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

Ben Muessig
AOL News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Washington County Farm on Statewide Danger List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Visitor’s Guide to Friendship

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

Carolyns - Friendship Neighborhood

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

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

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

The Bride Mural

Mural Mural on the Wall

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

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

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

The Art of Dance. And Foursquare.

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

Modern Formations

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

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

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

Dance Alloy

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

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

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

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

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

Wine and dine

People's Indian Restaurant

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

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

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

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

Quiet Storm

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

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

How to get there

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop City Media

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Terminal Produce Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Writer: John Farley
Source: Rob Stephany, URA

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

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

Pittsburgh Business Times – by Tim Schooley

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

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

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

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

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

Calls to Buncher were not immediately returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pitt Class to Nominate Bloomfield School for Historic Registry

By Adam Brandolph
Monday, December 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hotel Saxonburg Chef Returns to Recently Renovated Landmark

Sunday, December 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penne Carbonara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 2 servings.

Hotel Saxonburg:

Cuisine: American

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

Entree price range: $10-$23

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

Address: 220 Main St., Saxonburg, Butler County

Details: 724-352-4200 or website

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Buying Here: Bellevue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The property has a full market value of $155,000 ( In the past three years, four properties have sold on Meade Avenue ranging in price from $48,900 in April 2010 to $113,000 in June 2008 (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegheny West Victorian Christmas House Tour

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

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

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

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

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

December 2, 2010


Bill Schillinger 724-321-7915

New Era Begins for Regional Environmental Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Civic Arena May be Spared Until Summer

By Jeremy Boren
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SEA had planned to demolish the arena in April.

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Vacant Homewood School as Center Planned

By Bill Vidonic
Saturday, December 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heinz Students Uncover Market For Renovated Housing in Wilkinsburg

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

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3 Options Offered to Revitalize South Park

By Matthew Santoni
Thursday, December 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plans will be posted online today and public surveys can be taken until Sunday at

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Plans for South Park Fairgrounds to be Aired Wednesday

By Matthew Santoni
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

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

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, 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:

  • “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: or contact Al Tannler (412-471-5808, ext. 515;

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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 (; MLS No. 838378; 412-963-7655).

At a glance
  • Website:
  • Size: .445 square miles
  • Population: 2,602 (2000 census)
  • School district: Pittsburgh Public,
  • 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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Beechview Map

At a glance
  • Website:
  • Size: 1.46 square miles
  • Population: 8,772 (2000 census)
  • School district: Pittsburgh Public (
  • 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
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

Bidding will be conducted at

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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