Farmland Saved

June 28, 2007
PHLF News

Several years ago we worked with the South Fayette Township Board of Commissioners and Township Manager Mike Hoy to analyze what uses might be made of the historic 217 acres Boy’s Industrial Home of Western Pennsylvania. The home had closed and only one historic building remained, but the land was used for farming and natural growth.

As part of our Farmland Preservation program, we employed the landscape design firm of LaQuatra Bonci, and the architectural firm Landmarks Design Associates, both of Pittsburgh, to work together with government leaders and community residents and our staff to try to develop a preservation plan for the property.

We are pleased that South Fayette has just announced that the Allegheny County Agricultural Land Preservation program is paying $1.6 million or $10,000 an acre for the rights to the land to ensure that it will remain farmland permanently. Fifty-seven acres will be utilized for recreation.

Through our Farmland Preservation program, this brings total land protected under the original grant we received from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to 1,314 acres.

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One grimy stone remains

Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow
University Times
The Faculty & Staff Newspaper of the
University of Pittsburgh
June 28, 2007

From top to bottom, the Cathedral’s limestone exterior will gleam when preservation crews are through, but one darkened stone will remain, thanks to Nationality Rooms director E. Maxine Bruhns.

She and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation officials requested that one weather-worn block of darkened stone near the Fifth Avenue entrance be preserved as a tribute to Pittsburgh’s industrial past.

Bruhns chose the particular block both for its character as well as its location. “What I like about the rectangle is on the lower part, the wind cut these wonderful patterns into it, and then it gets dirtier up above. It has real character,” Bruhns said. The stone is situated close to the building’s National Historic Landmark plaque and near the entrance where Nationality Room tours begin.

“As groups come to view the rooms on tours we can meet them out there and say, ‘This is the way it used to look.’ Honestly, because you know Pittsburgh was built by industry — steel mills — and we just can’t all be squeaky clean and pretend it didn’t happen.”

While Bruhns was convinced that one stone needed to be preserved as a reminder, she wasn’t so sure she could trust it would be done. She sent a memo to Facilities Management officials to let them know she was serious about saving one darkened stone. She even made a pact with co-workers to ensure her wishes were heeded as she departed for a visit to Lebanon in mid-May.

“While I was in the Middle East, [Nationality Rooms staffer] Eileen [Kiley] was going to splay her body in front of it all day to protect it,” Bruhns quipped. “When I got back, I went out and saw a young man there and I said, ‘I’d like to know if you’re going to save this rectangle.’ And he said, ‘That’s my job’ and, by golly, he did. It was fun.”

Park L. Rankin, Pitt’s senior manager of architecture, planning, design and construction, acknowledged that Facilities Management had a certain reluctance to leaving a piece of stone uncleaned.

“But based on many responses that the whole building should not be cleaned because it represented a landmark of our industrial past, we reconsidered, selecting a remote, but recognizable location, which would serve to not only save a remnant of our past, but also to highlight the vast physical improvement to this landmark, now that it has been cleaned,” Rankin said. “Once the cleaning is finished, and decades into the future, when no one will remember that this building was covered in soot and grime, they can compare the before and after, and possibly note what a great thing the University did in the preservation and cleaning of this landmark.”

Cleaning contractor Cost Co. fabricated a metal cover to protect the grimy stone during cleaning, leaving it in its blackened state. While there’s no plaque explaining why one block escaped the process, there soon will be, Bruhns said.

“I think there should be one, just to say what it is and why it’s there and to say when the cleaning was done,” she said. “After all, the school children who bought a brick [during the Cathedral’s construction] probably came from the steel mill towns, and they need to know that some brick is being left in its original state.”

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Region employs the ‘Wright’ formula

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Emily Leone
DAILY COURIER
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Frank Lloyd Wright’s oft-quoted thought, “I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E,” was the proper introduction to a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a home designed by the world-famous architect in a Mt. Pleasant Township park.
Plans were revealed for the Usonian-style Duncan House that will be reconstructed as a guest house and tourist facility at Polymath Park Resort, a new safe haven for the historic home. It is only the fourth Wright home in the country in which tourists can stay.

Built in 1957, the 2,200-square-foot house was to be demolished in 2002, but Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy wanted it saved. The house was dismantled and moved from Lisle, Ill., to Johnstown, where plans to turn it into an education center fell through.

At yesterday’s groundbreaking, Polymath public relations director Laura Newsmith said once the core frame has been reconstructed, the Duncan House will be rebuilt, redecorated and furnished according to original blueprints and styles of the 1950s.

“We are fortunate to have the land to build and expand the resort for several uses,” she said. “All of our activities will be culturally focused, with an emphasis on nature and improving the mind, body and spirit.”
The house will join two other Wright homes already at the park — the Blum and Balter homes — available for year-round leasing. Construction will begin in July to put the Duncan House back together, and the floor plan includes three bedrooms, two baths and Wright’s trademark open living/dining area with a natural stone fireplace at the center.

The park, off Clay Pike Road on the southern slope of Chestnut Ridge, was developed in the 1960s by Peter Berndtson, one of Wright’s apprentices. The area then was called Treetops and Mountain Circles and was meant to be a residential area. Owner Tom Papinchak bought the land two years ago and said there were several others bidding for the house, but Polymath received it because it was a “natural fit.”

In 2005, Papinchak began working with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, state agencies and The Progress Fund, an organization that helps to provide for rural businesses in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In a short amount of time, Polymath had not only secured the house but found several sponsors who would contribute reconstruction necessities, such as laying the foundation and roofing the home.

Newsmith hopes that with Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob so close, the addition of the Duncan House will complete a touring circuit, allowing tourists visiting other locations the opportunity to stay at the home, an “attractive location” within the Laurel Highlands.

Known nationally and internationally, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob are considered two of the area’s most valuable attractions, said Julie Duncan of the Laurel Highlands Tourism Bureau.

“One of the biggest questions we get is where do you stay if you are visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright house or Kentuck Knob,” she said. “To have the opportunity to spend the night in a Frank Lloyd Wright house and then go to Fallingwater the next day just adds to the Frank Lloyd Wright experience.”

That experience includes the perfect unity of nature and architecture, a harmony that Papinchak believes can be found at Polymath and is further defined by the addition of the Duncan House.

More importantly, Papinchak said, the area will retain its charm and private setting and will not become commercial.

Construction on the Duncan House will be completed in the fall, and reservations and tour information will be announced in August.

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Landmark Downtown cathedral gets its first cleaning– Episcopal house of worship was being damaged by acid runoff whenever it rained

Pittsburgh Post GazetteMonday, June 25, 2007
By Sara McCune,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One of Pittsburgh’s oldest cathedrals is getting a complete makeover.

Cleaning crews will wash away 120 years worth of grime from Trinity Cathedral in Downtown, interns from the University of Pennsylvania will clean headstones and landscapers will green up the property.

While the cathedral is being cleaned in preparation for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary, there’s another reason the cleanup’s time has come: The grime on the building from Pittsburgh’s steel mill days has been turning acidic when it rains, and is slowly deteriorating the sandstone cathedral.

The yearlong celebration of the founding of Pittsburgh’s Episcopal church runs from this Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving 2008.

“There had been some debate within the diocese about whether or not to clean it,” Bishop Robert Duncan said. Some members of the diocese thought the blackened exterior would serve as a reminder of Pittsburgh’s industrious past. But the bishop said he could look out of his Oliver Building office and see the deterioration. In 2000, he and some colleagues hired an engineering firm to take a sample of the grime and test it.

“Every time the building gets moist it’s like it’s getting an acid bath,” he said.

Fred Thieman, co-chairman of the anniversary celebration campaign, said the cost of the restoration work won’t be known until after the cleaning. Young Restoration Co., of Carnegie, which has been contracted for the cleaning, uses a wash which is essentially baking soda and water, and environmentally friendly. The cleaning, which began last week, is expected to take three to four months.

While the cathedral was built in 1872, the cemetery’s origin was as a Native American burial ground. It also holds the remains of French and British soldiers and early Americans. University of Pennsylvania postgraduate student Teresa Duff, the site supervisor, said she and two graduate students are cleaning and preserving headstones as the third and final part of a stone-conservation campaign involving the cathedral.

There are eight different methods of preserving and treating the headstones, which are used on a case-by-case basis. For example, some of the stones need to have grout injected into cracks, and some need metal pins inserted to keep them from crumbling .

About 140 headstones will be pulled, treated and returned to their original places.

Ms. Duff said members of the university worked on other stone conservation efforts involving the graveyard in 1990 and 2001. The University of Pennsylvania has one of the state’s best architectural preservation programs.

The alley between the church and the Oliver Building will have landscaping done and be turned into an informal “heroes way” with a memorial to Pittsburgh’s modern heroes, such as the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 and the firefighters who died while fighting the Ebenezer Church fire in 2004.

Trinity Cathedral is in the area of Fort Pitt, where Pittsburgh’s first Anglican prayer service was held.

The Episcopal Church was formed as an American successor to the British Anglican Church.

The cathedral hasn’t been cleaned before for financial reasons, said Canon Cathy Brall. The church has already raised two-thirds of the money needed through bequests, donations and sponsors.

The yearlong celebration also will include lights to provide up-lighting of the cathedral at night.

“Christians consider Jesus as the light of the world,” Bishop Duncan said. “We want the church to be a light for Pittsburgh.”

(Sara McCune can be reached at smccune@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1122 )

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Bedford Springs is bubbling – Mountain resort to reopen July 1 after luxurious restoration

Pittsburgh Post GazetteSunday, June 17, 2007
By Marylynne Pitz,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

BEDFORD — Here at the lush Bedford Springs Resort, the Allegheny Mountains echo with the sounds of hammers, drills and buzzing saws. This cacophony of power tools is punctuated by regular grunts from an army of carpenters, electricians, landscapers and men laying elegant carpet in the Eisenhower Room or shimmering blue tile in the Eternal Springs Spa.

As the opening day of July 1 looms, this mountain retreat nestled in a narrow valley on 185 acres looks like a convention of contractors with workers laboring feverishly to finish a $120 million restoration and public spaces, such as an outdoor swimming pool. On a hill that affords a sweeping view of the resort, carpenters are building an open-air wedding chapel that resembles a Greek temple.

Inside the five guest houses that make up this national historic landmark, long scraps of colorful carpet snake across floors. Blueprints are spread out on stainless-steel kitchen counters. Many ornate lighting fixtures are still swathed in plastic.

“It’s a race to the end. It always is. This has been a marathon but we can see the end in sight,” said Keith P. Evans of Dallas, one of 10 investors from Bedford Resort Partners Ltd.

The 203-year-old Bedford Springs, which closed in 1990, is being restored to its 1905 splendor, including a robin’s egg shade called Bedford Blue that symbolizes the resort’s reputation as a font of seven mineral springs. In its recreational glory days, the hotel hosted Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Samuel Wanamaker, Nathaniel Hawthorne and seven U.S. presidents, including its most ardent fan, James Buchanan, who used it as his summer White House from 1857 to 1861.

Today, the frenzy of preparations so resembles an extreme makeover that a casual observer might wonder if a sitting president or a reigning queen was due to arrive. Or, at the very least, Helen Mirren in an ermine robe.

“Most of what’s being done right now is finalizing furniture, fixtures and equipment,” said Mr. Evans in a telephone interview from Texas. He plans to spend eight days on the site later this month.

Guests are already booked for July; weddings are scheduled in July and August. Utility lawyers and pharmaceutical industry representatives are booked for the fall.

Long before the resort started accepting reservations, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation directed its workers to blow up a mountain and reroute Route 220 so it would pass behind the resort instead of in front of it. That cost $11 million, just part of the total $40 million the state of Pennsylvania spent to revive this leisure attraction.

“An average of 750 trucks would pass in front of the hotel daily. By rerouting the road, we were able to create a more relaxing environment,” said Todd Gillespie, the resort’s marketing director.

Not to mention the elimination of all those noxious exhaust fumes, which might interfere with taking the waters, inhaling spruce-scented breezes or relaxing on the front porch — attractions that drew Aaron Burr and his ailing grandson here in 1806.

Even after two centuries, this place is all about its seven gushing natural springs. American Indians drank from the springs long before they were discovered in the late 1700s by Nicholas Shouffler, a gold prospector.

The magnesia spring is reportedly good for your stomach; the iron spring, a tonic for your blood. Locals regularly fill jugs with crystal spring water. The limestone spring lies just beyond a gold medal trout stream called Shober’s Run while the sulphur and sweet springs are closer to the hotel on Sweet Root Road.

A black spring that produces 400,000 to 500,000 gallons daily feeds Red Oak Lake, a scenic spot built in 1941 by the Navy, which converted the hotel into a radio communication training facility. After the military left, the lake became a popular spot for locals. Now, it’s being cleared of vegetation, fallen logs and a collapsed dock. By next year, a large gazebo and new dock will rise along its shore.

After restoration began in the fall of 2005, crews found an eighth spring that produces 20 gallons per minute. That water is diverted into two large holding tanks installed near the indoor pool and feeds a 30,000-square-foot spa with 14 treatment rooms.

Guests can soak in the Bedford Bath, where water is heated to 105 degrees, shock themselves with a plunge in 55-degree water, then return to warmer water. This primes you for a steam shower, massage and other treatments.

Once you dry off and dress, there’s a choice of five restaurants, including the fancy 1796 or the cozy Frontier Tavern. In addition to a couple that offer informal fare, the sentimental favorite is the formal Crystal Dining room, which has new crystal chandeliers imported from England.

Hanging chandeliers is no sweat compared to restoration engineering feats. Any time you update a 203-year-old hotel, there are structural surprises, and the Colonnade Ballroom in the former Colonial Building snarled the schedule. Cables suspended in the hotel’s attic held up the corners of the large wooden floor, but wooden trusses that supported the second-floor ballroom had weakened and new wooden trusses had to be installed.

“We pulled the roof off and reworked the structural supports … and basically abandoned the cable system,” Mr. Evans said, adding that the National Parks Service and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission had to approve the work, which also took time.

Once the roof was removed, heavy-duty air conditioning and sound technology were installed in the building’s ceiling. Now, the ballroom, which seats 350, is covered in a carpet of blue, green, gold, brown and pink.

David Rau, a design architect from 3 North in Virginia, said the transformation is remarkable.

When he saw the hotel near summer’s end in 2004, it was “an uncontrolled mess,” he said. “Parts of the building had no roof. The lobby had no floor because a flood had washed it away. You couldn’t walk into the lobby because it was a mud pit. There was water dripping down and plaster falling from the ceilings. Paint everywhere was peeled. It was like a movie set for a horror movie.”

Bonnie Wilkinson Mark, a historical architect from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, remembered the air in the Colonial Building, one of five guest houses that stand side by side.

“It had a smell to it that was not pleasant — the smell of mold. This building backs up to the hill behind it. There is so much water coming out of the hill, it was literally coming right into the building,” she said.

Besides controlling and channeling the water, the major challenge was maintaining the buildings’ historic authenticity while restoring them and installing 21st-century modernity — air conditioning, telephones, flat-screen TVs, Internet connections and elevators. Between 1826 and 1842, the hotel was continually upgraded, but the “last major historic upgrade occurred in 1905,” Ms. Mark said.

Known to locals as “the springs,” the hotel has employed generations of Bedford County residents, and a job fair at the end of last month attracted 1,100 potential applicants for 100 positions.

You can walk or ride on the golf course, designed in 1895 by Spencer Oldham and the home of blue herons. In 1911, another prominent course designer, A.W. Tillinghast, for unknown reasons, altered the course to nine holes. He created a storied hole called Tiny Tim, now hole No. 14.

“He backed up Shober’s Run to create a pond in front of the hole, and he placed six sand bunkers in the back of the green. In between each of the bunkers, he placed these series of mounds, which he called alps. He loved that hole so much that he devoted an entire chapter to it in a book he wrote about course design. He tried to replicate that hole on the additional 150 golf courses he went on to design,” Mr. Gillespie said.

In 1923, Donald Ross expanded the course to 18 holes; all the holes north of Shober’s Run were designed by him. Mr. Ross created a tough challenge, too — a par three Volcano Hole where players must shoot 233 yards uphill.

Whatever your golf score, you can recuperate from a hard day of swinging clubs in one of the 216 rooms. On the beds, linens are made of first run Egyptian cotton. Liquid crystal display TVs are tucked in armoires. There are full-length mirrors, sterling silver lamps, bathrooms with Italian marble laid in a herringbone pattern and a vanity.

A 19th-century visitor called the resort “a palace in the wilderness.”

Now, after a glorious restoration that description still fits.

Bedford Springs: Through the years

The rise, decline and rebirth of Bedford Springs Resort parallels the political, social and architectural changes in America for more than two centuries. Here are some significant dates in the retreat’s rich history.

1796
Dr. John Anderson buys 2,200 acres in Bedford County. A medical doctor and entrepreneur, he transformed the property into a mineral springs resort by creating a restaurant, hotel, laundry, servants’ quarters and entertainment.

1806
Builder Solomon Filler completes the Stone Inn using teams of oxen to carry the stone and broad axes to cut the wood. Four other guest houses, the Colonial, Evitt, Swiss Cottage and Anderson House, were built between 1806 and 1905.

1857-1861
The hotel serves as the summer White House for U.S. President James Buchanan, the only native of Pennsylvania to occupy the Oval Office. In 1858, he receives the first trans-Atlantic cable ever sent in the hotel’s lobby; it was from England’s Queen Victoria.

1920s
Dr. William E. Fitch, an authority on mineral waters and the hotel’s medical director, prescribes the doctor-supervised, three-week Bedford Cure for guests.

1942-1944
The U.S. Navy takes over the hotel and uses it to train more than 6,000 sailors as radio operators.

1945
Between August and November, the U.S. government interns 180 high-level Japanese diplomats and embassy staff captured in Germany near the end of World War II.

1983
Flooding inflicts $1 million worth of damage, and water courses through the hotel’s lobby.

1984
The U.S. Department of the Interior designates the resort as a National Historic Landmark, hailing it as one of the best examples of “springs resort architecture.”

1988
The hotel goes into bankruptcy.

1990
The hotel closes.

1998
Bedford Resort Partners Ltd., made up of 10 investors, buys the 2,200-acre property for $8 million.

2004-07
The hotel and golf course are restored; a new spa wing is built. The resort will reopen July 1.

If you go: Bedford Springs Resort

Overview: Bedford Springs Resort, at 2138 Business Route 220 in Bedford, offers 216 guest rooms and suites. There are 90 king-sized rooms, 44 queen guest rooms and 81 double rooms.

Rooms: Many rooms feature open-air porches with rocking chairs and a commanding view of the grounds. All rooms offer flat-screen televisions, wireless high-speed Internet access, dual line phones and voice-mail message systems.

Amenities: Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, an 18-hole golf course, a fitness center, spa with 14 treatment rooms, and 10 meeting rooms for conferences. Among the activities are rafting on the Juniata River, a gold medal trout stream for fly fishing, 25 miles of hiking and biking trails and horseback riding. Red Oak Lake will offer paddle boats, fishing and a beach with picnic areas.

Rates: From Sundays to Thursdays, mountain view rooms start at $249 per night. On Fridays and Saturdays, all room rates start at $299. The resort also offers special accommodation packages.

Information: Visit the hotel’s Web site, www.bedfordspringsresort.com, or call 1-814-623-8100.

– Marylynne Pitz

(Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. )

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Duncan House ‘Wright’ fit for Acme park

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Richard Robbins
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 15, 2007

A house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was unveiled Wednesday in Mt. Pleasant Township, a transplant from Illinois that joins two nearby Wright designs, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob.
Duncan House, a prefab from Wright’s Usonia period of the 1950s, is typical Wright: a low-slung, linear affair with a spacious interior open to nature.

The house, which arrived unassembled in Westmoreland County in three tractor-trailers a year ago, is slated to become a guest house at $385 a night. Its owner and CEO, Thomas Papinchak, of Greensburg, and his sister, Laura Nesmith, of Unity, are opening the house to weekend tours as well.

It is especially hoped Fallingwater visitors, 72 percent of whom need overnight lodging, will rent Duncan House as a way of enhancing their Wright “experience.”

Fallingwater director Lynda Waggoner, who attended yesterday’s ribbon-cutting, said that was an excellent possibility. Waggoner gave Duncan House a thumbs-up, saying the setting, deep in country woods about four miles from Route 31, was perfect.
“I don’t think a better setting could be found,” Waggoner said. “It will be terrific for the 135,000 (annual) visitors to Fallingwater.”

Duncan House was originally constructed in a Chicago suburb in 1957 for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan. Wright hoped to create housing for middle-income Americans. It didn’t work out that way, said Tom Schmidt, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy in Chicago.

Schmidt, who lives in Pittsburgh, said yesterday that Wright could not control costs and his dream of affordable, durable yet superior housing was never realized.

At the same time, the Duncans dwelled in their Wright-designed house for four decades. With the Duncans dead and the house in decline, it looked as though their home — one of only 11 remaining prefabricated Wright-designed structures in the nation — would fall to the wrecking ball.

It was then that the Conservancy came to the rescue along with Tim Baacke, of Johnstown. But Baacke’s plan to reassemble Duncan House in Johnstown never materialized. Papinchak stepped forward at that point, with financing help from the state and The Progress Fund, a nonprofit lender.

Papinchak said he sank a lot of his own money in Duncan House. A custom-design Greensburg contractor, Papinchak said putting Duncan House back together was no harder than working a jigsaw puzzle.

“It took us a year, I thought it would take six to eight months,” he said yesterday.

Duncan House is the centerpiece of Polymath Park Resort, a 125-acre spread near Acme that contains two Wright-inspired homes by Wright apprentice Peter Berndtson. Berndstson, Papinchak said, laid the groundwork for a 24-house development in the 1960s. Only the Balter and the Blum Houses were built.

More than a few Wright aficionados attended yesterday’s event. One was Karen Rich Douglas of Greensburg.

“I like the clean lines (of the house),” Douglas said. “I like its setting in nature. I like the way it nestles among the trees.”

A friend, Nina Lewis, of Greensburg, said she travels the nation to view Wright designs.

“I like the art deco stuff,” she said by way of explanation, “and the simplicity.”

Richard Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@tribweb.com or (724) 836-5660.

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McKees Rocks photo contest promotes community, history

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Melanie Donahoo
Thursday, June 14, 2007

McKees Rocks promoters want everyone to explore the architecture of the borough’s historic buildings with a photo hunt contest sponsored by the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp. and architect John Baverso.

Participants can find a close-up photo of a local building’s architectural feature every other Friday on the Internet at www.mckeesrocks.com. Everyone who correctly identifies the building in an e-mail is entered in a drawing for a Nintendo Wii video game system in October.

Sandy Saban, 55, a lifelong McKees Rocks resident and editor of the community Web site, said she got the idea for the contest when she was taking a walk and noticed the ornate architectural details of some structures.

“I started to look at the buildings, and I started to see all of this brickwork and this fancy stuff,” Saban said. “You just don’t see that anymore.”

Saban said she was surprised that she had not noticed the features sooner and wanted to give others an incentive to discover it.
“I never saw this stuff. I never paid attention to it,” Saban said. “And it’s been here all this time. What a shame that other people probably were like me and just never looked up at these buildings.”

Saban took her idea to Taris Vrcek, the executive director of the community development corporation, and they developed the contest. In addition to the grand prize, the first person to send in a correct answer every two weeks will receive a gift certificate to a local restaurant or business, Vrcek said.

Baverso, the architect for the Sto-Rox Cultural Center being developed in McKees Rocks, donated the prizes.

“One of our greatest assets is our historic architecture,” said Vrcek, of McKees Rocks. “We have such a wealth of it, and a lot of it is undiscovered by people.”

The photos are being posted on Fridays so people have the weekend to walk around and look for the buildings, Vrcek said. They have two weeks to e-mail their answers. The contest is open to everyone, regardless of where they live. The answers to the previous week’s clues will be posted on the site.

Saban said she photographed the decorative features of public and commercial buildings in every part of the community.

“I hope people get a better appreciation of the buildings here and the care and the artistry of the people who built these buildings,” she said.

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Officials looking beyond new housing to rejuvenate Mon Valley communities

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 14, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For Mon Valley residents and officials, almost every time Dan Onorato visits their old steel-mill towns these days is a happy occasion.

In May and June alone, Mr. Onorato, a consortium of community groups and certain Pennsylvania departments launched new housing and refurbishment projects in Rankin, Braddock, and North Braddock.

All told, the projects will cost well over $17 million and give more than 150 families in the region a chance to live in new or refurbished houses or apartments.

But while such projects have been received with open arms in these communities, which have been yearning for a face-lift for the last couple of decades, they haven’t yet significantly changed the quality of life, says Bob Grom, president of the Heritage Health Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization in Braddock.

Mr. Grom would know, because his nonprofit was one of the first groups to build new homes it considered “affordable housing” for low-income residents in Braddock two years ago.

The four homes built by Heritage, all located near UPMC Braddock, were priced between $60,000 and $63,000, and were unoccupied until recently because no one could afford to buy them.

“We were a little naive going into this project,” Mr. Grom said, noting that his organization is now in the process of finalizing the sale of two of the houses.

“We didn’t understand the breadth of what we needed to understand at the time,” he said. “We can build all kinds of houses, but if the people in the community don’t have jobs or health care, how can they afford the houses?”

That, Mr. Grom said, is an elemental question that state, county and community officials ought to have some answer to if they really want to wholly transform communities like Braddock, North Braddock and Rankin.

On his part, Mr. Onorato recognizes this. He is often quick to note that community reinvestment can never be a one-pronged approach.

He regularly talks about how his office wants to see the redevelopment of the Carrie Furnace site complement neighborhood revitalization in Mon Valley communities.

And that, said Mr. Grom is “music to my ears.”

“We now live in an era of huge development opportunities — especially the potential of Carrie Furnace,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, given all this possible investment, what kind of jobs, education systems, training programs will allow the residents of these communities to participate in this development?”

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719. )

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Dormont gets grant to fund pool repairs

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 14, 2007
Post Gazette

Dormont has received a $250,000 matching grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to use toward pool repairs, said John Maggio, president of Friends of Dormont Pool, a fund-raising group.

He is confident fund-raising efforts will result in matching that $250,000, with $67,000 already raised. Coupled with the $312,000 the borough has set aside for the pool, the town is well on its way to the approximately $800,000 to $1.1 million needed to make all the repairs to the landmark 1920s-era pool.

The pool is open for summer.

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Landmarks Awards Four Scholarships to College-Bound Students

PHLF
June 14, 2007

Nine of Landmarks' 25 college scholarship recipients for 2007
For the ninth consecutive year, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has sponsored a scholarship program for students in Allegheny County who are interested in the history, architecture, and landscape design of the Pittsburgh region. Four students––out of 35 applicants––were awarded $4,000 scholarships on June 12, 2007:

• Jacob W. Beatty of North Allegheny Senior High School, who will be attending Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering;

• Caroline L. Mack of Schenley High School, who will be attending Drexel University to study civil engineering;

• Breanna M. Smith of Penn Hills Senior High School, who will be attending Washington & Jefferson College to study English; and

• Paul J. Steidl of Taylor Allderdice High School, who will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study architecture and urban planning.

David Brashear, the trustee at Landmarks who sponsors the scholarship program, noted that: “We have selected four promising young students as this year’s scholarship winners who share a love of Pittsburgh and an understanding of the cultural, social, and economic value of historic preservation. As they achieve their educational and professional goals, we feel confident that they will remember their hometown with gratitude—and be in a position some day to give back to their community.”

Since the inception of the scholarship program in 1999, the Brashear Family Named Fund of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and several trustees have committed $100,000 to fund a total of 25 scholarships. Scholarship recipients have attended (or are attending) Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham College, Columbia University, Cornell University, Drexel University, George Washington University, Howard University, Kent State University, Syracuse University, Temple University, University of Cincinnati, University of Pittsburgh, University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Washington & Jefferson College.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation Scholarship Program is offered each year. Applications for the 2007-08 school year will be available in Jan. 2008. Applicants must:

• be a resident of Allegheny County;
• be a high school senior who has been accepted at a college or university;
• have a cumulative Quality Point Average at the end of the first semester senior year of 3.25 or greater; and
• write an essay on a certain topic, complete an application, and submit a letter of recommendation.

OVER
2007 Landmarks Scholarship Recipients: Student Profiles
Photos are available by contacting Greg Pytlik: greg@pytlikdesign.com

Jacob W. Beatty

A graduate of North Allegheny Senior High School, Jacob will be attending Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering.

Jacob received the James R. Wall Humanitarian Scholarship Award 2004-05 and participated in Landmarks’ Architecture Apprenticeship program in 2006. He has participated in many extracurricular activities and clubs, including a church youth group and Boy Scouts. For his Eagle Scout Project, Jacob worked on a project that would benefit a retreat center for children at risk of abuse and their families. Jacob also completed multiple renovation projects to benefit the elderly and disabled.

Jacob explains in his scholarship essay how important Pittsburgh––and specifically the former offices of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, known as the “Castle”––have been to his family, the community, and the United States. “The Westinghouse Museum, of which I am currently a student member, is important to me personally since my great-grandfather and all of his sons were employed by Mr. Westinghouse their entire lives. But it is important to our entire nation because nowhere else within a span of such a few miles was more done to make lives of everyone safer, easier and more pleasant. The museum allows its visitors to experience history in the very place that it occurred.”

Caroline L. Mack

A graduate of Schenley High School, Caroline will be attending Drexel University to study civil engineering. She also plans on studying architecture as a minor or as a second major. Caroline is the first scholarship recipient to have participated in Landmarks’ school programs as an elementary school student.

Caroline received the Distinguished Youths of Western PA Award (American Cancer Society). She was a member of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, Amnesty International, ACLU, and the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council of Pittsburgh. She is a volunteer with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Habitat for Humanity, Global Links, and Pittsburgh Cares.

Caroline’s scholarship essay explains her fascination and love of old buildings, and her ambition to pursue a career that would allow her to be involved in historic restoration. She discusses how her school, Schenley High School, was nearly sold or torn down. “Immediately [I], along with numerous other students from my school, started a petition against the possible demolition of the school we loved. We spoke at City Council meetings, and got nearly six-hundred signatures on our petition.”

Breanna M. Smith

A graduate of Penn Hills Senior High School, Breanna will be attending Washington & Jefferson College to study English.

Breanna received the Excellence in Civics Award in ninth grade. During High School, she was a member of Key Club and SADD. Through these clubs Breanna participated in teaching “stranger danger” to kindergarteners, adopt-a-highway, adopt-a-spot (which targets an area for beautification), and helped organize Frisbee tournaments to raise money for charity.

In her scholarship essay, Breanna relates the personal connection that she has felt to Pittsburgh since she was a young girl and describes how the history of her family intertwines with that of the city. “Whenever I pass a steel mill today, I feel pride in knowing the hard work my family did there. The steel mills serve as a reminder to me to be thankful for what I have. My family members wanted a better life for themselves and for their children and worked hard to improve their status. I know that going to college is an opportunity they never had, but one they desperately wanted for their children and grandchildren.”

Paul J. Steidl

A graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School, Paul will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study architecture. He plans on earning a minor in urban planning.

Paul was a member of the Environmental Club and a participant in the National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology in 2005 and in the Pre-college Architecture Program at Carnegie Mellon University in 2002. He has volunteered for E-fest Community Festival, Young Writers Institute, and Conductive Education Summer Camp.

Paul’s scholarship essay reveals how important growing-up in Pittsburgh has been to developing his passion for architecture. Paul completed a documentary, “Living in the East End,” about neighborhoods in the East End. “I believe that people should not restrict themselves to their own neighborhoods––they should be aware of the unique people, places and events that are in every area of the city. My goal for the film was to show students in my school all of the great things that Pittsburgh neighborhoods have to offer, both architecturally and culturally.”

_____________________________________________________________________

Founded in 1964, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is a non-profit membership organization working to identify and save architectural landmarks, revitalize historic neighborhoods, and instill community pride through educational programs.

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Old Hanna’s Town gets $1 million boost

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 13, 2007
By Judy Laurinatis,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It took 30 years of planning and two years of fund raising, but a long-anticipated education center for Old Hanna’s Town historic site in Hempfield may soon be a reality.

Last week, Lisa Hayes, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, accepted a check for $1 million from county commissioners to help fund the new center, to be built on the grounds of what was once Westmoreland’s county seat. Ground-breaking is set for next spring.

The historical society has been raising funds for several years and is near its $7.5 million goal.

“Right now we have a lot of stuff in storage with no place to exhibit it,” Ms. Hayes told commissioners.

The center, expected to cost $5 million with an additional $2.5 million endowment to keep it going, will house classrooms, offices, artifacts dug at the site which are now stored all over the county and an archeological lab.

Historical societies throughout Westmoreland County will be invited to provide changing exhibits.

Ms. Hayes said Hanna’s Town was important to the development of Western Pennsylvania and the country because it was one of the earliest settlements west of the Allegheny Mountains.

It was founded in 1773, named for founder Robert Hanna and housed the first English court on the western frontier.

In 1782, the town was attacked and burned in one of the final battles of the Revolutionary War.

The county seat was then moved three miles south, to Greensburg.

The center will be built on what Ms. Hayes described as an “empty” plot of ground. The area has been studied for any archaeologically important artifacts and none has been found, she said.

She said the entire Hanna’s Town site was farmland for 130 years. so 20th-century historians found a wealth of items on the site, from intact pottery and china to toys and tools.

The village tourists can visit today consists of a reconstructed Hanna Tavern and Courthouse, three reconstructed 18th-century log houses and a Revolutionary War era fort as well as a blockhouse and wagon shed.

The new center will have massive glass panels which overlook the main historic site to its rear.

It is being designed by the Lettrich Group of Greensburg.

(Judy Laurinatis can be reached at jlaurinatis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228. )

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Artists bring flourish to Penn Avenue

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 13, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nine years ago, two nonprofits designated a 12-block stretch of Penn Avenue through Bloomfield, Garfield and Friendship as a destination for artists. Some local residents ridiculed the idea. The corridor was pestilent.

Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. and Friendship Development Associates teamed up to pitch empty storefronts to artists. They attached big colorful banners over doorways between Mathilda Street and Negley Avenue in a 16-building strategy. Vandals and several seasons of weather had their way with the banners for a few years.

Fast forward to the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater at 5941 Penn Ave., where at 6 p.m. tomorrow, the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative will throw a release party for its new 20-minute video that documents the turn of events since 2001. The event, celebrating “Electric Avenue,” is free and open to the public and will include live music, refreshments and art for sale.

Despite many ills remaining, the nonprofits feel vindicated. Nearly a dozen arts groups have clustered along the corridor in the past six years, many of whom perform and offer classes, including the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Dance Alloy and Attack Theatre. More than a dozen arts-related businesses and individual artists who live upstairs and work downstairs also have invested in the corridor, as did two architecture studios, Edge Architects in 2003 and Loysen + Kreuthmeier in 2005. Some of the artists and arts groups offer workshops and classes to all age groups.

Garfield Artworks was the lone gallery, and Dance Alloy had just moved into the neighborhood when artist Jeffrey Dorsey began volunteering with the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative. It started in 1998 as a joint project of Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. and Friendship Development Associates. Both are nonprofits that provide neighborhood services and develop real estate. They compiled a database of more than 400 artists in three immediate ZIP codes.

Mr. Dorsey served on the steering committee to get the initiative on its feet, then was hired the next year to run it. He was instrumental in establishing the Unblurred event that draws the public to artist spaces the first Friday evening of every month and is now executive director of FDA.

“Artists were interested” in the corridor early on, he said, but it took a few years for momentum to build. “We would have an artist ready to buy, and then there would be trouble with financing, or a contractor and the artist at the last minute decided not to buy.” On two buildings in particular, “the banners were up way too long, but we got a lot of response.”

On the new video, the second the arts initiative has made to document its progress, Mr. Dorsey said artists were the target to jump-start revitalization “because artists are connectors.”

A revival of Penn Avenue is radiating to some of its troubled side streets. Recently, two new homeowners relocated here from other cities, one a young family, the other a young couple, and bought blighted, abandoned homes to renovate and live in north of Penn, said Becky Mingo, real estate specialist for Friendship Development.

Aggie Brose, deputy director of Bloomfield-Garfield, said BGC has sold 22 of 23 new single-family homes of a 50-house plan that will occupy a four-by-four block area. Eight more are being built now, and 19 will be started next summer, she said.

The BGC also owns seven homes being rehabbed this and next year on North Fairmount.

The arts initiative has had “minimal impact on the sale of new houses in Garfield,” she said, “but I’m hoping that unconsciously, all the excitement on Penn Avenue in general fed into buyers’ decisions.”

She said the BGC and FDA “labored for years” to fill small storefronts that continued to lie dormant until the groups met with Artists in Cities, an organization that was finishing construction of the Spinning Plate Artists Lofts and Galleries on Friendship Avenue in 1998.

“They had a waiting list,” said Ms. Brose. “So Rob Stephany, [commercial real estate specialist for East Liberty Development, who was then on the BGC staff] jumped in and said, ‘We have places on Penn Avenue. Let me take you on a tour.’ That’s how the Arts Initiative was born, and a movement started.”

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House ready for visitors

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 13, 2007
By Patricia Lowry,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A ribbon-cutting ceremony tomorrow will mark the end of one era and the beginning of another for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House, which began its life in a Chicago suburb and now is the star of Polymath Park, a new 125-acre resort in the Laurel Highlands.

Nearly a year after ground was broken in a Western Pennsylvania woodland, the prefab Usonian house will open to the public this weekend for tours and overnight accommodations.

Built in a Lisle, Ill., in 1957 for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan, the Duncan House was deconstructed in 2004 and reassembled over the past 12 months near Acme in Westmoreland County as part of Polymath Park Resort. The retreat also includes two homes by Wright apprentice Peter Berndtson — the Balter House and the Blum House, both built in the 1960s for Pittsburgh businessmen.

Thomas D. Papinchak, a Westmoreland County home builder, had been renting the Balter and Blum houses on an annual basis from their most recent previous owner, who named the grounds Polymath Park.

Now the resort’s owner and CEO, Mr. Papinchak, who declined comment before the opening, has established the Usonian Preservation Corp., with a five-member board, as the nonprofit entity that will direct the proceeds from rentals toward maintaining the houses and telling their stories through educational and civic programs. The for-profit arm of the business will draw its income from corporate and private events.

Located near Wright’s Fallingwater (15 miles away) and Kentuck Knob (30 miles), the Duncan House is one of only four Wright buildings in the country that accommodate overnight visitors.

Lodging is available in the Duncan House and Balter House, with the Blum House eventually serving as the visitor center, cafe, spa and gift shop. There’s a two-night minimum for sleepovers, priced at $325 per night for the Duncan House, which has three bedrooms and sleeps six; and $265 per night for the Balter House, which has four bedrooms and sleeps six. Those prices are for three guests; for four to six people, add $50 per person.

Hours for the Blum House Visitor Center, which is not expected to open until August, are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through Aug. 31. Call ahead for spa and cafe reservations.

The Boulder Room, in the lower level of the Duncan House, features a stone fireplace, Cherokee red concrete floor, patio and wall of windows to the outdoors. It’s equipped for electronic presentations, music and seminars for corporate or private use, with a 120-seat capacity.

Mr. Berndtson’s 1962 master plan for the site, which he named Treetops and Mountain Circles, called for 24 houses, each set within a 300-foot circular clearing in the woods, which today are laced with about five miles of hiking trails. The land between the houses was to have held community facilities such as tennis courts, a baseball diamond, swimming ponds and orchards.

But only two houses were built: the Balter house in 1964 for James and Frances Balter and the Blum house in 1965. Harry Blum, along with brothers Max and Louis, helped build their father’s metalworking business into Blumcraft, an international company still based in Oakland. He died in 1998.

This weekend, Polymath Park will be open for tours, but as always, by reservation only. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For tours of all three buildings, admission is $22. For the Duncan House only, admission is $16. Children under 12 are admitted free but must be closely supervised by an adult. Public tours also will be offered on some Sundays and weekdays; call for information and reservations: 1-877-833-STAY (7829) or visit www.polymathpark.com.

The other Wright-designed houses available for sleepovers are the Bernard Schwartz House in Two Rivers, Wis. (1939); the Louis Penfield House in Willoughby, Ohio (1955); and the Seth Peterson Cottage on Mirror Lake in Wisconsin (1958). The rental rates at all three are in line with the Duncan House rates.

The Duncan House’s first overnight guest, on June 18, hails from Louisiana. Other future guests live in Maryland, Illinois, England and Ireland; visitors from Pittsburgh, Detroit and Australia have stayed in the Balter House, open since November.

“A lot of the people are coming to see Fallingwater and staying with us, which we suspected would be the case,” said resort spokeswoman Laura Nesmith.

Polymath Park is five miles from the Donegal exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

(Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590. )

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East Liberty development would create public plaza

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Sam Spatter
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A proposed $40 million development would bring a second new hotel, another ethnic-style restaurant and other amenities to the city’s rebounding East Liberty neighborhood.

Montrose Exchange, a mixed-use project proposed by Morgan Development Group, will be centered on a new public plaza called Kirkwood Square at North Highland Avenue and Broad Street, according to plans presented to the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority last week.

“We will be seeking about $12 million in funding through the URA, both in low-interest loans and grants,” said Nigel Parkinson, managing partner at Morgan, a firm with offices in Washington and Pittsburgh.

He hopes to begin construction early next year on the project, which will be located in an area bounded by Highland Avenue and Broad, Kirkwood and Whitfield streets.

The Montrose project comprises new construction and renovation of nine properties on three blocks along Broad and Highland. All properties are owned by his firm, Parkinson said.

Designed by architect Andrew Moss, of Moss Architects in East Liberty, the development will build on other projects already under way and planned in the East Liberty neighborhood.

It will tie into three blocks on Broad being improved with new sidewalks, street trees, pedestrian lighting and parking.

The 135-room hotel, named Hotel Indigo, is planned at a site at 129-131 N. Highland. Two vacant buildings there are to be demolished, Parkinson said.

The restaurant, Latin Concepts, would be across the street from the hotel, at the site of the former American Legion Post building.

Hotel Indigo will include a lobby that will tie into the 126 N. Whitfield building and the historic Kirkwood (Governor’s) Hotel building that is to be renovated. Hotel Indigo will incorporate a garden area that will provide a semi-public green space for outdoor dining and special events, Moss said.

Latin Concepts will bring three new establishments to East Liberty. They are the Chi Cha Lounge, offering Modern Andean Cuisine; Agua, with items originating from Peru and Ecuador’s Andean grains, fruits and seafood; and Menta, a planned dance destination.

“If the Montrose development comes to fruition, it will have a tremendous impact on revitalizing the community and serve as the heartbeat of East Liberty,” said Paul Brecht, executive director of East Liberty Quarter Chamber of Commerce.

Already planned for East Liberty is a $20 million Marriott SpringHill Suites to be developed by Kratsa Properties of Harmar at the corner of Highland and Centre avenues. That proposed hotel is adjacent to the Highland Building, which the Pittsburgh-based Zambrano Corp. plans to retrofit into residential units, either condominiums or apartments.

Sam Spatter can be reached at sspatter@tribweb.com or 412-320-7843.

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Grant may get Dormont residents in the pool

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Rick Wills
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is giving Dormont $250,000 to boost efforts to restore the borough’s 87-year old pool.

The borough must match the grant. If that happens, the amount raised will be $812,000, the bulk of the $1 million needed to fully upgrade the pool, said John Maggio, president of Friends of Dormont Pool and a Democratic candidate for borough council.

“I am confident we can match the grant,” Maggio said. “We have been able to match other grants we have gotten.”

The state money will pay for rebuilding the pool tank and filtration system, deck paving and landscaping — most of the needed repairs.

“This is the biggest gift we have had so far, and a grant of that magnitude goes a long way toward the pool’s renovation and future,” said Dormont Mayor Thomas Lloyd.

The landmark art-deco pool, which opened in 1920, is believed to be the largest public pool in the state. Other than the addition of a community recreation room in 1996, the facility has undergone little renovation.

“It’s important to our borough, and we certainly want to maintain it,” Lloyd said.

State Rep. Tom Petrone, who helped secure the state money, said the pool is one of the region’s most popular attractions.

“The pool is a real selling point for the borough. It’s really a recreational facility for the whole area, and the quality of life in the South Hills would be affected without it,” said Jon Castelli, research analyst for the House Urban Affairs Committee, which Petrone chairs.

In the past 18 months, plans for the pool and surrounding Dormont Park have generated controversy, sparking a grassroots effort to save the pool as some borough officials discussed closing it.

In January, many residents protested after learning that some council members met with private developers interested in commercially developing parts of the park in exchange for building facilities there.

Last month, three Dormont council members, including the council’s president, were ousted in the Democratic primary.

Rick Wills can be reached at rwills@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7123.

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Grant may get Dormont residents in the pool

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Rick Wills
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is giving Dormont $250,000 to boost efforts to restore the borough’s 87-year old pool.
The borough must match the grant. If that happens, the amount raised will be $812,000, the bulk of the $1 million needed to fully upgrade the pool, said John Maggio, president of Friends of Dormont Pool and a Democratic candidate for borough council.

“I am confident we can match the grant,” Maggio said. “We have been able to match other grants we have gotten.”

The state money will pay for rebuilding the pool tank and filtration system, deck paving and landscaping — most of the needed repairs.

“This is the biggest gift we have had so far, and a grant of that magnitude goes a long way toward the pool’s renovation and future,” said Dormont Mayor Thomas Lloyd.
The landmark art-deco pool, which opened in 1920, is believed to be the largest public pool in the state. Other than the addition of a community recreation room in 1996, the facility has undergone little renovation.

“It’s important to our borough, and we certainly want to maintain it,” Lloyd said.

State Rep. Tom Petrone, who helped secure the state money, said the pool is one of the region’s most popular attractions.

“The pool is a real selling point for the borough. It’s really a recreational facility for the whole area, and the quality of life in the South Hills would be affected without it,” said Jon Castelli, research analyst for the House Urban Affairs Committee, which Petrone chairs.

In the past 18 months, plans for the pool and surrounding Dormont Park have generated controversy, sparking a grassroots effort to save the pool as some borough officials discussed closing it.

In January, many residents protested after learning that some council members met with private developers interested in commercially developing parts of the park in exchange for building facilities there.

Last month, three Dormont council members, including the council’s president, were ousted in the Democratic primary.

Rick Wills can be reached at rwills@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7123.

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Former X-rated Garden Theatre set for a porn-free play

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bonnie Pfister
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, June 11, 2007

The infamous Garden Theatre on the North Side will have its first post-porn performance this week.
Quantum Theatre, a group noted for its offbeat choice of venues, will produce a new play, “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid,” from Thursday through July 1 in the space at 12 W. North Ave. that until March was an X-rated movie theater.

The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority acquired the 93-year-old theater, capping a decade-long legal battle with the Garden’s New York-based former owner. The URA purchased the building — long seen as a major barrier to redevelopment of the North Side — for $1.1 million.

Quantum Theatre is best known for staging its productions in distinctly nontraditional spaces, such as a midnight performance in Allegheny Cemetery or in an empty swimming pool in Braddock.

The play, based on a book by Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje, specifically calls for an abandoned theater space, Quantum director Karla Boos said. The sudden availability of the Garden was a felicitous piece of timing, she said.

“The community is not really going to see a renovated theater,” Boos said. “But I hope that they’re going to feel, as we do, that there is a lot that should be preserved about the building.”

Quantum has built a massive platform of seating over the heavily stained vinyl folding seats. “It made sense from both a hygienic standpoint and an artistic standpoint,” Boos said, laughing.

Despite grimy carpets, a peeling black ceiling and red walls, URA director Jerry Dettore described the space as “surprisingly intact.”

“It’s an interesting old theater,” he said. “I hope it can play a role in the arts and theater scene on the North Side, which is pretty cool when you think about it. The art museums, the Children’s Theater, the New Hazlett. It could be part of that chain, the linkage between all those institutions.”

The URA received 11 proposals to redevelop the Garden Theatre and surrounding block and will discuss plans with community groups in the next month, Dettore said. His staff plans to present proposals for a URA board vote this fall.

Among those submitting bids was Aaron Stubna, owner of the Lincoln Barber Shop in Bellevue and an independent filmmaker. Stubna, 36, said he has partnered with theater contractor Bill Porco to plan a refurbished space seating about 300, to regularly show independent and foreign films, as well as concerts and locally made movies. He proposed a wine bar and art gallery.

Stubna said he expects the URA to “mix and match and patch people together” who have plans for the Garden’s future.

Another bidder is The Rubinoff Co., developer of the North Side’s Alcoa Business Services Center, Washington’s Landing and Summerset at Frick Park. Rubinoff Principal Craig Dunham said the company has tapped Eve Picker’s No Wall Productions as well as artistic managers from the New Hazlett and Pittsburgh Filmmakers for advice on a plan.

“We are working with a team …. to figure out how to first refurbish, reuse and rejuvenate it as an anchor for the block,” Dunham said. “Our whole proposal is figuring that out.”

Other development under way in the North Side includes a branch of the Carnegie Library on Federal Avenue; a branch near the Children’s Museum closed in April 2006 after being struck by lightning. Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said a fall groundbreaking is planned.

At its meeting Thursday, the URA board is to consider the final design and financing of Federal Hill, a 60-unit mixed income housing development nearby.

Bonnie Pfister can be reached at bpfister@tribweb.com or 412-320-7886.

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URA marks milestone in facade program

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 08, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority celebrated a milestone in commercial facade renovation yesterday on Broad Street in East Liberty, one of 32 neighborhoods that has benefited from the authority’s Streetface loan-to-grant program.

Ed Lesoon’s three-story yellow-brick building at 6022-24 is the 1,200th facade to have been spruced up with help from the URA, according to records that date to 1983. But his own investment in the neighborhood goes back to the 1970s and has figured in the millions.

Broad Street, between Highland and Sheridan avenues, is heavily traveled, with diagonal head-in parking on one side and a cropped curb on the other. Its facades are largely stale, but that is changing.

Yesterday, a day after Washington, D.C. developer Nigel Parkinson announced plans for a $40 million renovation and a construction complex involving half of that block, the URA saluted the investment Mr. Lesoon has made on much of the other half.

The property that drew about 50 people yesterday — including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park — once was a furniture store. It was caving in and needed a new parapet wall when Mr. Lesoon bought it in 2000. Besides having sustained fire damage, the building was bricked up except for two little windows in front.

After a complete gutting, it is massive and airy. Each 5,000-square-foot floor has a large bank of windows and elevator access. The interior reconstruction created tie-ins to both upstairs floors of the building beside it, which fronts on Sheridan Avenue and houses a Family Dollar store.

Mr. Lesoon said he wants to rent the first floor of the old furniture store as restaurant or retail space and the upstairs as offices.

Working with architect Cherie Moshier, he and his crews have converted four of seven properties on the block.

They gutted the former Veterans of Foreign Wars club at 6020 Broad and added a partial second-floor overlook that suggests a bistro or club.

Next door is the former Walsh’s Lounge & Bar, which Mr. Lesoon bought last year.

“We removed 500 gallons of grease and dirt out of there,” he said yesterday, adding that he plans to remove the glass-block front and open up the facade.

All told, Mr. Lesoon has restored and renovated 20 of 23 buildings in East Liberty with $208,825 in Streetface grants, said URA spokesman Julie Deseyn.

The facade money, even when it’s a relatively small portion of some of his facade costs, “is such a good incentive that I have been doing this for 20 years,” Mr. Lesoon said. “But I get hooked on buildings. I think of them as my Eliza Doolittles.”

Building owners in qualifying commercial corridors can get 40 percent of the project cost, up to $30,000, said Anita Stec, business development specialist at the URA. The money starts as a loan, but for each of five years that the property is maintained as approved, the URA converts 20 percent of the loan to a grant, she said.

In 25 years, the URA’s $13 million investment in facades has leveraged an additional $50 million in investments by private interests, said Jerome Dettore, executive director of the URA.

Mr. Lesoon said he and his father were inspired by Ward Olander and his company, Real Estate Enterprises, which has been investing in East Liberty properties since 1970. Today, Mr. Lesoon and his son develop properties as the Wedgwood Group.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Old glass made new again-Greensburg man restoring stained glass ceiling

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Terry Bengel has always been fascinated by light. As a young boy, he often wandered the train tracks of his native Greensburg, picking up glittering shards of glass.

The way light filtered through glass enchanted him enough to pursue a career designing, building and restoring stained glass panels.

Mr. Bengel, 57, who over 38 years has fitted stained glass windows in churches and schools all over Western Pennsylvania, is restoring the stained glass panel ceiling that once covered the atrium ceiling of the Fayette County courthouse in Uniontown.

But unlike many of the projects he has worked on since he opened the Greensburg-based Terry Bengel Stained Glass Studio in 1976, he is restoring a stained glass frame without any reference to what the arrangement once looked like.

That is because the stained glass panel ceiling, which was designed and installed in the 1890s, was taken down and put in storage in 1914.

Since then, the 20 panels, three of which were damaged in storage, were not touched and were considered useless until Fayette County officials approached Mr. Bengel last year, hoping he could restore them.

Mr. Bengel, who said that the stained glass panels were removed from the courthouse ceiling because of a leak in the building’s skylight, represented the Beaux Arts style of the 1890s when they were installed.

“It’s what we call a carpet window because it resembles the layout of an oriental rug,” he said.

“When I first took a look at the panels, they were completely covered in coal soot,” Mr. Bengel recalled. ” I couldn’t even see their color or patterns.”

And so his first step was to clean the panels thoroughly and photograph them. Then he used a computer program to re-create an image of what the original ceiling might have looked like.

To rebuild the three destroyed panels, Mr. Bengel traced all the windows that were intact to extract the design of the windows that had to be reproduced.

“I was able to trace the good stuff to a full-sized drawing that I could reverse their mirror image and then re-create the images of the destroyed pieces,” he said.

But re-creating the design wasn’t as hard as re-creating some of the original paint and color schemes.

“Those enamel colors are very hard to re-create because they are a powder form that has to be ground thoroughly and then mixed with water, which evaporates,” he said. “The whole thing is very time consuming.”

Mr. Bengel expects to have the reconstruction project completed next week.

“The installation is very simple,” he said. “The panels will simply be fit into place in the atrium.”

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719 )

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East Liberty’s Broad Street getting face-lift

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 8, 2007

East Liberty’s Broad Street once was little more than a drug-trafficking depot sandwiched between two nuisance bars and a few tumble-down buildings, city officials said Thursday.
But that’s changing with new attention from police, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and developers such as Edward Lesoon of The Wedgwood Group, which is renovating five Broad Street buildings in hopes of attracting retailers and restaurateurs.

“What we have done is taken the seed, or the core of East Liberty, and we’re going to make it blossom,” said Lesoon, as he stood yesterday in the partially renovated, three-story Hart Building.

He hopes the building will attract a company that wants to put in office space or a store once he completes more than $250,000 in improvements to the facade and interior, including a new elevator.

The key is to beautify Broad Street with building renovations and more than $300,000 in public and private money for street resurfacing and sidewalk amenities such as decorative lamp posts, lights and trees, city officials said.

“It’s so someone doing a curb check won’t be scared away,” said Robert Rubenstein, URA economic development director. “There’s a lot of (potential) business owners who don’t know about this yet.”

Lesoon hopes a second building he’s renovating — which once held Walsh’s Bar, a nuisance bar with an art-deco theme — will turn into a family restaurant.

Pittsburgh real estate marketer CB Richard Ellis is looking for businesses to move into buildings in a three-block section of Broad Street renovated by Wedgwood and other companies.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, was on hand yesterday with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to dedicate the URA’s facade-improvement program. He applauded the street’s building owners for agreeing to contribute money to fixing the crumbling street and sidewalks.

Finding people to patronize a new restaurant or clothing store in East Liberty’s core likely won’t be difficult, said Rob Stephany, East Liberty Development Inc.’s director of commercial development.

Stephany said there will be many new residents living nearby soon in two large mixed-income housing developments planned for either side of the improved section of Broad Street, which is between North Sheridan Avenue and North Beatty Street.

Developer McCormick Barrons is working on leasing 120 homes in what will be a 200-home residential development; and ELDI will begin construction next year on Mellon’s Orchard South, an 80-home mixed-income development.

“Broad Street is going to be more defined by the people who can walk it,” Stephany said.

People will want to shop there now that crime is under control and new development is coming, he said.

“It was for a long time completely miserable,” Stephany said. “It’s a totally different place.”

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or (412) 765-2312.

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Leaks from soot removal damaging Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bill Zlatos
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 8, 2007

The Cathedral of Learning is springing leaks.
The $4.8 million scrubbing and restoration of the 42-story landmark at the University of Pittsburgh has caused leaks throughout the building — including in two nationality rooms.

“It’s a wonderful project, and the building is looking great, but it’s causing a lot of chaos inside with the water damage and sand blowing through the windows and the noise level,” said Chris Metil, associate director of the Summer Language Institute and an administrative assistant in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Six or seven wastebaskets caught water dripping from the ceiling during an orientation held by the institute on Monday.

“On a lot of different floors, water from the sandblasting is seeping through windows, and it’s coming in through cracks in the mortar,” Metil said. “Some departments have had water dumping in.”
A teaching assistant in the German Department had his books and papers destroyed when water drenched his desk on the 14th floor, she said.

“Downstairs, there was water coming into the Czechoslovak Room,” said E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms Program. “We caught it in time. No enormous damage done.”

Bruhns was in the Middle East when the accident happened, but said the leak was discovered before it permanently damaged a mural in the Czechoslovak Room.

There was also some water around the Tudor rose corbel — an architectural projection — in the English Room.

“I go day by day and hope for the best,” Bruhns said.

University spokesman John Fedele said there have been minor leaks, but there has been no significant damage. The solution, he said: Using absorbent tube-like devices called socks to suck up the water.

“It’s like throwing a towel down,” he said, “but they’re more absorbent than towels.”

The removal of 70 years of soot is being done by blasting the building with recycled glass powder mixed with water. The Cost Co. in Forest Hills has been working on the project since March.

The company expects to finish by Sept. 28.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at bzlatos@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7828.

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Mon Valley needs newcomers to revitalize, officials say

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The consensus among Allegheny County and state officials and economic-development types is that if many of the old steel mill towns of the Mon Valley are to make a comeback, the valley not only needs key revitalization dollars, but people like John Potter.

The Valley, they say, needs longtime residents or even newcomers who are willing to buy new and refurbished homes in downtrodden neighborhoods of communities like North Braddock and Braddock.

On a balmy afternoon last Thursday, Mr. Potter, 74, a longtime North Braddock resident, stood under a shade tree as state and county officials lauded him for buying a new house in the municipality.

Mr. Potter, a retired Ford Corp., supervisor, is the first buyer of one of six single-family detached homes being built along North Braddock’s Baldridge Avenue, and financed by a collaboration of state, county, and regional nonprofit agencies.

The six new houses comprise the new development known as the Braddock Field Housing Development in North Braddock.

“Isn’t it great talking over construction noise? I love it. It’s much better than talking over silence,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato told a group of residents and officials who gathered at the construction site during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This is what it means to build new. We want to have an impact. We’re not talking about building just one house. We want to build entire blocks of new housing,” Mr. Onorato told the group of about 30 residents and officials.

The new housing project in North Braddock together with the East Braddock Housing Development in Braddock is the latest revitalization initiative by a consortium of public and nonprofit agencies.

The project, officials said, represents an investment of more than $10 million in high-quality affordable housing for more than 50 families in the area.

The consortium consists of a number of Allegheny County and Pennsylvania state departments, the Mon Valley Initiative, and the Braddock Economic Development Corp.

“Braddock’s Field will spur the revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding Library Street and Jones Avenue. Our goal is to help revive these once prosperous communities through affordable home ownership, elimination of blight, and an increased tax base,” said Laura Zinski, executive director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

The houses in North Braddock are being sold for $70,000, of which $15,000 will be a “soft,” or subsidized, second mortgage, held by Allegheny County, explained Doug Van Haitsma, real estate development director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

In Braddock, the group of officials, which included Brian Hudson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and Pennsylvania Treasurer, Robin Wiessmann, launched the renovation of two historic buildings on Corey Avenue, which will make available 17 new apartments.

The Corey Avenue project will also see the demolition of four dilapidated buildings that will make room for the construction of two duplexes and a single family home.

The houses in Braddock will be sold for $52,000, with the same financing scheme as those in North Braddock, Mr. Van Haitsma said.

“Dan Onorato has not forgotten the Mon Valley and we are so appreciative of that,” said Jesse Brown, president of the Braddock’s council.

“We were waiting for many years to see some things happen here and now we see [the houses] coming,” Mr. Brown said.

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719 . )

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Firm unveils plans for $40 million E. Liberty restoration, development

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Washington, D.C., firm presented plans yesterday for The Montrose Exchange, a $40 million hotel, office and retail development in the heart of East Liberty, at a meeting with the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Six buildings would be restored and one built on the site of nine existing buildings, said architect Andrew Moss. Montrose Exchange refers to the name of East Liberty’s former telephone exchange.

The Morgan Development Group began securing land four years ago. It has a franchise agreement with the Hotel Indigo, a member of the Intercontinental Group, for a 135-room boutique hotel. It would consist of four buildings in the block bounded by Highland Avenue and Broad, Kirkwood and Whitfield streets, said Nigel Parkinson, the firm’s principal.

The now-dilapidated six-story Kirkwood Hotel would be restored as the historic reference and the tallest building of the multistory hotel, said Mr. Moss. The hotel components would be connected and a new public plaza created in the block.

A large, modern office building beside the Kirkwood Hotel would be completely redesigned and reconfigured. Two buildings across Highland and one across Broad from the hotel would become two stories of retail and office space.

The plan includes restoration of the former American Legion building, the proposed location of a sister restaurant of Latin Concepts in Washington, D.C., said Mr. Parkinson.

He said Pittsburgh’s character and “great institutions” beckoned him to invest here.

“Last year, I was at a class reunion, and one of my professors was from Carnegie Mellon,” he said. “When I told him about my project, his wife’s eyebrows shot up and she said, ‘I’m from Shadyside!’ ”

Jerome Dettore, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the plan “is very, very solid, very impressive.”

“These guys have put their money where their mouth is. They have assembled the property, they have agreements in place and are ready to move,” he said.

From the URA, the developer is requesting gap-financing assistance, grants for facade restoration and help with public rights of way, infrastructure and parking areas.

“When there’s simply financing in the way, that’s the best role we can play,” said Mr. Dettore, whose staff often has to assemble sites for developers. “The chances of this [project] happening are extremely good.”

Mr. Moss said local businesses would have opportunities to locate in the retail spaces, which include seven in one building, three in another and an undetermined number in an additional 6,900 square feet.

Besides offices, a ballroom, meeting space or a nightclub are possibilities for a portion of the second floors, said Mr. Moss.

Part of the plan is to redesign an open space on Broad Street as a public green space “with a kiosk, a cafe with outdoor tables and an area for small events,” he said.

A Marriott Spring Hill Suites being planned two blocks up Highland made the agreement easier for the Hotel Indigo, said Mr. Moss. “They didn’t want to be the only one. There’s a lack of hotels” in the East End neighborhoods compared with demand, mainly because of nearby medical facilities.

Mr. Moss said the plan was to restore the hotel for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Homewood pride comes before bricks and mortar

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 06, 2007
By Elwin Green,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The redevelopment of Homewood will be more a matter of community pride than of bricks and mortar, the keynote speaker at a workshop on commercial development said yesterday.

“We’ve got to lift the community up and highlight the positive things,” said Clarence F. Curry Jr., Minority/Woman Owned Business Enterprises coordinator for the Sports and Exhibition Authority. “We’ve got to toot our own horn.”

Mr. Curry said the community’s redevelopment should build on “magnets,” such as the library, the Alma Illery Health Center and the neighborhood campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, which already attract visitors to the neighborhood.

“They come here to the library, they leave with their money in their pocket.” he said. “We need something to encourage them to stop and spend their money.”

Mr. Curry was one of four speakers at the workshop sponsored by the Homewood Brushton Community Coalition Organization, held at the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library. HBCCO has a community plan for development and is looking for an executive director, but has no land bought and no finances finalized.

Robert Rubinstein, director of economic development at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, offered a glimpse into the information-gathering process that major retailers use when deciding where to locate. Based on data about the area within a half-mile radius of one of the neighborhood’s busiest intersections, at Frankstown and Homewood avenues, he said residents could be expected to spend $9 million on groceries in 2008. Since the average grocery store needs $20 million in annual sales to be feasible, that makes the neighborhood an unlikely target for such a store.

However, he said, Homewood could be a good place to develop “convenience retail” stores such as the Family Dollar slated to open this summer on Frankstown Avenue. It also could offer opportunities for developing light industrial space for manufacturing such goods as T-shirts or compact discs, or for use as artist studios or galleries.

Countering the perception that the URA funds only large-scale developments, Mr. Rubinstein said 90 percent of what the organization finances is “small neighborhood projects.”

J. Arthur Gilmer, project manager for FaithWorks, a Homewood-based nonprofit organization that offers training and consulting to other nonprofits, said the glimpse of a developer’s perspective on the neighborhood was valuable. “We see it one way, walking around the community, and other people see it differently.”

(Elwin Green can be reached at egreen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969.)

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City approves tax break for new housing in 29 areas

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 06, 2007
By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

City Council approved tax breaks yesterday designed to spur new housing Downtown even as it expressed misgivings about excluding some neighborhoods from the program.

The measure, approved 8-0, will waive the first $2,700 in city property taxes for 10 years on new housing units built Downtown and in 28 other city neighborhoods.

“It’s symbolic of our effort to prioritize and give incentives for people to move back Downtown and to create incentives for people to move back into neighborhoods that haven’t seen investment for some time,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.

Approval came even though several council members complained about neighborhoods being excluded from the program, which based eligibility in part on a “vitality index” that factored in population losses, education levels, single-parent families, poverty, low home ownership, high vacancy, tax delinquency, violent crime and other factors.

In fact, several Fairywood residents made a last-ditch appeal to council to be added among the eligible neighborhoods, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We never get anything in our neighborhood. We’re always left out, except for things that don’t work,” Donna Washington, a member of the Fairywood Citizens Council, said afterwards.

Councilman William Peduto, who had proposed a competing tax break that would have applied to Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, said the residents had a point.

“When you choose 29 neighborhoods to be the winner, you’re also choosing 60 neighborhoods to be the loser,” he said.

Several other council members, including Daniel Deasy, who represents Fairywood, also expressed disappointment about neighborhoods being left out but at the same time expressed hope that the program could be expanded in the future.

The Ravenstahl administration has said that going citywide would have cost the city $75 million over the life of the program. As structured, the abatement is designed to replace the new property tax revenue the city is giving up with gains in wage and other taxes.

Mr. Peduto said one possible avenue to explore in years ahead would be income-based property tax breaks as well as incentives built around green buildings, historic preservation and public art.

While the program isn’t perfect, it does lend assistance to efforts to bring more housing Downtown, he said.

Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate for Millcraft Industries, the Washington County developer bringing condominiums to the former Lazarus-Macy’s building and apartments to the old G.C. Murphy’s store Downtown, described the abatements as a “good start.”

“I think it’s definitely going to help us,” he said.

He said he was also hoping that Allegheny County and the city school district would adopt similar measures. He said abatements in Philadelphia have helped to revitalize that city.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato expects to have an announcement soon relating to a possible county tax abatement program, spokesman Kevin Evanto said. For the initiative to be successful, Mr. Onorato believes the city, county and school district all must participate, he said.

While Fairywood residents complained about being left out, representatives from several other neighborhood groups spoke in favor of the program before the vote.

Cindy Cassell, who heads up economic development and project management for Neighbors in the Strip, said the program could help to stimulate the redevelopment of about 100 vacant properties in the Strip District.

“It makes urban living in Pittsburgh more affordable for more people,” she said.

The city is still writing regulations for the program, a process that could take at least a month. Abatement applications will be accepted for five years.

(Rich Lord contributed to this story. Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. )

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Iron City’s new owners predict full-bodied future

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Joe Napsha
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The new owners of Pittsburgh Brewing Co. believe the brewery is well-positioned for growth under a bankruptcy reorganization plan approved Tuesday, and a beer industry expert agrees.
The ownership group, led by Connecticut investment manager John N. Milne, plans to take over the Lawrenceville brewery on July 7 and operate it under the name Iron City Brewing Co., which was the name of the brewery when it was formed in 1861.

“Today marks a positive first step for Iron City Brewing Co.,” said Timothy Hickman, who will become the brewery’s president, in a statement yesterday.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge M. Bruce McCullough approved the reorganization plan, which will enable the beermaker to emerge from bankruptcy for the first time since Dec. 7, 2005.

“Pittsburgh Brewing was in bankruptcy for two main reasons — a weak balance sheet and an excessive cost structure. The reorganization plan addresses those issues and positions it well for future growth,” Hickman said.
A beer industry expert believes that with the right business plan, the new ownership can succeed.

“They are just sitting on a gold mine,” because Pittsburgh Brewing’s brand equities “are just phenomenal,” said Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer magazine in Durham, N.C.

Even so, though the new owners pledge to spend $4.1 million on a new kegging line and a new gas-fired boiler, and $500,000 on marketing the brands, having money to spend is not a guarantee of success, Bradford said.

“It is not just a question of (spending) money. You have to be strategic, and you have to execute well,” Bradford said.

Bradford believes the news ownership can “tap into some really strong trends right now.” One of those is what he calls the “retro trend,” the popularity of older beer brands like Iron City and IC Light, among adults in their 20s.

The new ownership group has an opportunity to create a specialty beer segment, a whole new brand they can roll out within the existing market, and add value to the business, Bradford said. Brewers such as High Falls Brewing Co. of Rochester, N.Y., which brews the Genesee family of beers, along with the Matt Brewing Co. of Utica, N.Y., and City Brewing Co. of La Crosse, Wisc., which bought the former Latrobe Brewing Co. plant, are among such success stories.

“It’s not just an extension of Iron City. It is thinking more along lines that reflect the indigenous culture of Western Pennsylvania,” Bradford said.

The new ownership group will take over the brewery from Joseph R. Piccirilli, who bought the business out bankruptcy in 1995. Milne’s group convinced creditors to accept a repayment plan that offers creditors no more than $5.03 million on claims totalling more than $26 million. There was a near-unanimous approval of the reorganization plan, brewery attorney Robert O. Lampl told the judge.

“I did not think we would be here today,” McCullough said as he approved the reorganization plan during a 15-minute hearing. However, he added a cautionary note, saying, “I don’t know how long it will last.”

The developments yesterday “give us optimism,” said George Sharkey, president of the negotiating board for the bottlers and brewers, members of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Locals 144b and 22b. “We’re hoping for great things. We hope the people of Pittsburgh buy the beer and support the business.”

Milne’s group projects that it can boost sales from $30.5 million in its first full year of operation to $37.4 million after three years.

The group will be able to take advantage of a 15 percent reduction in union workers’ wages and benefits under a contract that takes effect when new ownership is in place. Retirement costs were cut by terminating the union-sponsored pension plan, and medical insurance costs for employees were reduced by 20 percent.

Joe Napsha can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or (412)-320-7993.

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Jazzing Up Housing for Seniors – Officials are increasingly inviting architectural innovation in housing projects for the elderly

June 5, 2006
by Violet Law
Businessweek.com

For far too long, most publicly funded housing for seniors and the disabled has bordered on being dull, if not downright dismal and “institutional.” But thanks to architects who are lavishing the kind of thoughtful design attention hitherto rarely seen in such developments, and clients who are increasingly willing to take a chance on them, even some publicly funded projects are breaking the mold.

Victor Regnier, FAIA, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in seniors housing design, is currently writing a book on the subject—timely, given the growing demand for these buildings as baby boomers age. Regnier sees a dawning willingness on the part of housing officials to invite innovative design. More important, there’s a new political will to demand it.

One project resulting from this push is Near North Apartments, a single-room occupancy building designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy/Jahn Architects. Mercy Housing Lakefront commissioned the new $14-million, 96-unit facility to provide permanent residences for low-income or formerly homeless people, some of whom are elderly and disabled. Completed this spring, it stands on the site of Cabrini-Green, an infamous Chicago housing project now mostly demolished. The five-story building is clad in rippled, satin-finish stainless-steel siding. This unpolished facade is tempered by round edges near the rooftop and large, punched windows whose e-coated glazing reflects a faint blue tint. Its elegant, Minimalist design stands out, especially in its infill setting—which is exactly what Cindy Holler, the nonprofit’s president, wanted. “It’s stigma-smashing,” she says. “It’s okay not to be blend in and to be provocative.”

Other new developments are aiming for a more subtle approach, evocative rather than provocative. A 108-unit public housing development for the elderly in Pittsburgh by McCormack Baron Salazar incorporates the history of an African-American neighborhood into its facade design. Architect Dan Rothschild, AIA, of Pittsburgh-based Rothschild Doyno Architects, says he was inspired by the storied Hill District, a popular stop for jazz musicians during the 1920s to 1940s. He incorporated the spirit of jazz into the building’s plan by dividing the front elevation into segments whose widths vary to the relative length of musical notes—a quarter note, half note, or whole note—adding visual rhythm to the streetscape. Construction of the $13 million complex finishes next month.

Regnier observes that more and more projects like this one are employing better design to serve the population they house. “There has been a stronger focus on developing contextually-based designs that gear toward the community and reflect what the city is about,” he explains.

Consideration of context can be achieved not only with exterior details, but also through the architectural program. Regnier cites the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, a complex of 141 senior apartments located near major movie studios in Burbank, California, developed by Meta Housing with some government support. Scheurer Architects designed two recording studios as well as a small theater so that the facility’s residents can flex their creative muscles by producing plays and films.

Provided by Architectural Record—The Resource for Architecture and Architects

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City Council approves tax abatements

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tax breaks designed to attract home builders to Downtown and 28 neighborhoods won City Council’s OK today but excluded some low-income neighborhoods, residents complained.

“It seems to me that the city is trying to upscale the city, and there’s no room for lower income people,” said Donna Washington, 51, a Fairywood resident who told council that her neighborhood should be eligible for the tax breaks.

“We are always left out,” said Washington, a member of the Fairywood Citizens Council. “There are a lot of people who would like to do work on their homes … and they can’t afford (the higher taxes).”

Beginning July 1, those who build new housing — or significantly improve existing residential property in the designated neighborhoods — would be exempt from the city’s 10.8-mill property tax for 10 years.

The tax break applies to the increase in value of new developments capped at $250,000. For example, the owner of a new apartment building worth $250,000 would not have to pay $2,700 a year in property taxes, creating $27,000 in savings over the decade.

The City Planning Department created a “vitality index” to determine which neighborhoods would be eligible for the program. The department assigned scores to neighborhoods based on data such as housing vacancy, violent crime, income, education levels and population decreases.

The bill, proposed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, passed 8-0 today. Councilman Len Bodack was absent.

Nancy Noszka, director of real estate with the Northside Leadership Conference, likes the tax break program and said if it entices home builders to come to the city “the program will help stabilize our communities.”

Cindy Cassell, project manager for the Neighbors in the Strip community group, said the tax breaks could persuade developers to improve some of the estimated 100 vacant properties in the Strip District.

“The 10-year tax abatement will make the cost of rehabbing these old buildings more affordable,” she said.

Councilman Bill Peduto said the mayor’s office should have focused the tax breaks on Downtown because it has the greatest potential for new development that would eventually feed the tax base after the 10-year abatement.

He said the bill has “flaws” because the Planning Department’s vitality index should have been based solely on income, akin to federal Community Development Block Grant programs.

“This is not perfect legislation; it definitely has its flaws. But we definitely have an opportunity to move forward and see some development Downtown,” said Peduto. He said he voted for the legislation because he believes Pittsburgh lags behind other major U.S. cities in offering such tax breaks.

In addition to Downtown, eligible neighborhoods for the tax break are: Allentown, Arlington, Beltzhoover, California-Kirkbride, East Allegheny, Elliott, Esplen, Fineview, Hays, Hazelwood, Homewood North, Homewood South, Homewood West, Knoxville, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington/Belmar, Lower Lawrenceville, Manchester, Marshall-Shadeland, Mt. Oliver, Perry South/Perry Hilltop, Sheraden, Spring Garden, the Strip District, the Upper Hill District, Upper Lawrenceville, Uptown and the West End.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or (412) 765-2312.

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Meeting airs arena concerns

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Kevin Crowe
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The displacement of families and businesses caused by the construction of the Civic Arena in the late-1950s was on the minds of some residents who attended a meeting Monday about the design and construction of the Penguins’ new arena.
Lois Cain, 69, grew up in the Hill District and lived there during the construction of what now is the Mellon Arena. She watched some of her neighbors and friends get forced out of the Hill. There were public input meetings at that time, she said, but the recommendations made by the community quickly were forgotten.

“I lived through this equation,” Cain told about 300 people who attended the meeting at the arena. “The Penguins have never been a friend of the Hill District.”

Cain’s comments underscored the feeling of distrust in many of the comments and questions fielded by the meeting’s hosts, representatives from the Penguins, the city Planning Department, the Sports & Exhibition Authority and Urban Design Associates, the development firm hired by the Penguins to help run the meetings, and members of organizations based in the Hill District.

The meeting was held to organize focus groups with the goal of getting input from the public about the construction and design of a $290 million arena Uptown, said host Don Carter, of Urban Design Associates.
It was the first step in a public participation process the arena project must follow to gain approval from the City Planning Commission.

In response to the comments questioning the process by which public input would be handled, City Councilwoman Tonya Payne said she wanted city planners to forward minutes from the focus group meetings to her office.

“If that information can get presented to my office, I’ll make sure it gets to the community,” she said, drawing applause.

Carter said that while he was happy so many people attended last night’s meeting, the time to discuss specifics of the new arena will be during the focus group meetings. They will be held as soon as a traffic study of the area surrounding the proposed arena is completed, and the times, dates and locations will be available on the city’s Web site, he said.

Carl Redwood, a spokesman for the One Hill Community Benefit Agreement, said the meetings should be about “more than just bricks and mortar.”

Redwood led about 50 people from Freedom Corner at Crawford Street and Centre Avenue to the arena for the meeting. They carried signs that read “One Hill,” and chanted “One Hill, One Voice.”

“We want to ensure that the community surrounding this development will see tangible benefits,” he said.

People who did not attend the kick-off meeting can sign up for the focus groups by contacting the Department of City Planning, the Hill District Consensus Group or the Hill Community Development Corp.

The six focus groups are: residents; churches and social organizations; community organizations; city and public agencies; business and land owners and developers; and historic preservation groups.

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Historic Summit Inn, local mountaintop landmark, celebrates 100th anniversary

06/03/2007
By James Pletcher Jr.,
Uniontown Herald-Standard

Built in 1907 when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the U.S. population stood at about 87 million souls, the Summit Inn is celebrating its first century of continuous year of operation this year.

Bought in 1963 by Eunice and the late Don Shoemaker, the historic hotel has survived economic depression, two world wars and a myriad of changes in society ranging from the advent of the automobile to manned flight to television and computers.

At one time, the Summit Inn “used to be the only attraction to bring tourists in,” Karen Harris, owner and the Shoemaker’s daughter, said. When it was built, Harris said, “there was no bike trail, no Fort Necessity, no Laurel Caverns, no Fallingwater.”

Now it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the official documentation for the National Register, the Summit Inn is a distinctive important example of 20th century Mission and Craftsman-influenced architecture built as a stop for travelers along historic U.S. Route 40. Clinton Piper, who researched and submitted the material for review by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said. “It (the Summit Inn) stands as perhaps the only sizable rural hotel that exhibits elements of a particular style. The building’s dramatic rambling roofline with twin towers, its central block with a parapet gable, expansive porches and prominent setting make it one of the region’s most notable hotels of its era.”

The Summit Hotel Co., comprised of a group of local businessmen, opened the hotel in 1907. The owners acclaimed it as “unequaled anywhere on the National Pike between Washington City and St. Louis.”

In addition to holding a three-star AAA rating, the hotel offers a nine-hole regulation par 35 golf course, all situated on 1,000 acres of mountain forest. “On a clear day, you can see the U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh from the No. 4 hole,” Harris said.

It boasts “the best crab cakes in the U.S.A.,” Harris said, as well as authentic period Gustav Stickley furnishings in the lobby.

On a cool day a fire crackles in the lobby’s stone fireplace. Small desks of oak and tables with checker games ready to be played add to the hotel’s nostalgic charm.

“We have an air of authenticity,” Randall Harris, Karen’s husband said. “People are sitting on the same chairs as Ford, (early auto racer) Barney Oldfield, Edison. That’s what you get when you visit an historic resort.”

“People liked the mountaintop property because of the cooler air. There was no air-conditioning for many years after this was built,” Randall Harris said.

According to its history, no architect has been found who designed the hotel. “Its detailed execution indicates that there was an architect or skilled builder responsible for the design. The building’s dramatic rambling roofline with twin towers, its central block with a parapet gable, expansive porches and prominent setting make it one of the region’s most notable hotels. Only a few hotels of this design remain in existence today.”

Nine Uniontown businessmen formed the Summit Hotel Co. and built the original structure. They were J.C. Work, Isaac W. Semans, Frank H. Rosboro, B.B. Howell, Dr. Charles H. Smith, John F. Hankins, John M. Core and M.H. Bowman, all from Uniontown, and W.W. Ramsey of Pittsburgh.

The group sold the hotel in 1930 to Leo Heyn.

Eunice Shoemaker said Heyn “started a lot of advertising,” even placing roadside signs similar to those for popular products of the day. “The Greyhound Bus Line even had a stop here,” she said. Heyn advertised homegrown vegetables and chickens raised on the property, elite table water and a “Summit Spa,” saying that Gen. George Washington once used water from the spring flowing into it.

Boasting “absolute quietness and cleanliness assured,” Heyn attracted other notables of his time, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and one of the Mayo brothers, who founded the clinic bearing their name, Shoemaker said.

While the original developers built the golf course in the early 1920s, Heyn brought in Sam Parke as the golf pro in 1931. “He won the U.S. Open in 1935,” Shoemaker said.

The father of legendary golf course designer Pete Dye visited the course in 1923, returning to Ohio to begin his work designing golf courses, according to Summit Inn history.

Heyn also created a ski slope in the 1930s that the Shoemakers resurrected for a time during the 1960s.

The Great Depression and World War II made it difficult to continue the business due to a drop in automobile traffic. Heyn sold the property in 1946 to Maxwell Abbell.

The Shoemakers first exposure to the property came in 1958 when Don was hired to manage the hotel.

“He saw only vestiges of the historic porch hotel’s former glory, and he was far from impressed,” the hostel’s history relates.

“It was so rundown, there wasn’t a decent room in the whole place,” Shoemaker said.

Don and Eunice bought the property in 1963, investing their time and capital in restoring it to its former glory.

“It’s been a good experience,” Eunice Shoemaker said. “Many of our guests would return year after year. We enjoyed closing in November for the season. It gave us time to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family. So, we had the best of both words,” she added.

Shoemaker said she and her husband visited local sales and auctions during the early years, buying furniture and other accessories they needed.

“My parents struggled to keep the hotel up and didn’t throw anything away but would reuse it, repaint it, change it if needed,” Karen Harris said.

“We bought the chandelier in the dining room and the landing from the White Swan Hotel,” Eunice Shoemaker said.

During their tenure, the Shoemakers added 21 rooms to the hotel, which also features two swimming pools, shuffleboard and tennis. The banquet area addition, done in a Colonial motif with ivory window frames and red and blue checked carpeting, was the last design Don Shoemaker did before he died in 1997. “He had the contractor come to the hospital so he could show him what he wanted. He never got to see it completed,” his wife said.

Don Shoemaker designed the growth, even helping in construction, spending one winter, for example, excavating dirt from under the hotel to create a downstairs lounge.

In addition, there are smaller conference rooms (one named for Harvey Firestone) and the Summit Dining Room, all available to the public as well as guests.

“We are open 24 hours a day. We have entertainment on weekends and our golf course is open to the public. We have summer memberships for our pools, too,” Karen Harris said.

Harris, who was 5 when her parents took over the hotel, began her official career there as a lifeguard. “I did a little bit of everything here,” in her career, she said.

Shoemaker said she has enjoyed all aspects of her life at the hotel and resort.

“I can’t think of anything about this that would be the downside of the business,” she said.

The Shoemakers’ efforts were honored in 1996 with the Pennsylvania Travel Council’s Distinguished Hotelier of the Year Award, presented by then-Pennsylvania Secretary of Commerce Thomas Hagen.

Hagen described the Summit as one of the few remaining “porch hotels” in America, meaning a hotel with what can be described as a grand outside deck overlooking the surrounding flora, the type of porch that conjures images of white wicker rockers, cool summer breezes and gentlemen and ladies of a different era altogether.

Business continues to be good at the 94-room hotel, Karen Harris said.

She and her husband Randall and her daughter Amanda Leskinen, operate the hotel today. Leskinen, a recent Washington and Jefferson College graduate with degrees in political science and business administration, is the events coordinator. Randall Harris, who was once associated with Herman Dupre, who founded Seven Springs Resort, handles infrastructure and is an innkeeper. Others on the staff include Sam Shoemaker, a cousin; Anna Marie Collins and Ray Parris, the executive chef.

Karen Harris said the hotel features all new menus this year including steaks exclusively from Black Angus steers.

Owners are also planning to expand the golf course from nine to 18 holes and will be offering special anniversary packages over July 4 and Labor Day.

As for the future, Randall Harris noted that with “1,000 acres of land, we have unlimited opportunities for development.”

For more information, call the Summit Inn at 724-438-8594 (toll free at 1-800-433-8594) or visit its Web site at www.summitinnresort.com.

Updated 06/04/2007 09:04:08 AM EDT
©The Herald Standard 2007

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Row house shows off South Side’s potential

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Pamela Starr
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, June 2, 2007

When Ashley Snider bought her South Side row house four years ago, nothing had been done to it since the 1970s.
So, the 31-year-old interior designer ripped up the shag carpeting and had the original soft-pine floors refinished. She took the wallpaper off the kitchen walls and painted them an eggplant color on the bottom and a lemon yellow color on top. Snider painted the metal cabinets with black chalkboard paint so she can write on them.

“Paint is cheaper than anything else,” says Snider, who works at Perlora in the Strip District. “I also redid the kitchen floor with black-and-white checkered tiles.”

Snider’s row house is one of 12 homes that will be featured on the 16th annual Historic South Side Home Tour, which will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today. Jennifer Strang, marketing and communications director for the South Side Local Development Company, which benefits from tour proceeds, says the group chose the house to illustrate how Snider was able to do a lot of work herself and stay on a budget.

“Ashley represents the next generation of South Sider, very in touch with her own sense of style but respectful of her home’s history,” says Strang. “Tourgoers will find a well-balanced mix of classic and modern design throughout and come away in awe that Ashley was able to do much of the work unassisted.”
Snider paid just $90,000 for the 1,500-square-foot row house on Jane Street, which was built in 1866 and has had 12 owners. A German immigrant, Jacob Dietz, purchased the lot for $300 in 1865 and had the house built the following year. The home was turned into two apartments at the turn of the 20th century.

This is the first home she has bought herself.

“I knew I wanted to live in the South Side,” says Snider, who owns a friendly pit-bull mix named Totsi. “It was the second house I looked at. I think I got lucky.”

There was an unlucky incident shortly after she moved in. Plumbing problems when the sewage backed up in the basement cost her $9,000 to fix. New pipes had to be installed. She also paid $4,000 to have the hardwood floors refinished.

Snider painted the walls in the dining room a nice, taupe shade and used the same paint in the master bedroom. She painted a wide, taupe strip in the middle of the walls of the master bedroom and painted the rest of the walls eggshell. Violet sheers on the windows add a splash of color.

“I kept the light fixture because I liked it, but it’s not original to the house,” she points out.

The bathroom on the second floor sports pink wall tiles that came with the house. The black-and-white checkered tile floor matches the kitchen floor. Snider created the medicine cabinet herself with a beautiful mosaic pattern. She painted the rest of the walls a charcoal color, but wanted black.

“That’s the way it came out,” she says with a laugh.

The second bedroom was painted with the taupe color; and Snider painted the ceramic Elvis bookends herself. She also made the platters in the kitchen.

“I used to work at Color Me Mine in Squirrel Hill,” she explains. “I have a lot of experience working with paints and stuff.”

The woodwork throughout the row house is all original, as are the fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom. She painted one wall in the living room a rich terra-cotta shade and the other walls eggshell. Snider just started to strip the original marble fireplace in her bedroom but it’s taking a lot of time.

“I work on stuff when I have the time,” she says. “I don’t plan to do anything next. I don’t have the money for a new kitchen or bath. I just paint things all the time. I do things in cheap ways.”

Strang says that the home tour will show very diverse houses.

“From painstakingly remodeled 19th century homes to beautifully repurposed churches and industrial space, there is something for everyone,” she says. “All represent the South Side’s commitment to historic preservation.”

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Block House roof removal sheds light on history

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Allison M. Heinrichs
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Block House, owned by the Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, is the oldest building in Pittsburgh and a National Historic Landmark. It protected soldiers during the French and Indian War and was used as a residence through most of the 1800s.

As the wooden planks were removed, sunlight streamed into the Fort Pitt Block House’s pyramid-shaped attic, illuminating six inches of dust.

Kelly Linn couldn’t have been happier.

“Nobody living today has ever seen this,” said Linn, curator of the Block House, as she perched on scaffolding, clutching a handful of dirty straw, twine and horsehair insulation.

Over the next three weeks, workers with RickJohn Roofing will remove the old roof, built in 1894, and replace it with a roof of similar design. The Carnegie-based company volunteered to do the project and provide materials for free, a $20,000 value. General manager Jean-Paul Bibaud made the arrangements.
The 243-year-old Block House’s attic didn’t contain any huge surprises — no bones of Revolutionary War soldiers or American Indians — but the materials used to build the five-sided roof, and the way it was put together, make it a historical treasure, Linn said.

“Knowing what’s under here will launch a whole body of research into the history of roofing,” said Linn, an archeologist and historic preservationist.

The Block House, owned by the Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, sits in Point State Park. It’s the oldest building in Pittsburgh and a National Historic Landmark. It protected soldiers during the French and Indian War and was used as a residence through most of the 1800s.

The roof has a top layer of cedar shakes, tacked atop the existing roof in 1948. Beneath is a layer of thick black felt, seven layers of tar paper and another layer of older felt, followed by inch-thick wood planks. Between the planks and the second-floor ceiling is an attic 4 feet tall at its highest point, and 16 feet wide.

The floor, coated in clumps of the dusty insulation, is littered with animal skeletons, bird eggs and old papers.

As she sifts through the attic in the next three weeks, Linn hopes to find a date on one of the scraps of paper or an old coin that would give clues about the age of the roof materials — which could date from 1764, when the building was constructed, to 1948, when the final layer of roof was installed.

Several archaeologists will inspect the roof, including a team of historic preservationists from Belmont Technical College in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

For Rick Gammiere, who co-owns RickJohn Roofing with Bobby Wallo, the project caps off an education that began when he was a child.

“When I was in grade school, we visited the Block House, and there was this rope that blocked off the upstairs,” said Gammiere. “I said, ‘I’m going to get up there.’ I can now say I have been.”

Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at aheinrichs@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5607.

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Historic groups see opportunity in Rt. 28 project

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 01, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation begins its final design plans to widen and upgrade Route 28, several organizations are working with PennDot to not only preserve the oldest existing Roman Catholic Croatian church building in the country, but also to beautify the entrance to Troy Hill and attract tourists.

The St. Nicholas Church, unused since 2004, is at the heart of the efforts of Preservation Pittsburgh and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation. They want to turn the 106-year old church into a national shrine and museum to tell the story of the original St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus, and the story of the Croatian community that was established in the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to make the church a destination and to find a way to make this venture financially practical,” said Jack Schmitt, a board member of Preservation Pittsburgh.

One of the earliest Croatian settlements in the country grew up along the canal that used to parallel the river and provide a means for Allegheny City — which became the North Side after Pittsburgh annexed it in 1907 — to receive goods off-loaded from the Allegheny River. It is a history few Pittsburghers know, “but it was one of the greatest things that happened,” said Mr. Schmitt. “It was key to Pittsburgh’s development.”

He said the preservation effort began seven years ago “to save all the green hillsides and homes and mitigate the loss of historic fabric” along the North Side portal. The group has since accepted that it will lose many structures along the 21/2-mile section between the 16th Street Bridge and the Millvale interchange.

A collection of nonprofits are lined up to complement PennDot’s redesign, including the Riverlife Task Force, Friends of the Riverfront, and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

“As a North Sider, I looked at the possibilities and thought, ‘Hey, this is the entrance [to the neighborhood],” said Mr. Schmitt, a resident of Allegheny West. “We can have walls with bolts sticking out of them or we can do something creative and save some of our history. It would be interesting and uplifting. If we don’t do something good, we’ll have to live with what is done.”

Goals include connecting the Allegheny River trail, via its footpath across the highway, to a green space that would run from the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. at Troy Hill and Finial streets to the church; to provide access to the church from the roadway; and to present the area’s history by posting canal stones and interpretive plaques along the river trail.

The road redesign will be a compromise of green space and concrete, but the retaining walls present an opportunity, he said. The preservation groups have asked PennDot to imitate the lock stone walls of the old canal that once followed the same course as the road. They also propose bronze outlines of canal boats against the wall as a whimsical experience for Route 28 travelers.

Dan Cessna, PennDot’s district executive, said the canal boats would have to be paid for by state enhancement funds, not from the Route 28 redesign budget, if PennDot approves their installation.

“We haven’t investigated to determine whether it would be feasible from a safety standpoint,” he said. “We haven’t determined the exact limits of rights of way.” He said PennDot wants the result “to look pleasing” and would consider the suggested hillside plantings and stone wall texture of the old canal.

In one of many options in its most recent design report, PennDot proposes to regrade the church parking lot to be level with Route 28 and to expand the road “primarily to the east to minimize hillside impacts.”

Arthur Ziegler of Landmarks said that though “nothing is definite, we are interested” in creating the interpretive plaques. “They would tell the physical history of the area, and it’s a history of transportation — canal, railroad, river and road.”

Other stories could include those of Indian trails and settlements, George Washington’s crossing, Herr’s Island, canal houses, the Croatian community, and the Heinz and Pittsburgh Wool factories.

Mr. Ziegler said Landmarks has been “very interested in saving [the church], and we like the idea that it might be a Croatian shrine. We were involved in getting a roadway to access the church with parking.”

In March, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh had all religious objects removed from the church, as canon requires. The Follieri Group of New York City has a sales agreement to buy the church, said Victor Kamber, a Follieri spokesman. “We should close within the month.”

Mr. Kamber said the Follieri Group has been in contact with the preservationists and expects to lease the church back to them.

“We’re sort of excited about their plans and hope they will be able to” make them succeed, he said.

The Follieri Group, a real-estate development company, targets unused Catholic churches for preservation, said Mr. Kamber, “rather than see them destroyed or developed as something that isn’t representative of the community.”

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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YMCA moving to Market Square – New facility in former G.C. Murphy is cornerstone of renewal

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 01, 2007
By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Millcraft Industries wanted foot traffic to help support its revitalization of the old G.C. Murphy’s store. The YMCA wanted a more central location Downtown.

It proved to be the perfect marriage.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh announced yesterday that it will open a new Downtown facility in the Murphy’s building as part of Millcraft’s $32 million Market Square Place project.

With the decision, the YMCA plans to sell its current Downtown building on the Boulevard of the Allies, but won’t be moving out until its new facility is completed. There will be no interruption in services or programs, said John Cardone, vice president of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

“This is a seamless transition. There won’t be any break in services at all,” he said.

The new facility will be 38,000 square feet. The Downtown YMCA will occupy about 30,000 square feet of the old Murphy’s building and become the lead tenant of the Market Square Place project, which also will feature shops and apartments. It also will use about 8,000 square feet of an adjacent property that’s part of the Millcraft project.

At the new location there will be a 25-meter, five-lane swimming pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, wellness facilities with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms, and a multitude of services and programs, including nutrition, smoke cessation, weight management, physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation.

Programs and services will be spread over three floors, from the basement to the second floor, rather than seven as at the current location. The new facility also will house Activate Pittsburgh’s staff and wellness programs.

Mr. Cardone said the YMCA had been looking for a more central location Downtown and has been seeking to consolidate space and programs. He said it has found that people generally won’t walk more than three blocks to an exercise program. Navigating seven floors in the current building also has proved to be inconvenient for members.

“Quite frankly, it’s really just too much space. The way it’s designed, it’s really broken up,” he said.

Moving to the Murphy’s building more in the heart of the Downtown business district should make it more convenient for existing members, some 2,000 to 2,500 strong, and help recruit new ones.

Mr. Cardone said the YMCA also is excited about being part of the resurgence in the Downtown business corridor, with the Murphy’s project, the construction of the Three PNC Plaza skyscraper and the conversion of the Lazarus-Macy’s store to office space and housing.

For Millcraft, the move will provide a steady diet of foot traffic, about 1,000 people a day, and a great amenity for residents of the 50 loft apartments it is planning as part of the Murphy’s conversion, said Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate.

“It’s really going to activate Market Square and the whole Fifth and Market district,” he said.

Even with the YMCA, Millcraft will have 27,000 to 30,000 square feet of ground-level space to offer retailers and others. It sees that as potential homes for restaurants, spas, salons, and lounges. It also has plans for a market catering to the needs of residents and office workers.

The YMCA hopes to open the new facility in late 2008 or early 2009. Millcraft plans to begin taking reservations for apartments by mid-2008. A non-profit, the YMCA pays property taxes on a small portion of its current building. The Murphy’s building will become taxable once Millcraft completes its purchase. The move of the YMCA won’t affect that.

The Downtown YMCA expects to add about 50 to its 150-member staff with the move.With the sale of the Boulevard of the Allies building, about 30 administrative staff members for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will move to another location.

(Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. )

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YMCA to anchor Market Square Place

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Ron DaParma
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 1, 2007

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will cut the size of its Downtown facility by more than half when it moves to the vacant G.C. Murphy store complex on Fifth Avenue on the edge of Market Square, officials said Thursday.
The nonprofit organization will lease space at the Murphy structure and the neighboring former D&K retail store building, with the move expected by late next year.

The two buildings are being developed by Washington County-based Millcraft Industries Inc. as part of its Market Square Place project, a $32 million complex that will include retail stores, restaurants and apartments.

In November, the YMCA disclosed to its nearly 2,500 full-time and 500 seasonal members that it planned to sell its seven-story headquarters building on the Boulevard of the Allies and seek another Downtown site.

“The YMCA has made a major commitment to the revitalization of the Fifth and Market District and to making Downtown a much better place to live and work,” said Lucas Piatt, vice president of Millcraft Industries.
“As the lead tenant in the Market Square Place project, the YMCA will provide a sought-after amenity to the residential aspect of the project and provide essential foot traffic to help support the additional … retail use within the development.”

The move will bring 200 staffers, including 50 new hires, and the 500 to 1,000 people who use the Downtown Y’s facilities each day into the heart of the city’s deteriorated retail corridor along Fifth and Forbes avenues.

In addition to its members, the YMCA serves hundreds of others through its wellness programs.

“In our new Downtown location, we will provide wellness and other services that match the needs of our Downtown members at a convenient central location,” said Dan Lebish, board chairman of the Downtown YMCA branch.

The facility at Market Square Place will include a 25-meter, five-lane pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, wellness facilities with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms.

However, it will not have the basketball court, running track and other court game facilities offered at the current site.

The YMCA signed a long-term lease at the Murphy site, but terms of the deal were not disclosed. Because it is a leased facility, the new YMCA will be fully taxable property, said Piatt and John Cardone, the Downtown Y’s executive director.

Over the years, the Downtown Y attempted to secure tax-free status for its land and building at 330 Blvd. of the Allies, which drew objections from private health clubs in the city.

The organization will not move from its current location until the new complex is ready, said Cardone. He said efforts continue to sell the building, which has been home to the YMCA for 20 years.

“Our new YMCA will not only help us serve our Downtown members better, it will also enable us to invest more in YMCA programming throughout the greater Pittsburgh community,” said Cardone.

The building will be substantially more cost-effective to operate, and Cardone said savings will be returned to the community in the form of scholarships and enhanced services.

The majority of the YMCA’s new facilities and offices will be on the second floor of the former G.C. Murphy complex, about 30,000 square feet of its 38,000-square-foot space, Piatt said.

However, its main entrance will be on the ground-level floor of the seven-story D&K building, across from PNC Financial Services Group’s Three PNC Plaza project under construction. The connection between the D&K and Murphy complex will be on the second level of the two structures.

The five floors above the Y’s facilities in the D&K structure will be developed as rental apartments. Other apartment units will be located on the upper levels of the former G.C. Murphy complex, which is a combination of several adjoining buildings.

The Piatt project is being built with the aid of about $6 million in state funds. Additional help is being sought in historic tax credits.

Possibilities for ground-level retail space include a high-end spa and salon, restaurants, clothing shops and a bank, Piatt said.

News of the YMCA’s decision was welcomed by Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which has been concerned about preservation of historic and architecturally significant structures Downtown.

“We’ve worked closely with the Piatts and their architect to ensure that the entire complex of buildings could be saved and made workable,” Ziegler said. “We’ve been pleased with the uses they are creating.”

YMCA on the move

New site

Location: Former G.C. Murphy complex and D&K Store building

Size: 38,000 square feet

Pool: 25-meter, five lanes

Facilities: Men’s and women’s locker rooms; wellness facilities, with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms; whirlpool, sauna and steam room

Current site

Location: 330 Blvd. of the Allies

Size: 97,000 square feet on seven stories

Pool: 25-meter, six lanes

Not moving from old site: Gymnasium, racquetball courts, walking/running track

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