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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Woodville Plantation Offers Holiday Tours by Candlelight

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Woodville Plantation living history museum will celebrate the holiday season in an 18th-century fashion with candlelight tours from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at the historic site, 1375 Washington Pike, Collier.

Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12.

The event will feature costumed guides, holiday displays and traditional decorations. Visitors will learn about holiday customs such as Twelfth Night, Boxing Day and the firing of the Christmas guns.

The full table feast celebrated during Twelfth Night will be displayed, and visitors will hear students of The Pittsburgh Music Academy perform musical selections throughout the day on a circa 1815 pianoforte.

A piece of Whiskey Rebellion history will be displayed — a flag that was once used by the whiskey rebels as a symbol of their resistance to the 1791 excise tax on whiskey.

The flag, owned by historian Claude Harkins and on loan to the Neville House Associates, is thought to be one of only two documented flags from the Whiskey Rebellion Insurrection of 1794.

Woodville Plantation, the home of John and Presley Neville, was built in 1775. It interprets life during the period of 1780-1820, the era of the New Republic. Guided tours of the house are available every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.


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South Side Hardware Store Ends 74-Year Run

By Craig Smith, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pittsburgh’s South Side was a different neighborhood in 1936 when Stanley J. Tumas scraped together $800 to open his T&T Hardware store on East Carson Street.

“It was an old ethnic neighborhood. People took pride in that neighborhood,” said his son, Mike Tumas, 59, of Coudersport, Potter County, who has decided to close the store his father started 74 years ago.

The hardware store became a staple of the neighborhood anchored by the nearby J&L Steel mill, he said.

“Guys would get laid off. Their wives would say, ‘You’re painting the house,’ ” Mike Tumas said. “We did well. We did a good business.”

And the business grew over the years. It doubled in size when Stanley Tumas knocked down a wall separating the building.

Father and son worked hard.

“You spent vacations, days off, working at the store,” Mike Tumas said. “That was our life.”

But T&T and other neighborhood hardware stores found it hard to compete with big box chain stores and a changing market. Modernization — fax machines and computers — proved difficult for veteran shopkeepers used to sales receipt books with 50 pages in them, Mike Tumas said.

“My dad’s idea of a fax machine was to hand you a receipt and say, ‘Run this down the corner,’ ” Mike Tumas said.

Three people will lose their jobs when T&T closes before the end of the year. Tumas said he tried to sell the business but found no takers. He plans to sell the building.

“A lot of commercial accounts told me they were leaving Pittsburgh and Allegheny County because of the taxes,” he said. “What commercial businesses are on the South Side anymore?”

Hardware stores used to dot the area — three in Mt. Washington, two in Allentown, four in the South Side.

“We ran longer than most,” said Mark McNally, T&T’s manager.

It was an uphill run.

Home Depot said its sales during the third quarter totaled $16.6 billion, a 1.4 percent increase from the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Lowe’s Cos. Inc. reported sales for the quarter increased 1.9 percent to $11.6 billion, up from $11.4 billion in the third quarter of 2009.

“It’s hard to fight the big guys — they are so big,” said Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey. “These are family owned, the money stayed here, and the owners poured their hearts and souls into the business.”

The inventory at T&T Hardware, kept in homemade wooden drawers and metal bins, will be liquidated before the store closes, Tumas said.

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Abel Colley Tavern Helps Preserve Fayette County History

Sunday, November 14, 2010
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former Abel Colley Tavern, five miles west of Uniontown in Fayette County, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1995. It was recently restored. Marylynne Pitz

UNIONTOWN — Five miles west of this Fayette County seat stands the Abel Colley Tavern, a red-brick beacon of hospitality to travelers along the National Road during the 1800s.

Just one mile from Searight’s Toll House, the tavern was known for its moderate prices and hearty clientele of wagoners, who swapped many a tale over Monongahela Rye in its barroom.

By this time next year, it will be a place for even more stories as it becomes the Fayette County Museum. With 6,500 square feet, the restored building will have office space on the second floor for the Fayette County Historical Society, which currently has no regular space to meet; its members often house artifacts in their homes.

The last people to live there, Sue and Frank Dulik, left the property to Virginia and Warren Dick, who donated it to the society.

Jeremy S. Burnworth, president of the Fayette County Historical Society, stands inside the front door of the former Abel Colley Tavern, which has been restored and will become the society's new home next year. Marylynne Pitz

Jeremy S. Burnworth, the society’s 31-year-old president, is a Markleysburg native who has developed a passion for Fayette County’s rich history. At a convention in September of the American Association of State and Local History, Mr. Burnworth got excited when he learned about standardized software made by the Rescarta Foundation in Wisconsin that allows historical societies to photograph, log and archive materials.

“What a perfect opportunity to do it right from day one,” he said.

An advisory committee will oversee the museum’s operation and at least 30 people have volunteered to help staff the museum and toll house. One of Fayette County’s best-known residents has also pitched in. At an opening ceremony in July, the temperature rose to 99 degrees in the 19th-century building. Joe Hardy, the 84 Lumber tycoon and former Fayette County commissioner, offered afterward to pay for a new heating and cooling system.

One person who knows the building well is Tom Buckelew, a retired physiology professor from California University of Pennsylvania. He figures he has spent 1,500 hours working on restoring the former tavern.

“It had been modernized with drop ceilings and acoustic tile ceilings,” Mr. Buckelew said, adding that many of the rooms had four or five layers of wallpaper that had to be stripped before repainting with period-appropriate colors.

Just inside the front door is a large foyer with a staircase. On the ceiling is some of Mr. Buckelew’s best craftsmanship — a hand-carved ceiling medallion that lends elegance to the new chandelier.

“I roughed out the medallion with a band saw and then just carved the rest. That was about two weeks, three hours a day,” he said.

On the second floor is a large ballroom where Mr. Buckelew painted an intricate, ruglike pattern of mustard, brick red and chocolate brown. It’s actually a centuries-old trick for disguising uneven floors.

“It was a way of capitalizing on bad design,” he said, adding that the front part of the ballroom is probably an inch lower than the back portion. “That was a feature that a lot of people adopted in the early 19th century. In lieu of rugs, you paint a rug on the floor.”

A team of inmates from SCI-Greene spent two weeks hanging dry wall in the building. A new ceiling was attached to a plaster-and-lathe one in the second-floor ballroom. Then, Mr. Buckelew put up crown molding with the help of another volunteer, Bill Zin. Joe Petrucci, a township supervisor in Menallen, donated 400 board feet of molding.

“That ceiling is tied to irregular joists. So the ceiling naturally has some dips in it, high spots and low spots,” Mr. Buckelew said, adding that the crown molding camouflages the dips.

The building, done in a vernacular Greek Revival style, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Jerry Clouse, who nominated the building for federal designation, dates the structure to around 1835. He said two architectural features signify its use as a tavern: the kitchen ell with a double-stacked porch and two front doors, one of which opens into the barroom.

At least one historian believes it may have been a home much longer than it was a tavern. Ronald L. Michael, a retired anthropologist who excavated around the nearby Peter Colley Tavern in 1973, believes Abel Colley’s famous tavern stood on the opposite side of Route 40, partly because there was once a well on that property which would have provided water for travelers and horses.

Abel Colley owned a Fayette County tavern just outside of Uniontown on U.S. Route 40. Volunteers have restored the 19th-century building during the past year. The former tavern will become the Fayette County Museum next year and also will provide office space for the Fayette County Historical Society.

The building that locals know as the Abel Colley Tavern, Dr. Michael said, is more likely the house he built after making his fortune in the hospitality business, then retiring. Mr. Burnworth agrees but still treasures its history.

“It was probably only a tavern, if ever, for a very short period of time,” he said. “He died a few years after we believe it was built. Most likely, it was his home.”

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Buying Here: Beechview

Saturday, November 13, 2010
By Kevin Kirkland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority has foreclosed and put on the market four buildings -- 1600, 1601, 1602 and 1619 Broadway Ave. == with hopes of enticing developers to invest in this business district and begin its turnaround. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The panoramic views of the South Hills from the third-floor balcony of 1600 Broadway Ave. are a sight for sore eyes — especially if you live in Beechview.

For the last five years, residents of that city neighborhood and riders on the LRT have had to look at mostly shuttered storefronts on Broadway that were bought — then abandoned — by investor Bernardo Katz. The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has foreclosed and put on the market four buildings — 1600, 1601, 1602 and 1619 Broadway Ave. — with hopes of enticing developers to invest in this business district and begin its turnaround.

“Beechview is a very cool neighborhood,” said URA Director Rob Stephany. “I think its proximity to the T makes it interesting.”

Mr. Katz defaulted on millions of dollars worth of mortgages and more than $700,000 in loans from the URA that he used to buy these and other commercial properties in Beechview, Oakland and Mt. Lebanon. He fled to his native Brazil in December 2007 and was charged in absentia last year with federal wire and mortgage fraud.

Although most of the buildings were left to deteriorate, Mr Katz worked on the exterior and interior of the first floor of 1600 Broadway and briefly opened a Mexican restaurant there. The largest of the four, it’s now priced at $194,800. The newer storefront reflects its early 1900s construction while the second and third floors have a total of five apartments and another in the basement, with walkout access on Hampshire Avenue. The URA gutted the apartments to the plaster lathe, removing asbestos and all mechanical systems.

“That’s the way developers want it,” said Dave Majcher, URA senior construction coordinator.

Also gutted was the adjoining 1602 Broadway ($43,000), a former bar that has a new roof and a rickety rear addition that the URA says should be removed. Across the street is 1601 Broadway ($130,000), another former bar with a turret and a few architectural details that survived previous remodels — an original staircase and a columned fireplace mantel on the second floor. The views from its second- and third-floor windows are classic Pittsburgh, with small houses clustered along hilly streets.

A half-dozen storefronts separate 1601 from 1619 Broadway ($70,000), a small former video store with an intact three-bedroom apartment behind.

“It’s perfect for a small business owner,” Mr. Stephany said. “Someone could be in at a reasonable cost.”

The other three buildings, however, are suitable only for developers, he said. A feasibility study the URA commissioned last year estimated exterior and interior renovation costs at $588,799 for 1600 Broadway, $409,586 for 1601 and $457,866 for 1602.

“These are probably $600,000 events,” Mr. Stephany said.

Even with façade grants and streetscape loans, buyers would still be looking at construction loans of at least $400,000 for each building. Everything is not bleak, however. IGA plans to reopen the shuttered Foodland next to 1602 Broadway, and brothers Kevin and Adam Costa have purchased 1603 Broadway to open their Crested Duck Charcuterie, “an artisanal meat market.” At least initially, the apartments may be the hotter part of the properties.

“I do think the first floors will come,” Mr. Stephany said. “I’m not sure they will come first.”

Susheela Nemani-Stanger, a URA project development specialist, believes loft apartments would suit college students who appreciate their proximity to mass transit.

“They would be perfect for students from the Art Institute or Culinary Institute,” she said.

For more information on 1600, 1601, 1602 or 1619 Broadway Ave., Beechview, call 412-255-6612 or go to www.buyintheburgh.com.

SALES SNAPSHOT

16TH WARD/SOUTH SIDE

2009 2010
SALES 138 147
MEDIAN PRICE $45,000 $62,000
HIGHEST PRICE $505,000 $380,000

17TH WARD/SOUTH SIDE

2009 2010
SALES 143 134
MEDIAN PRICE $121,250 $137,000
HIGHEST PRICE $800,000 $595,000

18TH WARD/MOUNT WASHINGTON

2009 2010
SALES 141 137
MEDIAN PRICE $12,000 $13,000
HIGHEST PRICE $750,000 $669,000

19TH WARD/BROOKLINE

2009 2010
SALES 462 467
MEDIAN PRICE $65,000 $68,000
HIGHEST PRICE $625,000 $465,000

20TH WARD/WEST END

2009 2010
SALES 245 208
MEDIAN PRICE $33,000 $31,800
HIGHEST PRICE $200,000 $255,000

29TH WARD/CARRICK

2009 2010
SALES 121 148
MEDIAN PRICE $49,000 $45,000
HIGHEST PRICE $133,000 $147,500

30TH WARD/KNOXVILLE

2009 2010
SALES 58 54
MEDIAN PRICE $9,900 $10,100
HIGHEST PRICE $77,000 $55,000

31ST WARD/LINCOLN PLACE

2009 2010
SALES 45 72
MEDIAN PRICE $66,000 $63,000
HIGHEST PRICE $147,400 $335,000

32ND WARD/OVERBROOK

2009 2010
SALES 115 119
MEDIAN PRICE $67,000 $73,000
HIGHEST PRICE $226,000 $229,550

MOUNT OLIVER

2009 2010
SALES 58 55
MEDIAN PRICE $16,201 $20,000
HIGHEST PRICE $79,500 $76,500

WEST HOMESTEAD

2009 2010
SALES 17 23
MEDIAN PRICE $43,100 $22,000
HIGHEST PRICE $169,900 $125,000

Beechview Map

Beechview
At a glance
  • Website: www.beechview.org
  • Size: 1.46 square miles
  • Population: 8,772 (2000 census)
  • School district: Pittsburgh Public (pghboe.net)
  • Enrollment: 25,326
  • Average 2010 SAT scores: 425 verbal, 446 math, 423 writing
  • Taxes on 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)
  • Claim to fame: Named for the many beech trees found on its hillsides, Beechview (incorporated as a borough in 1905 and annexed to the city four years later) has the steepest street in hilly Pittsburgh, and quite possibly the world. Canton Street has a grade of 37 percent — that is, it rises 37 feet per 100 feet of run. So steep is the bottom half, that residents aren’t supposed to drive down it.


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City Plans to Offer Career Education Earlier

Tuesday, November 09, 2010
By Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Public Schools already is on track to revamp its career and technical education program for high school students.

Now there’s a proposal for students in third through eighth grade.

At the school board’s education committee meeting tonight, Angela Mike, the district’s executive director of career and technical education, will present a plan to provide all students in grades 3 through 8 once-a-month lessons about careers and work.

The plan is expected to be up for a board vote next month and, if approved, begin in the second semester of this school year.

“Students already are starting to think about careers at a younger age,” said Ms. Mike.

Pennsylvania requires career education for all students and sets academic standards for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.

Pittsburgh is working on developing a curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade 2 as well. If approved, that may be in place next fall.

The first lesson in third grade is aimed at helping children identify their own personal interests, including a survey asking, among other things, whether they like math, taking things apart and managing money. The next lesson helps to identify the range of jobs available. The third helps children understand that careers take preparation.

By grade 8, students are writing resumes and learning interviewing skills. Eighth-graders already have a requirement to complete a career portfolio.

One lesson to be demonstrated to the board uses materials from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, such as a piece of slag to talk about how the steel industry has changed.

The Foundation is among the more than 50 partnerships the district has set up as resources for students, including speakers, internships and tours.

Plans call for students in grades 4 and 7 to take two field trips to businesses in each of those two years.

Ninth-graders will be able to spend a day visiting the training sessions for the carpenters, plumbers and electrical workers.

At the high school level, the board already has approved the creation of three regional programs — health careers; culinary arts; and information technology and business finance — that will be offered at high schools in each of three regions of the city.

Some high schools will have “signature” programs — such as auto body at Pittsburgh Brashear and advanced machine operations at Langley — that require students to attend certain high schools.

Most of the programs in this system will be in place next fall. About 700 students are enrolled in high school CTE programs, and Ms. Mike said the district is trying to attract more.

The district also is trying to make sure that its programs meet the state standards, including a checklist of competencies for each field and adding meeting not only academic standards but also industry standards. The latter still requires an agreement from the teachers union.


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Schwartz Market Alive and…Well, Hoping to Sell

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 08:00 AM

Staff Blogs by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Written by Diana Nelson Jones

Schwartz Market

Since I reported in May that Schwartz Market had a buyer, shoppers have assumed that the little store on East Carson Street had gone out of business.

Not so! Schwartz Market at 1317 E. Carson, is alive and wants you to know it will remain alive until a buyer actually comes through. An IGA grocer had signed a letter of intent in May but backed out of the deal because the building needed upgrades that the building owners have not made.

The building is owned by family of the founding grocers, who once operated six Schwartz Markets in the city. The South Side market, which is on Facebook, has been in operation since the 1920s.

Marty and Audrey Dorfner and Rick and Donna Stanton bought the business in 1985 and have operated it continuously since.

“My goal is to retire after 54 years in this [grocery] business,” said Marty, who has another grocer showing interest in the store.

Until then, said Donna, “We will be here because we want the neighborhood to be served.”

They are gearing up to meet your holidays needs with the kielbasa and sausages for which they are known.

My article was based on information that made the deal appear to be a sure thing. A lot of articles in the paper are anticipatory, such as economic development groundbreakings on ground that three years later have yet to see another shovel.

It’s one thing when there’s nothing there anyway; it’s another when a business suffers as a result. Our city neighborhoods need small retailers; remember to support them in these lean times.

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Church Will Be Turned into Condos

Saturday, November 06, 2010
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Madonna Del Castello Church on Duquesne Avenue, Swissvale, is being renovated and converted into condo units by the Mon Valley Initiative. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

By next summer, Madonna del Castello Church in Swissvale will be transformed into four condominiums.

Located at 7416 Duquesne Ave., the former Roman Catholic church has been empty for the last five years, said Patrick Shattuck, senior real estate developer for the Mon Valley Initiative.

Mt. Zion Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of America purchased the church from the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1987 for $55,000. About five years ago, the congregation moved out, Mr. Shattuck said. In September, Mon Valley Initiative purchased the property for $10,000.

The church has a front Flemish-style gable, a barrel-vaulted ceiling and a large dome over the altar; all of these elements will be incorporated into the redesign.

“The space will certainly be dramatic with the high, barrel-vaulted ceilings. The altar will become a dining room with the dome over it,” Mr. Shattuck said.

Inside the church. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

The building has been reconfigured by Lami Grubb Architects; renovations will be done by Mistick Construction. The building has stood empty and open to the elements, sustaining major water damage.

“The congregation that took it over actually put a dropped ceiling in. They were unaware that the water damage was substantial. So, they repaired the roof but a good portion of the plaster ceiling fell onto the dropped ceiling. That was when they were forced to move out,” Mr. Shattuck said.

The plaster was actually helping to hold the building together, he said. When structural engineers examined the building, they found gaps between the walls.

“You can see daylight between the front wall and the side walls,” Mr. Shattuck said.

Another view inside the church. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Three of the new units will have 1,600 square feet, two bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths and be priced at $85,000. The fourth unit, which incorporates the dome over the altar, will have three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a study and 2,400 square feet of space. It will cost $105,000.

Asbestos has been removed and the red brick exterior is being cleaned. Cast plaster moldings, six Corinthian capitals and arches in the church will be recast and incorporated into the design. The church sits on a quarter of an acre and there will be off-street parking for residents.

“We own a double adjacent lot next to it. There were two buildings that we had to demolish. It may be that we develop a single new house on the site or it may be that it becomes a community garden space,” Mr. Shattuck said.

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Exhibit Celebrates the Many Styles of Homes in Beaver

Saturday, November 06, 2010
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A model replica of the Agnew-Anderson House, built in 1808, is among the exhibits in "Bricks, Mortar and Charm," an exhibition at the Beaver Area Heritage Museum. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

BEAVER — Since 1802, this town 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh has reflected the aspirations of the bankers, doctors, teachers, lawyers and politicians who inhabit its quaint streets and River Road, a lovely stretch of beautiful homes that overlooks the Ohio River.

Now, this community’s architectural aspirations are on view in a concise exhibition called “Two Hundred Years of Bricks, Mortar & Charm” at the Beaver Area Heritage Museum in downtown Beaver.

Local historians believe that a house built in 1805 and still standing at River Road and Market Street is the town’s oldest structure. Part of the home’s front section was built with hand-hewn logs that are still visible in the basement. The logs may have been salvaged from Fort McIntosh, a Revolutionary War structure built in 1778.

Edwards McLaughlin, left, and Mark Miner of the Beaver Area Heritage Museum take a look at "Bricks, Mortar and Charm," an exhibition that documents the architecture of Beaver. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

Edwards McLaughlin, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, spent weeks photographing homes all over Beaver for the exhibition, which examines the evolution of design styles in 50-year periods. His volunteer work correlates to his day job because he’s a partner in the real estate firm Bovard Anderson and a fourth-generation owner of the business.

With its 19th-century-style street lights and restored storefronts, Beaver retains its Victorian-era look. So it’s no surprise that from 1850 to 1900, plenty of Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and other Victorian-period homes were built. There’s also a smattering of Italianate, Gothic Revival and Romanesque homes.

A replica log cabin is part of the Beaver Area Heritage Museum's permanent exhibit. Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette

Surveyor Daniel Leet laid out Beaver, creating four squares in the center of town and four at its edge. Each one is named for a prominent resident or military leader. Agnew Square, for example, is named for Daniel Agnew, who was chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. At Third Street and College Avenue, an exact replica of the clock tower that adorned the 1877 courthouse stands on the southeast corner.

A new century dawned and tastes changed between 1900 and 1950. As a result, Beaver has examples of English Tudor, Craftsman bungalows and Art Deco designs. There are even examples of Prairie-style homes, a Frank Lloyd Wright design ideal that emphasizes an open floor plan, horizontal lines, shallow roofs with broad overhangs and banks of casement windows with art glass.

The exhibition features an excellent model of Beaver’s 1877 courthouse plus a replica of the Agnew Anderson House. Both were made by Robert A. Smith.

Mr. McLaughlin is just one of several hundred volunteers who combined their collective, considerable elbow grease to transform a former Pennsylvania & Lake Erie Railroad freight house into the Beaver Area Heritage Museum 12 years ago. The building was a shambles with holes in the ceiling, thick grime on the floors and a basement packed with old dust.

Now, the museum sparkles. There’s a permanent exhibition about the Beaver region, an outdoor vegetable and herb garden with native plants and an 1802 log house that’s a replica of a frontier home.

Mildred “Midge” Sefton, a retired home economics teacher, oversees the volunteers, who meet regularly on Thursday mornings in the basement to accession, catalog and log onto a database each artifact and document that is donated to the museum. Judy Reiners of Beaver recently finished compiling family documents that belonged to Adolf Mulheim, proprietor of a wallpaper and carpet store from around 1880 to the 1930s.


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Counties Seek Funds to Refurbish Mon River Ferry

Friday, November 05, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Washington County Commissioners have approved a $971,000 federal grant application to refurbish the Fredericktown Ferry, better known as Fred, which links two tiny towns separated by the Monongahela River.

Fayette County officials signed off on the application last year.

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission recommended repairing the cable driven ferry that shuttles vehicles and passengers across 800 feet of the river between Fredericktown, Washington County, and LaBelle in Fayette County.

The three- to four-minute trip saves motorists from driving about 16 miles to the nearest bridge.

The 60-foot-steel boat can carry six vehicles per trip, and transports about 500 each day.


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Setback Won’t Deter Move of Historic House

Friday, November 05, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Paul Orange hasn’t given up hope that he will be able to buy and relocate the historic William Smith House in Mercersburg, despite a setback Thursday.

The house is on land owned by the MMP&W Volunteer Fire Co., which acquired the property in 2009 with plans to expand its aging facilities.

The board that oversees the regional fire company opened bids on Thursday for demolishing the 260-year-old structure but did not consider a proposal from Dr. Orange to move it.

Contacted after the meeting, Dr. Orange said he was advised that his offer to pay the fire company $100 for the building, rather than charge for tearing it down, had not been submitted in the right form.

The fire board, however, took no action on the demolition bids it received during its 15-minute meeting. That decision gives him hope that he still can reach an agreement to preserve the house, he said.

Joel Bradnick, a spokesman for the fire board, said the five bids would be forwarded to the fire company’s engineer for evaluation. He described Dr. Orange’s offer as a nonbinding “one-line memo.”

The low bid for demolition was $18,000.

“But why pay $18,000 to knock something down when you have someone willing to give them money to take it away,” Dr. Orange said.

The fire station and the Smith House are next to each other on Mercersburg’s Main Street.

If he is able to reach an agreement to move the house — either with the fire company or with the firm chosen to do the demolition — the next likely step would be to acquire a new location nearby. One possibility is a lot on the other side of Main Street, the site of a closed gas station.

Relocation and land acquisition could cost him as much as $100,000.

The Smith House was built in the 1750s. Constructed as a one-story cottage, it was greatly modified in the 19th and 20th centuries with the addition of a second story and porches.

News that the Smith House might be demolished attracted the interest of a museum in Northern Ireland. The Ulster American Folk Park has been developing plans to rescue the 18th-century first floor of the structure and move it to Europe. There it would become part of a collection of buildings with ties to Scotch-Irish immigration history. Several structures at the outdoor museum were moved from their original sites in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Worries about demolition also resulted in the formation of a small citizens group called the Committee to Save the William Smith House. Committee members have thrown their support behind Dr. Orange’s efforts to move the building.

“I hope we all can come together in a goodwill effort to restore this important piece of history,” said Karen Ramsburg, president of the Smith House committee. “This is America’s house, and I think it could become a real tourism magnet near the Interstate 81 corridor.”

Mercersburg is about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It is about 10 miles west of the Greencastle exit of I-81.

William Smith, an 18th-century businessman and local magistrate, was one of the leaders of what historians describe as the earliest organized opposition to British rule of its American colonies.

His home was a meeting place in 1765 for mostly Scotch-Irish settlers who organized themselves into armed bands. They formed a local militia after concluding that neither the Quaker-dominated colonial government in Philadelphia nor British officials in London were able to protect them from Indian raids.

William Smith’s brother-in-law, James Smith, was the leader of a group of settlers known as the “Black Boys,” who disguised themselves with paint and Indian clothes. Armed and angry, the Black Boys stopped pack trains traveling from Philadelphia to Fort Pitt that they believed were carrying weapons and ammunition that would end up in the hands of their Native American enemies.

After the British sent troops to nearby Fort Loudon to protect the traders and arrest the Black Boys, the soldiers twice found themselves besieged by the frontier militia.

The shots fired in 1765, 10 years before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, could be called the opening shots of the American Revolution, supporters of the Smith House say.

Dr. Orange describes himself as a history buff. A Westmoreland County native, he is a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School and Saint Vincent College. He has a family medical practice on Route 30, east of Chambersburg.


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Historic Designation Urged for Rest of Fineview Incline

By Tony LaRussa
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bill Weis of Fineview walks Wednesday along the old wall that remains of the old Nunnery Hill Incline, which ran from 1887-89. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

As local historic landmarks go, the red-brick building and soot-streaked stone retaining wall that runs several hundred yards along Henderson Street in the North Side give little indication of their importance to Pittsburgh’s past.

Trees, shrubs and weeds have pushed their way through joints of the wall’s cut sandstone blocks, and sections lean precariously under the weight of the hillside rising above.

The walls and building along Federal Street are remnants of an incline that curved 70 degrees and ferried riders up and down the hillside between old Allegheny City and Nunnery Hill. The neighborhood perched on the hill behind Allegheny General Hospital was named for Flemish nuns who ran a school for girls there in the 1830s. It became Fineview.

“What’s left of the incline, which ran from 1887 to 1899, is a part of Fineview’s history that’s worth saving,” said Ed Lewis, director of Fineview Citizens Council. “We consider this a community asset that can be utilized in our long-range plan to create an inviting gateway to the neighborhood.”

On Wednesday, the city’s Historic Review Commission agreed.

In a 4-2 vote, the commission recommended that Pittsburgh City Council designate the structures as historic landmarks. Commissioners Linda McClellan and John Jennings voted against the nomination.

The incline was designed by prominent civil engineer Samuel Diescher, who designed the Duquesne Incline and the machinery for the Ferris wheel.

The building at the corner of Federal and Henderson was the incline’s base station but was not part of the original petition seeking historic preservation. Commissioners thought it was important to preserve the structure and the wall.

The building’s owner, Jonathan Shepherd, does not have to agree to a historic preservation designation for the process to proceed. He could not be reached.

“In the long run, I think the historic designation will be a benefit to the community and the owner of the property, especially with all the development that’s occurring along Federal Street,” said Walt Spak, vice president of the citizens council.

“And if there are any ways we can help the owner by obtaining grants or whatever is available to make improvements, we’ll be behind him,” he said.

A historic designation means property owners must obtain commission approval before making changes to the exterior.

Bill Weis, who grew up in Fineview and is a citizens council board member, said preserving the structures is a “big first step.”

“When we were kids, we used to play up where the tracks were located,” said Weis, 63. “It was deteriorating then and has only gotten worse. So if we’re going to save it, now is the time.”

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Civic Arena Seats, Other Items Up for Sale or Bid

Thursday, November 04, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Fans will have a chance to buy seats and other memorabilia from the Civic Arena over the next two months through on-line sales.

The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority approved an agreement this morning with the Penguins related to the sale of assets from the Igloo, which closed at the end of July.

Seats from the arena will go on sale to Penguin season ticket holders in the next few days, a sale that will run until Nov. 30. That will be followed by a sale to the general public on Dec. 1. A pair of seats will cost $495. Buyers can choose from red, blue, black and, of course, orange seats, but they will not be able to request individual seat numbers. About 5,000 seat pairs will be available for purchase.

The seat sale will be followed by an online auction Dec. 8 for other arena memorabilia, some of which will include Penguins logos or the signatures of players.

Bidding for the memorabilia will start about two weeks before Dec. 8. The highest bidder will be awarded the items. Those who have placed a bid will be notified if they have been outbid leading up to the closing Dec. 8.

“Although I don’t like this phrase, it’s very similar to eBay,” said Shawn Allen, chief operating officer for AssetNation, which is handling the sale.

The first online auction will be on Nov. 17 for arena furniture.

All of the seat transactions will take place on www.iglooseats.com

Bidding will be conducted at www.asset-auctions.com

Those who don’t have access to the Internet can call 1-800-303-6511 for a paper bid form.

The sale is expected to generate $1.6 million for the SEA and $800,000 for the Penguins, who will donate their share to their foundation.

The SEA’s share ultimately could be used to help pay for the demolition of the iconic 49-year-old domed building to make way for redevelopment.


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Courthouses Tower as Testaments to Our Pursuit of Justice, Desire to Document Memorable Moments

Thursday, November 04, 2010
By Janice Crompton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The dome inside the Washington County Courthouse, a building designed by Frederick J. Osterling. Bill Wade/Post-Gazette

The historic county courthouses of Western Pennsylvania are clearly more than mere buildings: Their walls bear witness to everything from birth to death.

They are, as Fayette County eloquently describes in a brochure, “… the scene of human drama, the repository of success and failure in life, the archive of the hopes and dreams of thousands.”

More than half of the courthouses of the 3,069 counties across the United States are recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, including five local ones: Allegheny, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland.

This week, some of the courthouses, including those in Westmoreland and Beaver counties, took on a starring role as the official counting houses for Tuesday’s General Election.

Today, the majority of local county courthouses house the Common Pleas Court system and sometimes row offices, such as prothonotary, register of wills and clerk of courts. An exception is Allegheny County, which fused most row offices when voters approved a consolidation in 2005. The merger of the prothonotary, clerk of courts and register of wills offices formed the Department of Court Records, which is in the nearby City-County Building. But for the most part, the life-affirming and life-changing moments for each of us — births, marriages, home purchases and deaths — are recorded in a courthouse. And in the courthouse courtrooms, the drama of justice unfolds daily.

In addition, these buildings often honor and exhibit local history, such as the statue of the late Mayor Richard Caliguiri in Allegheny and the war memorials at the Washington and Beaver courthouses.

None of our local courthouses is an original. The first courthouses usually were primitive log cabins that gave way — often more than once — to grandiose architectural gems that have been rebuilt and reincarnated over the past two-plus centuries.

In his 2001 book, “County Courthouses of Pennsylvania,” Oliver P. Williams, a retired University of Pennsylvania political science professor, highlights each of Pennsylvania’s 67 courthouses. He visited each several times while doing his research.

In addition to providing details of architectural design, Dr. Williams examines the political climate and competitive atmosphere that led to the construction of some of the country’s finest monuments.

“I was always surprised how lavish public buildings were in the 19th century and how parsimonious they are now,” the 85-year-old said last week in a phone call from his home in Philadelphia. “There were plenty of tightwads in the 19th century, but the majority went the other way. Cities were in competition for growth and money.”

Before the interstate highway system was built, Dr. Williams traveled from Chicago to New York as a graduate student and he remembers seeing the tall spires of courthouses, beckoning travelers to visit their towns.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, courthouses typically were in the town square and the focus of local activity, he said. Trials there provided relief of boredom for spectators.

“Courtrooms were built like theaters,” Dr. Williams said. “They were big entertainment then.”

Several years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court commissioned paintings of the state’s 67 county courthouses. Prints from those paintings are on display at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, which opened in the summer of 2009 in Harrisburg.

Here’s a look at a half-dozen in our region:

The arch over the grand staircase at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown Pittsburgh. Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Courthouse is “one of the most significant county courthouses in the United States from an architectural perspective,” Dr. Williams said.

Calling it “poetry in stone,” Dr. Williams wrote in his book that its beauty is an ideal example of Richardsonian Romanesque, an architectural style named for Henry Hobson Richardson, who believed, as his peers did, that the Allegheny County Courthouse was one of his crowning achievements.

“Richardson’s style was influential,” Dr. Williams said. “That courthouse was copied all over the nation.”

Mr. Richardson, also known for designing the Trinity Church in Boston, wanted to survive long enough to see the Allegheny County Courthouse completed, saying it was one of the works he wished to be judged by. He died, however, two years before it was finished in 1888.

The "bridge" looms over Ross Street and connects to Court of Common Pleas building, formerly to old Allegheny County Prison, to the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh. It is still used to transport suspects to the "Bull Pen" to wait for their trials and hearings. Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Primarily built from “Milford pinkish gray granite,” according to Dr. Williams’ book, the structure was designed with as many windows as possible, to provide natural lighting. The building’s 318-foot tower not only was symbolic but also served as a ventilation system, pulling in fresh air from above rather than the polluted air near street level.

The building also features four Norman towers with conical roofs along with moldings and ornamental stonework that were hand carved by 13 Americans and 13 Italians, according to literature provided by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which provides guided tours of the site.

“The thing that’s so extraordinary is the plan of the building,” said Albert Tannler, historical collections director for the foundation and author of a courthouse tour book. “It really is an amazing building.”

Possibly more impressive than the courthouse itself is the stone walkway, known as the “Bridge of Sighs,” that connects the courthouse to the jail, built at the same time and also designed by Mr. Richardson.

Patterned after the iconic bridge of the same name in Venice, the local bridge for decades provided a practical way to transport prisoners to and from the courthouse with minimal public contact.

Closed in 1995, the jail now serves as a family court center.

The Beaver County Courthouse was dedicated in January, 2003. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Beaver County

Located in Agnew Park in Beaver, the Beaver County Courthouse represents what Mr. Williams called “an architectural puzzle of a building.”

Concrete reliefs from the original Beaver County Courthouse now adorn the walls of the courtyard in the new courthouse, dedicated in January, 2003. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Although it appears to be art moderne style, it contains unusual elements, such as a clock tower and a lunette, or crescent, window.

The eclectic mix is a result of a 1932 fire, which severely damaged the structure. Architects were able to salvage part of the burned 1875 courthouse, and they covered the new and old construction with a stone veneer, parts of which have been replaced over the years.

The Butler County Courthouse in Butler emerges from an early morning fog. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Butler County

Built in 1885, the Butler County Courthouse has undergone several major alterations. Perhaps the most noticeable is the pointed stainless steel cap placed on its tower.

In his book, Mr. Williams explains how the shiny tower cap, which he calls “as durable as it is deforming,” was installed in 1958 after county commissioners found themselves unable to reject an offer of a free tower cap from Armco Steel.

The courthouse in Butler features a central clock tower with an elaborate cornice, a row of rosettes and arcaded corbels, or brackets, flanked by corner turrets, Mr. Williams said.

Gothic-arched windows on the first and second stories still have their stained-glass transoms.

The bridge at the Fayette County Courthouse in Uniontown. Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Fayette County

The Fayette County courthouse is similar to the Richardsonian Romanesque style of the Allegheny County Courthouse, except it is smaller.

The gray sandstone courthouse in Uniontown features a 188-foot-tall central square tower, arcade windows and arched entryways. It also includes a “Bridge of Sighs” identical to the one in Allegheny County.

“Back in the day, that was the biggest compliment you could give an architect,” said Tammy Boyle, county human resources administrative assistant. “Today, you’d probably be sued.”

The design may have been borrowed from its neighbor to the north, but the structure is all Fayette County.

The stone was quarried locally, oak planks and panels were grown locally, and the iron for the building was rolled at a local mill. Even the brick used in the interior and for partition walls was made in the county.

The building has marble floors and iron stair railings, and the second-floor lobby contains four oval medallions, each 10 feet across, representing the county’s four leading industries at the time: coal mining, coke burning, agriculture and manufacturing.

While Ms. Boyle said the building is an architectural gem, it’s not without its drawbacks, especially when it comes to modern conveniences.

It’s no easy task to retrofit a historic building with wiring and security systems, not to mention plumbing and heating systems.

“There’s those days that we like it, and there’s those days when we don’t,” she said, speaking for county employees. “Sometimes in the winter it seems like we’re in Hades.”

Washington County

When Debbie O’Dell Seneca was 13, she told her mother that she wanted to be a judge. She hadn’t yet laid eyes on the imposing sandstone and granite beaux-arts structure that is the Washington County Courthouse, but she never forgot the day she did.

“I was in complete awe,” she recalled. “It was like walking into a Roman cathedral.”

Today, she is Washington County president judge and she and others consider it an honor to work in the building, perched atop a large hill in Washington. It was built in 1900 and is crowned by a terra-cotta dome and statue of George Washington, both of which were recently refurbished.

Two 25-foot-high Italian Renaissance angels flanking the statue were removed when they began to deteriorate, but history buffs, including Judge O’Dell Seneca and county Commissioner J. Bracken Burns, have been pushing to have the angels restored.

Massive pilasters, Roman arches, Italian marble, bronze and highly polished brass grace the interior of the courthouse, which has a grand central stairway topped by a skylight.

Judge O’Dell Seneca said Architectural Digest in 1976 called it “one of the finest pieces of architecture in the United States.”

The ceiling in the rotunda in the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Westmoreland County

Another imposing and well-known beaux-arts style courthouse is in Greensburg.

Topped by a massive yellow-gold dome made of cast aluminum bronze over a rolled iron frame, the exterior is gray granite and “copiously decorated with the ornamental patterns learned at the Ecole des Beaux Arts,” Dr. Williams said.

The celebrated “Golden Dome,” as locals call it, is 175 feet above the sidewalk and arguably the signature piece on the county skyline.

Three arches grace the building’s entrance, framed by Corinthian pilasters, rosettes and bronze lamps. A marble staircase opens upward to twin spirals on the next floor. The structure contains marble walls in public halls, wall and ceiling murals, and a central rotunda that rises four stories to the domed ceiling.

The top of the building is graced by three female figures representing Justice, Guardian of the Law and Keeper of the Law — a fitting symbol for the courthouses themselves.


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Carnegie Library Approves Plans to Renovate Historic South Side Branch

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Pop City Media

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - South Side Branch

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees has unanimously agreed to make plans to renovate the South Side branch a top priority with funding to come from the Libraries for Life capital campaign that has set aside $2.7 million for renovating the aging building.

“The South Side does not have air conditioning and it’s a little over 100 years old. It’s not compliant with the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” explains Suzanne Thinnes, communications manager for the Carnegie Library. “We find that when libraries are renovated they bring a new excitement to the community. More people discover the library and we see our circulation and account numbers go up.”

While the renovation process is in its early stages and an exact date for the project’s completion is currently ambiguous, a community meeting is scheduled at the South Side branch on November 17 at 6 p.m. to hear from the community about what they’d like to see preserved and changed about the library. Karen Loysen of Loysen + Kreuthmeier is the architect for the project and the upcoming meeting marks the start of a public dialogue that will create a vision for the library hoping to satisfy as many people as possible.

Writer: John Farley
Source: Suzanne Thinnes, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

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Condemned Larimer Building Wins Reprieve

By Adam Brandolph
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Allegheny County judge put a temporary halt on the city’s plan to demolish a condemned property in Larimer after a Sharpsburg man said he wants to restore it.

John Cobb plans to rehabilitate a 110-year-old building at 16 Shetland St. to use as an investment property, said his attorney, Matthew L. Kurzweg. Cobb, who applied for permits to reverse the condemnation after the judge’s decision on Friday, declined comment.

“From my understanding, the building is pretty structurally sound,” Kurzweg said Monday.

Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville said the city could demolish the building after Feb. 1 if Cobb fails to show progress on the rehabilitation.

Pittsburgh building inspection officials said the property is in bad condition but don’t believe the city will appeal the judge’s decision. City Solicitor Dan Regan could not be reached for comment.

Sherry Hickson, 72, a longtime Larimer resident, said the building needs to go.

“If it’s in bad condition, it could pose a threat to everyone around it,” Hickson said.

Neighbor Robert S. Brown said he would like to see the building restored.

“There are so many places where every building is torn down, and it looks ugly,” Brown said. “If this guy wants to try to restore it, they should let him.”

The building is one of many slated for demolition. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl budgeted $3.04 million to level condemned buildings this year, including $2.19 million in city money and $850,000 in federal dollars.

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Physician Offers to Move Historic House in Mercersburg

Tuesday, November 02, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Smith House is located next to the MMP&W Volunteer Fire Co. The board that oversees the fire company says it needs the land to expand its aging facilities. Len Barcousky/Post-Gazette

A Franklin County doctor has offered to relocate the historic Justice William Smith House in Mercersburg.

“I have a love of history,” Paul Orange said Monday.

He was reluctant to provide too many details of his proposal, but he said he was prepared to cover the costs of moving the two-story structure to a new location. Those expenses, including the cost of acquiring a suitable alternate property, could run as high as $100,000.

Dr. Orange has a family practice along Route 30 in Fayetteville, which is between Chambersburg and Gettysburg. He said he moved to the area in part because of its ties to important events during the Civil War. He is a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School and St. Vincent College. After graduating from medical school at the American University of the Caribbean, he did his residency at Latrobe Hospital.

The Smith House is located next to the MMP&W Volunteer Fire Co. on Mercersburg’s Main Street. The board that oversees the fire company says it needs the land on which the house sits to expand its aging facilities, and it has sought bids for demolition of the building. Its initials stand for Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren, which are the communities it serves.

The bids are to be opened Thursday, but the fire company has not said when it will award the contract.

Dr. Orange said he has submitted an offer to move the structure, which would save the fire company the expense of tearing it down.

His proposal has gained the support of a small citizens group, the Committee to Save the William Smith House, which has sought to head off any demolition plans.

“This is an amazing turn just when I thought we were dead in the water,” said Karen Ramsburg, who heads the Smith House committee. “I’m surprised and excited.”

One potential new home for the 18th-century building is the nearby site of a former gas station owned by the First National Bank of Mercersburg.

“The best-case scenario would be to keep the house in its current location,” Ms. Ramsburg said. “Moving it across the street would be the next best thing.”

In 1765, the Smith House was the meeting place for mainly Scotch-Irish settlers who organized themselves into a militia for defense against Indian raids.

Their efforts morphed into attacks on British supply trains and a siege of a nearby British military base called Fort Loudoun. Those early instances of armed resistance took place eight years before the Boston Tea Party and 10 years before the battles of Lexington and Concord.

“It could be said that people in this house provided the spark for the American Revolution,” Dr. Orange said.

Architectural details and property records indicate that the house was built between 1751 and 1759, which includes a portion of the French and Indian War. Porches and a second story were added during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The structure’s connection to the region’s early Scotch-Irish settlers has drawn the attention of an outdoor museum in Northern Ireland.

The Ulster American Folk Park has been working on plans to take apart the 18th-century “historic core” of the stone structure, ship it to Europe and reassemble it outside Belfast.

The folk park already has several other buildings from southwestern Pennsylvania with links to Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled here.

Members of the group seeking to save the house have said relocation to Northern Ireland was a better option than demolition, but they would prefer to have it remain in Franklin County.

Mercersburg is about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

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Vandergrift Main Street Program

Nestled along the banks of the Kiskiminetas River, Vandergrift is a borough in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 40 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The Vandergrift Improvement Program is a main street program dedicated to the protection, preservation and restoration of this existing community by using a four-point approach that focuses on organization, economic restructuring, promotion, and design of the central business corridor and residential areas of vandergrift.

With generous contributions from The Allegheny Foundation and State Sen. Jim Ferlo, the VIP established a Real Estate Revolving Loan Fund to finance the purchase and restoration of key buildings in the central business district. Thus far, the VIP has purchased the properties pictured below, which are in various phases of restoration.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation serves as a full-time technical consultant to the VIP.

139-141 Grant Avenue

143 Grant Ave. (before restoration)

143 Grant (after restoration)

134 Grant Avenue

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Freeport, Leechburg, Apollo Regional Main Street Program

THREE COMMUNITIES – ONE VISION

Freeport Leechburg Apollo Group, Inc. (FLAG) was a regional Main Street program. The Main Street system is an approach to downtown revitalization developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Main Street recognizes historic preservation and local business development as key components of a healthy commercial district. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development provides funding for a limited number of communities to implement the Main Street approach. Freeport, Leechburg and Apollo jointly received this prestigious designation in May 2009. This cooperative effort between three communities results in three times the marketing assets, three times the volunteer capacity, three times the real estate inventory, and three times more efficient use of funds than a single Main Street program. Our regional focus also allows us to promote valuable natural assets common to all three of our towns- rivers, trails, and a rich history along the path of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal.

FLAG performs and assists with many projects including historic building renovations, business promotions and technical assistance, business recruitment, and development of regional tourism assets and marketing.

FLAG is a volunteer organization. If you would like to learn more about becoming a part of our efforts, please contact our Regional Coordinator or any of our current volunteers.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation served as a full-time technical consultant to the FLAG organization.

For more information, contact mainstreet@phlf.org

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South Side Real Estate Board Says Mission Accomplished

Monday, November 01, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

From left, Ron Goings, Rick Belloli, Aaron Sukenik, Judy Dyda, Rachael Glasder, Susie Puskar and DaVar Cutler of the South Side Local Development Co. -- Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

South Side Local Development Co., one of the most successful nonprofit real estate developers in Pittsburgh, will spend the next 18 months putting itself out of business.

The board decided to dissolve the little company whose 28-year tenure on the South Side has coincided with the neighborhood’s transformation in private property values, popularity and market economy.

A successor organization with a focus on public issues will be formed with community feedback to the South Side Planning Forum, the neighborhood’s umbrella for other groups, and the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development.

“This is an exciting transition, and I’m thinking of this as a huge success story,” said Ellen Kight, executive director of the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development. “They have really done what a (community development corporation) is supposed to do.”

Successful development corporations step in with public investment to help neighborhoods attract private investment. Some also have youth and job training programs, public safety committees and other outreach. The South Side nonprofit has largely focused on real estate and has built or renovated more than 100 homes in the past 20 years.

Private developers have added some 800.

“We’ve done our job,” said Tracy Myers, the company’s board president.

In 1982, when the company was founded, property values were two-thirds of the city’s median value, said executive director Rick Belloli. In 2008-09, those values were 170 percent of the city’s median. About 50 percent of the retail space along East Carson Street was vacant in 1982, and that rate is now at about 10 percent, he said.

Rob Stephany, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said there is still work to be done by a high-capacity real estate nonprofit in the South Side’s adjacent neighborhoods.

“The target area is big, and the next step would be moving that [real estate] strength to the next frontier,” including Allentown and Arlington, he said.

“Clearly from a real estate value standpoint, the [development company] has been an invaluable piece of the puzzle,” he said. “The equity senior citizens have in their homes is growing, and that’s a proud moment. The fact that there are $400,000 sales in the South Side astounds me to this day.”

The remaining challenges largely have to do with the proliferation of bars, said Ms. Myers. “That’s a consequence of our success.”

The East Carson corridor’s accumulation of liquor licenses is considered to be at saturation by most stakeholders. Uncivil and drunken behavior on weekend nights has some homeowners at the breaking point. Resident Thomas Kolano said he is “very concerned a lot of people are actually talking about leaving the neighborhood.”

“If there isn’t a push-back from residents, this could become an undesirable place to live,” he said. “Sunday through Wednesday and some Thursdays it functions as a normal neighborhood — beautiful and vibrant. I love it. But Friday and Saturday are crazy. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.”

The city has cracked down on parking violations in recent weeks, and Councilman Bruce Kraus has held several meetings to promote a management strategy for Carson businesses.

Mr. Stephany said a neighborhood improvement district “is an essential next step. The only way to correct some of the issues there is to have collaborative problem solving.”

A neighborhood improvement district is like a business improvement district, except it includes interests beyond those of businesses, such as parks. Participants pay a fee to have the interests of their stated district managed and maintained. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is one example of a business improvement district.

A management strategy for East Carson businesses was recommended several years ago by consultants from the International Downtown Association. A committee of the South Side Planning Forum is gathering feedback to determine the range of focus of the successor organization.

The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development paid for an employee to go door-to-door to gather that feedback. The staff of the local development company will not be involved in the successor agency, although some of its board may be.

Ms. Myers said that while winding down, the agency “still has properties and buildings we want to make sure are well cared for. Some entity needs to keep an eye on these things, to protect all the progress we’ve made to improve the physical environment” and ensure that developers follow historic guidelines.

“Some things we do will have to be done by someone else or not get done,” she said. “The community has to set its priorities.”

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Real Estate Workshop Celebrates City Living

Monday, November 01, 2010
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Up hills, along tight curves and down into the river valleys, a bus full of local real-estate agents navigated Pittsburgh last week on a tour the Urban Redevelopment Authority put together to boost city home sales.

“I just got a whole different perspective,” said Mary Lynne Deets, education manager for the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, who sold only about five homes in the city during a 30-year sales career.

That’s the kind of statistic the URA would like to change.

While open to all real estate professionals, the tour was designed to enlighten suburban agents unfamiliar with the city and all it has to offer. Officials hope their upbeat message will hit home, many times over.

“A lot of people want a walkable, pedestrian-friendly community to live in with a lot going on. That’s what urban living is all about,” said Kyra Straussman, URA real estate director.

Ms. Straussman said the URA ramped up home marketing efforts at Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s direction about three years ago.

In May, the URA launched a Web site — Pittsburghcityliving.com — that pairs prospective home buyers with neighborhoods meeting their requirements. “It’s like Match.com for your neighborhood,” Ms. Straussman said.

The workshop for real estate agents, “City Living: A Focus on the Pittsburgh Client,” was another phase of the initiative. It was developed by Ms. Straussman; Josette Fitzgibbons, coordinator of the Mainstreets and Elm Street programs; and Megan Stearman, Mainstreets development specialist.

About 20 agents, most with little knowledge of the city, signed up. Under a special arrangement with the state Real Estate Commission, all received continuing education credits needed to maintain their licenses.

The agents saw new construction on the Central North Side, in Fineview and at Summerset at Frick Park. They heard about the house-by-house revival of Friendship, the development spurt in East Liberty and Lawrenceville’s recent emergence as a hot housing market.

They visited Riverview Park on the North Side, Pittsburgh Phillips K-5 on the South Side and Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview. Sometimes, “neighborhood ambassadors” climbed aboard to talk about their communities and how civic groups augment the development work of city agencies.

“You know, we had rave reviews from the ‘students,’ ” Ms. Deets said, noting most continuing education workshops for real estate agents are classroom sessions on such issues as tax assessment and foreclosures.

Because the workshop was unusual, the Realtors Association had to persuade the Real Estate Commission to give the continuing education credits, Ms. Deets said. The participants did spend some time in a classroom, learning about tax abatement, other home buyer incentives and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

To address concerns about the quality of city schools, the URA scheduled presentations about city magnet programs, the district’s academic improvement efforts and the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program. To counter other concerns about urban living, the URA arranged for the group to meet a man who’s raising two teenage girls on the South Side Flats and a single woman who lives in Allegheny West.

The URA plans to offer the workshop again in the spring. In the meantime, to track the success of last week’s program, the URA will send a thank-you gift to any participant who provides verification of a city home sale.

Ellen Connelly, a Howard Hanna agent who works mostly in the city, said the tour will make her job easier.

“I have an out-of-town client coming in. She’s looking at Sewickley. She’s looking at Fox Chapel. But she’s really focused on the city,” Ms. Connelly said.


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Youth friendly music venue The Red Theater Makes Noise in Historic Polish Hill Building

The Red Theater

Youth friendly music venue The Red Theater makes noise in historic Polish Hill building

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pop City Media

A beautiful piece of Polish Hill history is experiencing a second life as an all ages performance venue. The stately building at 3028 Brereton Street once housed the Emma Kaufmann Clinic, later served as the headquarters for the Pittsburgh branch of the Polish Falcons, and on October 9 had its grand opening as The Red Theater.

The building is owned by Architect Stephen Mesich, who lives in the building and rents space out to artists. Mesich began hosting scattered musical performances out of the building’s 1600-square-foot upstairs social hall last year, but it wasn’t until five weeks ago that The Red Theater was cemented as a serious alternative music venue for a wide variety of artists when Mesich teamed up with event promoter Sardonyx Productions.

The venue boasts a large 19th century concert hall with a 12-foot-deep stage and room for up to 300 people.  Rich architectural details include a 35-foot ceiling, colorful lighting, and a spacious bar serving non-alcoholic beverages.

“A lot of parents don’t want their kids going to an alcoholic place, and we want it to be a good place for young kids to see live music. Parents will feel a little more secure about that,” says Mike Moscato, owner of Sardonyx Productions.

Sardonyx Productions has already produced two shows at The Red Theater and has two more scheduled in the coming months. On November 24, The Thanksgiving Eve Hip Hop and Rock Party will star rapper Ego. On December 24, a Christmas Party featuring The Long Knives, Dante Romito Band, and Sean O’Donnell will take place. Both events begin at 7 p.m. and cost $10.

Writer: John Farley
Source: Mike Moscato, Sardonyx Productions

Photograph copyright John Farley

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Vanka’s Art Garnering More Attention

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By Mary Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Maxo Vanka "The Battlefield" is a oil on canvas painting.

Residents often know of special places in their towns that don’t make it into tour books, from the eye-popping taxidermy in the back of Joe’s Bar in Ligonier to the best crab shack between D.C. and Baltimore.

A Pittsburgh secret that’s beginning to gain a wider reputation is St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale. The nondescript little church is perched on a hillside in full view of thousands of Route 28 commuters, but few of them have seen the treasure inside.

That’s changing as more people learn about it through public programs such as the current exhibition, “Paintings and Works on Paper by Maxo Vanka,” at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Maximilian “Maxo” Vanka (born 1889, Zagreb, Austria-Hungary; died 1963, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) painted the murals that cover the interior of St. Nicholas in 1937 and 1941 as his way of expressing gratitude to his “adopted land.” What elevates them above traditional church murals is his incorporation of nationalistic and political subject matter.

Maxo Vanka sketch study for the mural "The Battlefield."

Maxo Vanka mural "The Battlefield." The mural is at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale.

The center exhibition comprises 47 works by Mr. Vanka on loan from his descendants, the Brasko family in eastern Pennsylvania, including most significantly some of the drawings and paintings that were preparatory for the Millvale murals. These illustrate the compositional permutations Mr. Vanka tried out as he developed ideas and configured them for available spaces.

The works also show that he was an excellent draftsman, as in a beautifully realized sketch of a torso, or pencil drawings of scenes in New York’s Depression-era Bowery. Paintings range from a tender large family portrait of his wife and young daughter (he’s present as a reflection in a carefully placed mirror) to a gruesome anti-war protest parade.

While some of his themes, such as labor and family, were present in Works Progress Administration murals, Mr. Vanka’s Millvale works “contain a moral intensity and socially critical perspective not generally found in the idealized image of America that emerged within much of WPA art,” Barbara McCloskey, associate professor of art history, University of Pittsburgh, wrote in an essay for the nonprofit Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka.

Dr. McCloskey also recommended Heidi Cook, a graduate student in Pitt’s Department of the History of Art and Architecture, to the society when it was looking for someone to catalog Mr. Vanka’s artworks and archives stored at the family home. Ms. Cook spent two weeks this summer in residence there, making notes about each work she uncovered, including size, inscription and label information when present, and condition, and photographing it. She then spent several more weeks in Pittsburgh to enter that information into a digital database.

She estimates there are approximately 1,000 artworks, including paintings, works on paper and sketches in storage, and that she was able to catalog about 20 percent during her stay. Ms. Cook observed that Mr. Vanka was “really prolific” and that he continued to paint throughout his life. She noted many smaller works, including still lifes and landscapes, possibly made to keep in practice, and large-scale paintings inspired by world travels with his wife, including of festivals in Japan and Bali. A powerful and disturbing painting inspired by an Indian leper colony is in the center’s show.

“What’s wonderful about the house,” Ms. Cook said, “is that there are photographs of when Vanka and his wife lived there, and it looks the same. The art is hung in the same places. The furniture is what he brought from Croatia. There are books that he used during his education.”

Ms. Cook initially intended to study modern German art, but her experience with Mr. Vanka has her considering the broader topic of Central and Eastern European art. She’s researching traditional folk costume — something Mr. Vanka incorporated to make political commentary — for her master’s thesis.

There is intent to catalog the remaining works, but that is dependent upon the society finding funding to do so. I hope that happens because such projects bolster knowledge about the artist and are essential steps to ensuring the art’s survival. Word-of-mouth equity can go only so far.

Three paintings by Mr. Vanka’s great-granddaughter, Marissa Halderman, that are responses to particular works of his, are also exhibited.

Vanka-inspired programs will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the center, and at 3 p.m. Nov. 14 at St. Nicholas Church. They’re organized by HI-REZ, a local independent artist-driven initiative that facilitates nontraditional interactions between Pittsburgh artists and venues. Justin Hopper, (Multimedia project recounts chaotic days of Pittsburgh’s ordinary citizens in late 19th century) writer and artist, will read poetry, and the band Action Camp will perform compositions that each wrote in response to the murals. (Free and public.)

The exhibition continues through Nov. 7 at 6300 Fifth Ave. at Shady Avenue, Shadyside. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The center has produced a full-color catalog ($12) and poster ($18) for the exhibition. 412-361-0873 or http://pittsburgharts.org.

Artwork alert

An exceptional work of art, “Structure of Shadow” by Philadelphia-based artist Bohyn Yoon, is at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts through Nov. 7.

Photography at Frick

“Silver Worlds: Photography’s Wet Plate Era” is the subject of a talk beginning at 7 tonight by Linda Benedict-Jones for Conversations & Cocktails at The Frick Art Museum, Point Breeze. It’s held in conjunction with the exhibition “For my best beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron.” Ms. Benedict-Jones is curatorial chair, exhibitions and curator of photography, Carnegie Museum of Art. Completing the evening will be hors d’oeuvres, a gallery discussion and the featured cocktail, the Royal Silver, which honors the silver halide coating critical in the production of photographs produced using the wet plate or collodion process (4 ounces champagne, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 1/2 ounce Poire Williams liqueur, 11/2 ounces grapefruit juice). Advance registration with payment required at 412-371-0600; $25, members $20.

Carnegie Part II

The second in Carnegie Museum of Art’s “What Are Museums For?” series, “Exhibitionists Unite: How Art Exhibitions Are Born,” will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Staff members will give an inside look at what goes into bringing a show to you, using the current exhibition “Ordinary Madness” and upcoming “Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective” as examples. Learn about the issues museum professionals resolve as they serve the public, and follow up with your own questions. Free; reception and cash bar follow. 412-622-3131 or www.cmoa.org.

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Woodville Plantation Hosts Historic Military Encampment

COLLIER TOWNSHIP, PA (October 25, 2010) – Step back in time at Woodville Plantation as this living history museum presents a special weekend-long event.  On Saturday, November 6, and Sunday, November 7, 2010, the public is invited to join the troops of Anthony Wayne’s Legion as they make camp at Woodville Plantation.

Living history interpreters will be portraying the soldiers of the Fourth Sub-Legion of the United States, the men who defended John Neville’s Bower Hill house during the Whiskey Rebellion. The soldiers will set up camp, drill, fire muskets and discuss general camp life in Anthony Wayne’s army of 1794. Special hours for this event are Saturday, November 6, from 5 pm to 8 pm; and Sunday, November 7, from noon to 5 pm. Special admission price for the encampment and house tour is $3 per person.

Woodville Plantation, the home of John and Presley Neville, is Western Pennsylvania’s link to the late 18th century. Built in 1775, this living history museum interprets life during the period of 1780-1820, the Era of the New Republic. Guided tours of the house are available every Sunday from 1 to 4 pm.

Just 7 miles and 15 minutes south of Pittsburgh, Woodville Plantation is conveniently located in Collier Township, 1/4 mile north of Interstate I-79 Exit 55 (Kirwan Heights Exit) on Route 50, near the intersection of Thoms Run Road. For further directions or for more information, please visit Woodville’s website at http://www.woodvilleplantation.org or call 412-221-0348.

QUICK FACTS:

Event: Wayne’s Fourth Sub-Legion Encampment

Date:  Saturday, November 6, and Sunday, November 7, 2010

Time:  Saturday – 5 to 8 pm; Sunday – Noon to 5pm

Place:  Woodville Plantation, 1375 Washington Pike, Bridgeville, PA 15017

Admission:  $3.00 per Person for Encampment and House Tour

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Leechburg Hotel Project Comes Together a Piece at a Time

By Brian C. Rittmeyer, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Sunday, October 24, 2010

Linda Alworth of Gilpin points out a portion of a common area in the second floor of the future Lingrow Inn on Market Street in Leechburg. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

With its cracked walls, broken windows and dust-covered floors, any attempt to bring back a once-grand hotel on Leechburg’s Market Street would seem like an overwhelming task.

And then there are the ghosts.

It is a daunting task. The only way Linda Alworth can even approach it is one piece at a time.

“All this means nothing to me,” Alworth said recently as she looked around the dark area of the gutted building that will soon become a pub. “I can see it finished. I take one small area of it at a time.”

Alworth’s $2.2 million project to turn the 110-year-old building at 127 Market St. into the Lingrow Inn is moving into high gear. She expects a first-floor restaurant and bar to be open for business early next year.

During its life, the building has carried many names. In the 1920s, it was the National Hotel, and home to a pharmacy.

“We want to try to bring it back to the way it was, with a new fling,” Alworth said.

Borough council President Tony Defilippi’s grandfather, Joseph Defilippi, owned the hotel. He has a photograph of the hotel lobby with his grandfather, who died in 1925, behind the registration desk.

“It will be very nice to see the hotel being used again. I hope to see the entire building be renovated soon,” Defilippi said. “It adds a lot to the downtown area.”

Leechburg's National Hotel on Market Street was a lively place in the 1920s. Submitted

David Farkas, director of the Main Street program for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, called the project important not just for Leechburg, but for the entire region.

“When the project is complete, there will be an expanded dining offering in Leechburg (and) a place for people to stay who are visiting the area to take advantage of all the outdoor activities that are possible here in the Kiski Valley,” he said. “It will allow people who are visiting or here for special events or weddings to stay close by in Leechburg. We expect that to have an impact on the surrounding businesses in Leechburg and the whole area.”

In Defilippi’s old photo, a grand staircase leads up to the second floor. The hotel section of the building has been closed off for nearly 40 years, although the first floor has been home to various bars and restaurants in subsequent years. The roof had a bad leak, and there has been significant damage to the upper floors of the four-story building.

Closed off behind a wall and tiny doorway, the stairs are part of the charm Alworth plans to bring back.

“It will be grand. I can see the bride walking down the staircase,” Alworth said.

Hard work and tackling big projects come naturally to Alworth, a 56-year-old Gilpin resident who turned an 1850s barn in Gilpin into Lingrow Farm, one of the region’s top wedding venues. It was rated by local brides as a “best of weddings” pick for Southwestern Pennsylvania by the wedding magazine The Knot.

A granddaughter of immigrants from Poland and Germany, Alworth was one of five children who grew up on her family’s farm in Washington Township. Her father didn’t believe in sending girls to college.

“You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to do anything,” she said. “How do you get things done? You do it. You don’t talk about it.”

Alworth started a landscaping business, Lingrow Landscaping, 17 years ago. She bought the farm at an auction six years ago and the event center is now in its fourth year of hosting weddings.

The inn will serve the farm with food and a place for guests to stay, once its 27 planned rooms are completed. But Alworth sees the building as serving the borough as well.

“I love this town. I love the people in the town. I believe in the businesses here. I believe they can do so much more,” she said. “I really want more business to come into Leechburg. This will be an anchor building.”

Alworth had a feasibility study done.

“We need places for people to stay and not just for the farm. We found out there is a real need,” she said. “We have the river. We have the kayaking now. We have great stores. We’ve been left in the dust long enough.”

Alworth paid $100,000 for the building in May 2009.

The economy has not been her friend. Getting the financing to do the work was not easy, and there were times Alworth thought it would never come and she’d be best to unload the building. But the financing finally came together.

Loans and her own money are paying for the work.

She didn’t get any government handouts. There are no grants out there for a for-profit business, unless she did a full and even more costly historical restoration. She will benefit from a program that phases in the property taxes on the value of the improvements to the building over 10 years.

Alworth’s landscaping employees are now gutting the building.

The guys talk of hearing people walking around upstairs. They’ve heard someone playing a piano that remains on the second floor. Sometimes the “ghost” is Alworth playing pranks, but other times…

They’ve removed the facade, exposing brick columns, and torn away plaster walls inside, exposing more warm brick.

They found an elegant arched doorway inside that had been covered up — and a significant crack near the front of the building. But Alworth says a structural engineer found the building to be in good condition, worthy of rehabilitation.

The restaurant and bar are coming first, to start a revenue stream. An architect is finishing plans, after which she’ll apply for building permits.

The bar, Olde Henry’s Pub, will be named for a brother, Henry Bazella, who lives in Georgia. Alworth says it will be like a New York bistro.

Most of the antiques of value in the building are long gone, but Alworth found a pile of solid old pub chairs – marked made in Poland – that she plans to have refurbished and use in the bar.

There’s an old cooler in the basement, where Alworth envisions a wine cellar.

The 90-seat restaurant will be named for her mother, Olive Bazella. The menu is a work in progress, but Alworth says the restaurant will serve healthy, good, affordable food.

“She was a wonderful cook, a wonderful mother,” Alworth said. “She’s probably looking down right now thinking, girl, you’re crazy.

“You have to be a little bit crazy,” she said.

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Six Allegheny River Towns Picked to Receive Funding, Help

By Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Monday, October 25, 2010
Last updated: 5:41 am

Six local communities were chosen for a pilot project of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to revitalize river towns with free professional services, work plans and tips on finding money to pay for the urban makeovers.

Millvale, Etna, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, O’Hara and Blawnox are the first communities chosen for the countywide project.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is rolling out the Allegheny County River Towns Project to help communities visualize, analyze and identify redevelopment projects and to re-establish ties to the rivers.

The project is paid for by grants from two anonymous Pittsburgh foundations, said Jim Segedy, director of community planning at the nonprofit’s Pittsburgh office.

The Environmental Council has signed a memorandum of understanding with Allegheny County to help carry out its master plan, which includes redevelopment of the region’s riverfronts.

The six communities were picked for the project because they have begun redevelopment projects close to the Allegheny River, Segedy said.

“Millvale has its trail and waterfront park, Aspinwall has the marina, then there is the housing development in O’Hara,” said Segedy. All of these communities are part of the 17 river towns slated for a proposed trail along the Allegheny from Millvale to Freeport.

“This is not another study,” Segedy said. “We are looking for short-term action projects, prioritized projects to help improve the quality of life in these towns and help with storm water management, water quality flood protection and economic development.”

What that means is that the Environmental Council will provide — free of charge to the communities — architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners and other professionals to assess the towns and come up with ideas.

“It’s a great way for the communities to look at their assets and do it in a unified, collaborative way,” said John Stephen, executive director of the Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone. “And that will improve the chances to bring in grants and resources,” he added.

Community input is critical, Segedy said.

“This is their communities and we want to do what they think we need and we want. We’re not from the government, we want to help,” he said.

After walk-throughs in all six communities next month, the council will hold public meeting in December for residents to talk about what their ideas are for improvement in the towns.

Then the council will provide a list of prioritized projects, directing the local governments to grants and other resources to jump start redevelopment projects, Segedy said.

“Shovels should hit the ground in the spring for some of these projects,” he said.

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Some Seek to Save Bantam Building

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As the community prepares to shine a headlight on the historic pairing of the jeep and Butler, efforts have been ongoing to promote the preservation of the site where the jeep was manufactured: the Bantam building off Hansen Avenue in Pullman Center Business Park.

Butler Downtown, an organization committed to the revitalization of the city, coordinated a community drive to raise $25,000 toward the preservation of the building. A representative of AK Steel, which owns the building, said the company was willing to listen to any proposals.

In September, Becky Smith, Main Street manager for Butler Downtown, entered the building in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters Community Challenge.” The prize was $25,000 for the site that had the most computer clicks in the challenge.

Of 119 community projects, Butler’s Bantam Building ranked 23rd with more than 600 votes.

“We’re not going to win the money, but this effort raised awareness of the historical significance of the building,” Ms. Smith said.

The winner was a theater project in Austin, Texas.

The building is not being used, and its structural integrity is in question — the roof has a hole in it. Ms. Smith said the prize money could have been used to further the cause for placement on the national historic register or turned over to AK Steel to help with building repair costs.

She said several entities — including Downtown Butler, the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the Butler County Historical Society and the city of Butler — support the effort to have the building preserved as an important historical place.

The building was constructed in 1899 and 1900 by the Davis Lead Co. After a couple of owners, it ended up in the hands of American Bantam Car Co. in 1929. It was the site of the jeep’s initial manufacture in 1940.

In May, The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh named the Bantam building to its “Top 10 List of Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area.” The list is designed to encourage investment in historic sites throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

A spokesman for AK Steel said the practical concerns were standing in the way.

“We have a sense of history ourselves, and we understand the interest in the history of the building; but I don’t know if it’s realistic,” said Alan H. McCoy, vice president for government and public relations.

Mr. McCoy said the building, which hasn’t been used by the company since the 1970s, not only has deteriorated but it is also on a site that is still used by AK Steel.

“It’s not just a matter of transferring ownership of the building. How would they then access it? There are substantial hurdles,” he said.

Still, Mr. McCoy said the company remained open to discussion. “We haven’t said ‘no’ to the idea, and we haven’t said ‘yes’. We just have to see how things unfold.”


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From Bad Movies to Good Food

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A former porn theater would become a food market and apartments would anchor the upper floors of buildings under a plan to redevelop a rundown block of North Avenue on the North Side.

The team of Zukin Development Corp. and Collaborative Ventures is proposing to convert the former Garden Theater into an independent or co-op food market or perhaps a restaurant-small market combination.

Kirk Burkley, president of the Northside Tomorrow board, said Wednesday that the market might be similar to the East End Food Co-op, an IGA or Trader Joe’s. It would be focused on providing healthy, locally grown food for the area, he said.

Conversion of the former porn palace is just one element of a plan developed by Zukin and Collaborative Ventures to redevelop the long-neglected block.

The team also is proposing to add about 38 apartment units in the block, mainly utilizing the upper floors of existing buildings. The Bradberry building would become all residential, with 16 apartment units, Mr. Burkley said.

Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board members are expected to vote today on whether to enter into exclusive negotiations with Zukin and Collaborative Ventures for the next 90 days. Zukin is based in Philadelphia and Collaborative Ventures is owned by two South Hills men.

The time would allow the team to refine its proposal, develop a site plan, and line up and secure the financing for the undertaking, which is expected to cost $12 million to $13 million.

Zukin and Collaborative Ventures are being recommended to the URA by Northside Tomorrow LLC, a collaboration between the Northside Leadership Conference and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council.

The Zukin team was selected over four other developers that responded to a request for proposals issued in May for redevelopment of the theater and other properties. Only two of those proposals offered to redo the entire block.

Mr. Burkley said the Zukin/Collaborative Ventures proposal was selected because it seemed to best correspond with the wishes of the North Side community.

“They’re the best horse for the course,” he said. “They have what we believe to be the most realistic proposal that also meets the desire and goals for the community and in accordance with priorities set forth in our community plan.”

A big component of that plan relates to community gardens, community agriculture and healthy foods, he said. There also is a desire to increase the number of residential units in the block, to preserve facades and to create jobs.

“We see this proposal as being best able to meet those needs in the near future,” Mr. Burkley said.

While the Zukin team plans some alterations to the backs of buildings to create more parking, it intends to keep the facades intact, he said.

Apartments in the Bradberry Building are expected to rent for about $750 a month. Others will range from roughly $1,000 to $1,200 a month.

The developers are also planning first-floor retail in most of the buildings to supplement the apartments and the food market. Potential retail uses include bakeries, takeout restaurants and coffee shops.

Financing is expected to include about $3.5 million in public funds and $4 million from a North Side community loan fund. The development team also expects to put in about $1 million in equity. The remainder would be financed privately.

Mr. Burkley said the goal was to start construction next year. But he added it might be more realistic to start facade and stabilization work next year, with full construction in 2012.


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Civic Arena Decision Coming Thursday

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The future of the Civic Arena, the iconic silver-domed structure that has graced Pittsburgh’s skyline for nearly half a century, could be decided Thursday.

City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority members are scheduled to vote that day on whether to demolish the 49-year-old landmark to clear the way for an office, residential and commercial redevelopment proposed by the Penguins.

The decision to schedule the vote came after SEA consultants Oxford Development Co. and Chester Engineers concluded in a final report after an eight-month historic review process that demolishing the arena with its distinctive retractable dome was the “recommended” option for redevelopment.

Removing the building would create an “unencumbered development site” and allow for the restoration of the street grid that once connected the Hill District and Downtown, one destroyed when the arena was built, the report said. It also stated an unencumbered site “is more attractive to developers.”

The option favored by preservationists, keeping the structure in place, “presents a challenge to proposed site development, marketing and construction strategies,” the report stated. “Reuse considerations which keep the historic characteristic (the operational dome) require significant initial and ongoing public support and also fail to generate economic activity sufficient to justify forgoing redevelopment opportunities available [with demolition].”

The vote was scheduled the same day Reuse the Igloo, the group seeking to save the arena, came forward with its plan to transform the building into a venue for bowling, annual Christmas and Halloween-related events, bicycle polo, book festivals and weddings and other celebrations.

Todd Poole, president of Philadelphia-based 4ward Planning LLC, the Reuse the Igloo consultant, estimated the various events could generate as much as $2 million a year, enough to cover annual operating costs of $1.9 million.

Rob Pfaffmann, the Downtown architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, said that if SEA members vote to demolish the arena, his group would file for a court injunction to block it.

Mr. Pfaffmann said he is “extremely concerned” that tearing down the arena could amount to anticipatory demolition under the National Historic Preservation Act and jeopardize future federal funding related to the development.

“The battle is far from over from the point of view of Reuse the Igloo,” he said.

SEA board chairman Wayne Fontana wouldn’t say which way he planned to vote, and SEA executive director Mary Conturo refused to speculate about the outcome.

“All I can tell you is that it’s on the agenda,” she said.

The SEA has moved the start of its meeting up by one hour to 9:30 a.m. to allow for public comment in advance of the vote, Ms. Conturo said.

The Penguins, which want to redevelop the land with offices, housing and commercial uses, welcomed the vote.

“We think it’s clear that the best thing for the future of the city and the region is to tear down the old arena, clear the land for development and re-connect the Hill District to Downtown,” spokesman Tom McMillan said.

Board members will take up the matter even as Reuse the Igloo unveiled details of a reuse plan Tuesday that include the development of a 24-lane bowling alley in the bowels of the arena. It also called for conversion of some of the arena’s suites and luxury boxes into rental space for meetings and parties, weddings and other celebrations.

Reuse the Igloo is pushing its plan as an alternative to the Penguins’ proposal to demolish the arena and redevelop 28 acres of land.

Like the Penguins, the group also has plans for housing and office space on part of the site. But Mr. Poole said one of the advantages of the group’s plan is that it works even if no development takes place around the arena.

“Even if it didn’t happen for 10 years, you still have civic space that can be programmed and stand on its own,” he said.

Reuse the Igloo estimates conversion costs at $14 million. It believes the transformation to civic space would take three years.


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