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
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.
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, characterised 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. Unfortunately, the owners are seriously considering demolishing the building and selling the vacant land to a developer. The building was placed on the Bureau of Building Inspection’s demolition list in June. Through the community organizing work of the Mexican War Streets Society (MWSS) they were able to get the building temporarily removed from the demolitions list. The MWSS plans to apply for historic nomination through the Historic Review Commission (HRC) before the next meeting 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.
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.
The Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge was built to span a new rail line to connect West Commons to Brighton Avenue. The neo-classical bridge consisted of two ornamental concrete abutments with staircase approaches, and a concrete arch superstructure. The City of Pittsburgh neglected to make 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. 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 the reuse of the remaining abutments would be considered, and that the City would 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.
Donora is a typical Monongahela River community that was built and grew around the steel industry of the early 20th century. Donora was home to American Steel & Wire Works and the Donora Zinc Works supplying jobs to those in Donora and neighboring communities. McKean Avenue became the core commercial district filled with shops and services stretching several blocks for the 14,000+ nearby residents. History changed in Donora, and Donora changed history in late October 1948. Just a few days before Halloween 1948, a thick, heavy fog entered the Mon Valley settling in for a few days and on October 30, 1948, nearly twenty people lost their lives and thousands more suffered extreme difficulty breathing. The following day, the fog lifted. The mix of inclement weather and ongoing industrial pollution during these few days is now known as the “Donora Smog Disaster.” This individual event has been identified as the start of the clean air movement and the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Like many southwestern Pennsylvania towns, the heavy industrial mills were shut down and both population and economic conditions turned. Today Donora honors this nationally significant event in their community at the Donora Smog Museum – home of the Donora Historical Society (formed two years before the event in 1948). Images and artifacts from life before and after the environmental tragedy can be found throughout the museum.
Today, much of McKean Avenue is still intact with buildings from the early 1900s -1940s. McKean is a one way street with two to four story buildings, with most of them vacant. Many of the blocks are continuous with buildings ready for restoration. Only a few vacant lots from previous demolitions can be found on McKean Avenue. These lots can be rebuilt with green space or historically appropriate new construction along this one way street.
The commercial buildings carry details across their cornices, unique upper floor bay windows, and specialty brick patterns. Large scale corner buildings feature speciality stonework and entries. McKean Avenue offers a mix of Italianate, Romanesque Revival, and vernacular styles. Nearly all storefronts have been changed or modified, boarded up, or simply read “close”. Many of the upper floors feature decks or balconies out on to the street. Just as the storefronts, many of the upper floor windows have been reduced in size, boarded up, or are damaged. Very few buildings are open for business in downtown Donora. The Donora Smog Disaster area was recently determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. With a nearly continuous commercial district, McKean Avenue has potential for restoration and revitalization in the Mon Valley rising from its industrial past.
The Roxian Theater was built as a 1,500 seat movie theater on Chartiers Avenue in the heart of McKees Rocks business district. The five-floor building was converted into a concert venue and banquet hall in 1979 known as the Emerald Room, which then closed its doors in 2003. The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) bought the building for $300,000 in 2011. MRCDC hopes to turn the Roxian into a 1,500 seat concert and performing venue while preserving the character and history reminiscent of McKees Rocks’ past. The Roxian Theater will serve primarily as a live music venue and facility rental space. MRCDC has been working with Palmer Westport Group (PWG) consulting service to restore the Roxian Theater. In the fall of 2013 they completed a feasibility study to determine the interest in a venue such as this. With the help of PWG, MRCDC polled 41 Pittsburgh leaders, government officials, business owners, and foundations which produced two findings. The funders felt the Father Ryan Arts Center must be a part of the development and the plan should incorporate the two organizations as a part of one arts and entertainment center. Later in 2013, a market assessment was completed to determine the need in the area surrounding the Roxian Theater. The market analysis showed the demographic, consumer and lifestyle information at the block group level of all residents within a 30 minute drive of the Roxian. The findings showed that 36% of regional households are in high demand for Roxian Theater programs and 56% are average or above average demand. The next step in the planning process for the Roxian Theater was to complete a master plan, in conjunction with the Father Ryan Arts Center. PWG and MRCDC believe that the success of the plan will rely greatly on the input and oversight or select community leaders to ensure they are accurately reflecting the needs of the community. In May 2014,the MRCDC, Father Ryan Arts Center, and PWG held a series of advisory and visioning meetings from which they were able to identify a group of major advisors, potential investors, and an overall vision for the Arts and Entertainment District. Through this planning process, a potential private partner/equity investor has been identified who has shown previous success in this industry. A rough business plan that incorporates the venue, Father Ryan Arts Center and MRCDC is being drafted. The first phase of renovation, which addressed the facade, has already been completed. The facade was restored to match the original 1929 architectural details, based on photos of the theater. They performed structural work including stabilizing the roof and exterior, as well as a new store front and blade sign. The new storefront will reflect the original design as homage to the rich history of the building. The renovations are expected to be completed by September 1, 2016.
Leslie Park in Lawrenceville sits overlooking Butler Street at 46th Street, next to the Allegheny Cemetery. Being one of the smaller parks in the city with approximately 4.71 acres, the property originally belonged to the Schoenberger Estate. The Schoenbergers had used the property as the site for their summer home. In 1903, the city acquired the property for $45,516. Originally named Lawrence Park, by 1943, the name was changed to Leslie Park, after Max Leslie, a prominent Pittsburgh politician.
In 1908, the city constructed the swimming pool, a wading pool, and shortly thereafter, a bath house. The polygonal pool is located in an area contained by a brick enclosure and sits on the hill overlooking Butler Street. The red brick pool house next to the pool also faces Butler Street and features a green roof, a triangular pediment above the entrance on which the word “Leslie” is painted, and a brick chimney located behind the entrance. The building is divided into two wings on either side of the entrance and each wing has multiple square windows, many of which are boarded, infilled with brick, or missing. Since being decommissioned in 2003, the Pool has sat empty in the park, and in the past has faced instances of vandalism. The Leslie Park Collective, formed in 2009, has held meetings and events (from an art gallery on the walls of the pool to stargazing to movie screenings) to encourage the public to visualize reuses for the space.
This year, a partnership was formed between the city and Lawrenceville Corporation to upgrade and improve Arsenal Park and Leslie Park (including the pool). At least $145,000 in funding has been secured so far and a budget will be determined after the design phase. We do not know what the outcome of this plan will be, so community members should stay aware of this process and potential changes to the pool. Public meetings started in September, and a website for public input can be found here: http://arsenalpark.mindmixer.com/ Bringing back a community asset like a swimming pool and restoring the pool house would make sense for one of Pittsburgh’s most popular neighborhoods.
Regis Steedle Candies building – Year built: Between 1880 and 1910, Millvale
Millvale is a small borough on the edge of the Allegheny River adjacent to Troy Hill and the 40th Street Bridge; nestled into the hillside behind Route 28. The community has gone through a number of transitions and has a vibrant history.
Regis Steedle Candies was a 70-year-old Millvale institution at the time it closed in 2006. The Yetter/Steedle family owned and operated the restaurant and production facility for generations, until a flood and ownership dispute rocked the family and led to the shuttering of the creamery’s doors. In 1935, Albert Yetter opened his self-named ice-cream shop in a triangular building that had previously served as a butcher shop. In 1973, Albert Yetter’s nephew, Regis Steedle took over the family business. Yetter’s/Steedle’s gained local acclaim and international publicity for its delectable homemade candies and ice cream—featuring 14% butterfat, the highest allowed in Pennsylvania.
The brick building’s interior features molded tin ceiling, handpainted wooden signs, and original black marble fireplaces. The outside of the building is painted in vibrant murals painted by area mural painter Pepe Buylla. With its unique corner entrance, the building sits at a prominent triangular intersection along Evergreen Avenue, the main route to the North Hills from Millvale and the southern section of Route 28.The ongoing transformation and renewal of Millvale Borough is heavily focused on the downtown business district centered around community assets like the French bakery, record shop, and original Pamela’s Diner. The Regis Steedle building is a short walk from the heart of downtown but largely removed from the fabric of the renewal efforts underway in the community. There is currently no known plan for the Steedle property and it is no longer owned by the Steedle family. As a long-time destination business, and physical cornerstone for the northern tier of Millvale, the Steedle building is a unique opportunity for revitalization. Regis Steedle’s history and prime location make it an attractive space to preserve and reimagine pedestrian-attracting, community- and region-serving, anchor building history for a urban small-town.