Vandergrift Main Street Program

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

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

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

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

139-141 Grant Avenue

143 Grant Ave. (before restoration)

143 Grant (after restoration)

134 Grant Avenue

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Freeport, Leechburg, Apollo Regional Main Street Program

THREE COMMUNITIES – ONE VISION

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

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

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

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

For more information, contact mainstreet@phlf.org

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South Side Real Estate Board Says Mission Accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private developers have added some 800.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real Estate Workshop Celebrates City Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Red Theater

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pop City Media

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: John Farley
Source: Mike Moscato, Sardonyx Productions

Photograph copyright John Farley

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Vanka’s Art Garnering More Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artwork alert

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

Photography at Frick

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

Carnegie Part II

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

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Woodville Plantation Hosts Historic Military Encampment

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

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

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

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

QUICK FACTS:

Event: Wayne’s Fourth Sub-Legion Encampment

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

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

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

Admission:  $3.00 per Person for Encampment and House Tour

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Leechburg Hotel Project Comes Together a Piece at a Time

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

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

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

And then there are the ghosts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alworth had a feasibility study done.

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

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

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

Loans and her own money are paying for the work.

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

Alworth’s landscaping employees are now gutting the building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Six Allegheny River Towns Picked to Receive Funding, Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community input is critical, Segedy said.

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

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

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

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

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Some Seek to Save Bantam Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winner was a theater project in Austin, Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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From Bad Movies to Good Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Civic Arena Decision Coming Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Artist’s Eclectic Space on the North Side Combines Found Art, Plants and Her Vision

Saturday, October 16, 2010
By Mary Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rose Clancy in her GardenLab@516 project at 516 Sampsonia Way in the Mexican War Streets. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

Never overlook the potential of a small lot.

Pittsburgh artist Rose Clancy’s 22-by 90-foot space in the North Side’s Mexican War Streets neighborhood is much more than a garden. It’s also an art installation, autobiography, environmental statement, archaeological dig and strategy for building community.

GardenLab@516 began humbly but, as gardens do, it grew. Ms. Clancy had purchased a dozen past-their-prime white baking potatoes that were beginning to sprout in a supermarket to conduct growth experiments on. When they outlasted the original project, she decided they deserved to continue.

“I admired the potatoes’ will to survive and go to the smallest bit of light and to grow,” Ms. Clancy said.

She asked Mattress Factory museum co-directors Michael Olijnyk and Barbara Luderowski whether there was a spot among the Sampsonia Way properties adjacent to the North Side museum for the plants, and she was offered a vacant lot next to an empty home fronted by a long-term Mattress Factory-sponsored installation by artist Ruth Stanford, “In the Dwelling-House.”

This plaster bust, created by Rose Clancy's mother while she was in high school, is being transformed as rain flows into the pots above that contain black walnuts and then drizzles an "aging" stain onto the artwork. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

The property at 516 Sampsonia was filled with debris tossed over the fence through the years, but that didn’t deter Ms. Clancy. In April, she began cleaning it up and carried several bags of garbage out. The rest she turned into planters and sculpture.

The site is quirky and personal, with its own brand of surface beauty underlain with metaphor. It has also become an active part of the neighborhood.

Ms. Clancy’s late father, Thomas, was a true blue Irishman from County Galway, who “grew potatoes as a crop for his family. [As a child] I ate a ton of potatoes,” Ms. Clancy said. So the garden is in part a tribute to him.

Her late mother, Ruth, who Ms. Clancy said was an excellent gardener, is also present in the form of a plaster bust she sculpted in high school but never finished.

“She never said what she had to do to finish it,” so Ms. Clancy is doing so by “aging it.” With fall rains, dark liquid leached from black walnuts found in the lot began to transform the white face, staining it.

"The Collection Box" contains found objects that Ms. Clancy discovered while clearing the lot. Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette

A project comprising a line of small tangerine trees growing through a barn-wood plank will conclude with the roots forever separated, referencing the artist and her seven siblings who “grew as siblings together but our roots were not allowed to mingle.”

Adjacent neighbors and passers-by stop to talk, and some shared in an unexpectedly large bean harvest that matured on the vines she’d planted, along with morning glories.

“I didn’t grow with the intention of raising a crop, but I got a crop,” she said.

From discarded tires, she created raised-bed planters. Occasionally something is brought to the site. On one drive to the garden, Ms. Clancy picked up two large discarded clay pots containing ginger mint and ornamental peppers and placed them on the street side of the fence that fronts the garden. She said they are markers that “something’s happening here; treat it with respect.”

Yeaka Williams, a neighbor whose property backs onto Sampsonia, volunteered to care for the pots and watered them twice a day during the hot, dry summer. Another neighbor introduced CAPA student Kimi Hanauer to Ms. Clancy, who gave her space to create an artwork:

“The same way that Mattress Factory has given me, I’ve given her,” Ms. Clancy said.

Elsewhere, rows of pottery shards, bottle glass, dishes, a cream separator from an old glass milk jug and other objects reflect the lot’s history. Some of the found artifacts — Christmas tree ornaments, a radiator key, Minnie Mouse head — are mounted in “The Collection Box,” which visitors crank to view.

“There’s no trash coming in anymore,” Ms. Clancy said.

She’s preparing the garden for winter, dismantling the potato planters and moving some of the sculpture indoors.

She plans next to string “Connectivity Wires” high across the lot in the direction of neighborhood people the garden has connected with. These will be embellished with beveled glass and mirrors intended to create “a light show in here throughout the winter” as they move in the wind and in and out of sunlight.

Ms. Williams will be connected by lines painted across Sampsonia.

“She’s so important,” Ms. Clancy said.

Ms. Clancy continues to work in the garden, although less frequently as the seasons change. She welcomes visitors when she’s there. And when she isn’t, you can always see it through various openings she’s provided in the now “Swiss cheese fence.”


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Chipotle Grill Slated for Market Square

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

May the best burrito win.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is the latest restaurant headed for Market Square, claiming about 2,300 square feet of space on the first floor of the former G.C. Murphy store.

It will compete against another Market Square Mexican-style restaurant, Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Chipotle is the first known tenant to sign on to lease part of the 27,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space available in Market Square Place, the conversion of the Murphy store and other structures. The project also is home to the Downtown YMCA and apartments.

Lucas Piatt, chief operating officer for Millcraft Industries, the Market Square Place developer, said he expected Chipotle to be open by the end of the year. “We’re very excited, and we think they’ll be a nice fit for Market Square,” he said.

Herky Pollock, a CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh executive vice president and broker for the retail space, said luring Chipotle “further validates the strength of the redevelopment of the Fifth and Forbes corridor.”

“To have one of the pre-eminent fast casual concepts opening its only Downtown location in the Fifth and Forbes corridor is a tribute to years of hard work by many public and private participants,” he said.

Mr. Piatt said he expected to announce additional retail or restaurant tenants in the near future but wouldn’t identify them. Mr. Pollock called one upscale. “The to-be-named tenants will raise many eyebrows, given their quality,” he said.

Chipotle isn’t the only new restaurant announced recently for the remodeled square.

Last week, Yves Carreau, owner of Sonoma and Seviche restaurants in the cultural district, detailed plans to open NOLA, a New Orleans style bistro, in the former 1902 Landmark Tavern.


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Old Economy Receives $241,000 State Grant

Monday, October 18, 2010
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Friends of Old Economy Village will receive a $241,000 grant from the state of Pennsylvania to upgrade facilities, develop a marketing plan and hire education staff for tours at Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Beaver County.

Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., who announced the grant today, said everyone was surprised when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission announced 11 months ago that it would stop funding educational programs at Old Economy, the third and last home of a 19th-century Christian communal group called the Harmony Society. The Harmonists farmed, ran textile mills, made their own furniture, silks, clothing, pottery and wine. Old Economy is a National Historic Landmark with outstanding architecture.

After suffering a $15.7 million cut in its budget, the historical and museum commission closed Old Economy Village in November of 2009. In April, a dedicated group of 300 volunteers signed a licensing agreement with the state and reopened the six-acre site, conducting tours, staffing the facility on the weekends and answering visitors questions.

“We want to make sure that Old Economy Village thrives so that future generations can learn about this hidden gem in Beaver County,” said Mr. Vogel.

Fritz Retsch, a board member of the Friends of Old Economy, said the village “was placed in a very difficult financial position by the state, making it extremely difficult to carry out our mission. Through the combined efforts of increased fundraising and this grant obtained by Sen. Vogel, we are in a much better position to keep operations running smoothly and efficiently.”


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Renovated Trinity Building Makes Debut in Butler

Thursday, October 14, 2010
By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former Trinity Industries building in Butler, fresh from a yearlong, $1 million rehabilitation, is open for business.

A project of the Butler Community Development Corp., the building was debuted at an event described by corporation executive director Ken Raybuck as “Deal Day.”

The building sits on about 5.5 acres of an expansion to the original 29-acre Pullman Center Business Park site.

Renovation of the former Trinity building, a 30,000-square-foot structure, is considered another phase of the development of the Pullman Center, which straddles the border between the city and Butler Township.

“Deal Day” was held Sept. 27 as an opportunity for potential tenants and buyers to see the newest part of the Pullman Center project.

The Trinity building is suitable for manufacturing and warehouse uses. It has a paved parking lot, a dock with three oversized overhead doors and a sprinkler system. The Pullman Center Business Park is equipped with all necessary infrastructure, such as roads and utilities.

The Pullman Center Business Park is the redevelopment of the former Pullman Standard Railcar Co. property.

A $3 million grant presented to the community corporation by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006 was used to redevelop the Pullman site.

The renovated Trinity building is in Pullman Center Business Park with four office buildings: Pullman Condominium Office Building, Bantam Commons, Pullman Commerce Center and Pullman Commons.

Mr. Raybuck said all office buildings except the Trinity building were fully occupied.

“The full occupancy is a testament to the good location and we hope this building will not remain vacant long,” Mr. Raybuck said, noting that there had been some inquiries about the property.

For more information, call the CDC at 1-800-283-0021.


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Housing Renewal Under Way in Wilkinsburg

Thursday, October 14, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Michael Sriprasert promised Wilkinsburg residents on Tuesday that they would have new neighbors next fall.

Mr. Sriprasert, director of real estate development for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, is overseeing two new housing projects in Wilkinsburg worth almost $10 million.

“By this time next year, we’ll have 27 new families moving in,” he said.

He was one of 10 speakers representing a consortium of government agencies, foundations and financial institutions that have undertaken housing restoration projects in the borough’s Hamnett Place neighborhood.

The session to announce the two latest elements in the renewal plan was held at the new Landmarks Housing Resource Center on Rebecca Avenue.

“This investment will expand our ability to attract people back to Wilkinsburg,” Mayor John Thompson said.

The larger effort is an $8.6 million renovation of two early 20th century apartment houses. They are the Crescent Building, at Rebecca and Kelly avenues, and the Wilson Building, about a block away on Jeanette Street.

Both structures are in poor shape. A portion of the roof of the three-story Crescent Building, for example, has collapsed.

The two apartments have long been eyesores, officials said.

“If we can restore the Crescent Building, that will build belief in Wilkinsburg,” said county Councilman William Robinson, D-Hill District. His council district includes Wilkinsburg.

When work is completed next year, the two buildings will have a total of 27 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Each building will have a community room, laundry area and computer lab. Hosanna House will provide support services to tenants, who must meet income guidelines.

The second project, budgeted at slightly more than $1 million, will restore three abandoned but architecturally significant homes on Jeanette Street and Holland Avenue. When renovations are complete, those homes will be for sale to buyers who have earnings no greater than 120 percent of the area’s median income.

The apartment project also involves acquisition and demolition of three neighboring structures. It is being funded by loans and grants from Allegheny County’s Department of Economic Development, funds raised by the sale of Historic Tax Credits, private dollars from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and federal tax credits administered through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Money for restoration of the three homes is being provided by Allegheny County and the Scaife Foundations.

Four other homes in the neighborhood have been renovated recently with help from the county and the Scaife Foundations. They have been sold and four families have moved in, Mr. Sriprasert said.

The restoration costs for the houses and the apartments are more than $300,000 per unit, about four times the median cost of a home in Wilkinsburg.

Those costs are high because of the dilapidated condition of the structures and because restoration, which often is more expensive than demolition and new construction, will save architecturally interesting buildings, Mr. Sriprasert said. The project is being funded in part with historic tax credits, which means it has to meet strict criteria for restoration, he said.

Supporters hope the restoration projects will produce a ripple effect, Mr. Sriprasert said, encouraging businesses and homeowners to invest private dollars in the neighborhood.

Tuesday morning’s program also marked the grand opening of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s housing resource center. It is located at Jeanette Street and Rebecca Avenue in a former Packard dealership.

It will provide workshops and programs dealing with home improvements and resource-saving “green” projects for Wilkinsburg residents,

The Landmarks Housing Resource Center will have a community open house for people in the neighborhood at 11 a.m. Saturday. That event will be followed at 12:45 p.m. by an inaugural workshop on the topic of restoring vacant lots as gardens and green spaces.

The cost for the workshop is $7. To register, call 412-471-5808, ext. 527, or e-mail marylu@phlf.org.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10287/1094983-56.stm#ixzz12LBsaQs1

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Projects Pump $10 Million into Wilkinsburg Homes

By Chris Ramirez
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Last updated: 8:02 am

Jay Willis plays the saxophone during a dedication of a mural Tuesday evening in Wilkinsburg. The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. dedicated the mural as part of the organization's public art program to preserve, restore and enhance the borough's appearance through artistic expression. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

With gaping holes from its broken windows, the fenced-in brick building at Rebecca and Kelly avenues in Wilkinsburg is an eyesore, one that’s too big to ignore.

People moved out of the three-story fixer-upper a long time ago, before Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson or anyone else can seem to remember. Pigeons and blackbirds live there now.

“When a kid walks by these buildings and sees that … no one cares about it, it tells them adults don’t care,” said McCarthy-Johnson, a borough council member. “Youths need to see things moving on and improving. They need to see things turn around.”

They soon will.

A public-private partnership on Tuesday detailed plans to invest $10 million in house-restoration projects in Wilkinsburg.

A total of $8.8 million will pay for renovating two early 20th century apartment houses — the Crescent Building at Rebecca and Kelly, and the Wilson Building on Jeanette Street.

Borough officials and investment groups say restoring housing would be key to turning around the neighborhood, which has been blighted by crime and struggling for a defined economic blueprint since the demise of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

About 19,000 people live in Wilkinsburg, where unemployment is about 9 percent. Nail salons, barber shops and mom-and-pop businesses line most of its main thoroughfare, Penn Avenue, offering little variety or chance for jobs.

“This is a huge investment that we hope will eventually attract more new families to move here,” Mayor John Thompson said.

The two buildings will house 27 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Each apartment building will have a community room, laundry area and computer lab. Hosanna House, a community center and social services agency in Wilkinsburg, will provide support services to tenants.

The project, which includes acquiring and demolishing three neighboring structures, is being paid for with loans and grants from Allegheny County, Historic Tax Credit Equity, Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and federal stimulus money that Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is administering.

Work on the apartment buildings is expected to wrap up next year.

A second project — paid for by Allegheny County and the Scaife Foundations — will restore three vacant homes at Jeanette and Holland Avenue for $1 million. Once they are renovated, they will be sold to buyers.

“Affordable housing shouldn’t ever be difficult,” said Brian Hudson, executive director for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. “This partnership will make homeownership possible for a lot of people.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation President Arthur Ziegler is seeing to it that new life is breathed into the Crescent Building at Rebecca and Kelly avenues in Wilkinsburg. The early 20th century apartment house is one of two such buildings in the community that will be renovated. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Last year, TriState Capital Bank pledged $1.8 million over six years to help Wilkinsburg continue its housing renovation and development projects.

“Positive change is happening in Wilkinsburg,” TriState President A. William “Bill” Schenck III said. “And it’s happening because people have said they want it to happen and are behind what’s going on here.”

The inside of the newly renovated Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation's housing resource center in Wilkinsburg, formerly a Packard dealership, will house a sculptor. The center will provide workshops and programs dealing with home improvements. A neighborhood open house is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, with a workshop on restoring vacant lots as gardens and green spaces. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation yesterday opened its housing resource center, located in a former Packard dealership in Wilkinsburg. It will provide workshops and programs dealing with home improvements. A neighborhood open house is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, with a workshop on restoring vacant lots as gardens and green spaces.

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Wilkinsburg Housing Restorations to Total $10 Million

By Chris Ramirez
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Last updated: 2:37 pm

A public-private partnership today detailed plans for $10 million in house-restoration projects in Wilkinsburg.

A total of $8.6 million will be used to renovate two early 20th century apartment houses — the Crescent Building at Rebecca and Kelly avenues and the Wilson Building on Jeanette Street.

“This is a huge investment that we hope will eventually attract more new families to move here,” Mayor David Thompson said. He spoke at a news conference to spotlight the new projects and mark the grand opening of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s housing resource center in Wilkinsburg.

The two buildings will house 27 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Each building will have a community room, laundry area and computer lab. Hosanna House, a community center and social services agency in Wilkinsburg, will provide support services to tenants. Work on the buildings is expected to wrap up next year.

The second project aims to restore three vacant homes at Jeanette and Holland Avenue for $1 million. When they are renovated, they will be sold to buyers who earn 120 percent or less than the area’s median income.

Money for restoration of the three homes is being funded by Allegheny County and the Scaife Foundations.

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Wilkinsburg to Begin $10 million in Housing Renovations

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A public-private partnership today unveiled plans to do housing restoration projects in Wilkinsburg worth almost $10 million.

“This investment will expand our ability to attract people back to Wilkinsburg,” Mayor John Thompson said after the announcement.

He was one of 10 speakers from government agencies and businesses that have undertaken re-use projects in the struggling borough of 19,000. The session was held at the new Landmarks Housing Resource Center in Wilkinsburg.

The larger effort announced today is an $8.6 million complete renovation of two early 20th century apartment houses. They are the Crescent Building, at Rebecca and Kelly avenues, and the Wilson Building, about a block away on Jeanette Street.

When work is completed next year, the two buildings will have 27 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Each will have a community room, laundry area and computer lab. Hosanna House, a community center and social services agency in Wilkinsburg, will provide support services to tenants, who must meet income guidelines.

The second project, budgeted at slightly more than $1 million, will restore three abandoned but architecturally significant homes on Jeanette Street and Holland Avenue. When renovation work is complete, those homes will be for sale to buyers who have income no greater than 120 percent of the area’s median income.

The apartment project also involves acquisition and demolition of three neighboring structures. It is being funded by loans and grants from Allegheny County’s Department of Economic Development; funds raised by the sale of Historic Tax Credits; private dollars from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh; and federal tax credits administered through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Money for restoration of the three homes is being funded by Allegheny County and the Scaife Foundations.

This morning’s program also marked the grand opening of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s housing resource center. It is located at Jeanette Street and Rebecca Avenue in a former Packard dealership. It will provide workshops and programs dealing with home improvements and resource-saving “green” projects for Wilkinsburg residents,

The center will have a community open house for people in the neighborhood at 11 a.m. Saturday. That event will be followed at 12:45 p..m. by an inaugural workshop on the topic of restoring vacant lots as gardens and green spaces.

The cost for the workshop is $7. Those interested should call 412-471-5808, extn. 527, or e-mail marylu@phlf.org to register.


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All’s Cool Again at Allegheny Commons

Monday, October 11, 2010
By Ruth Ann Dailey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Conflicts are the bread-and-butter of journalism, of course — so much so that readers and reporters alike can find it all occasionally wearying.

So when a big, juicy conflict comes to a sorta-kinda happy resolution, it’s a relief to share the news.

Turns out it’s also instructive to take a closer look at the process and ask ourselves, “How the heck did that happen?” The people who threw themselves into protecting Allegheny Commons Park aren’t completely sure, but most of them — most — feel considerably less worried than they were this time last October.

“It was at Pumpkin Fest last year that we built the edifice,” recalled Bernie Beck, former president of the East Allegheny Community Council.

The “edifice” was a plywood mock-up of a cooling station Duquesne Light intended to build in the northeast corner of Allegheny Commons Park, and it was almost as attractive as the utility’s proposed 9-foot-tall, 28-foot-long metal structure promised to be. Which is to say, not very.

Allegheny Commons is the city’s oldest park, established by state legislation in 1867. A $2.3 million overhaul of the Northeast Common is slated to begin this fall, as part of the $16 million “Allegheny Commons Restoration Initiative.” So when Duquesne Light announced in May 2009 its unilateral decision to put a cooling station in that northeast section, citizens responded with indignation, public meetings and that attention-grabbing life-size mock-up.

Almost as quickly as it appeared, the plywood eyesore came down, but it had done its job. A year later, Duquesne Light crews appear to be well under way on an alternative site.

They’ve been busy at their 1970s-era underground facility in the Northeast Common, but at street level they’re headed east, digging a trench to 728 Cedar Ave., a residential property that Duquesne Light recently acquired. Neighbors say a garage there will be razed to make way for a new cooling station.

It seems that utilities, like God, move in mysterious ways, because none of the community participants I interviewed could say exactly how this new plan came to be.

Alida Baker, the Commons Initiative project manager, credits the combination of vigilant community groups, restoration steering committee input, city Councilwoman Darlene Harris and the weight of historic state legislation with changing Duquesne Light’s direction.

“They didn’t really discuss what they would do — it just became apparent,” Ms. Baker said.

That observation was seconded by Mr. Beck. “They bought the [residential] property before they discussed it with us,” he said. “When we raised a fuss, they held meetings and they came to ours.”

He last heard from the utility in March and was “still waiting for them to get back to us” when construction began. While it’s somewhat unpalatable, it’s not uncommon for a large entity to buy property as quietly as possible, thus keeping the price down.

However obscure part of the process was, the utility seems to have engaged the community when it had to. “We held some meetings with stakeholders,” said spokesman Joe Vallarian. “We’re happy we were able to come to something that everyone could agree on.”

Well, almost everybody. Charles Angemeer joined the community’s opposition to potential despoiling of the Commons as soon as he moved into the neighborhood in July 2009. The issue died down a bit, and his work picked up, so he was thunderstruck to learn recently that his front door is only 30-some feet from the utility’s new building site.

“The level of outrage I have toward Duquesne Light is pretty high,” he said. “They did not make their plans known to me — not a single piece of mail.”

Mr. Angemeer worries about safety, noise, quality of life and property values, and given Duquesne Light’s track record, “How responsive are they going to be to any issue that I, my wife or any other property owner might raise? Their consideration up to this point has been nonexistent.”

Well, Duquesne Light did bear in mind the pending park restoration, Mr. Vallarian noted. “That’s why we are going ahead and doing that part of our project first.”

He said there’s “no finalized plan” for what the cooling station will look like and thus no timeline for completion, but Mr. Beck is confident “it will be a pretty benign little building.”

The community council also hopes to acquire the adjacent empty house, to continue its Cedar Avenue sprucing-up.

So like I promised up front, a kinda-sorta happy ending where almost everyone gets some of what they wanted. That’s life — you heard it here first.


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A Tale of Two Houses on the South Side

Renovated on one side; condemned on the other
Monday, October 11, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1109 and 1111 Bingham St. on the South Side. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Among Pittsburgh’s many stories, one plays out in every neighborhood and is always sad.

It’s the tale of two owners and two buildings stuck together, one an asset to the neighborhood, the other a worry and a shame.

Pick a neighborhood, pick a street and you are likely to find two adjacent addresses that speak to the larger struggle between progress and abandonment.

The example at 1109-1111 Bingham St. on the South Side centers on a party wall that separates one man’s investment from a building condemned three years ago.

Bingham is one block north of and parallel to East Carson Street and is included in the East Carson historic district, which is why Tom Gigliotti and Tom Chajkowski appeared last week before the Historic Review Commission, whose agenda included Mr. Chajkowski’s property.

The commission voted to spare it for another 30 days; Mr. Chajkowski said he will produce an architect’s plan next month.

“It does need extensive work,” he told the panel, “but it can be done. It’s one of four houses left on that historic block.”

The next morning, on the sidewalk outside his commercial photography studio, Tom Gigliotti, the neighbor, said, “We’re back at square one, where we were three years ago.”

He said he does not feel antagonistic and even has some sympathies; the two men talk. But he’s clearly frustrated.

He bought his property in 1995 for $65,000 after having rented it for 10 years. It was “pretty run-down,” he said. “I don’t know how much I’ve put into it. Probably more than I could ever get out of it. A lot of blood and sweat.”

The two-story studio was completely remodeled, with hardwood flooring, a restored tin-stamped ceiling, a modern kitchen, skylights and a deck.

Because of the party wall, the adjacent building poses a threat to his building, both as is and in the case of demolition. It wasn’t such a threat 15 years ago, he said.

“Fifteen years now it’s been vacant, and there’s legally nothing I can do until it affects my building. It’s about to that point now.”

In 2005, Mr. Chajkowski was served notice for broken windows and a rotted rooftop deck. The city’s demolition manager, Paul Loy, told the commission that in November 2007, the property was condemned. The city and the owner were in court several times, he said.

In 2008, “he got a building permit, but he didn’t do anything, so it was revoked.

“This neighbor [Mr. Gigliotti] has tried to get it, but this owner is in dream world.”

Mr. Gigliotti said he has offered to buy the property but that the price has been impractically high.

In appealing to the commission for more time, Mr. Chajkowski lamented that he has had building permits revoked and been unable to get an architect, either because they are too busy or too expensive.

He could not be reached for further comment.

“I lived in the building for 20 years,” he told the commission. “My grandmother raised her kids around the corner” on 11th Street. This was his family’s first neighborhood in America, for 100 years, he said.

He said he thinks he can save his building. “I have a construction line of credit available and room on my credit card,” he said. “The taxes are paid and the building is secure.”

Mr. Gigliotti said he has heard this before and wonders how a person who claims such long ties to the neighborhood can allow his property to degrade it.

In the back courtyard that separates the two buildings, the air reeks of mildew. A door was ajar the other day. Through the crack, the interior contents resembled a dump and dampened remnants of a multi-family rummage sale.

The building has no downspouts or gutters. Mr. Gigliotti said his basement collects water when it rains. “It’s undermining my foundation.

“If this property costs him too much, I wish he would slap a ‘for sale’ sign on it so someone might save it.”


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$16M Separates Options for City’s Public Schools

By Jodi Weigand

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The city school district’s proposed 2011 capital budget includes projects at eight schools.

Pittsburgh Public Schools board members were presented two options Tuesday: the full capital program totaling $64 million and a $48.4 million downscaled version that includes only vital improvements at Arlington, Brashear, King, Knoxville, Northview, Oliver, Perry and Westinghouse.

The full-scale option includes consolidating Arlington PreK-2 and Arlington 3-8 at a cost of $29.5 million.   It calls for the demolition of the 3-8 building and constructing a building on the site to house K-8 students.

A scaled-down $14.2 million version would cover maintenance at the 3-8 building and incorporating a PreK program there.

The board was offered a less-costly version of its proposed career and technical education program at Oliver High School at a reduced cost of $13.4 million.  A version nearly double the cost would renovate existing labs into state-of-the-art facilities.

To fund the projects, the district will seek debt service through two federal programs that would allow it to borrow at a 20 percent cheaper rate per year than it has now.

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Stay Out: Downtown’s Closed Plazas are an Unwelcome Sign

Thursday, September 30, 2010 11:05 AM
Staff Blogs by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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One of the best features of Pittsburgh’s compact Downtown is its open spaces, plazas and walkways where pedestrians can take a short breather from daily routines without even breaking their stride.

There is something relaxing about strolling past the plants, trees, benches and fountains, and even brief visits to these oases can put a smile on a preoccupied face or help clear a cluttered mind. During the summer’s heat wave, the ponds and water sprays provided relief from the intensity and acted as magnets on office workers out at lunchtime.

That’s why the increasing number of signs, fences and barricades encroaching on these places are a blemish on the countenance of the city. They transform a friendly face that says “Welcome” into that of a grumpy neighbor yelling, “Hey, you kids, get offa my lawn.”

As Post-Gazette architecture critic Patricia Lowry noted in a commentary Wednesday, these urban spaces didn’t happen by accident. The city’s zoning code contains requirements for green space, including guidelines for landscaping, seating, trees and even trash receptacles, and they clearly state that pedestrian access should not be blocked.

It’s true that the walkways through Gateway Center, the EQT Plaza on Liberty Avenue, the Katz Plaza on Penn Avenue and other venues throughout the city are private property, maintained by their owners who are responsible for keeping them in good repair. And the owners certainly are within their rights to deal with miscreants who might damage the shrubs or vandalize the fixtures.

But they don’t have to be exclusionary about it. PPG Plaza, whose fountain in summer and ice rink in winter were a gift from philanthropist Henry Hillman, is completely open and welcoming. Now that’s the face of Pittsburgh.

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Vocational Training Center Opens in Larimer

Auto body shop owner will train budding mechanics in 14,500-square-foot facility
Friday, October 01, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Fiore and his son, Michael, expect Mike's Auto Body and Vocational Center in Larimer to be fully operational by early next year. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Mike Fiore stood behind a podium Thursday morning, with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to his left, and said, “We finally got here.”

Mike’s Auto Body and Vocational Center — a dream that Mr. Fiore began chatting about with his son Michael four years ago — officially opened with a ceremony on the Meadow Street site in Larimer on Thursday. It will be fully operational by early next year, when Mr. Fiore expects to enroll his first class of mechanics for certification training, he said.

Mr. Ravenstahl called the training center the first substantial private investment in the neighborhood in 40 years. Mr. Fiore’s shop specializes in collision repairs and custom body work. He has run his business in Larimer for 40 years and trained young mechanics, but he had to take them off-site for some instruction. The new 14,500-square-foot vocational center will keep them on-site for hands-on and classroom work.

Mr. Fiore said he hopes 36 will graduate each year, certified in welding, spraying paint, diagnostics and other skills.

The $1.8 million project, with investment from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Small Business Administration and Fidelity Bank, will employ 10 people full time and has the potential to join other businesses in retrofitting gas-burning cars into electric cars.

Mr. Ferlo said that while multi-million dollar projects get most of the attention, “we never lose sight of the importance of small businesses and the cumulative total of their benefits.”

Tom Link, manager of the URA’s business development center, said small business is responsible for 70 percent of new job creation.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the training center “is a seed for future growth,” and that, with the new Target store being constructed nearby in East Liberty, “shame on us if we can’t figure out how to spread investment throughout the Larimer community.”

Meadow Street is a strategic corridor because it runs through Larimer and into Highland Park and East Liberty.

Mr. Ferlo, a URA board member, said the URA would like to buy several properties directly across the street from the vocational center in order to develop a retail and housing link.

Already, the vocational center has been used as meeting space for Highland Park neighborhood advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Larimer Green Team and ward leaders.

Mr. Fiore said he advanced his idea to a lot of people and that many weren’t encouraging.

“A lot of folks said, ‘wonderful idea,’ and walked away,” he said. “But my son and his wife [Michael and Chrissy Fiore] were nonstop support. And Jim Ferlo. He kept after me through all the paperwork, ‘C’mon, we’re going to get this done.’ We’ll get through all the hassles.’

“And we did it.”

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History Festival to Mark East Liberty’s Past

First-time event to highlight area’s change, influence
Friday, October 01, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In this photo taken in the 1890s, Civil War veterans participate in a reunion in front of a building on Penn Circle South that is still standing in East Liberty. The past of the East End/East Liberty area will be celebrated during Saturday's first-ever East Liberty History Festival. Courtesy of the East End/East Liberty Historical Society

Public knowledge of East Liberty’s past is stuck on urban renewal, high-rises and crime. But that era was a blip.

East End history buffs hope to put the past in perspective Saturday at the East Liberty History Festival, a first-time event in a neighborhood of firsts.

What most people don’t know about East End history — with East Liberty at its hub — would overflow the parking lot at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, but the day-long event of the East End/East Liberty Historical Society has been designed to fit there, for free, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From Indians and traders to the first immigrant settlers, the festival will highlight the progression of development and industrial change that brought unparalleled prosperity to the area. In a recent Arcadia “Images of America” publication, the title “Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Valley” was chosen to encompass the breadth of East Liberty’s influence.

Historical society members who put the book together said many images that would today be in Shadyside or other adjacent neighborhoods were then described as East Liberty.

“On the old postcards, East Liberty went all the way up to Fifth Avenue,” said Marilyn Evert, a member of the historical society and director of development at Homewood Cemetery. When East Liberty began its slump in the 1970s, she said, “people began to disassociate themselves.”

Al Mann, a retired chemical engineer from Highland Park, has been at the helm of planning the festival for the past year as the society’s president. In a bag behind the driver’s seat of his car, he has been carrying around items for display, among them a large aluminum mold of an Easter bunny.

The mold was used at Bolan’s Candies in East Liberty, the first of the family’s several stores, open on Penn Avenue from 1918 until several years ago.

“We have a lot of firsts,” said Mr. Mann. The first commercial oil refinery in the nation was in Highland Park, and the society has the papers to prove it. The first radio broadcast of a church service was from Calvary Episcopal in Shadyside in 1921. The nation’s first drive-up gas station was at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street. Pittsburgh’s first traffic light was at Highland and Penn avenues.

Festival highlights will include re-enactments of processes developed by industrialists who lived or did business in the East End.

Charles Honeywell, executive director of the historical society, will demonstrate iron and aluminum production using small furnaces. “The blast furnace will produce iron from iron ore, coke and limestone, just like the big ones. Superheated 3,000-degree iron will pour out into a mold that people can see.”

Aluminum will be melted in a small crucible furnace and poured into medallion molds with street car emblems. Those will be sold to the public.

Bus tours throughout the day will take people to points of interest that include the Highland Park reservoir, a Negley family burial marker, grand churches, the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and a house that encases a log cabin built in 1794.

Exhibits will show the historic transitions of Calvary and St. Andrew’s Episcopal churches and a wall of fame reproduced from panels in the Kelly-Strayhorn. The photos of performing artists and other celebrities attest to the role the East End played as a breeding ground for the entertainment industry.

Ms. Evert said her interest stems from working and worshipping in the East End. She lives in Fox Chapel.

When the society formed in 2002, she said, it was in part to interest people in the East End’s future.

“The idea was that if people became aware of their history and where they came from, that would be conducive to development. It has such an extraordinary history. It’s unbelievable the things that came out of this one place.”

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Historic Downtown Site Sold

By Thomas Olson, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation was given the easement to the historic Burke Building, Downtown, by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy so the foundation can assure no future owners tear it down or alter its exterior. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has sold the oldest architect-designed building in Pittsburgh — and granted an easement to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to make sure it’s never torn down.

Built in 1836, the Burke Building at 209 Fourth Avenue, Downtown, was sold Monday to Burke Building Enterprises L.P., said conservancy spokeswoman Stephanie Kraynick.

She declined to provide further information about the purchaser but described the partnership as people “who appreciate the historical quality of the building and plan to preserve” it.

The three-story, stone structure — a striking contrast to the modern PPG Place that sits next to it — is one of the few remaining structures to survive the city’s great fire of 1845. The building is unoccupied.

“It is a really important building,” said Arthur Ziegler, president of History & Landmarks. “Anyone who owns the building now and forevermore is subject to the condition that they can’t demolish it or change the exterior without our consent.”

“The conservancy has easements on lots and lots of land. They gave us this (easement) because we protect buildings,” he said.

The conservancy’s headquarters was located in the Burke Building until September 2007, when the organization relocated to Washington’s Landing.

The architect was John Chislett, an British native who relocated to New York in 1832. He moved to Pittsburgh a year later and remained here.

“The Burke Building is extremely handsome and the oldest building we’ve got,” said Al Tanner, the foundation’s historical collections director. “Over the years, it housed a bank, a restaurant, and a variety of other (tenants).”

Three other buildings in Pittsburgh that Chislett designed are still standing. The Gateway and Lodge of Allegheny Cemetery, which are two adjoining structures in Lawrenceville; and the Widows and Orphans Society of Allegheny City building on the North Side.

Tanner said that in Chislett’s day, he was probably best known in Pittsburgh for designing the original Allegheny County Court House in 1841. It burned down in 1882 and was replaced two years later with a design by the world-famous H.H. Richardson, who designed other buildings in this region.

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Uses for South Park Fairgrounds Offered

By Matthew Santoni
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Allegheny County residents Wednesday night offered their ideas for revitalizing the rundown fairgrounds in South Park as part of the county’s push to reuse or redevelop it.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in the Museum Building to discuss how they’d like to see the 80-acre site made more attractive and useful, with ideas ranging from converting buildings into indoor sports arenas to tunneling under a hill so pedestrians can reach Port Authority’s nearby light-rail line.

The county has retained Homestead-based GAI Consultants Inc. to hold public hearings, focus groups and online surveys to gather ideas with the hope that the county can do more with its limited money and manpower, said sustainability manager Jeaneen Zappa.

The fairgrounds still hosts community days and other events but hasn’t been the site of a county fair since the late 1970s.

During World War II, German and Italian prisoners of war were temporarily housed in some of the buildings, said Robert Bastianini, a member of the South Park Township Historical Society.

“I would like to see some kind of fair come back,” he said. “These buildings have stood empty almost all year round.”

Bastianini also asked that one of the buildings be donated to the historical society for use as an office and museum.

Representatives of the Allegheny County Martial Arts Center, a nonprofit which has rented, renovated and maintained one of the former exhibit buildings since 1986, would like to see other organizations given a chance to lease sections of the buildings as studios, practice spaces or storefronts, said senior martial arts instructor Rick Sbuscio.

“These clubs are resources,” said Jeff Danchik, director of the Mon Valley Express Drum and Bugle Corps, another long-term tenant of one of the buildings. “We fix up the building, and that’s our rent … but there isn’t any mechanism in place for these groups to go from an idea to getting money and building something.”

Another public hearing will be held in November, and a final report is expected by mid-December. County residents can fill out an online survey at alleghenycounty.us/parks/SPFairgrounds.

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Total Transformation of Allegheny Public Square

Total transformation of Allegheny Public Square moves forward with completion of final design phase

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The City of Pittsburgh, in partnership with The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, community members, and Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, have completed the second major phase of design for the revitalization of the Northside’s Allegheny Public Square Park.

Since San Francisco based Cochran won the competition in 2007 to produce the final design for the park, a large amount of redesign has been done to the original plans, based on the concerns and wishes of the community and various stakeholders.

“To her credit, after three or four community meetings, Andrea went back to the drawing board and came back with a refined design that has been lauded, and I think reflects the community input extensively,” says Chris Seifert, deputy director of The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Allegheny Public Square

With the final designs completed, the project will go to bid for construction next March, with an estimated construction budget of $3 million. Over $4 million of the estimated $6 million overall budget has been raised. Due to the economy, the capital campaign was delayed for a brief time, but was able to get back on course last Spring.

By 2012, what is now merely a sunken concrete area in very poor condition will be transformed into huge public green space with sophisticated sustainable systems in place. In addition to a large meadow area, six dozen trees will be introduced to the park, along with a variety of low-maintenance native species. A large piece of public art will be installed in the center of the park, which will feature fog spraying devices to reflect light and allow visitors to cool off in the hot summer months.

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Source: Chris Seifert, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Writer: John Farley

Image courtesy of The Children’s Museum

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Urban Ministry Rescuing Decayed Friendship Church

Monday, September 27, 2010
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Three years ago, the stately 19th-century sandstone church at Friendship and South Pacific avenues in Bloomfield lay in ruins and was targeted for demolition.

“Can this church be saved?” a newspaper article asked at the time. The answer, borne out by a leaking roof, missing windows, falling plaster, buckled flooring, peeling paint and pervasive mold and mildew, seemed to be “no.”

Since then, all manner of angels have descended on the former Fourth United Presbyterian Church.

More than 1,000 volunteers have helped to replace the roof, tuck-point the sandstone walls and gut the interior, upgrading its plumbing, electrical and heating systems, replacing windows and framing out space for classrooms and a kitchen.

Before the building celebrates its rebirth as Pacific Sanctuary, it will need a few more angels.

Earthen Vessels Outreach, which bought and rescued the building after it was slated for demolition three separate times, is trying to raise an additional $100,000 to finish a community center on the ground floor for the hundreds of at-risk children it serves from five Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Thanks to volunteers and donated materials, the organization has spent only $450,000 while accomplishing an estimated $1.2 million to $1.5 million in improvements, project manager Ryan England said.

“It was said in the beginning that we could never do this,” said Marilyn Chaney, director of Earthen Vessels Outreach. “But we’re doing it and we’re going to keep doing it.”

“The question was asked ‘Can this building be saved?’ ” said her husband, the Rev. John Paul Chaney. “It’s been saved. The question now is if we can restore it.”

Most of the remaining work is finishes — flooring, ceiling tiles, lighting and bathroom fixtures. Volunteers will continue to buzz about, but some of the work requires the hiring of skilled professionals, Ms. Chaney said.

Mr. England, a California native who earned his master’s in civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and decided to make Pittsburgh his home and community service his vocation, said he can finish the ground floor in four to six weeks if funding is secured.

“Our youth programs have wait lists or are full or really crowded” in the ministry’s current space down the street, he said. “We have a hard time turning people away.”

The group serves about 200 children from Bloomfield, Garfield, East Liberty, Lawrenceville and Friendship on a regular basis and about 200 more sporadically with its after-school, day camp, performing arts, recreation and other programs.

“We feed every child who comes through our doors,” Mr. England said. The group serves 12,000 meals a year from its tiny kitchen.

“It’s a real struggle,” he said.

The ground floor of the church is being renovated to provide four classrooms — the current headquarters has none — plus a bigger kitchen and large gathering area.

Longer-range plans are to convert the main level upstairs into a recreation center and worship space for Seeds of Hope Church, also founded by the Chaneys, who moved to Pittsburgh from Chicago to launch their urban ministry about 10 years ago.

The church was built in the 1890s. Fourth United Presbyterian Church closed in the 1960s and was rented as a school building for about 10 years before being sold to a pair of ministers in 1976. Their congregation eventually abandoned the building and decay set in.

“When Ryan and I walked in, there was six inches of water on the floor,” Ms. Chaney said.

“And mold everywhere,” Mr. England added.

Mr. Chaney had tried to buy the church for years, once offering $250,000. When Earthen Vessels Outreach finally purchased it, in shambles, it fetched just $65,000.

A new red roof of aluminum and asphalt shingles, repointed masonry, new windows and French drains are protecting the volunteers’ investments inside, he said. “It’s structurally secured.”

Finishing the community center will enable the organization to gain the certification it needs to qualify for federal and state funding and expand its mission, the Chaneys said.

“We want it to be a peaceful place for young people to come and grow as human beings,” Mr. Chaney said.

To learn more about Earthen Vessels Outreach or to donate, visit www.evo-pgh.org or call 412-681-7272.


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Old Film Site Breathes New Life

Paramount building was empty for years
Thursday, September 23, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Greg Pierce, assistant film curator at The Warhol, left, talks with Rick Schweikert in front of the film vaults at Paramount's film exchange, 1727 Blvd. of the Allies, Uptown. Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

The Paramount Pictures Film Exchange, described by a nearby businessman last year as “a disaster,” now has a new roof, flushing toilets and a clutch of stockholders.

At an open house Wednesday, exclamations from old films burst from the screening room, the public took tours and live bands played at night in a celebration of the building’s new life.

“After all these months of labor, to see it lit up …” said Rick Schweikert, letting a smile finish the sentence. He is the primary owner, having given UPMC $50,000 for it last winter, just ahead of what many believed was a pending demolition.

“It was empty for 20 years, and water poured through a hole in the roof,” he said, stroking the tile in a bathroom illuminated by a skylight. “But it’s in great shape. People knew what they were doing when they built this thing.”

It was built in 1926 at what is now 1727 Boulevard of the Allies, Uptown. It was one of six or seven along that stretch that accommodated the film industry, local theater owners and the local and national press who interviewed stars when they traveled to publicize their films.

The old Paramount Pictures emblem still stands above the door to the entrance of Paramount's film exchange. Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

Each studio stored movies at their exchanges, which were built like fortresses because film was so flammable.

The local exchanges included those of Warner Brothers — now home of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans — MGM, RKO and 20th Century Fox. The Paramount is brick and framed in terra cotta, with decorative scrollwork and egg-and-dart molding. The studio’s logo is still in place over the main door, which is now closed off; a door opening onto Miltenberger Street welcomed yesterday’s curious, among them a few film buffs.

Greg Pierce, assistant curator of film and video at the Warhol Museum, stopped by to see if his giant personal collection of industrial and locally made films might find a home at the exchange.

It was a film buff who brought the building into the public eye last summer.

Drew Levinson had entered a video contest sponsored by the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh for students 25 and younger. His video about the Paramount exchange won the contest. He and the YPA nominated the building for historic status.

Mr. Schweikert said he will rent studios to artists, install a cafe in the film vault room, screen films and hold entertainment events. The upstairs will likely attract a firm taking advantage of tax credits, since the building is in a Keystone Innovation Zone — an area targeted for investment.

In the screening room Wednesday, a run of black-and-white shorts were projected inside the original ornate frame on the wall, the first movies to show in that room since the early 1970s.

The building is 8,500 square feet of mostly open space surrounded with windows. In its previous incarnation, clients entered a wainscotted vestibule through the main entrance and rented movies, returned movies and paid bills at a service window.

At full capacity, the exchange hired 50 people, including managers, secretaries, projectionists and people who repaired and cleaned film, said Mr. Schweikert.

City council approved historic status in January, when Mr. Schweikert closed on the property. He contracted with roofers and he and his Uptown neighbor, Bob Marion, began cleaning out debris, removing old pipes “and an HVAC unit the size of a minivan,” said Mr. Marion.

Mr. Schweikert, who owns other buildings Uptown, said his budget of $300,000 “is all we need.” His investment group, PFEX Inc., issued 100 shares of common stock and has sold 54 so far at $3,000 each.

Jason Roth, the building’s architect, said he was “ecstatic when I got a call from Rick last winter saying he was going to try to save it. He got to it just in time.

“There’s a lot of energy in Uptown now. I certainly hope this will feed off of, and feed into, that energy.”

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Tens of thousands still powerless after storm

By Margaret Harding, Michael Hasch and Bill Vidonic
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thousands of Western Pennsylvanians remain without power today and might not have service restored until Sunday morning.

Wednesday’s brief but powerful thunderstorm has left a lasting impression.

Duquesne Light reported 13,000 customers — many in Allegheny County’s South Hills neighborhoods — do not have electricity. Customers in Baldwin, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Mt. Lebanon and Scott, as well as Banksville, Beechview and Brookline in the city, might not have service until Sunday, said spokesman Joseph Vallarian.

Allegheny Power reported 14,000 Pennsylvania customers were in the dark. Those in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties might not have service restored until 11:30 p.m. Friday, the company said.

High winds and lightning yesterday afternoon toppled trees, power lines and even an old church steeple, damaging homes, businesses and cars and prompting schools to cancel classes today. About 30 businesses and schools closed or delayed opening, according to WPXI-TV, the Tribune-Review’s news partner.

A generator leaking carbon monoxide forced the evacuation of a Mt. Lebanon apartment building early this morning, a spokeswoman with the township said. No one was injured.

Fourteen people who live in the lower levels of the building on Washington Road took refuge in the nearby municipal building, the spokeswoman said. Their apartments were ventilated, and residents returned about 7 a.m., she said.

Emergency dispatchers fielded calls of sparking electrical wires, downed trees and a transformer fire this morning in Pittsburgh.

Hilltop Road from Breckenridge Drive in Collier to Collier Avenue in Heidelberg was closed because of downed lines and trees, PennDOT said.

Wind gusts estimated at nearly 70 mph sent trees crashing onto cars in Mt. Lebanon and Banksville, according to National Weather Service reports and emergency dispatchers. Small hail was reported across the South Hills, the weather service said.

About 100,000 Duquesne Light and Allegheny Power customers lost power at the height of the storm.

Lightning shattered the steeple at a former South Side church housing the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape offices, sending the wooden, brick and copper structure through the roof and ceilings of the three-story building on South 19th Street.

“There’s a steeple on my chair,” said Leah Vallone, the center’s supervisor of crisis intervention, who escaped injury because she was in a meeting. “I was religious, but I think I will be even more so now.”

Five employees of the Lighting by Erik showroom on West Liberty Avenue in Dormont escaped injury when a window exploded under the force of the wind, shards of glass turning into shrapnel as dozens of chandeliers, lamps and glass accessories inside shattered.

“The windows were just shaking and rattling,” said Lewis Cantor, whose family has owned the business since 1965.

Westmoreland 911 dispatchers had reports of homes with structural damage, and downed trees and wires, said spokesman Dan Stevens. He said Greensburg, Unity, Penn and Murrysville as some of the hardest-hit areas.

“I was sitting there, watching the storm, and then all of a sudden the wind became so terrific, and this tree just cracked, and it fell straight in my yard. It missed my house, but it came close,” said Jack Zellie of Unity in Westmoreland County. “It happened suddenly. A great, big wind came up it seemed like a wind burst of sorts you could see (the tree) just crack. … It was overwhelming, to be honest with you.”

Damage reports continued to come in this morning, Stevens said.

“This was a fast-moving, widespread storm,” he said. “People made it home last night and just didn’t go back out.

“They’re just going out now and finding that there are trees down in their roads.”

Staff writers Cody Francis contributed to this report.

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Carnegie’s Library Legacy

The Carnegie struggles with honoring the past while serving the present and future

Sunday, March 02, 2003

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic

From Fiji to Florida to Fresno, Calif., Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 libraries between 1881 and 1917, mostly in America, the British Isles and Canada. To this day, Carnegie’s free-to-the-people libraries remain Pittsburgh’s most significant cultural export, a gift that has shaped the minds and lives of millions.

The Homewood library opened at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Lang Street in 1910. Today the branch becomes the first to be rehabilitated in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's $40 million systemwide renovation, libraries also must accommodate information available through electronic media. New computer stations are among the updates in the Homewood makeover, which restores major architectural elements while sacrificing others considered less significant. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

From the monumental libraries of the Monongahela Valley steel towns to the smaller branch libraries in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the Carnegie library buildings of Western Pennsylvania also have a national significance — and for some, an uncertain future.

In Pittsburgh, whether to bring these beloved, iconic but aging buildings into the 21st century or leave them behind is a question the city soon will face, as Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh reinvents itself with an emphasis on customer service and satisfaction.

Last fall, when library director Herb Elish asked City Council to give the library the option to buy the city-owned buildings it occupies, it wasn’t because he has a real estate fetish. While Elish doesn’t want to talk publicly about which libraries eventually may have new uses, he acknowledges that three of the older buildings could be sold, although not without community input.

The man who seems destined to have the biggest impact on Carnegie’s Pittsburgh libraries since the steelmaker himself is also a former steel executive, CEO at Weirton Steel Corp. from 1987 to his retirement in 1995.

Elish said he took the library job because he thinks libraries can “raise up people’s consciousness,” leading to “greater literacy, better jobs and rich, useful lives.” He wants each library, old or new, to be a place “people want to come to, think is enjoyable, get a lot out of and have fun at, because at the end of the day, it’ll just make their lives better.”

Elish’s $40 million systemwide makeover got under way last month when work began on the historic Homewood library. Renovations to the Brookline, Squirrel Hill and Woods Run branches and the central library in Oakland also will happen over the coming year. To design the plans, Elish hired five small Pittsburgh architecture firms known for imaginative, even provocative work, then matched them with the projects for which they seemed most suited. The idea, Elish said, was “to get a lot of ferment of ideas, with architects talking to each other about how things should be designed.”

For the 19 city libraries expected to be renovated over the next five to seven years, the goals are the same: to create “fully modern buildings” that are air-conditioned and accessible for wheelchairs and baby strollers, have community meeting rooms and spaces for teens, and give “each neighborhood a space and an image that is new and that the community can be proud of,” Elish said.

“Economic development can happen around a library because libraries attract a lot of people,” he added. “We think that libraries can be symbolic of belief in and support of the neighborhoods. It’s one of the reasons that we, as a policy matter, said we weren’t going to end library service in any neighborhood where it currently exists. We can be a force to help bring that neighborhood back.”

The Woods Run branch library, shown on opening day, July 8, 1964, is scheduled for interior renovation this year as well as for construction of a drive-through drop-off for books.

Let there be libraries

Carnegie opened his first public library in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883. Rather than his name, he had a motto — “Let there be light” — carved within the Gothic-arched entrance; nevertheless, the three-story, turreted stone castle of a building announced that the weaver’s son had done rather well in America.

As many full-blooded Pittsburghers know, Carnegie erected his first public library in this country in his adopted hometown, Allegheny City, where as a youth he drank from the sweet chalice of knowledge in the home of Col. James Anderson, who opened his personal library on Saturday afternoons to the neighborhood’s working boys.

Braddock’s library had opened a year earlier, in 1889, but not as a publicly supported library. Braddock’s was fully funded by the Carnegie Steel Co. and governed by its officials — giving both the Braddock and Allegheny libraries bragging rights to firsts. Homestead’s library followed in 1898, Carnegie’s in 1901 and Duquesne’s in 1904.

While some of Carnegie’s steelworkers literally and figuratively had no time for his libraries, preferring the saloon and the lodge, other men and their wives learned English there at night and made good use of the libraries’ music halls, gyms, bowling allies, swimming pools and baths.

And their children and their children’s children embraced them. Monumental entrance arches, grand staircases, marble floors and hooded fireplaces transported girls and boys to another world. The medieval French chateau and the Renaissance palazzo, set down amid fire-breathing furnaces, clapboard houses and courtyards strung with laundry, gave hope to children in the first half of the 20th century that life wasn’t all blood, sweat and soot. Best of all, the shelves were lined with books, and you could carry your dreams right out the front door.

For the Allegheny library, Washington, D.C., architects Smithmeyer & Pelz drew not from the lavish, ornate classicism of their 1873, Renaissance-style design for the Library of Congress but from Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s smaller, asymmetrical, towered New England libraries in rusticated stone.

Smithmeyer & Pelz gave the Allegheny City library foyer a wide, white marble staircase leading to the second floor, much as patrons would have found in one of the homes on nearby Ridge Avenue. Beyond the entrance hall was the “delivery room,” where books fetched by librarians from closed stacks were dispensed to readers. At one end of the room, an early photograph shows, Andrew Carnegie’s benevolent gaze greeted them from above a roaring fireplace. To the right of the delivery room was the men’s reading room and, in a small alcove, the women’s reading room.

There was no children’s room in the Allegheny City library — that innovation belongs to the Lawrenceville library of 1898 — but for adults and children alike, the Allegheny library’s “homey touches encouraged readers to think that the hierarchy was sustained not just by economic power but by mutual love and respect, as in an extended family,” writes architectural historian Abigail Van Slyck in “Free to All,” her 1995 book on Carnegie libraries. “Library users might then look upon Carnegie as a rich uncle, who deserved respect, obedience and affection, and whose affection in return precluded any class resentment.”

Carnegie still presides over the library’s former delivery room, but not from over the fireplace mantel. A 1970s renovation gutted most of the original interior. Today, as Pittsburgh’s Allegheny branch, the library is bright, white, modern and actively used. But it has lost its grand staircase, fireplace and all of its domestic and hierarchical connotations. Uncle Andy’s portrait hangs unceremoniously above a periodicals rack, flanked by the men’s and women’s bathrooms.

Visitors will have little trouble stepping back a century in the Braddock and Carnegielibraries, which have accommodated new technology without sacrificing the cozy comfort of their historic interiors. In both locations, Carnegie’s portrait still hangs over the fireplace.

Like the Andrew Carnegie Free Library of Carnegie, the Carnegie Library of Homestead is majestically sited near a hilltop, overlooking the town and the river valley. Opened in 1898, it has seen some interior alterations over the years — for one thing, the fireplace gave way to bookshelves — but it’s still standing and serving its community — more than can be said for the 1904 library in nearby Duquesne. Rivaling the Homestead and Carnegie libraries in size and setting, the Duquesne building was demolished in 1968 to make way for a school district building that was never built. The library site is now Library Court, a cul-de-sac of ranch houses.

A distinguishing feature of Pittsburgh's Carnegie library branches is the wood and glass partitions between rooms, which allowed a single librarian to watch over the entire facility. At the Homewood library, shown here with a view from the lobby into the children's reading room, sections of the partitions will be removed to create better flow between the lobby and the adult and children's reading rooms. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

A late bloomer

Pittsburgh also was getting in on the library boom, even if it was a little late to the party. In 1881, the same year Carnegie began his first library in Dunfermline, he offered Pittsburgh $250,000 for a library if the city would provide the land and $15,000 annually for its maintenance. It was an offer the city could and did refuse, believing it was not a state-sanctioned use of public money.

By 1887, with the city assured by the state legislature that a public library was an appropriate use of tax funds, Pittsburgh officials told Carnegie they were ready to accept his gift. In 1890, the philanthropist expanded his original offer to $1 million for a conjoined central library and art museum, as well as branch libraries in the neighborhoods, which Carnegie came to view as more important in elevating the working class. Eventually, his gift to Pittsburgh would total $1,160,614.

Twelve years after the initial offer, construction began on the central library and museum in Oakland, following a design competition won by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow of Pittsburgh and Boston. But not long after it opened, the library was found to be woefully inadequate. For one thing, everybody forgot about the kids.

“So little thought was given to children as library users before 1895 that no provision was made for them,” library director Ralph Munn wrote in 1969. The library also had no room for scientific and technical books. An addition, opened in 1907, solved both problems, as well as one that had vexed Carnegie for more than a decade. The twin towers that flanked the music hall — “donkey ears,” he called them — were demolished in the expansion.

Today, Elish said, the problem with the main library is its organization: “You sort of need a secret handshake to find your way around.”

Books are shelved in unpredictable locations and departments, and even once visitors identify where a book is, they can have a hard time finding it.

To remedy that, Friendship-based EDGE architecture is working with librarians and South Side’s MAYA Design to reorganize and, as MAYA likes to put it, “tame the complexity.” MAYA analyzed why people couldn’t find what they were looking for and discovered that, in a library with millions of items spread over a labyrinth of rooms, “wayfinding” is an issue right up there with book-finding.

EDGE’s $3.1 million design is still being refined and won’t be ready for public review for a couple of months.

“We’re looking to make an environment that’s a destination because it’s entertaining, it’s informative and it’s an exciting place to be — and not do anything that violates the existing architecture and character,” said EDGE architect Gary Carlough.

Work could begin as early as mid-summer, but Dunham said it’s too soon to say how long the renovation might take.

While the branch libraries have gone or will go through a neighborhood input process in their renovation planning stages, for the main library, that process will happen in public hearings before City Council, a requirement for any project in the main library with more than a $1 million budget.

A first for Lawrenceville

After impressing Carnegie with the quality of their work — and their ability to stay on budget — Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, who also completed an 1893 addition to the Braddock library, would go on to design the Homestead and Duquesne libraries and, as Alden & Harlow, eight Pittsburgh branches, as well as libraries in Oakmont, Erie and, in Ohio, at Salem and Steubenville.

The first of the Pittsburgh branches, completed in 1898, was in Lawrenceville, the densely built neighborhood of factories and brick rowhouses. The library was built on residential Fisk Street, in the heart of the neighborhood but not on the main drag.

No more would Carnegie build big, homey castles, as he had done in the towns with which he had personal associations. Correspondingly, Alden & Harlow “divested their libraries of the domestic connotations that had appealed to the paternalistic philanthropist of 1880, and allowed the buildings to convey their public nature to prospective readers,” Van Slyck writes. The branch libraries would be classical and symmetrical, and done in brick to better fit their surroundings.

With a then-revolutionary open-shelf policy in all branches, the small libraries were planned so one librarian could oversee the entire operation. That dictated the interior plans of all the Pittsburgh branches, beginning at Lawrenceville and continuing through West End and Wylie Avenue (1899), Mount Washington and Hazelwood (1900), East Liberty (1905), South Side (1908) and Homewood (1910).

Lawrenceville was “the most innovative and important of these Pittsburgh branch libraries,” a design that “broke with Richardsonian precedent in both style and plan,” writes Margaret Henderson Floyd in “Architecture After Richardson,” her 1994 book on Longfellow, Alden and Harlow.

Located just beyond the lobby, the circulation desk — no longer a delivery desk — took center stage in Lawrenceville, flanked by turnstiles that admitted readers to the open stacks one at a time, under the librarian’s watchful eye. To thwart thievery, the stacks were arranged in a radial pattern. On each side of the lobby were a general reading room and, for the first time in a library anywhere, a room for children, many of whom were learning English as a second language or had immigrant parents. The reading rooms were separated by walls that became glass partitions above waist level — the better to see you with, my dear.

Despite such controlling devices, the library was well used. Over a six-week period in 1925, for example, a YWCA study of the Lawrenceville library found that 190 young women between 18 and 25 requested 736 books, 590 of which were fiction; the most popular writer was Pittsburgh’s own Mary Roberts Rinehart.

The Lawrenceville design — a rectangle with a semicircular rear projection to accommodate the radial stacks — was repeated at East Liberty, but economy forced other branches into a mostly rectangular plan, with shelves lining the perimeter walls.

The plan developed here became a model for Carnegie libraries around the world, and, in 1911, was included in a design advisory pamphlet issued by Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram, who reviewed the plans of all Carnegie libraries after 1908.

The East Liberty library, serving the wealthy East End community, was the largest of the branches when it opened, but it was demolished in the late 1960s to accommodate the city’s ill-fated urban renewal plan for the commercial district.

The Wylie Avenue branch moved from its historic building to a new location in 1982, because demolition of the Lower Hill neighborhood in the 1960s had left it at one end of its former service area. The building now houses a mosque.

But the six branches that survive as libraries — Lawrenceville, West End, Mount Washington, Hazelwood, South Side and Homewood — have a remarkably high degree of integrity, inside and out.

A dwindling legacy

By 1917, Carnegie had invested $68,333,973 in libraries here and abroad, equivalent to about $966 million today. Of the 1,689 Carnegie libraries built in America, at least 350 have gone on to other uses, writes Theodore Jones in his 1997 book, “Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy.” Another 259 have been razed or destroyed by fire or other natural disasters — 100 in the 1960s, 47 in the 1970s, 12 in the 1980s, a downward trend fueled by the historic preservation movement.

But that trend, Jones writes, has been reversing since the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Public libraries are moving out of their original Carnegie buildings more frequently than ever,” he writes. According to 1991 and 1996 surveys, of the 350 or so libraries that have been reused, 60 were still libraries in 1991.

Elish has said he would consider selling a branch building if it proves too expensive to upgrade or is in a difficult location that lacks parking, but he is keeping an open mind and hopes Pittsburghers will do the same. He also wants to hear from the community.

“We don’t want to get in a position of saying, ‘We don’t want to be in [the old] building’ and have the community rise up in arms” and not use the new building, Elish said. But, he adds, “Part of this is a cost problem. If you find that the renovation of a building is prohibitive compared to what you’re going to get in a new building, you need to lay out the costs and talk about them. You can’t make irresponsible decisions.

“I just think by the end of all of the conversations about this, that good sense will prevail on both sides. We will learn from each other and reach a conclusion together.”

It’s a dialogue that should engage everyone who has a stake in the future of Pittsburgh’s archetypal neighborhood libraries.

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Two Schools Consolidate to Form Sister Thea Bowman Academy in Wilkinsburg

Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Tina Calabro

The name of Sister Thea Bowman may not be widely recognized, but within the Catholic education community, she is celebrated for her commitment to the education of underprivileged children, especially those of African-American descent.

Sister Thea, a Mississippi native and granddaughter of a slave, converted to Catholicism at age 9 and later joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin.

As a scholar, speaker and performer, she presented as many as 100 inspirational talks per year before her death from breast cancer in 1990 at age 53. At the height of her ministry, she was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Over the past two decades, a number of Catholic schools across the nation have been named in her honor. Now her legacy has become part of a newly consolidated Catholic elementary school in Wilkinsburg.

Sister Thea Bowman Academy, for pre-kindergarten through grade eight, replaces the former Holy Rosary elementary school in Homewood and the St. James elementary school in Wilkinsburg. The academy is in the former St. James building at 721 Rebecca St.

The diocesan committee that chose the name for the school was attracted to Sister Thea’s “charismatic and prayerful” approach, said the Rev. Kris Stubna, diocesan secretary for Catholic education.

“She is an excellent role model and inspiration for the school,” he said.

The consolidation of the schools became necessary because enrollment in each had declined to below 150, Father Stubna said. He added that declining enrollment in those schools reflects fewer school-age children in the city overall. The new academy has 300 students.

The consolidation decreases the cost of maintaining two buildings while enabling the new school to offer more programs, such as new science labs, he said.

The St. James building was chosen for use because it is the newer of the two and because students who live in Wilkinsburg do not have school bus transportation, but those who live in Pittsburgh do.

The decision to recast the school as an academy reflects its focus on “educational excellence and faith formation,” Father Stubna said.

The consolidated school, like the two schools it succeeds, is an initiative of the Extra Mile Foundation, which provides financial support to selected Catholic schools located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as well as scholarships to cover tuition.

The two other elementary schools supported by the foundation are slated for consolidation in the fall of 2011: St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District and St. Agnes in West Oakland.

Father Stubna said the schools supported by the Extra Mile Foundation “give a choice for a quality program in an environment of faith.”

Michael and Yulanda Johnson of Lincoln-Lemington have four children at Sister Thea Bowman Academy in grades two, five, seven and eight. Last year, all four attended St. James.

Mr. Johnson said that combining school populations presents challenges, but “the staff is dedicated to making it go smoothly.”

Among the new features he appreciates in the facility are the science labs and brighter lighting. “The new labs are beautiful, an environment where kids are excited about learning,” he said.

He said he also is pleased about a strong turnout at parent meetings, the addition of two male teachers and upgrades to the school uniforms.

The Johnsons moved to Pittsburgh from Baltimore five years ago and soon decided to send their children to a Catholic school.

“We wanted them to be in a strong learning environment and have small class sizes,” Mr. Johnson said. Receiving help with the tuition cost also was a factor, he said.

Tuition at Sister Thea Bowman Academy is $1,800 for the first child in a family and $600 for the second. Additional children attend at no charge.

Like many families in schools supported by Extra Mile, the Johnsons are not members of a Catholic parish, but they say they are comfortable with the religious environment of the school.

Mr. Johnson, a customer service representative for Comcast, volunteers as a basketball coach at the school and noted that the consolidation has produced more interest in the team. The school is planning to add soccer and track teams.

“The larger enrollment has opened opportunities,” he said.


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On the Decision Regarding the Civic Arena by the Sports & Exhibition Authority

PHLF News
October 1, 2010

We at Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation regret the potential loss of the Civic Arena as a unique example of early modernism in American architecture.

Conceived by philanthropist Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and funded as an innovative public-private partnership, the project was intended to be a grand contribution to the region––a “civic” auditorium and convention center. Mitchell & Ritchey, the premier Pittsburgh architectural firm during the city’s Renaissance, designed the Arena in 1954; it was completed in altered form in 1961. It was a daring, contemporary design and an extraordinary feat of engineering with the world’s largest retractable roof.

However, we also understand the practical difficulty of saving and finding a feasible use for it that will generate sufficient revenue to adapt and to maintain it. We also recognize that the local constituency in the Hill District and others who in the 1960s opposed the demolition of the Lower Hill for the development of the then-styled “Arts Acropolis” have negative feelings about the existence of the Arena, which caused the taking and demolition of many houses and businesses.

Early in the study period, we looked at the possibility of saving the steel structure that holds the leaves in place, together with retaining several of the leaves underneath, so as to project what the Arena originally was and to serve as a sculpture in the landscape. Unfortunately, because of the amount of land area that would be taken permanently for such a monument, the streets running from the Hill District to the City could not be reestablished with concomitant development. Considerable future maintenance costs would also be entailed.

We also recognize the financial problems of the City and the fact that it lacks revenue to sustain the infrastructure, buildings and green spaces that it already has, and that it cannot become the fiscal custodian of another major public place.

If time can be given to further study alternative uses for the Arena, as Senator James Ferlo has suggested, we would support that. However, there need to be feasible proposals that appear to warrant serious study.

From the outset of the discussions, we have advocated that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and not just the State History Code, be followed by the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA). The Section 106 review process requires that alternatives be evaluated “that could avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects on historic properties,” and we understand that the SEA feels that the report by Michael Baker does that. The report, however, fulfills only part of the requirements and processes that are clearly defined in the Section 106 regulations.

We believe there is the possibility of jeopardizing the future use of federal funds for the redevelopment of the entire 28-acre Lower Hill site if Section 106 is not complied with prior to the demolition of the Arena. Section 110(K) of the National Historic Preservation Act prohibits “anticipatory demolitions” by placing a penalty on applicants of federal funds, including local governments, that intentionally destroy or harm historic properties prior to the completion of the Section 106 review process. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, our organization, and others have informed the SEA that proceeding with the demolition of the Arena may jeopardize the future use of federal funds at the site and make the federal funds vulnerable to legal challenge.

The Hill District is now engaged in a master planning process. The Penguins have provided a plan to establish a street grid reuniting the Lower Hill with downtown, including a connection over the Crosstown Expressway, and to create opportunities for major development. The land will be returned to the tax roles and enormous development opportunities, particularly for housing, will present themselves.

The Arena issue is a difficult one for all of us in the preservation community. Those who opposed the original urban renewal plan to demolish the Lower Hill and erect the Arena find themselves with the choice of trying to save the Arena or endorsing a plan that calls for the establishment of an urban street grid along with new development that supports the Hill District community’s desire to develop a plan that reunites the Hill District with the City.

This is not the first time that our community has had to deal with such an issue, nor will it be the last. Urban renewal of the 1960s deprived us of significant buildings, familiar street grids, and landscapes to be replaced by structures that at the time were generally not felt by preservationists to be equal in design quality to what was being lost. We hope that further discussion regarding the Arena and each related project will be conducted with objectivity and civility.

In the case of the Arena, we would favor its preservation if a practical plan were to be put forth that did not add to the financial burden of the City, that generated tax revenues from the land in the Lower Hill and development opportunities as well, and was supported by the Hill District residents.

If the Arena is to be removed, we then support the plan to establish an urban street grid, opening the land to provide development opportunities to a variety of developers, and we will suggest that a high standard of contemporary design be required.

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