Category Archive: Preservation Alert
Tuesday, February 15, 2011By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bricks and mortar rained onto 21st Street Monday morning, the likely result of water damage to the side of the S&S Candy and Cigar Co. at 2025 E. Carson St. on the South Side.
No one was injured.
An almost identical incident occurred in the morning when bricks fell from the side of a dentist’s office in Washington, Pa., damaging four cars.
Bob Farrow, division chief of Pittsburgh’s EMS department, said the outer layer of bricks on the S&S building gave out, followed by a crashing down of older bricks and mortar behind it.
The owner was not available to discuss the damage, but acting Bureau of Building Inspection Chief John Jennings said he suspected that water got in behind the veneer of bricks and pushed them out.
“We have seen this before, where water seeps in behind the brick, freezes and pushes the bricks out,” he said.
A structural engineer will be called in, he said. “We need to shore up the floor joists because they are compromised, but the damage is just to this one side. This building can be saved.”
Police closed South 21st Street between East Carson and Sidney streets. The parking lane alongside the candy store was covered with rubble.
Dozens of bystanders stared as the outer layer that had not fallen hung peeled back like a rind.
The candy and tobacco store has been in business in Pittsburgh since 1965.
In Washington, the brick facade of the dentist’s office detached without warning onto a side street, crushing four cars in the building’s parking lot.
Strong winds are being blamed for the collapse, according to what building owner Thomas C. Drewitz heard from insurers.
Emergency workers cordoned off the two-story building in the 800 block of Jefferson Avenue after the 10:40 a.m. incident. The city issued an emergency demolition permit to remove any loose bricks that had not fallen.
“Everything started to rumble and shake,” Dr. Drewitz said. “It went down fast.”
Dr. Drewitz said the building was constructed around 1965.
Three cars were totaled and a fourth suffered heavy damage.
“They were flat,” fire Capt. Nick Blumer said of the vehicles.
Dr. Drewitz closed the office for the day but said he planned to reopen today.
By Margaret Harding
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Francine Mykich was preparing S&S Candy and Cigar Co. for its busiest day of the week when she thought she heard a truck hit the South Side store.
“We came in just like a normal Monday morning, and then all of a sudden ka-boom,” said Mykich, who has worked at the business on East Carson and South 21st streets for 26 years. “We came outside, and it’s been steadily crumbling.”
A wall of the building, which dates to 1892, collapsed onto 21st Street about 8:40 a.m. Rubble covered the sidewalk and part of the street. All the employees safely evacuated the building, and no one was injured.
“The time of day was very fortunate,” Mykich said. “We weren’t open yet, thank God.”
The collapse likely was caused by moisture freezing between layers of brick and breaking the bonds between them, said John Jennings, the city’s interim building inspection director. When the bricks thaw, there’s nothing left holding them together, he said.
The owner of the building, identified in property records as Richard Stephens, has to get an engineer to stabilize the building before clean-up begins, Jennings said. Bricks and pieces of the building continued to fall throughout the morning. Through employees, Stephens declined to comment.
It could take a day or more to stabilize the building, Jennings said.
The building is part of the East Carson Historic District. It first appeared as Armour & Company Wholesale Meats in 1892, said Frank Stroker, assistant archivist with Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
“It was probably their main facility at that point,” Stroker said.
Armour held the location until 1952. The building then briefly became home of Freezer Foods Inc., Stroker said. By 1956, Brinn’s China and Glassware moved in, he said, and held the spot until S&S took over in 1965.
City officials would have to approve any demolition, alterations or repairs because of its location in the historic district, said John Martine, an architect and member of the local advisory committee to the city’s Historic Review Commission.
Martine said he’s always admired a canopy along the side of the building. The collapse destroyed the canopy.
“It was a very simple, but interesting canopy with wonderful wood brackets that went the length of the loading docks,” Martine said. “It’s a very working-type building. It’s not that fancy, but there’s enough detail there that it would be a loss to see the building go.”
Saturday, February 05, 2011By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the British government failed to protect their homes and farms, residents of Pennsylvania’s Conococheague Valley gathered in 1765 at a house in what is now Mercersburg to organize themselves into a militia.
That historic house may be demolished to make room for a volunteer fire company’s expansion, and some 21st century residents plan to gather this weekend to oppose that plan.
“It will be a peaceful protest,” said Tim McCown, a spokesman for the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House. “We want the fire board to see that the community is behind saving the house.”
Participants will gather at 8 a.m. today, Sunday and Monday in front of the property on Mercersburg’s Main Street. They will hand out fliers describing the building’s history and will outline efforts to rescue or relocate it.
The house and land on which it stands belong to the MMP&W Fire Co., which acquired them in August 2009. The initials in its name stand for the Franklin County communities it serves: Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren. They are about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The site is next to the fire company’s aging garage and headquarters. Fire officials have said they were interested in only the land. Plans to demolish the building, however, have been on hold since a Chambersburg physician came forward with a plan to relocate the house to a vacant lot across the street. That property had been occupied by a gas station. Dr. Paul Orange has said he was willing to cover the costs of moving the building if it will save it from demolition.
Dr. Orange placed $10,000 in an escrow account as a show of good faith while sporadic talks have continued with the firefighters and the demolition firm. The parties, however, have been unable to come to an agreement.
The relocation plan has support from Mercersburg Mayor James Zeger and some members of borough council. Dr. Orange said he was hoping to enlist their aid in setting up another meeting with the firefighters.
Supporters of the house are worried, however, by signs of activity around the Smith house that they fear are preparations to start the demolition. A chain-link fence was put up Thursday.
A spokesman for the fire company did not return calls seeking comment.
William Smith was an 18th-century businessman and local magistrate. His home, originally a one-story stone cottage, has been altered and renovated extensively in the 250 years since it was built.
His house was the meeting place for mostly Scotch-Irish settlers who armed and organized themselves into militia units. Their purpose was to protect themselves from raids by Native Americans who opposed white settlement in the region.
William Smith’s brother-in-law, James Smith, took armed resistance one step further. Among the settlers’ complaints was that Philadelphia merchants were sending arms and ammunition to Fort Pitt, knowing that some of those weapons would be sold to hostile Native American warriors.
Eight years before Bostonians dressed up like Indians to throw British tea into Boston Harbor, James Smith led disguised settlers in a raid on pack trains heading west. Smith’s “Black Boys” confiscated and destroyed supplies they thought might aid their Indian foes.
When the British sent troops to nearby Fort Loudon to protect the traders, the soldiers found themselves surrounded and besieged by angry frontiersmen.
Those actions, years before the Boston Tea Party, were the first shots of the American Revolution, Mr. McCown said. The activities of the frontier militia also laid the groundwork for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms, he said.
By Bill Vidonic
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Former City Councilman Sala Udin was among the 8,000 residents and businesses in the lower Hill District who were displaced in the 1950s for construction of the Civic Arena.
On Wednesday, he urged Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission to reject a push to grant the arena protection under the city’s historic structure preservation law.
“This is more a symbol of genocide than a historic icon,” Udin said. “Demolish the arena and let the promise begin.”
During more than four hours of testimony, preservationists said that the arena’s distinct domed shape, its engineering and its place in the fabric of Pittsburgh’s history should spare it from a wrecking ball.
The city-county Sports and Exhibition Authority, which owns the building, and city Planning Commission have voted to demolish the building. The SEA had hoped to start in April, but the nomination for historic status has delayed that.
“There’s nothing like it anywhere else,” said Eloise McDonald of the Hill District, one of the people who nominated the structure in November. “That’s what makes it historical.”
Franklin Toker, a University of Pittsburgh art and architecture professor, said development and construction of the arena in the 1950s and ’60s coincided with “the most exhilarating, most creative and most ambitious moment this city has ever known: the Pittsburgh Renaissance.”
“It is the branding image for Pittsburgh, right under our noses,” Toker said.
A 2007 agreement between the Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the sports franchise development rights for the 28-acre site.
Various representatives outlined a long-term redevelopment plan — one in which the arena is leveled — to make way for residential, retail and commercial development, creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District, said there’s no redevelopment plan for the arena itself.
“The hard truth is that the Civic Arena remains a symbol of failed public policy and a continual deterrence to economic viablility for the Hill District community. Historic designation and preservation, for many reasons, is not the correct decision. On the contrary, what might be more appropriate at this time is an apology for the historic injustices that were heaped upon the Hill District when it was torn asunder nearly a half-century ago.”
The city rejected historic status for the structure in 2002. The Historic Review Commission could make a recommendation next month; the city’s Planning Commission and City Council still must consider the request, a process that likely will stretch into summer.
Thursday, February 03, 2011Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Historic Review Commission Wednesday approved demolition of the original ice house at the Iron City Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville, one of a collection of buildings on the site that has the city’s protection of historic status.
The one-story building, which sits behind the original brewhouse, is dilapidated. Brewery CEO Tim Hickman said he would not consider an estimated $750,000 it would take to restore it.
Acting commission chair Ernie Hogan said that the Pittsburgh Historical and Museum Commission and a preservation planner advised the commission that if the building is properly documented it can be demolished without jeopardizing the rest of the site’s potential for placement on the National Register of Historic Places or the tax credits that would go with its redevelopment.
Preservationists argued against any demolition at the brewery site before completion of a master plan.
The commission also approved demolition of an unused garage in Deutschtown, to be replaced by a new Duquesne Light valve station, with pipes and conductors beneath it. The original plan to build the station in Allegheny Commons Park was abandoned after strong neighborhood outcry.
Panel considering historic designation for Hill landmarkThursday, February 03, 2011By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To those who want to see it saved, the Civic Arena is an engineering marvel, an irreplaceable icon and a testament to Pittsburgh know-how.
But to those who want to see it go, the arena is “more a symbol of genocide” than a civic treasure, an aging relic with bad pipes, lousy acoustics and high maintenance costs.
So it went for more than four hours Wednesday during a public hearing before the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission to determine whether the 49-year-old landmark should be designated as a city historic structure.
The commission, in a 5-1 vote last month, already gave preliminary approval to the designation, which would prevent the city-Allegheny Sports & Exhibition Authority from demolishing the building as part of a plan by the Pittsburgh Penguins to redevelop the site.
It is scheduled to take a final vote next month. Preliminary approval is no guarantee the arena will survive. In 2002, the panel gave similar approval to the designation only to reject it in a final vote.
Perhaps that’s the reason the nominator, Hill District resident Eloise McDonald, backed by Preservation Pittsburgh and Reuse the Igloo, and the SEA and the Penguins each spent more than an hour Wednesday advancing their arguments for or against designation.
Ms. McDonald and her allies believe the arena meets six of the 10 criteria that make a structure worthy of designation, including its location as a site for significant historic events, its exemplification of a rare, unique or innovative architectural style, and its unique location and distinctive physical appearance.
Only one of the 10 must be met to get a designation.
Franklin Toker, an architecture professor and the author of “Pittsburgh: A New Portrait,” argued that the arena “is, historically, the most representative building now standing in the city of Pittsburgh,” more so than the Cathedral of Learning, the county courthouse or the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
He said the arena’s planning and construction “coincided exactly with the most exhilarating, most creative and most ambitious moment this city has ever known: the Pittsburgh renaissance.”
Others cited the arena’s retractable dome, one of the few in the world, or the engineering that made it work as reasons the old building should be saved.
Shawn Gallagher, the SEA’s attorney, said the agency doesn’t believe the arena meets even one of the 10 criteria for nomination.
He and others who support demolition said the arena requires millions of dollars in capital improvements, doesn’t meet accessibility standards and has no viable future as an entertainment venue.
“It clearly is not worthy of preservation,” Mr. Gallagher said.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said the arena, for many in the Hill, represents failed public policy, one that destroyed homes and businesses and displaced thousands of residents.
“This is not the sort of history we wish to preserve,” he said.
The hearing drew a number of other Hill residents who made similar comments, including former city Councilman Sala Udin, who said the arena is “more a symbol of genocide than a historic icon.”
And while some remember favorite concerts or exciting hockey games when they go into the arena, Hill resident Angela Howze recalls something else.
“Every time I go in there I remember it once was my grandmother’s house,” she said.
By Bill Vidonic
Thursday, February 3, 2011
The city’s Historic Review Commission will allow the president of Iron City Brewing Co. to tear down a dilapidated building at its former Lawrenceville production site.
The commission on Wednesday said Tim Hickman should provide it with photographs and other documentation of the 1,900-square-foot building for its records, but otherwise can proceed.
The city’s Bureau of Building Inspection cited the brewing company because of the distressed state of the building, but the site’s historic status — granted by the city last year — had complicated the issue of razing the building.
Commission acting chairman Ernie Hogan said state officials indicated that tearing down the former pipe shop shouldn’t interfere with the historic status or development tax credits. Hickman said the site could be developed for light industrial use and industrial warehousing.
Iron City moved production from Lawrenceville to Latrobe in 2009.
Hickman will have to talk to the commission next month about taking fermentation tanks out of another building. Hickman proposed removing two walls to do so; he said the building is useless with the tanks inside.
Also, Hickman has an agreement with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to use the proceeds of the tanks’ sale to settle a billing dispute dating to 2007.
Commission worries demolition will hamper future development at the historic Lawrenceville landmarkMonday, January 10, 2011By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Iron City Brewing Co. president Tim Hickman sounded urgent Dec. 1 when he asked the Historic Review Commission to let him tear down one of five buildings the city had granted historic status earlier in the year.
“The roof has collapsed,” he said, describing the original ice house in the former brewing complex in Lawrenceville. “The wooden I-beams have rotted and collapsed and the west wall is collapsing.”
Last week, the commission reconvened for a hearing, and Mr. Hickman was fighting to calm his agitation as the discussion drew out. A photo projected onto a screen showed twisted metal trusses hanging in a blue background — a rectangle of sky through the roof.
The brewing company had been cited by the Bureau of Building Inspection to abate the condition, which acting bureau chief John Jennings called “very dilapidated.” But the Historic Review Commission had a longer-term concern about the building, which dates to the 1890s.
And that concern is this: Would demolition of the old ice house prove to be a terrible mistake, jeopardizing a developer’s chances of getting a 20 percent tax break should this property become part of the National Register of Historic Places?
Although Mr. Hickman said a year ago that he embraced the historic status for the economic redevelopment possibilities, he told the commission last week he has not sought national status.
This raised some commissioners’ eyebrows.
Any future development project would almost assuredly depend on the tax credit, without which the company could be stuck with a white elephant.
“Is it your intention to seek tax credits to market this property?” acting chair Ernie Hogan asked him.
“We are still trying to determine that,” said Mr. Hickman, citing the company’s uncertainty over two other buildings that are unusable unless giant tanks can be removed from them. “If I can’t get them out,” he said, “who cares that it’s historic?”
The city approved historic designation for the complex of buildings in February, which automatically kept the company from dismantling any except for one that was exempted — a non-contributing 1970s rectangle. The company still has headquarters in the original building at 3340 Liberty Ave.
Mr. Hickman originally had wanted to demolish all but the headquarters, but preservation advocates seemed to have convinced him the complex was more valuable intact.
“We’re as concerned with the history as anybody in this town,” he said last week, “but if we lose a life, I don’t care about tax credits. I have security 24/7 running off copper thieves.”
As the owner, Mr. Hickman argued, shouldn’t it be up to him whether he wants tax credits?
Mr. Hogan said the commission is responsible for making sure historic buildings have available resources for preservation.
“If that demolition were to jeopardize the integrity of the assemblage, it could jeopardize any federal money to the site,” Mr. Hogan said. “[Mr. Hickman] would be turning his back on any public subsidies.
“I think this property is important. It could be eligible for federal transportation money [being on a bus route], sustainable communities grants, HUD money, all sorts of money.”
The Penn Brewery in Troy Hill was restored using federal tax credits, he said. Similar restoration “could be a huge economic driver” for the Lawrenceville portal.
Scott Doyle, grant manager for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission in Harrisburg, said the determination of a building’s importance to an overall site “comes down to hardship or a level of significance.”
One way a building in a historic cluster could get a pass is “if it’s outside the period of significance for the property.” Other provisions exempt properties that “lack significance and do not occupy a major portion of the site, and if evidence is presented to show that retention is not economically feasible.”
The hardship provision applies “if a property is so deteriorated or altered that its integrity has been irretrievably lost,” he said.
In order to review the case, the PHMC would need a structural engineering report, photographs, historic documentation and cost estimates for repair.
The brewing company was a regional economic powerhouse in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Founded in 1861 as Frauenheim, Miller & Company, it brewed one of the country’s first golden lagers. It became the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in 1899 in a merger of 20 regional breweries.
Among the brewery’s firsts were the snap-top can, the twist-off resealable bottle top, draft beer in cans, aluminum beer bottles and the original light beer, Mark V.
Brewing operations moved to Latrobe in summer 2009.
Last week, Mr. Hickman said he is “trying to embrace this process, but what’s the time limit? I have the city [building inspection] telling me you must do something, so I come here to do something and I’m told ‘Let’s wait.’ ”
The commission is expected to consider demolition in February, when an answer is expected about the building’s importance.