,” said Moreira, whose group has given tours of the Carrie Furnace to more than 700 eager visitors in the past two months. “It’s not only important to know where we come from, but it’s important looking to the future.”

In the years since the steel industry left Pittsburgh, the “Steel City” has in many ways attempted to distance itself from its metal-producing past. But the city’s industrial legacy lives on — and not just in the name of its football team and local beer.

According to Moreira, many Pittsburghers have started looking to the city’s steel-making roots as a source of pride.

“There was a lot of bitterness when the steel went away. People wanted to move on. But now people are at the point where they want to look back,” she said.

“This isn’t just steel; it’s about emotions.”

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Washington County Farm on Statewide Danger List

Monday, December 20, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Washington County farm that has been operated by the same family for more than 200 years has been included on a list of 10 historic sites most at risk across Pennsylvania.

Longwall coal mining could harm several historic buildings at Plantation Plenty in Independence Township, according to Preservation Pennsylvania. The nonprofit organization released its list of endangered properties on Thursday.

State and federal environmental and preservation regulations require an analysis of the impact of commercial activities like mining on historic properties, according to Erin Hammerstedt, a field representative for Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Our goal would be to keep longwall mining out of this historic farm,” she said.

Preservation Pennsylvania is a private membership organization that seeks to protect historically and architecturally significant properties. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, created by Congress in 1949, plays a similar role across the country.

Plantation Plenty has been operated since 1800 by Isaac Manchester and his descendants. Joseph Pagliarulo and his wife, Margie, who is a Manchester descendant, acquired the 400 acres in 2005 and now run it as an organic farm, producing milk, beef, pork and vegetables.

The Manchester family had sold coal rights to the property in 1915, except for three acres under the farmhouse and other nearby buildings. The mining rights are owned by Penn Ridge Coal, a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners, a Tulsa, Okla.-based coal producer with $1.2 billion in revenues.

While longwall mining would never occur directly under the farmstead, major mine subsidence nearby still could damage the structures, Ms. Hammerstedt said. Another possible side-effect of the mining could be to degrade or ruin the farm’s water supply by fracturing the rock that feeds its springs and wells, according to Preservation Pennsylvania.

Penn Ridge has not yet applied for mining permits, Mr. Pagliarulo said, but he fears “it is just a matter of time.” He said it is not financially possible for him and his wife to buy back the coal rights.

An end to farming on the Manchester property would represent a cultural and environmental loss, he said.

“This property has been in my wife’s family for more than 200 years,” he said. “A visit here lets you step back in time … and see how 18th and 19th century farming took place.”

Two other Western Pennsylvania properties or areas are on the preservation organization’s list.

Holland Hall in Meadville, which has been vacant for 15 years, is in danger of demolition, according to Preservation Pennsylvania. The poor condition of the building — many interior walls and electrical, plumbing and heating mixtures have been removed — make it attractive to a buyer who would tear it down and replace it with a new structure.

Holland Hall was built in 1899 by A.C. Huidekoper, a Civil War veteran who made fortunes in coal, iron, oil and railroad businesses. The Gilded Age mansion was built around a smaller red-brick building constructed in 1804. Mr. Huidekoper and his wife, Frances, had lived in the smaller structure before the larger house was built.

Following the death of Mrs. Huidekoper, Holland Hall was sold and used as a fraternity house from 1935 to 1995. Plans to redevelop it as a conference center and bed-and-breakfast fell through.

“In order to prevent the demolition or continued neglect of Holland Hall, a buyer interested in acquiring and rehabilitating this architecturally significant building is needed,” according to “Pennsylvania at Risk 2010,” the organization’s newsletter.

Plans for a wind farm on the crest of Evitts Mountain in Bedford County’s Bedford Township could endanger a rural historic district known as Dutch Corner, according to Preservation Pennsylvania.

Dutch Corner has more than 30 farmsteads and a historic school, church and several cemeteries.

Plans to build 24 wind turbines on the ridge above the valley would require blasting and filling to construct concrete foundation pads and to bury a transmission cable, according to the organization. It also warns that noise from the wind turbines would disturb the neighborhood’s rural character while the blasting could affect water supplies.

Preservation Pennsylvania does not oppose either longwall mining or wind farms in general, Ms. Hammerstedt said. “There are places where these activities are a good thing,” she said. “But there are other areas where these projects are not appropriate, because they would endanger historic buildings or landscape features.”

Preservation Pennsylvania’s 2010 list of at-risk sites is available on its Web site, www.preservationpa.org.


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The Visitor’s Guide to Friendship

Pop City Media
Kelli McElhinny | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Carolyns - Friendship Neighborhood

If you haven’t been to Friendship’s northern border of Penn Avenue lately, you’re in for a sweet surprise. The transformation, from a blighted area to a vibrant arts district, is well underway, courtesy of the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative (PAAI), a strategic partnership between the Friendship Development Associates and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. Today, many of Pittsburgh’s best-kept secrets, from art to architecture, can be found in Friendship.

The gutsy transformation has been driven by the PAAI, a formidable group which helps artists buy and renovate properties, provides technical assistance to artists, and promotes them as well as the neighborhood. The group even connects artists to local youth and their families through fun events and workshops that benefit all involved.

The liveliest time to visit this vibrant neighborhood is the first Friday of each month, for the PAAI showcase, Unblurred, when the area’s galleries and businesses throw open their doors to host a variety of events, from openings to art workshops. Despite gloomy weather and the threat of rain at the September event, music filled the air and hundreds of people jammed the galleries in the festive gathering on Penn Ave.

The Bride Mural

Mural Mural on the Wall

As you work your way down the street (Penn Ave, that is) keep on eye on the building walls of Friendship where some of the neighborhood’s most intriguing public art –such as the well-known The Bride Mural—can be found.

The landmark Bridal Mural, designed and created by the late Judy Penzer and Jill Watson, fools the eye by depicting a continuation of the row of buildings next to it. In 2001, “The Gateway,” mural was created by local artists at 5149 and 5150 Penn Avenue to represent the mission of PAAI – bringing the arts on both sides of Penn Avenue together via the street itself. Another notable mural is at 4908 Penn Avenue. Titled “Today’s Heroic Paragon,” it was created by Kevin Fung in 2003 in memory of a resident.

Many of the murals are the product of the Sprout Fund, a much-admired foundation located in Friendship that funds arts and other area projects that enliven the city as well as stimulate economic development by making the region attractive to young people.

The Art of Dance. And Foursquare.

The eastern end of Penn Avenue in Friendship is home to Attack Theater, one of Pittsburgh’s most innovative performing arts groups. In studio space at the corner of Penn and Mathilda, the dance troupe holds occasional informal performances in addition to offering modern dance classes to the community on Tuesdays. Unblurred attendees wanting to nurture their inner child can stop by for Game Night, to play foursquare, 3D tic-tac-toe, and Connect Four, and enjoy intermittent performances.

Modern Formations

Further along Penn Avenue, you’ll find a group of modest galleries where hipsters – with a few adventurous suburbanites mixed in – spill out onto the sidewalk. Visitors to Modern Formations can settle into one of the comfy couches to enjoy a performance by local musicians, or peruse the pieces by Pittsburgh artists that grace the gallery’s purple walls.

Next up is Garfield Artworks, which shows local, regional and national artists, features a 100-foot-deep floor plan that lends itself to a multitude of uses, from performances to poetry readings to private parties.

At this point in the trip down Penn, a quick detour down Winebiddle Street is worthwhile to see the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, located in one of the neighborhood’s oldest and most beautiful buildings. Originally a private residence that was converted into a convent for sisters of the Ursuline order, the building now houses the private K-8 school that moved to Friendship from the South Side in 2003. This historic landmark still hosts private events, in addition to its everyday function.

Dance Alloy

Back on Penn Avenue, head for the Clay Penn, with its storefront graced with thousands of mosaic tiles, many designed by Unblurred participants in a workshop. Owner and artist Laura Jean McLaughlin showcases her own work in the first-floor space, along with exhibitions by other artists. Soon, community classes and workshops will be offered here, too.

Next stop? Studio 5013 where, at any time, you can view a window display of one of many local artists  since it’s illuminated for nighttime browsing. Behind the gallery curtain, artist Laura Shaffalo has done a tremendous job restoring the building’s splendor in creating her own live/work space, refinishing the building’s original pine floors and preserving architectural features such as the French doors.

There’s still room for improvement but The Penn Avenue Arts District continues to blossom and grow with each passing month. Since July, Penn Avenue has seen the opening of four additional galleries: IMAGEBOX at 4933 Penn Avenue, < c > space at 4823 Penn, ON Gallery at 5005 Penn and 5151 Penn Gallery.

At < c > space, a live band entertained a throng of visitors during its opening event September 1st. Guests were treated to art and music on the first floor, along with an appetizing spread of food and drinks, while upstairs the hip, renovated living quarters were open for viewing.

On September 14th, ON Gallery plays host to noted author, Mary Gaitskill, in a Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures event.

Wine and dine

People's Indian Restaurant

Hungry? You’re in a great spot for some of the city’s best offerings in ethnic fare. Although the selection is small, the cuisine is top-notch. The locals swear by the curry at People’s Indian Restaurant, and Pho Minh is one of Pittsburgh’s few spots for authentic Vietnamese. Those with less exotic tastes can grab a slice with just the right amount of grease without parting with too much dough at Vince’s Pizza or Calabria’s.

A little farther up the street, past two institutions found in nearly every urban neighborhood – the dollar store and the funeral home – lies one of Penn Avenue’s most eclectic spots, the Quiet Storm. Complete with a vegan-friendly menu, an abundance of toys for folks under 10 (and ample space in which to play with them), and a magazine selection that puts the corner newsstand to shame, this nuisance bar-turned-coffeehouse draws in a mélange of characters from all over the city, whether a family stopping in for Sunday brunch or a doctoral student hunkering down to work on his thesis. The menu alone makes the Quiet Storm a must to visit, but those who need extra motivation might find it in the live performances hosted by the coffeehouse on Friday and Saturday nights.

Another option within walking distance is Silky’s Pub, a cozy Liberty Avenue bar that gives patrons the opportunity to brush up on their shuffleboard skills while sipping a beverage. At the end of Friendship Avenue, the popular Sharp Edge features such an extensive collection of Belgian beers that the owner has been knighted in Belgium.

Across the street from the Quiet Storm is the highly regarded EDGE studio, a cutting-edge architecture firm that regularly brings artists of international stature regularly into their gallery.

Quiet Storm

Reaching the eastern end of Penn Avenue, you’ll find one of the nation’s best glass facilities, and possibly in a class by itself, the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Housing large studios in space that formerly served as a car showroom, PGC is known across the country for the quality of art it produces–American Style magazine recently noted that it put Pittsburgh on the map for glass– and the community is encouraged to participate in the process. The facilities are impressive: eight glory-holes, a flame-working and a cold-working studio, natural gas and propane hand-torches and a roomy gallery to display the stunning glass work creations. A variety of classes you won’t find elsewhere are offered by masters in their art form, from glassblowing to bead making, and participants of all skill levels can find a course that fits their experience.

More classes of a different variety can be found just down the street from the PGC. The Neighborhood Dance Center, home to Dance Alloy Theater, provides space for one of the region’s most comprehensive community dance and fitness programs as well as their own professional modern dance company. Courses grouped by age allow a range of participants from toddlers to grandmas to enjoy activities from ballet to tango to Pilates. There’s no better place in Pittsburgh to get moving – and meet new friends. The company performs on a biannual home season with smaller showings throughout the year.

How to get there

What’s the best way is to get to this evolving neighborhood? Public transportation choices are plentiful. Eight PAT routes travel through one of Friendship’s main thoroughfares. If you choose to come by car, street parking is almost always available as well, if not on Penn, then no more than two blocks away on one of the cross streets.

Here are the main PAT routes to get you around the neighborhood.

Baum Boulevard: 77A, 77B
Centre Avenue to Downtown: 71A via Oakland, 81B via the Hill District and 86A via Bloomfield and the Strip District
Friendship Avenue to Downtown and East End destinations (such as Highland Park, the Pittsburgh Zoo and Morningside): 77D, 77F and 77G

Penn Avenue: 86B to the Strip District and Downtown, 89A to the East Liberty shopping district and Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway
Routes 77A, 77B, 81B, 86A and 86B also serve East Liberty shopping areas.

While the first Friday of the month is when Friendship is showcased at its finest, anytime is a good time to visit this up and coming neighborhood.

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Buncher Co. to Redevelop Terminal Produce Building and Build on Unused Riverfront Land

Pop City Media

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Terminal Produce Building

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has agreed to lease–with an option to sell–the 130,000-square-foot Fruit Auction Terminal Produce Building on Smallman Street in the Strip District. The Buncher Co. plans to turn the building into a thriving commercial space.

To purchase the building, Buncher must commit to building 75-units of residential housing on the 55-acres of surface parking behind the Terminal Building. The firm must also promise to preserve the historic architecture.

“The building really is at the end of its useful life. It needs anywhere from $6 to $10 million in capital improvements to bring it up to code and preserve it,” says Rob Stephany, executive director of the URA.

According to Stephany, Buncher is about 20% of the way into their planning process, having selected the renowned historic preservation architect Albert Feloni to create a master plan for the Terminal Building. Astorino is under contract to do the master plan for the vacant surface parking along the river between the convention center and 41st Street.

Once Buncher submits the master plans to the URA for review, the gears of construction can really start turning. Stephany says a recently conducted market analysis indicates the building would best benefit from restaurants, office, and showroom spaces on the platform, citing the Society for Contemporary Craft and The Pittsburgh Public Market as examples of forward-thinking reuse of these kinds of buildings.

As part of the project, the URA and the City recently rezoned part of the Strip as a redevelopment area, causing concern from some neighborhood stakeholders who thought the URA might be preparing for eminent domain seizures. Stephany says that while this is certainly not the case, they didn’t do a good of a job in communicating their plans. Their intent was to make funds from investors more flexible.

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Writer: John Farley
Source: Rob Stephany, URA

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

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Buncher Plans Project for Strip District’s Fruit Auction Terminal Building

Pittsburgh Business Times – by Tim Schooley

Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010, 10:27am EST

In a bid to spark a transformational wave of development in the Strip District, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will vote on a plan to beat a path to the Allegheny riverfront this week through the red brick walls of the Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction Terminal Building.

At its board meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, the URA is expected to vote for the city to enter into an agreement in which it would lease the six-block-long building to the Buncher Co., giving the local development company an option to buy the property. A vote of approval by the mayor-appointed board is expected to provide Buncher with the opportunity to develop the building in tandem with a 75-unit apartment project on riverfront land Buncher owns behind the building, according to URA Executive Director Rob Stephany.

Stephany described the plan as a key move to kick-start development of approximately 55 acres Buncher owns that extend along Smallman Street and the Allegheny River from 11th to 23rd streets, a tract of largely undeveloped urban land he believed is as large as any of its kind in the country.

“The produce terminal is kind of at the end of its useful life. It needs to be part of something bigger,” Stephany said. “My gut tells me there’s a real strong appetite by the Buncher Co. to really begin this project in earnest.”

Calls to Buncher were not immediately returned.

Stephany said Buncher has demonstrated its commitment to push forward with development there by hiring MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni Inc. to handle the preservation and design for the renovation of the 130,000-square-foot terminal building, a project he estimated will cost from $7 million to $10 million. The redevelopment of the terminal building, now home to number of produce wholesalers as well as the Pittsburgh Public Market, which opened a few months ago, will serve as a gateway project that should allow Buncher to being to develop the 12 to 15 acres behind it that have been largely blocked from any new plans by the building.

The redevelopment will include building two access routes through the property, Stephany said, which he said was a requirement for making any new project behind the building viable.

“It’s so big and so long, if you did two penetrations to it, it’s almost negligible from an impact standpoint,” Stephany said, predicting the changes will concern preservationists.

Art Ziegler, president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said his organization is supportive of the goal of redeveloping the building as well as establishing access through the building to enable development behind it, as long as that access is for pedestrians.

“We think that the building can be a landmark for the new project. It frames and defines the project,” Ziegler said. “We do not object to a pedestrian passage and maybe two. Our only objection is to make roadways (for cars) through the building.”

The building transaction is part of a larger collaboration between the city and Buncher. In the summer, the city reached an agreement with Buncher for a swap of properties that included the terminal building, a riverfront warehouse building in the 9th ward of Lawrenceville and the former Tippins steel property on the riverfront at the 62nd Street Bridge in Lawrenceville’s 10th ward.

Stephany said the URA continues to work with the building’s established produce wholesalers to identify potential new locations for them. He expects the building will be redeveloped for a host of office users, restaurants, studios and other uses, noting the terminal’s four-foot elevation above Smallman Street likely won’t work for retail. The infrastructure costs for the project have not yet been determined, Stephany said.

The URA also is working to establish a district for tax increment financing and redevelopment for the Strip District. Those proposals drew strong neighborhood criticism at a planning hearing on Dec. 7, and Stephany emphasized the TIF district and redevelopment zone are under consideration to improve the neighborhood’s eligibility for state and federal funds — and not for eminent domain.

Stephany said there is nothing in the city’s agreement with Buncher that guarantees the new Pittsburgh Public Market will remain in the building but that both the URA and Buncher are excited about its start and see it as part of a larger redevelopment plan. The time frame for Buncher’s development is not yet set.

“The end result of this isn’t going to be known for a while,” Stephany said.

Chuck Hammel, an owner of the nearby Cork Factory apartment building, described the URA’s plan to turn the terminal building over to Buncher as an important step in bringing new development to the neighborhood’s riverfront. One possible hurdle, he said, will be reaching a final agreement between Buncher and the Allegheny Valley Railroad over right-of-way issues, something Hammel hopes will be resolved for the good of everyone involved.

Hammel is working to develop a 90-unit apartment project near the almost fully occupied Cork Factory and said there is a steady influx of would-be tenants for more housing in the area.

“We have probably 20 to 30 people who look at the Cork Factory each week,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of out-of-town people being located here.”

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Pitt Class to Nominate Bloomfield School for Historic Registry

By Adam Brandolph
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ursuline Academy (dates back to 1894), a Catholic girls school, opened in its Bloomfield location in 1894 and closed in 1981. In 1993, the building was sold, restored and named Victoria Hall, a venue for weddings and celebrations. The Waldorf School bought the property in 2003. Sidney Davis | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The ornate wood and plaster work inside the former Ursuline Academy in Bloomfield has been around for about 140 years.

A nomination to the National Register of Historic Places next month could ensure it lasts at least twice as long.

The building on South Winebiddle Street near the borders of Friendship Park, Garfield and Lawrenceville has been a hands-on laboratory for University of Pittsburgh students learning how to research historic buildings. The students will release their findings to the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the building’s auditorium.

The class plans to present the nomination to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in January. If approved, the commission would send it to the National Park Service in Washington for a final review.

Officials with the building’s current tenant, the Waldorf School, a private school for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, applaud the efforts.

“It’s a wonderful place to have a school,” said Alexandra Gruskos, Waldorf’s board president and an attorney for the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families. “We’re very happy about the nomination.”

Students in Jeff Slack’s documentation and conservation studio course pored over historic maps, photographs, deeds and building permits in researching the history of the 21-room mansion built for Henry J. Lynch in the late 1860s.

“The nomination is the result of the ongoing work begun in 2008 by Pitt preservation students that included a detailed evaluation of the physical condition of the building,” Slack, a historic preservation planner at Pfaffmann + Associates, PC, Downtown, said in a written statement.

“But this year, the students’ work focuses more so on research that shows the far-reaching educational contributions of the Ursuline Academy to the local community.”

The historic designation would prevent federal money from being used to alter the building, said Brendan Froeschl, facilities manager for the Waldorf School. The building was well-preserved because it was turned into a school after initially being a residence, he said.

“The Ursulines did a wonderful job. When you come in the front door, you’re in the front door of the original mansion,” Froeschl said.

Dan Holland, director of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh, said other buildings across the city would benefit from the expertise of the class.

“To do this kind of work is a huge help,” Holland said.

The Ursuline Academy, a Catholic girls school, opened in its Bloomfield location in 1894 and closed in 1981. In 1993, the building was sold, restored and named Victoria Hall, a venue for weddings and celebrations. The Waldorf School bought the property in 2003.

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Hotel Saxonburg Chef Returns to Recently Renovated Landmark

By Pam Starr, FOR THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hotel Saxonburg's executive chef, Alan Green, and owner, Judy Ferree, with Penne Carbonara Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Judy Ferree loved Hotel Saxonburg so much as a customer that she decided to buy the Butler County landmark in July.

The former owner, Domenic Gentile, had died a few years ago, and his wife realized she couldn’t keep the restaurant going, says Ferree, a resident of Middlesex.

“I thought this would be a good project,” says Ferree, 50, who used to own Lakevue Athletic Club with her husband, Bob, and managed Butler Country Club for a number of years. “I had watched it slide, partly due to the economy, but I wanted to get Hotel Saxonburg back to where it was.”

Ferree closed the place for five weeks for needed renovation. All of the kitchen equipment was replaced, including the refrigeration units and ventilation system, and the entire interior was painted. The original tin ceiling in the dining room was repaired and painted.

But Ferree was careful to keep the old-fashioned charm and elegance that Hotel Saxonburg is known for. Hotel Saxonburg was built in 1832 and is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. The black-and-white checkered floor tile is still intact, and the copper-topped bar dates to the 19th century. Five upstairs sleeping rooms have been meticulously refurbished to reflect the 1800s. Ferree points out that Woodrow Wilson once stayed there.

The 138-seat Hotel Saxonburg is the oldest continually operating restaurant and bar in Butler County, she says.

“We reopened on Aug. 12, and it’s been exciting,” she says. “It’s livened up the whole community. I brought back the chef, Alan Green, who was here for 18 years and left to work at the Springfield Grill for four years. He’s the heart of the place and is so approachable and humble. He’ll be the first one to jump in and help the dishwasher.”

Green, 55, has been cooking professionally for 35 years and hand-picked the culinary team when he returned. The Aliquippa native began his career while a student at Penn State, where he graduated with a Spanish degree.

“I cooked my way through school, and my knowledge of Spanish was invaluable while working as a chef in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “When I hire someone, the first thing I look for is enthusiasm, and the ability to look me in the eye. They also need to be able to take criticism.”

Green is very pleased with the chefs and cooks who work with him at Hotel Saxonburg.

“I have some young guns here that are terrifically talented but need steady guidance,” says Green, who is married and lives in Butler. “I can’t marathon anymore at my age, so I teach. I also try to learn something every day.”

The American menu is Green’s creation. He wanted to return to the classics, he says, as well as keep up with trends. His appetizers include staples such as crab cakes, fried asparagus and shrimp cocktail. But one will also find zucchini cakes with roasted red pepper sauce; ground beef sliders; Crimini mushrooms filled with clam stuffing and topped with bacon; and grilled New Zealand lamb chops.

Hotel Saxonburg is famous for its lobster bisque, and Green wouldn’t dream of taking that off the menu. Entrees feature classics such as filet mignon, baby back ribs, chicken gorgonzola and seafood pasta. Green includes other items like sauteed black sea bass filets; satay fire-grilled chicken skewers with wild mushrooms and marinara sauce; shrimp tempura with sweet Thai chile sauce; and cucumber-crusted salmon filet with a cucumber-wasabi puree.

Everything on the menu is made from scratch, he says.

“We get our seafood from Curtze Foods in Erie, and some from Pittsburgh Seafood,” Green says. “Our chicken, lamb and beef comes from Curtze, and US Foods. Our specialty products are from Thoma’s, right down the road, and their pork is superior. Perriello Produce in Natrona Heights handles our produce. They’re all good guys.”

The hours are the hardest part of being a chef, he says, but the “happy stuff far outweighs the dark stuff.” Writing cookbooks is on Green’s bucket list, and the first one will be about soups.

“All I do is think about food,” he says with a laugh. “I read food, I study food, I watch food. Cooking is very rewarding. When you get one customer who tells you how nice their dinner was, it makes your month.”

Penne Carbonara

Chef Alan Green is sharing is popular Penne Carbonara recipe. He uses local bacon from Thoma's to give the dish more oomph, and uses an egg in the final phase to thicken the dish. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Chef Alan Green is sharing is popular penne carbonara recipe. He uses local bacon from Thoma’s to give the dish more oomph, and uses an egg in the final phase to thicken the dish.

“The egg is a delicious way to enhance and enrich the flavor,” says Green. “The sauce should be just thick enough to coat the noodles. This is a good, wintery pasta dish that fills you up.”

He suggests serving this hearty meal with whatever wine you enjoy.

  • 3 tablespoons clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, julienned
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup thick-sliced bacon, diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces cooked penne pasta
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Put the butter, red onion, garlic and bacon in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Sweat the onion and garlic for about 2 minutes, and season with salt and pepper.

Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by half.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain well. Add the cooked pasta to the cream mixture and season again with salt and pepper. Add the Romano cheese, and then remove from the heat. Stir in the egg and mix well.

Place the pasta in a serving bowl, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Hotel Saxonburg:

Cuisine: American

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

Entree price range: $10-$23

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Reservations recommended for weekends. Bottles of wine for $15 featured on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sunday brunch. Five hotel rooms upstairs.

Address: 220 Main St., Saxonburg, Butler County

Details: 724-352-4200 or website

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Buying Here: Bellevue

Saturday, December 04, 2010
By Rosa Colucci, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This five-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath home in Bellevue has 5,500 square feet of living space. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

“It takes my breath away every time I walk through the front door. It’s a warm, wonderful house,” says Sharon Hruska of her house in Bellevue.

There are very few houses that can evoke that feeling, but she isn’t exaggerating. Her five-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath Queen Ann-style house at 108 Meade Ave. (MLS No. 841177) is on the market for $299,000 through RE/MAX Realtors Don and Kathy Seaton (724-933-6300, ext. 664; or www.seatonteam.com).

The home was built in 1898 by a lumber mill owner, who spared no expense on the wood work, including the entryway that has a carved oak staircase. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

When you open the front door, you are greeted by a 30-by-8-foot entryway that features a carved staircase in gleaming oak. The home was built in 1898-99 by Michael Simon, who owned a lumber mill and spared no expense.

When Sharon and Ken Hruska purchased it in 1993 for $40,000, its more than 5,500 square feet of living space was divided into nine apartments. The splendid foyer and all other woodwork were painted white. The couple spent a year restoring the home before moving in.

“My husband stripped the foyer. It took him one solid year; he worked every single day,” Mrs. Hruska said.

There is plenty of room to entertain in the 19-by-16-foot family room. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

This and other labors of love are evident in every nook and cranny of this grand home. The main living level has six fireplaces and an assortment of rooms perfect for entertaining. The living room (parlor) measures 18 by 16 feet and has 9-foot ceilings, tall windows and a picture rail. The 19-by-16-foot family room has a carved fireplace and a more masculine feel, decorated in traditional leather. The dining room (26 by 15 feet) has a pair of chandeliers and another fireplace, this one with a ceramic tile hearth offsetting the hardwood floors that cover most of the first floor.

The 27-by-15-foot kitchen has granite counters and stainless-steel appliances. Glass-front cabinet doors flank the cooking area and accent exposed shelving. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

The 27-by-15-foot kitchen is a cook’s dream, with granite counters, stainless-steel appliances and an exposed-brick wall that nicely complements the modern appliances and amenities. Glass-front cabinet doors flank the cooking area and accent exposed shelving.

Nearby is the 18-by-16-foot den that doubles as a billiards room. Rounding out the main level is laundry room that measures 16 by 16 and a powder room.

A back staircase offers access to the huge third floor that could be rented as a full apartment. The space has three bedrooms, a full kitchen, living room and full bathroom.

Going up the front staircase to the second floor, be sure to stop to admire the majestic stained-glass window that the homeowners were able to retrieve and put back in place years after they bought the house.

The large windows light up the master bedroom. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

The master bedroom has a trio of windows, a full master bath suite with a jetted tub that faces a fireplace, a stand-alone shower and a pedestal sink. There are two more full bathrooms and two more bedrooms (one of which is being used as an office). Room sizes range from 14 by 14 feet to 17 by 16 feet.

The master bath has a jetted tub that faces a fireplace, a stand-alone shower and a pedestal sink. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

The home is heated by radiator heat and cooled by room air conditioners, which stay with the home. Outside, the stunning wrap-around porch could entertain 50 people. The homeowners added a separate three-car garage to accommodate family and friends.

Now planning to downsize, the Hruskas say their grandchildren don’t want them to leave this house and friendly neighborhood, where many young families have moved recently. The house is open by appointment.

The property has a full market value of $155,000 (www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate). In the past three years, four properties have sold on Meade Avenue ranging in price from $48,900 in April 2010 to $113,000 in June 2008 (www.realstats.net).

“Sometimes you go in big old houses [and] they have a creepy, scary feeling,” Mrs. Hruska said. “We have always felt at home here since the day we walked through the front door.”



Bellevue
At a glance
  • Website: bellevueboro.com
  • Size: 1.1 square miles
  • Population: 8,770 (2000 census)
  • School district: Northgate (northgate.k12.pa.us)
  • Enrollment: 1,294
  • Average 2010 SAT scores: 476 verbal; 494 math; 470 writing
  • Current taxes on 108 Meade Ave. (full market value of Strong55,000): $6,019
  • Municipality: $1,085 (7 mills)
  • School district: $4,278 (27.6 mills)
  • County: $656*
  • Wage tax: 1 percent, split between municipality and school district
  • A little bit of history: Like many northern suburbs, Bellevue originally was part of the Depreciation Lands reserved for Revolutionary War veterans. It has the distinction of being incorporated in 1876 only after Frankie East was born. Frankie’s birth gave the town a population of 300, the necessary prerequisite for residents to file a petition for incorporation with the Allegheny County Court of Quarter Sessions.

*Includes the Act 50 Homestead Exclusion, which reduces assessed market value by $15,000 for county taxes.


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Allegheny West’s Annual Holiday House Tour Shows Off Style, Taste and City History

Saturday, December 04, 2010
By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Alex Watson's North Lincoln Street home. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

On Thanksgiving eve, when I called Alex Watson about previewing his house for next weekend’s Allegheny West Victorian Christmas House Tour, I assumed it would be too early to see it in holiday garb.

“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” he said. “My Christmas tree has been up for three years.”

When your house has been on the tour for 28 of the event’s 29 years, leaving the artificial tree up and decorated in a corner of the library seems the expedient thing to do.

Next to it, on the mantel, stands the illuminated Dickens Christmas village Mr. Watson made decades ago of fiberboard, crowned by London’s St. Paul Cathedral and complete with Scrooge & Marley’s counting house. It’s now a year-round feature, too.

And next to that, on the wainscot ledge, stand a dozen smaller buildings closer to home, representing Allegheny West houses that have appeared on neighborhood tours. He and his neighbors made those, too, for sale to tour-goers in years past.

Anything to support his beloved Allegheny West, the North Side neighborhood in which he and his late partner, Merle Dickinson, settled in 1960, when they purchased the North Lincoln Avenue home. Then broken into 17 (now 10) apartments, it was far from the showplace it is today.

The red brick house, originally a two-story built between 1864 and 1865, was enlarged to its present three-story size and Romanesque Revival appearance in the early 1890s, when a library also was added to the front of the house.

Grain merchant John W. Simpson was the original owner; Joseph Walton bought it in 1888 for daughter Ida Walton Scully and her husband, glass manufacturer James Scully. In 1917 the house was sold to James S. Childs, a shoe, rubber and leather wholesaler whose wife Alice was Ida Scully’s sister.

In 1923 the house changed hands again; the new owners were Samuel and Margaret Crow, who lived there and rented rooms to boarders. The house stayed in the Crow family until 1960.

The library in Alex Watson's North Lincoln St. home is decorated for the holidays. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

The house’s architect is unknown; none surfaced during architectural historian Carol Peterson’s extensive house history research. Mr. Watson thinks it may have been Longfellow, Alden and Harlow, who in 1889 completed a house across the street commissioned by B. F. Jones for his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Joseph O. Horne, son of the department store founder. It’s a good bet, considering the richly carved and paneled oak interior finishes, the melding of medieval and classical influences and a first-floor layout similar to the Horne house. The firm designed 13 buildings within a radius of several blocks and Frank Alden had lived just around the corner.

Restoring the home’s original features became a decades-long passion for Mr. Watson and Mr. Dickinson, who did much of the work themselves. And there was much work to do. While most of the interior woodwork remained, the first floor’s front parlor, library and dining room had been its own apartment with kitchen and bath.

One bathroom occupied a corner of the entrance hall; during its removal, the owners discovered a long-lost corner of the hall’s original mantel. From that remnant, they re-created the mantel and over-mantel and warmed up the room with a gas fireplace.

The hallway in Alex Watson's North Lincoln St. home is decorated for the holidays. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

Mr. Watson has his regrets, including removal of a mantel and overmantel in the front parlor to gain wall space. They recycled it as a bar and back bar in the former kitchen, now a game room outfitted as a bordello dedicated to 1920s neighborhood madam Nettie Gordon. Eventually, in atonement, they purchased a white marble Italianate mantel from a Sewickley house sale for the front parlor.

The music room in Alex Watson's North Lincoln St. home. Originally the home's dining room, the breakfront still dominates the room. The home will be on the Allegheny West Christmas House Tour. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

In the former dining room, now the music room, Mr. Watson (on the piano) and friend Mark Schumacher (on the organ) plan to greet tour-goers, as they have in years past, with songs of the season. Seeing the faces of visitors as they enter the room, Mr. Watson said, “makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

The hallway in Alex Watson's North Lincoln St. home is decorated for the holidays. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

Trained in nursery and landscape management at Michigan State, Mr. Watson managed the garden shop at Sears for 27 years before it became part of Allegheny Center. His courtyard garden, glimpsed through the oak-paneled music room windows, has been featured on neighborhood garden tours; this time tour-goers will pass through it as they leave.

The six houses on the tour, spread over three blocks, include Gretchen Duthoy’s red brick, Second Empire-style Beech Avenue home, a newbie to the event.

This home at 849 Beech Ave. will be on the Allegheny West Christmas House Tour. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

“My house was turning 150 this year,” said Ms. Duthoy, who wanted to do something to mark the occasion. She commissioned a house history from Ms. Peterson, who discovered the house in fact was 140 years old, having been built in 1870 for railroad conductor Theodore Gray and his wife Annie. The longest ownership — 1887 to 1922 — came with four generations of the family of Christian Stoner, partner in a Strip District lumber mill.

When Ms. Duthoy, an Alcoa employee who grew up in suburban Maryland, bought the house in 2003, it had been restored by its previous owners, for whom she’d worked as a baby sitter in college.

“That’s how I came to know the house and the neighborhood and that’s how I came to live there” a few years later when they had outgrown it, she said.

Her work on the house has been cosmetic, including a kitchen update. For the tour she’ll hang family ornaments on her live tree and decorate extensively with fresh greens.

The tour, she said, is “a great showcase for the neighborhood, and I’d like to do my part.”


Allegheny West Victorian Christmas House Tour

Information: Guided walking tours cost $25 per person and leave from Calvary United Methodist Church, Allegheny and Beech avenues, at 12-minute intervals from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. next Saturday, with a maximum of 25 guests per tour. Tour guides will talk about 19th-century holiday traditions and the history of the neighborhood and the homes on the tour.

At the end of the event, which lasts about three hours, tour-goers can visit John DeSantis’ miniature railroad village and toy train collection at Holmes Hall, 719 Brighton Road, for an additional $10, as well as the Holiday Shoppe at Jones Hall, with antiques, gifts and handcrafted items. Mr. DeSantis’ train collection, open to the public only during the Christmas tour, also can be visited separately; hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and 12:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Special tours include a wine tour at 6 p.m. Friday, with wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres at a private residence, followed by the house tour ($75 per person). On Saturday, brunch tours will be offered at 10 and 10:30 a.m. and high-tea tours at 3 and 3:30 p.m. ($50 per person), followed by the house tour. With help from The Center for Hearing and Deaf Services, a signed tour will be offered at 3:36 p.m. Saturday ($25 per person).

Tours are rain or shine, snow, sleet or hail. As the Allegheny West Civic Council’s website puts it, “This is Pittsburgh and bad weather is part of the charm.” Reservations are required for all tours and tickets are nonrefundable. Visit the website (alleghenywest.org) or call 412-323-8884.

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