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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Rachel Carson Homestead Association Board of Directors Opens Search for New Executive Director

December 2, 2010

PRESS RELEASE:

Contact:
Bill Schillinger 724-321-7915

bill@rachelcarsonhomestead.org

New Era Begins for Regional Environmental Organization

SPRINGDALE, PA – (Dec. 2, 2010) – The Board of Directors of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, a regional organization dedicated to the principles of greater environmental awareness and action promoted by its namesake, announced today the opening of a search for a new executive director.

Following a thorough strategic planning process, the not-for-profit organization has embarked on a program to restore and transform the childhood home of Rachel Carson in Springdale, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, into a center for information and ideas on a healthy environment. Coordinating a capital campaign in support of this transformation will be a major responsibility of the new executive director.

The Association takes it inspiration from Carson, a professional marine biologist who achieved international fame in 1962 for her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” which discussed the potential hazards of synthetic pesticides. The Association plans a series of special events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Silent Spring” in 2012.

“Rachel Carson stood for strong principles like integrity, open dialogue, and fostering a positive exchange of ideas concerning the environment,” said William Schillinger, chairman of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association board. “Our organization stands for those same principles. With the start of our search for a new executive director, we intend to increase efforts to make the Homestead a destination site. It is the primary focus of our group’s mission.”

The executive director will be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the organization,along with fund-raising and
other publicly-oriented activities. The search follows the departure of Patricia DeMarco, PhD., who, as executive director of the Homestead Association for the past five years, has been instrumental in growing its programs.

“As we move forward, we are ready to engage new leadership that will manage the Capital Campaign and events surrounding the Homestead’s renewal in 2012,” said Schillinger. “Much like the impressive span over the Allegheny River that bears Rachel Carson’s name, we will continue to build strong bridges focused on active, respectful, dialogue about the challenging environmental issues of our day.” he said.

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Civic Arena May be Spared Until Summer

By Jeremy Boren
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pittsburgh could be deep into summer by the time an effort to save the Civic Arena is settled.

The Historic Review Commission is expected Jan. 5 to review a nomination to dub the 49-year-old, silver-domed arena a historic structure, a designation that would protect it from the wrecking ball.

The commission’s public hearing on the nomination is scheduled for Feb. 2, with a final vote set for March 2. All meetings are open to the public. The final decision by Pittsburgh City Council might not occur until late August depending on how the process plays out.

Penguins officials want the arena to be demolished to make way for a mix of retail, residential and office development on a 28-acre site.

The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the arena, approved the demolition in September.

The city Planning Commission approved demolition in a unanimous vote Nov. 22. Advocates attempting to save the arena immediately nominated it as a historic structure, which means it can’t be demolished during the review process.

“(Our) goal has always been to find a economically viable community-based reuse plan, not to delay demolition,” said Rob Pfaffmann, an architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, a grassroots group that helped draft the nomination.

In this case, the Planning and Historic Review commissions make only recommendations to City Council.

The commissions’ recommendations must be made within five months of nomination. Council must hold a public hearing and take a final vote within 120 days of receiving those nominations, according to city code.

If each group takes the maximum amount of time, council wouldn’t vote until August.

The SEA had planned to demolish the arena in April.

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Vacant Homewood School as Center Planned

By Bill Vidonic
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Homewood group wants to put a community center in the building that housed Holy Rosary School, which closed this year after serving the neighborhood for 100 years. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

A social services group wants to transform an empty Homewood school into a building where people could attend educational programs and community events.

On Dec. 16, the Homewood-based Community Empowerment Association will ask the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to change the designation of the Kelly Street building that once housed Holy Rosary school.

“We want to live up to the legacy of the Catholic Church and provide services to the community,” said Rashad Byrdsong, founder of the community association. The group wants to lease, and eventually buy, the three-story, 39,000-square-foot building from the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, but the area is zoned for school use only.

“Any use that makes the community a better place is certainly good,” said the Rev. David Taylor, pastor of St. Charles Lwanga Parish, of which Holy Rosary was a part. “This is a very distressed community, and it needs all the help it can get.”

The diocese closed the school this summer, saying it couldn’t support two schools a mile apart. Holy Rosary merged with St. James School in Wilkinsburg to create the Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy. Classes began this fall in the St. James building.

Holy Rosary, which celebrated its centennial just before closing, was considered a refuge in a neighborhood that wrestles with crime and poverty.

Byrdsong said his group is talking with Taylor about the possibility of leasing the building. He would not disclose financial details because negotiations continue.

Among the group’s services, Byrdsong said, are programs to lower student dropout rates, as well as job training and community events. The group hosts programs in two buildings in the area and would consolidate operations from those buildings at the former school.

The association’s 35 full-time employees “all thought it was a wonderful idea,” Byrdsong said. “(The church) has such a long progressive and positive influence on the community of Homewood, and it would be a shame for the school to lie vacant.”

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, said Community Empowerment Association hasn’t submitted a plan to the diocese, which supports reuse of its vacant buildings.

“We typically prefer they are used to benefit the community,” Lengwin said.

The diocese stopped celebrating Sunday Liturgy at the adjacent Holy Rosary Church on Oct. 24. Taylor said only 100 parishioners celebrated Mass there. They attend services at Mother of Good Counsel Church on Bennett Street.

Lengwin said the church building will host some services, including weddings and funerals.

“It’s an incredible church,” Lengwin said.

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Heinz Students Uncover Market For Renovated Housing in Wilkinsburg

For a project sponsored by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, a team of Heinz students established a latent market for restored homes in Wilkinsburg.  Advised by Jerry Paytaz, director of Economic Architecture at GSP Consulting, the team first conducted interviews of development experts across the nation, and two community focus groups.  Based on this feedback the team developed six profiles of potential buyers for restored homes in Wilkinsburg:  Urban Pioneer, Bo-Ho, Eco-Homesteader, Wilkinsburg Ties, Start-Up, and Retired Renovator. Next, the team developed and implemented a survey to assess likely demand and price points for fully restored homes, and two types of shell only restorations (dry-wall and stud) near Hamnett Place in Wilkinsburg. Response to the survey was high and favorable. Over 400 people responded, with 266 with ties to Wilkinsburg. Over 350 respondents indicated that they would be willing to purchase a fully renvated home in Wilkinsburg and over 250 would be willing to purchase a shell renovation with the kitchen and bathroom completed. These findings helped pave the way for new investment in Wilkinsburg, and represent a major contribution to PHLF’s ongoing efforts to address significant barriers to investment in the community. Contact Michael Sriprasert for a copy of this report.

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3 Options Offered to Revitalize South Park

By Matthew Santoni
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, December 2, 2010

A cluster of former fairground buildings along Brownsville Road in South Park could get a green makeover, under three plans officials presented Wednesday night as part of Allegheny County’s effort to revitalize the park.

Titled the “modified,” “campus” and “picturesque” concept plans, each offers an increasing degree of replacing parking lots, roads and rundown halls with green space and walking paths, said Todd Brant, project manager for Homestead-based GAI Consultants.

The modified plan would demolish Schoonmaker Hall, replace some parking lots with grassy areas that can still support overflow parking and add more pedestrian pathways to the site, which Brant said is “a sea of asphalt.”

“The fairground is unique in this large concentration of buildings, but it’s not as park-like as the rest of the park,” he said.

The campus plan would go slightly greener by moving more parking near McCorkle Road, cutting out sections of access roads and demolishing a few more of the old fair buildings.

The picturesque concept would go furthest by removing the oval track and replacing it with a more meandering walking trail. The bleachers, tennis and basketball courts would be removed and replaced with trees, and the concrete channel for Catfish Run would be removed for a more natural-looking stream.

County Parks Director Andy Baechle emphasized that the plans, which won’t be finalized until the end of the year, will only be a guide until funding to make the changes is found.

“We don’t have funding in hand to do things right away,” he said. “But with this plan and good public participation, we’re more likely to get money from foundations, from the state and federal governments.”

The plans will be posted online today and public surveys can be taken until Sunday at alleghenycounty.us/parks/SPFairgrounds.

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Plans for South Park Fairgrounds to be Aired Wednesday

By Matthew Santoni
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Allegheny County officials will show off plans for upgrading the South Park Fairgrounds and surrounding areas Wednesday, after months of meetings and public input on what to do with the aging site of the defunct county fair.

Three plans center around improving pedestrian connections to the 80-acre site; aggressive maintenance of buildings; “greening” the grounds with vegetation and less pavement; returning nearby Catfish Run to a more natural state; and remaking the field and track next to the fairground buildings, said Jeaneen Zappa, county sustainability manager.

Each plan will tackle those goals with differing degrees of intensity, but none of the changes is intended to be drastic.

“There are things we can do more readily than others without making enormous changes,” Zappa said. “It’s not as though somebody took a drawing of the site on a chalkboard and erased it completely.”

Catfish Run, which flows through a pipe beneath the fairgrounds and a culvert between the track and an access road, could be restored to natural banks with vegetation. The Nature Center, located in the middle of “an island of asphalt,” could be moved to a fairground building closer to the stream and the head of several park trails, Zappa said.

Vehicular traffic through and around the site could be rearranged so that it is less redundant and confusing, she said.

Though county officials don’t have specific plans for the fairground buildings, many people who spoke during a public hearing in September want the county to rent more buildings to community groups.

“The best thing would be to remodel the buildings on top of the hill,” said Joseph Hedderman, chief instructor at Allegheny County Budo-Kai, a martial arts school that has occupied one of the buildings since the 1980s. “All of these little buildings could be signed over to groups and remodeled like ours.”

During the past two months, teams from Homestead-based GAI Consultants gathered ideas from people about what they’d like the county to do with the fairgrounds and parts of the surrounding park. Online surveys are available at alleghenycounty.us/parks/SPFairgrounds.

The meeting will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Inn, off Buffalo Drive near the intersection of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive.

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Welcoming Vandergrift has Plenty of Special Features

By Bob Karlovits, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, November 22, 2010

Many small towns have rich stories, but few tell them as well as Vandergrift.

Part of that tale is in the layout of the historic area of the 115-year-old town. Designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of New York City’s Central Park and many academic campuses, the streets arch over and around the hillside on which the town is built.

A grand theater, the Casino, sits facing a mall leading down to a train station. It was given that spot intentionally to offer a welcome to anyone arriving in the Westmoreland County town.

The town was built to provide a home for workers at the steel mill of George McMurtry. The mill has had six owners since its first, but still is working, despite the decline of the steel industry.

All of those features make Vandergrift a place where the past is a major part of the present. It makes it worth a visit to see that story.

1:30 p.m.

The Victorian Vandergrift Museum is in a school built in 1911 and, like many features of the town, is a work in progress.

With displays on three floors, it tells the story of the town in a number of ways. On the bottom floor is a room decorated with many pictures of initial work on the town along with map of the plans originated by the Olmsted firm.

If you’re lucky, you might run into Bill Hesketh, treasurer of the museum and historical society. He could tell you about McMurtry, owner of Apollo Iron & Steel, wanting to build a town that would attract workers and entice them to stay.

He would do that by having the famed designers draw up a plan for the ultimate company town. McMurtry thought a cultured worker was a good worker, so included plans for the Casino. He also saw the benefit of religious life, so provided $7,500 to any congregation planning to build a church costing $15,000 or more. He wanted sober workers, so the town was dry until 1936.

If you are lucky, Hesketh will be there to offer you some thoughts. But it will take some luck. He does not schedule tours or times he is there for visits. There are no other guides at the museum either. But simply wandering around the museum will provide a look at what Vandergrift is all about.

Victorian Vandergrift Museum, 184 Sherman Ave. Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Details: 724-568-1990.

3 p.m.

Now, it’s time to take to the streets. In some ways, the rows of houses are the story of Vandergrift.

The look of the town is somewhat defined by the rows of company homes on streets that are devoid of 90-degree angles.

When the Olmsted designers laid out the plan, Hesketh says, they decided on 50-feet-wide lots, but McMurtry thought that was way too wide. He was selling the lots, and wanted to profit from them.

They became 25-feet-wide, leading to streets of homes generally built tightly together.

Hesketh points out some people eventually bought two homes and built them together to make one bigger residence. Or they bought one and tore it down to create a bigger yard. There are some properties that were sold as 50-feet-wide and are the sites of some nicer homes, for the non-laborer class.

Take a walk around and look at the history of a town as seen in its homes. The look of the town is created by the past and the gentle curves of the Olmsted design, which even creates a non-straight business district.

5:30 p.m.

After touring Vandergrift and getting ready for the finale of this day, it is time for dinner.

There are some likely stops for a meal in town, and these three win local praise. You probably saw them as you wandered around.

The G&G Restaurant (724-567-6139) on Columbia Avenue is largely a breakfast and lunch place, but is open till 9 p.m. for dinner.

A.J.’s Restaurant (724-568-2464) is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Fridays.

Offering a more specific dinner outlook is the Steeltown Smokehouse (724-568-4087) on Washington Avenue. The burgers-and-wings emporium is open till 8 p.m. Mondays to Thursday, 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays.

7 p.m.

The best way to do this trip is to pay attention to the shows at the Casino, which can be checked out at www.casinotheater.org, then plan a visit on a day ending with some entertainment.

Make sure to arrive at the Casino with enough time to look around.

The oldest, active theater in Western Pennsylvania had become a unused shell when a group that became Casino Theatre & Restoration Management took it over in 1991, Hesketh says. They brought the site back to life.

Trumpet star Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006) performed there along with the Vogues and the Clarks. The renovated theater has been the home of stage presentations. Some of the restoration meant changes from the original, Hesketh says, but some of that provided aspects that seemed to be needed.

“This place just called for boxes,” he says, pointing to box seats on each side of the stage.

Roam around the Casino. The balcony casts a good and attractive view of the stage. The lobby, slightly smaller than what it once was, offers an attractive entrance.

McMurtry thought the Casino would be a significant part of the town when it was built in 1900.

It still is.

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Fairbanks Feature: A New Train of Thought— Missing from the Fairbanks Archive!

James D. Van Trump Library | Frank B. Fairbanks Transportation Archive | Fairbanks Features

Showcasing a variety of materials located in the Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive

No. 8  Presentation

Fairbanks Feature: Missing from the Fairbanks Archive!

The Archive is seeking biographical sketches of family members and/or friends who were involved in some capacity of railroad employment. Currently we have vignettes about railroaders who worked in various parts of the country and in some cases lived very early in the 20th century.

Pittsburgh-area railroaders should certainly be written about and their work stories submitted to the Archive. These people worked long, hard, and many times dangerous days. We need to have a record of their professional experiences. All stories can be as long or short as the writer wishes (one page or more). Any pictures of the railroader or related  paper memories can be added, but are not necessary.

The stories are cataloged by family name in our data base, cross referenced with the specific railroads mentioned, and available to be read by all who visit the Archive. This will be a chance to leave a record for railroad history.

MISSING––yes! All those biographical sketches that as of yet have not been sent by mail or e-mail to the Fairbanks Transportation Archive. Stories can be mailed to:

Judith Harvey, Librarian

Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 400

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Or e-mailed to: fairbanksarchives@phlf.org

  • “A Tragic Death,” a story of Venturini Vincenzio, oiler and packer in the Norfolk & Western yard, Columbus. Written by Ann Kelton, wife of her husband’s grandfather.
  • “My Father on a Run-a-way Train,” a story about Martin Joseph Ragan, employed by the Conemaugh & Blacklick Railroad, operating inside the Johnstown Bethlehem Steel Plant. Written by his son Ronald W. Ragan.
  • “My Father, a Hard Worker and a Railroad Man,” a story about Oliver C. McIntyre, who worked in the Scully yard on the wreck train crew and later as a car Inspector, for the Pennsylvania RR. Article respectfully submitted by his son Keith McIntyre.
  • “Go to Work for the Railroad and You Will Always Have a  Job,”  a story about the author’s grandfather (Edward C. Cook), an engineer on the Pennsylvania RR, and other family members. One relative who ran a boarding house in Carnegie for railroaders was sure the trains would run forever; there were 14 sets of tracks in the town. Written by granddaughter Judy Davis Kueshner.
  • “From Telegraph Operator to Superintendent Labor & Wages,” a story about Harry K. Brady (a Pennsylvania railroader from 1884-1930), who had eight very different jobs. The author outlines these jobs and reports on the 1905 train situation that made it necessary to be “railroad creative” on the inaugural run of  “The Pennsylvania Special”––and a world speed record was set in the process. Written by grandson H. William Brady.

The Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive is open by appointment on Wednesdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Use of the archive is free to PHLF members (one of the benefits!); non-members are assessed a $10 use fee.

The Archive is located on the fourth floor of The Landmarks Building at Station Square, in the offices of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

To schedule an appointment, email Judith Harvey: fairbanksarchive@phlf.org or contact Al Tannler (412-471-5808, ext. 515; al@phlf.org).


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Jones’ Cresson Home May Avoid Razing

Saturday, November 20, 2010
By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A tentative sales deal has been reached for the Cresson house built by Pittsburgh steelmaker B.F. Jones in 1887-88. Patricia Lowry/Post-Gazette

Cambria County’s Benjamin Franklin Jones cottage may have found its angels, and it didn’t have to look far.

The Cresson Area Historical Association, which has owned the 14-room, Queen Anne-style house since 1990, has a tentative agreement to sell it to Andrew and Carrie Dziabo, who grew up nearby and live just a few minutes away.

The tentative agreement, reached Friday, appears to have the blessing of Cresson Township supervisors, who heard the couple outline their plans at a township meeting earlier this month.

“We’re still working on it,” said Mr. Dziabo (pronounced zay-bo). “There are issues that need to be worked out, but it’s looking promising.”

The dilapidated house has been under threat of demolition since a Cambria County judge approved its razing in late 2008. Supervisors had told the historical association the house could be torn down after Sept. 30.

A member of the historical group wrote in an e-mail that the house would be sold for a nominal fee, with the new owners also paying the township’s legal expenses incurred during the long court proceedings. Mr. Dziabo referred questions about sale price to the township solicitor, who was unavailable Friday.

Mr. Dziabo grew up a block away from the Jones cottage, in a historic house that also was part of the Mountain House resort grounds. He worked with his father, civil engineer Michael Dziabo, on restoring that house, and the two plan to collaborate on this one.

While Andrew Dziabo, who works for a power company, has admired the Jones house since he was a child, it wasn’t until the historical group offered tours in the spring that he was able to see the interior.

“The house isn’t in as bad shape as I thought,” he said. “It’s actually very sturdy inside. There is some water damage that ate the plaster in a lot of the rooms, but as far as the structure goes, it seems pretty sound and sturdy. The floors don’t even creak.”

The Dziabos intend to restore the exterior and preserve as much of the interior woodwork as they can.

“The whole appeal of it to my wife and me is the character of the Victorian-style home,” he said, adding that its ornate, well-preserved foyer and staircase “would be very easy to restore. It’s just a matter of elbow grease.”

The Dziabos expect to know soon whether the Jones cottage is theirs.

“The township wants to have this issue to bed by the next [supervisors] meeting.”



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Buying Here: Larimer

Saturday, November 20, 2010
By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Heavenly Vision Ministries and parsonage, formerly known as the Our Lady Help of Christians in the Larimer section of Pittsburgh, has a 6,000-square-foot rectory and a banquet hall in the lower level. It's on the market for $169,900. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

Our Lady Help of Christians in Larimer was barely 5 years old when fire ripped through it in 1905, destroying the church at the corner of Meadow and Turrett streets. The Italian immigrants who had guided its construction in 1898, though, were a resolute bunch.

Within a year they’d rebuilt the Baroque-style structure, and until it closed in 1992, Help of Christians served as a center of Italian-American religious and social life, hosting not just Catholic Masses but everything from the annual celebration in honor of St. Agnello Abate to an array of sporting activities for neighborhood kids.

The ceiling and plaster walls have peeling paint at the former Our Lady of Help Christians church in Larimer. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

Like many churches in the city, however, its parish aged and dwindled and was merged in the 1990s with five others to form St. Charles Lwanga parish in Lincoln-Lemington. In 1995, the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese sold the church, which has a banquet hall in the lower level, and adjacent rectory to Heavenly Vision Ministries.

Three years ago, Heavenly Vision put 6513 Meadow St. back on the market, at first quietly through word of mouth, and then last year officially for $169,000 through Coldwell Banker Real Estate’s Fox Chapel office (www.pittsburghmoves.com; MLS No. 838378; 412-963-7655).


Larimer
At a glance
  • Website: www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/district9/
  • Size: .445 square miles
  • Population: 2,602 (2000 census)
  • School district: Pittsburgh Public, pghboe.net
  • Enrollment: About 28,000
  • Average 2010 SAT scores: (Peabody High School) 379 verbal; 410 math; 380 writing
  • Taxes for a property assessed at $100,000 *: $2,870; City: $1,080 (10.8 mills); School district: $1,392 (13.92 mills); County: $398 (4.69 mills)
  • Wage tax: 3 percent (1 percent to the city, 2 percent to the school district)
  • Bet you didn’t know: Originally settled by Germans in the mid-1800s, Larimer was Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy” until the 1960s. It is named for railroad magnate and radical abolitionist General William Larimer, who built a manor home overlooking East Liberty along a path that would eventually become known as Larimer Avenue.
* Includes the Act 50 Homestead Exclusion, which reduces assessed market value by $15,000 for county taxes.

The cupola is missing stained-glass windows. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

Time has not been kind to Help of Christians, which could accommodate up to 1,000 worshippers in the nave and balcony in its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s. The amount of repairs necessary to breathe life back into the property are pretty extensive.

There is no glass in its long, arched windows and holes in the roof. The coved ceiling and plaster walls are peeling paint. Vandals have broken the pews and stolen the pipes from the organ. Carpeting is matted with dust, debris and pigeon feathers. The hand-painted frescoes that brightened the chancel are so badly faded and tarnished you almost can’t tell they were ever there. There’s no heat or water.

“People go in an ooh and aah over the architecture, but it’s a broken structure,” says Realtor Ted Harchick, who shares the “as-is” listing with Dan Boehler.

Adding insult to injury are the many thefts that have stripped the space of most everything of architectural significance. Only a handful of the dozens of original stained-glass windows remain. And it’s only because they’re too heavy to lift that looters also didn’t carry away the marble communion rails in the chancel.

Most heartbreaking is the massive circular window that crowned the front door. Somehow, the robbers managed to sneak the stained glass out of the wood framing in the stealth of night.

Vandals also have trashed the 6,000-square-foot rectory, which during Heavenly Vision Ministries’ tenure housed Family Options Foster Care, in addition to church offices. The property’s current market value is $256,400 ($172,900 for the church and $83,500 for the rectory). Taxes are in arrears on the rectory.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” admits Mr. Harchick. “We need a risk-taker.”

On the plus side is its location in Larimer. Developments such as Bakery Square, a new “lifestyle center” in the old Nabisco plant on Penn Avenue, are helping to make one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods attractive to national retailers and other businesses. UPMC, for instance, is planning to open a technology development center there by the end of the year, and Free People, a hip clothing boutique, follows on the heels of Anthropologie this winter. Next year, a $1.8 million, 14,500-square-foot vocational center funded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Small Business Administration will open not far from the church on Meadow Street.

The Rev. Armenia Johnson, leader of Heavenly Vision Ministries, says she will be very careful in selecting a buyer for the old church.

“We want them to restore it into something that is beneficial and positive for this community,” she says.

In other words, if you’re thinking “brew house” or “night club,” it’s probably not going to fly.

Rev. Johnson, who is now associate pastor of St. James Baptist in Homewood, paid $100,000 the property in 1995. Although the Garfield native did her best to maintain the elegant building, she never had the funding she needed to properly maintain or improve it. So bit by bit, the once grand structure fell into terrible disrepair.

It’s a common fate for churches, which account for a growing number of real estate listings thanks to declining membership and consolidations. According to RealSTATS, a South Side-based real estate information company, 45 churches have changed hands in Allegheny and surrounding counties since January 2009, with sales prices ranging from $5,000 for Ambassador Baptist Church in Ross to $1.1 million for Christian Community Church in Adams.

Occasionally one will make the transition from place of worship to heavenly home. But given the high redevelopment costs, it often takes a grand idea — restaurant, performance hall, multi-unit condo development — and corporate investors to fill such a grand space. CVS, for example, bought the church in Adams. Most are purchased as-is by other religious organizations, or they languish on the market for years.

“You definitely don’t have as many players,” notes Tom Conroy of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, who has sold so many churches for Hanna’s commercial division that he’s known as The Church Guy.

Mr. Conroy’s current listings include Harvest Baptist Church in New Kensington ($199,000; MLS No. QL102931); St. Michael Church ($250,000; MLS No. QL103962) in Munhall; and St. Mary Magdalene ($159,000; MLS No. QL103653) in Homestead.

Financing, zoning and parking all can be challenges. Many older churches were built in walkable residential areas that prohibit commercial enterprises. Former parishioners add to the difficulty. Even after religious artifacts have been removed and the building is just a building, some stay emotionally attached.

“Significant events take place there,” says Mr. Conroy. “Marriages, baptisms, funerals.”

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City Will Return Lost Art to Public

Friday, November 19, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Five sculptures that were stored for years in a public works warehouse are being put back on pedestals four years after one artist’s persistent queries led to their discovery.

Thursday morning, a crew from Mangery & Sons hoisted Peter Calaboyias’ stainless steel sculpture “Five Factors” into place on a concrete slab behind the baseball field in Mellon Park, Shadyside.

Standing beside one of the six-sided skewed cylinders, he beamed and said seeing it in public was a thrill “after all these years.”

“Five Factors” was one of four sculptures chosen in a 1971 public art competition and placed atop the garage at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library. They were among the first contemporary sculptures to be displayed as public art in the city. At the time, the city required that 1 percent of the construction budget for a public building be spent on art.

Thomas Morandi, Edward Bordas and Jim Myford were the other artists whose works were chosen.

Years ago, the sculptures were removed, either for repair or to accommodate changes in use of space. Mr. Calaboyias thought his sculpture had been stolen and sold for scrap, he said.

Library officials said the works had been sent to a restoration company in the 1990s. But at some time after that, the public works department retrieved the works when the company went bankrupt and stashed them in a warehouse under the 62nd Street Bridge.

They stayed there until 2006, when Councilman William Peduto’s staff learned about the sculpture and contacted Mr. Calaboyias.

The artist, who had raced to the warehouse to make the identification, said it was both distressing and exciting to see them.

“Five Factors” was inspired by ancient Greek stelae, or cylindrical stone markers that were inscribed with words or carvings, he said.

Half of a Richard King Mellon Foundation grant of $300,000 was used to restore and relocate the sculptures. The fifth was the work of Aaronel deRoy Gruber. It was originally on the portico of the City-County Building, then on the site where the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is now. It was stored with the other four.

Morton Brown, public art manager for the city, said the five pieces were in “the most dire need” of conservatorship among the city’s collection. Three went to the McKay Lodge Conservation Lab in Ohio. Mr. Myford and Mr. Calaboyias did their own repairs; in fact, Mr. Calaboyias’ is an exact replica of the original, which “had too many dents to be pounded out to save,” he said.

The Bordas piece has to hang on a wall, said Mr. Brown. Its new location has yet to be decided.

“I’m trying to find a city-owned facility that has an architectural style” that’s the right fit for “two abstract, elongated triangles welded together and painted red. Really quite beautiful. But I haven’t found the right place yet.”

The sculpture is under 200 pounds, he said.

Mr. Myford’s work — two elongated rectangular forms angled like fingers aloft — was installed two months ago in Grandview Park in Mount Washington, just above the historic stone steps off Bailey Avenue.

Mr. Morandi’s and Ms. Gruber’s works will be installed in Mellon Park.

With the rest of the grant, Mr. Brown and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art will determine which pieces should next be restored, weighing costs, deterioration, visibility and the prominence of the artist, he said.

“We have 110 pieces in the collection and we have about 21″ identified as most in need, he said.

“If we can get five more done next year, then we will leverage money for the others.”

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T & T Hardware Closing After 74 Years

Friday, November 19, 2010
By Emily Gibb, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Manager Mark McNally is winding down business at T & T Hardware, a fixture at 2114 East Carson St. on the South Side since 1936. Owned by the Tumas family since its founding, the store has found it impossible to compete with big-box retailers. The scale, which has weighed countless nails and screws for sale by the pound, will remain with the Tumas family. Everything else will be marked down 50 percent Monday morning. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Pull open the solid wood door with its weathered red paint, walk into T & T Hardware Co. Inc. on the South Side and it’s a bit like stepping back in time.

Wooden shelves line the walls, some all the way to the ceiling, along with rows and rows of little wooden drawers full of screws, nuts and bolts behind a wooden counter along the back. Power tools almost seem out of place in their wood and glass displays.

But next week, after fighting off hard times the last few years, the hardware store fixture on Carson Street begins the process to shut its doors for good.

The “mom and pop” store has too much remaining inventory to liquidate or auction off yet, so beginning Monday, everything is 50 percent off the original price, said manager Mark McNally, 55, of Mount Washington.

They are waiting to see how long it takes to sell most of their inventory to set an exact closing date. This week, they’re just trying to get everything out on the shelves.

Stanley Tumas opened T & T Hardware in 1936. After he retired in the late 1980s, his son, Michael Tumas, took over ownership of the store.

It has stayed in the same spot for the last 74 years, expanding to the side and to the back as the years went on. It was a work in progress until the ’80s, Mr. McNally said.

He says they’ve always had a reputation as the place to go for “odd stuff that no one else has,” like specific plumbing parts, nuts, bolts or screws.

Since he began working at a hardware store in Mount Washington as a teenager and then managing T & T Hardware for the last 15 years, Mr. McNally has seen many changes in the business.

Part of the challenge comes from “big box” stores, like Home Depot. “They’re key why these stores are going,” he said.

Competing with a Lowe’s only five miles away has been difficult.

“It’s just too close. I can show you on my books when they opened,” he said.

Besides competing with large chains, they are competing with the economy as well.

A lot of their business used to come from commercial contractors, but if the contractors don’t have jobs to do, they won’t be coming the hardware store for supplies.

On top of the struggling economy, the South Side is a changing neighborhood.

“For a store like this, the neighborhood has to support it,” he said.

But most people in the neighborhood now rent their houses. Generally, renters aren’t in need of hardware supplies when they can just call their landlord to take care of things.

Saturday used to be the busiest day of the week for a hardware store, Mr. McNally said. Customers who had the day off work would buy their home improvement supplies in the morning. If they were having problems, they would return around noon. If they were really having problems, they would be back again around 3 p.m., Mr. McNally said.

But last year, he started closing on Saturdays — they didn’t have enough weekend business to make it worthwhile anymore.

At one time there were four or five hardware stores just on the South Side, but, he says, “times change. I understand that.”

As Mr. McNally starts a new phase, he has to say goodbye to more than a store and a building.

“The people, without a doubt — that’s what I’m going to miss the most. After 15 years you make good, good friends,” he said.

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