Read About YPA’s 2014 Top Ten Preservation Opportunities!

For more information on YPA’s 2014 Top Ten Preservation Opportunities, check out the following links:

1. 6012-6018 Penn Avenue

2. Drover’s Hotel

3. 320, 322, and 330 Forbes Avenue

4. Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge

5. McKean Avenue, Donora, PA

6. Roxian Theater

7. Leslie Park Pool

8. Brashear Co. Factory

9. Regis Steedle Candies

10. Landbanking

YPA Top Ten 2014 – #1 – 6012-6018 Penn Avenue

Like many areas in the Pittsburgh region, East Liberty faces the challenge of balancing new development with historic structures that have long contributed to the community’s identity and economy. No sites embody this struggle more than the 6012-6018 block of Penn Avenue. These four buildings, built between the 1880s and 1930s, are prime main street locations at risk of demolitions.

The sites showcase both Gothic Revival and Victorian architecture. The 6012 and 6014 sites are almost 100 years old, having been built in the early 1920s. These sites feature a cream terracotta block covering a red brick backing. These wooden-framed buildings are very unique to the neighborhood, and also feature original wooden windows on the second floor. The 6018 site is slightly older, having been built in the late 1910s. The exterior features a terracotta veneer highlighted by an ornate design on the second floor that replaced the original glass façade in the 1950s.

The 6016 site is the oldest of the four and one of the most unique buildings in East Liberty. Having been built in the 1880s, the almost 140 year old building has an exterior that features red brick and sandstone While the first floor façade has been replaced with a protective security door, much of the structure remains intact.

The buildings have housed a variety of businesses throughout their history. The 6018 site famously housed Reymer Brothers Candies and later Bolan’s Chocolates. 6016 Penn Avenue is one of only five known structures in the East Liberty Commercial District to have been designed as a single family residential structure.The 6016 served as both the home and office of Dr. James Cooper D.D.S. till 1901 and later became as a shoe store in the 1930s.  The 6012 and 6014 spaces housed a drug store, newspaper stand, and flower shop from at least the 1930s through the 1950s. Because of their contributions to East Liberty, these buildings helped the area become a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

More recently, the spaces have had an assortment of occupants ranging from political campaign headquarters to beauty supply stores to coffee shops. The current owner, East Liberty Development Inc., purchased the sites from the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2006. Under ELDI’s ownership, the buildings have not had regular tenants. However, Zeke’s Coffee – the only current tenant in the 6014 building – has quickly become a community asset in an area underserved by small, local businesses. In spite of Zeke’s success, ELDI is in the process of selling the sites to a developer planning to demolish them in favor of a large-scale mixed-use development.

Following a tour of the 6018 site and discussions with community members, YPA feels confident that these historic structures, while neglected at present time, are perfectly viable for retail use.  Though they are slated to be demolished, YPA fully believes that these sites have great potential and should be saved. Their loss would further diminish an already tenuous historic designation for the East Liberty Commercial District.

As evidenced by Zeke’s Coffee in the 6014 site, the recent Beauty Shoppe and Ed Gainey’s campaign office in the 6014 building, and a Carnegie Mellon pop-up shop in the 6018 space only a few years ago, the 6012-6018 block of Penn Avenue is still capable of housing local businesses.  Rehabilitation and cleaning are perfectly reasonable alternatives to the extreme of demolition. YPA and the local preservation community will be actively defending these sites in the coming months.

YPA Top Ten 2014 – #2 – Drover’s Hotel

The locally known “Drover’s Hotel” is located at 1244 Buena Vista Drive in the Central Northside and is included in the Mexican War Streets Historic District. The structure has been unoccupied for multiple years and has fallen into disrepair.

The building first served as a grocery store until the early 1860s. It also served as a beer saloon and boarding house occupied by cattle drovers during and after the Civil War, at a time when Buena Vista Street contained one of the largest stockyards in the Pittsburgh area. Between 1921 and 1944, the building was owned by Northside Progressive Associates, a non-profit housing organization formed by a group of African-American North Side residents. It is one of the oldest buildings in the area, characterized by pre-Civil War aspects. The building sits in a neighborhood that’s both a City Historic District and honored by a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes demolition particularly concerning.

At one point, the owners were considering demolishing the building and selling the vacant land to a developer due to financial constraints. The building was placed on the Bureau of Building Inspection’s demolition list in June of 2014. Through the community organizing work of the Mexican War Streets Society (MWSS), the building was temporarily removed from the demolitions list. The MWSS plans to apply for historic nomination through the Historic Review Commission (HRC) in order to prevent demolition. The Drover’s Hotel is scheduled to be on the November 5th HRC agenda.

The purpose of the HRC is to protect and maintain historically and architecturally significant buildings and neighborhoods in the City. The HRC is composed of seven members appointed by the Mayor which must include an architect, a preservationist, a realtor, a building inspector, and a planner. This seven member board will determine the fate of the building at the November 5th HRC meeting. If you are interested in voicing your opinion on the future of this structure, anyone is welcome to attend the meeting located in the First Floor Hearing Room, 200 Ross Street at 12:30pm.

YPA Top Ten 2014 – #3 – 320, 322, 330 Forbes Facades

In the early 20th century downtown Pittsburgh was experiencing major growth across the commercial district.  The same can be said for the early 21st century downtown Pittsburgh.

Originally used as restaurants, this section of downtown was known as “Lunchers Row” on what was once named Diamond Street.  These building’s facades show the ornate details of the Beaux-Arts and Neo-Classical styles at two and three story levels.  The terra cotta facades include details such as lion faces, festoons, and fluted pilasters making each a work of art.  In the 1920s, 330 Forbes became home to the “Palace Theater”  – Pittsburgh’s earliest place to see “talkies” (also known as synchronized sound movies).  Today, these buildings are significant components of the Fourth Avenue National Register Historic District – recently expanded in 2012.

To make room for Tower at PNC Plaza, nine similar buildings of design and scale were demolished in 2012.  These types of buildings in the “Golden Triangle” are becoming a rarity.  The buildings’ owner, Point Park University is planning to demolish the buildings while deconstructing one façade to be reconstructed in a neighboring plaza for the new Point Park Playhouse.

Preservationists are working with together in support of developing a new theater but strongly advocating for the preservation of these unique facades.  Retaining facades for new construction has been popular across other major cities but not (yet) practiced in Pittsburgh.

YPA Top Ten 2014 – #4 – Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge

pedestrian bridge
Lake Elizabeth and the former Allegheny Pedestrian Bridge circa 1911.

Allegheny Commons Park was built in 1867. The 88-acre park, considered to be Pittsburgh’s oldest, is nestled between downtown Pittsburgh and a large swath of the Northside, and is bordered by Cedar Avenue and Brighton Avenue to the east and west.  Also referred to separately as East Commons, West Commons, and North Commons, the park is part of many people’s daily commute to work on foot or by bicycle. On a typical day, residents enjoy watching ducks swim in Lake Elizabeth, playing with dogs in the designated off-leash area, picnicking in front of the scenic Pittsburgh city skyline, or stopping for an icy treat at the Pittsburgh institution known as Gus and Ya Ya’s by the West Commons tennis courts. Frequent points of destination are the Children’s Museum and the National Aviary, which is the only nonprofit indoor aviary in the country, the largest aviary in the country, and also the only aviary awarded honorary “National” status by the United State Congress.

In the early 1900’s, train tracks servicing Pittsburgh were sunk beneath the park landscape. The Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge was built over the railine in 1906 to connect West Commons to Brighton Avenue.  The neo-classical bridge consisted of two ornamental concrete abutments with stair case approaches, and a concrete arch superstructure. The City of Pittsburgh neglected to make needed routine repairs to the structure in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and by 1999, the pedestrian bridge was closed due to safety concerns. For over a decade, parkgoers were greeted with wire security fencing and a “Bridge Closed” sign.

In the fall of 2013, due to new requirements of Norfolk Southern Rail, which owns the line cutting through the park, the City paid $199,000 for the demolition of the concrete arch and deck. Today, the abutments on either side remain, as well as the security fencing and “Bridge Closed” sign.

All that remains of the pedestrian bridge are the concrete abutments.

The Historic Review Commission (HRC) and interested parties agreed in 2010 to the demolition of the superstructure with the stipulation that the City maintain the right to replace the span over the railroad, that reuse of the remaining abutments would be considered, and that the City restore or replace the handrailing system on either side of the bridge and maintain landscaping until the structure is rebuilt. Aside from maintaining easement permission for future construction, none of these stipulations have been met. The minutes from the February 1st, 2010 HRC meeting can be read here.

As with many historic sites in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Commons Pedestrian bridge is an example of neglect that historically significant and structurally sound structures faced during Pittsburgh’s lean times after the fall of the steel industry. Today, the fate of the pedestrian bridge ebbs and flows with public interested in the project.

Diana Nelson Jones from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette summed it up nicely in her article about the bridge in 2011 when she wrote, “What is a city without its wonderful small parts? The parts that connect people and neighborhoods are the most important of all.”

Interesting Fact – Before becoming a city park, West Park was a grounds area for a Western Penitentiary. In 1842, Charles Dickens visited the site, and many believe conditions at the penitentiary were the inspiration for his tale A Christmas Carol.