YPA Top 10 2015 – #1 – Frank and Seder


Standing beneath the Kaufmann’s/Macy’s Clock and looking directly across Smithfield Street allows one to see a fine example of Chicago School architecture in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh. Built in 1918 by Jacob Frank and Isaac Seder to replace their original 1907 store that was destroyed by fire, this historic building takes us back to a time when emporiums with different departments of merchandise became very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mass transit – such as trains and streets cars – made travel easier into downtown, and elevators made it easier to get from one floor to the next. These innovations lead to a golden age for downtown retailers. Clever window displays and printed advertising helped to increase the draw of traffic, especially around the holidays.

Frank and Seder were Russian Jewish immigrants who opened their first store in Pittsburgh in 1907, and their business survived there until 1958. They did well enough in fact to also expand into Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York City, before finally ending their run of success in 1959. National retailers had by then invested heavily in suburban areas and this made it much more difficult for urban department stores to survive. This was in large part because of the shift away from public transit to the more universal use of automobiles for travel. The reason was obvious: malls offered free parking, downtowns did not.

Although the Frank  & Seder Department store sat directly across from Kaufmann’s, the two stores were known to help each other out. There is an illuminating story about how during a strike by sanitation workers, Kaufmann’s was allowed to store all of their garbage on the roof of Frank & Seder’s until the strike ended, thus not blocking any customers from entering the store.

Up until 2014, the Frank & Seder department store housed many different retail store and offices. Their store in Detroit has be rehabilitated and is now part of Loft of Merchants Row, which is a hopeful lesson here, because the current owners, Oxford Development, has plans to demolish the building and replace it with a glass tower building. These plans seem to be on hold, so hopefully there is now an opportunity for a meaningful discussion on repurposing this handsome building and restoring it to the luster it once enjoyed in the heart of the downtown retail district.

Written by Matthew Craig, Executive Director of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh

YPA Top 10 2015 – #2 – Old Stone Tavern

oldstone_2 (1)

Considered the oldest commercial building in Pittsburgh, the Old Stone Tavern is believed to have been built in 1782, at the intersection of Woodville Avenue and Greentree Road in Pittsburgh’s West End. The tavern sits on what was referred to as the Catfish Path, a Native American trail that led to the camp of Chief Tingoocque of the Delaware. Those who traveled that path westward toward Ohio used the tavern to resupply and rest.

The Tavern was owned by Daniel Elliot, who was an Indian trader during his early career. Elliot saw the westward expansion as an opportunity to be an entrepreneur and in later years became one of Pittsburgh’s earliest  businessman.

From the late 1700s to present, the tavern has changed hands many times and has come close to demolition more than once. When threatened last, the tavern was ultimately saved by a unanimous decision from the Historic Review Commission of the City of Pittsburgh. On October 12, 2009, Pittsburgh City Council approved its designation as a Local Historic Landmark.

Almost unbelievably, the tavern operated as a bar or restaurant continuously from 1782 to 2009, save for the prohibition era, when it operated as a “confectionary store”.

Written by John Greenway, Board Member of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh

YPA Top 10 2015 – #3 Westinghouse Castle


One of the most prestigious sites to ever appear on the Top Ten, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company General Office Building – also known as The Castle or Library Hall– is a treasure at risk. The original site was built out of wood in 1890 to house office space following the relocation of Westinghouse’s air brake plant to Wilmerding in 1889, featuring architecture designed by Frederick J. Osterling, Benno Janssen, and William York Cocken.

In addition to housing the brake company’s office, The Castle also featured a library, bowling alley, and swimming pool among other amenities. Reopening in 1897 following a fire the previous year, the site was rebuilt with a stone foundation without the recreational features of the previous iteration. It was at this site that George Westinghouse worked on many of his numerous inventions. The site expanded to its current size in 1926, and Westinghouse Company remained at this location for another 60 years.

The 55,000 square foot site, allegedly modeled in part after a Scottish Castle, features 59 rooms and a combination of Renaissance and Romanesque architecture among other styles (also being described as Medieval Revival). Perhaps its most iconic feature, added during the 1897 remodeling, is the main building’s four-faced clock tower built by the E Howard Watch & Clock Company.

Today, this integral piece of Wilmerding’s history faces an uncertain future. Following Westinghouse Company’s departure in the 1980s, community activists have strived to maintain the site in the face of numerous challenges. In 1987, The Castle was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The site has been cared for by non-profit Wilmerding Renewed Inc. since 2006, and The Castle once housed the George Westinghouse Museum on the first floor, and a variety of business ranging from a tea and gift shop and funeral directors association have occupied it in the last few years. The Castle and grounds have also hosted several events, most notably the George Westinghouse Days celebration in the summer.

Sadly, in 2007 much of the museum’s treasures were relocated to the Heinz History Center, taking many pieces of civic pride away from Wilmerding’s community. Limited tours resumed in 2013, and representatives of the Priory Hospitality Group were interested in purchasing the site that year to refurbish it as a hotel, but no purchase has come about. The building is still for sale and faces a plethora of challenges. Flood damage has led to problems with mold and peeling paint, while maintenance and utility costs for the site can be up to $10,000 a month.

In spite of these risks, it would be inexcusable to allow one of the region’s greatest architectural and community treasures to fall into any more disrepair. The magnificent Castle and grounds exude potential for reuse. In addition to housing a future hotel, it has already proven a suitable home for office space, an events and banquet hall, and small business center. The Westinghouse Castle has enormous promise, and with some support, can once again serve as an anchor for the community of Wilmerding.

YPA Top 10 2015 – #4 – Albright Methodist Church

unnamed (8)

Special Nomination By: Preservation Pittsburgh

Site Research and Description Prepared by: Justin Greenawalt and Matthew Falcone

Originally built as the Zion Church of Pittsburgh of the Evangelical Association in 1906, Albright United Methodist Church is one of the few unaltered structures remaining from this neighborhood’s early development. Formed in 1843, the Albright congregation is a descendent of one of Pittsburgh’s oldest congregations.

In spring and summer of 1905, architect Chancey W. Hodgdon prepared plans for a new stone church in Pittsburgh’s burgeoning East End. During construction, the cornerstone of the congregation’s previous church on High Street (the current site of BNY Mellon Tower) was relocated to the East End and installed in the church’s foundation.  The cornerstone translates to “Zion Evangelical Church, Built 1851” and references the congregation’s history as a German Evangelical Church.

The Albright United Methodist Church is an exceptional example of the Eclectic Period of architectural design in the United States and Pittsburgh. Specifically, it is representative of the late 19th and early 20th century popularity of the Richardson Romanesque style in Pittsburgh.

Each of the stained glass windows, which are 39 in total, can be directly attributed to Pittsburgh’s S.S. Marshall & Bros, one of the oldest art glass studios in the country that continued to manufacture pressed flint and lime glass.

In 2013, the Albright congregationmoved their services offsite due to a roof leak, but continue to maintain the building. Despite the leak, the building’s integrity is exceptional and the structure is sound.

However, the Albright United Methodist Church has an uncertain future. Congregants recently learned of a local developer’s plan to purchase and demolish the building. The plan for the side includes a new retail development, including a drive-thru for a ubiquitous national coffeehouse chain.

The Albright congregation has been active and vocal in their support of the building’s preservation. They have developed an alternative plan for the building’s use and have engaged Preservation Pittsburgh, a local non-profit historic preservation organization, to assist in the building’s landmark designation.

Note:  This work has been appropriated with permission from the Pittsburgh City Historic Nomination for Albright United Methodist Church, prepared by Justin P. Greenawalt and Matthew Falcone of Preservation Pittsburgh at request of the Albright Congregation, August 2015.

YPA Top 10 2015 – #5 – Wilksboro Avenue Footbridge


The Wilksboro Avenue Footbridge hearkens back to another time, when trolleys were the main means of travel for many people. This 400 foot steel bridge crosses an 86 foot high ravine and a tributary of Jacks Run, and was an important connector for the people of Brighton Heights because it was the most direct path to a streetcar stop on California Avenue. The Victorian-era bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic in 2007 due to structural concerns. In 1890, the steel for the construction only cost $3,000; the estimated cost to rebuild the bridge is approximately $800,000 – of which we have been told the City of Pittsburgh ahs allocated $420,000 to restore it.

The bridge has been described on waymarking.com as a “quaint engineering jewel in the Pittsburgh hills.” The bridge is featured in a book by Bob Regan, “The Bridges of Pittsburgh”. In the 1970’s, someone tried to drive a Volkswagen Beetle, and got stuck on it.

In his blog post from 2014, former YPA Board Member Patrick Miner said, “The 407 ft long walkway is composed of a concrete deck on light steel framing, supported by kingpost trusses on steel bents – some as high as 120 ft – reaching eye level with surrounding treetops.” He also mentions that one of the abutments is crumbling, but that the structure is in surprisingly decent condition.

YPA is actively involved in trying to restore this unique historic asset and help give it back to the Northside Community. We have been working closely with Councilwoman Darlene Harris and the Department of Public Works to help find the needed funding. Stay tuned!

(Thanks also to Bob Bauder of Trib LIVE).

Written by Matthew Craig, Executive Director of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh