A recent Wire News article out of Detroit reported how a two-story wood frame house became the 10,000th building to be demolished as part of that city’s plan to eliminate blight. Described as “another win in a years-long battle to improve Detroit neighborhoods,” the demolition was part of a 2014 task force recommendation to tear down some 40,000 structures, with another 38,000 yet to be designated for demolition.
Detroit is not alone. In January, the City of Baltimore rolled out a plan to demolish some 4,000 structures over the next four years with the aim of cleaning up blight and preparing its neighborhoods for redevelopment and investment.
We have seen this before, city leaders turning to demolition in the hopes that it would lay the groundwork for broad community reinvestment in the form of new housing. However, the record is clear that demolition hasn’t worked when considering meaningful urban renewal in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our towns. There is now almost 70 years of evidence that it doesn’t work.
Massive demolition hollows out neighborhoods and leads to a loss of neighborhood identity and building density. Once buildings that could have been restored are gone, they are lost forever. It happened here in Pittsburgh, when at the height of the same urban renewal and planning policies, the city demolished entire swaths of the North Side, Hill District, and East Liberty.
Our organization was formed in 1964 in Manchester because people were concerned that the city was losing too much. Where we joined with residents and succeeded in fighting demolition—from Liverpool Street to the Mexican War Streets, Central North Side, South Side, Downtown Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, and other areas—we see today what has become some of the most desirable mixed-income and diverse neighborhoods in the city because of the preservation of historic buildings.
Where demolition went ahead on the North Side, the historic lower Hill District, and in East Liberty, we saw the failed public housing, shopping malls, and commercial areas that replaced what were once solidly built, architecturally rich, and culturally diverse neighborhoods filled with local businesses. Indeed, these same areas are now the focus of government and development agencies, which must spend significant public funding to create housing in spaces that have been empty for more than half a century or to demolish publicly-supported housing that replaced historic buildings.
The evidence is abundant. Demolition has not been a viable means of creating neighborhood revitalization in Pittsburgh and across the nation. In fact, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, where we have been engaged in a broad restoration initiative, we have found that empty and abandoned vacant land created by demolition has led to more tax delinquent land parcels.
Many of you might have read Paul Graham’s excellent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s July 10 issue, “How to Make Pittsburgh a Startup Hub.” One of the key points he made was: “When cities are on the way back up, like Pittsburgh is now, developers race to tear down the old buildings. Don’t let that happen. Focus on historic preservation. Big real estate development projects are not what’s bringing the 20-somethings here. They’re the opposite of the new restaurants and cafes; they subtract personality from the city.
“The empirical evidence suggests you cannot be too strict about historic preservation. The tougher cities are about it, the better they seem to do.”
Preservation has worked for much lower economic cost and less displacement of the people. In Pittsburgh, we are fortunate to enjoy civic and political leadership that understands the significance of preservation as a means of economic and community development.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
PHLF does tremendous work educating the community and young people. This work fills a historical void in the city. ––Hampton Middle School Teacher
A grant in the amount of $32,500, awarded by the McSwigan Family Foundation in June, will help underwrite PHLF’s educational programs with young people and its Landmarks Scholarship program. “This is terrific support,” said PHLF Executive Director Louise Sturgess, “and is so essential to the success of our programs. This funding support makes it possible for us to keep our school tour fees affordable, initiate new programs, and continue our popular architectural design challenges, poetry and art workshops, career awareness presentations, Portable Pittsburgh artifact kits, and Architectural Apprenticeship.”
Through its award-winning, interdisciplinary educational programs, PHLF turns the Pittsburgh region into a classroom for learning for more than 5,000 students and their teachers each year. By involving young people in exploring local history and architecture, PHLF is able to encourage a preservation ethic and promote character development, community awareness, citizenship skills, and a sense of belonging. In the process, students strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills, explore historic places, embrace diversity, expand their imaginations, and develop hometown pride. As one Pittsburgh Public School teacher noted after her students participated in a poetry and art field trip:
Students are much more engaged when they get to learn outside the classroom. Being away from school levels the playing field for kids of different abilities and allows those that don’t normally excel to demonstrate their strengths. It also gives kids whose parents don’t necessarily have the time or ability to expose their kids to the city’s riches a chance to see and experience them.
We thank the McSwigan Family Foundation for partnering with us in our educational programs.
In the gallery below are photos of the City of Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial Parade on July 9, proceeding along Liberty Avenue from 11th Street to Point State Park.
Leroy Dillard, a member of the Landmarks Scholarship Committee, and his wife Gwen, hosted an inspirational reception at their home in the Hill District for PHLF’s newest and former scholarship recipients and other invited guests. Everyone enjoyed an incredible view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River Valley on a picture-perfect evening. Leslie Ezra Smith welcomed the group by reading a poem he wrote about the Hill, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Arts Collective’s African drum and dance groups, founded by Thomas Chatman, performed while people enjoyed a delicious soul-food dinner. For more photos, see our Facebook page.
We congratulate the following four high-school graduates who were awarded scholarships in the amount of $6,000 (payable to the college/university over four years for book and tuition expenses):
- Benjamin Finnstrom, from Pittsburgh CAPA, who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania and studying architecture;
- Jacob Seiler, from North Hills High School, who will be attending Penn State University and studying engineering;
- Aaron Smolar, from Pittsburgh Allderdice, who will be attending Washington University in St. Louis and studying architecture; and
- Kevin Stiles, from North Allegheny High School, who will be attending Carnegie Mellon University and studying computer science.
In addition, we congratulate four more high-school graduates who were awarded honorable mentions (a one-time gift of $250 payable to the college/university for book and tuition expenses):
- Remy Erkel, from Winchester Thurston, who will be attending Haverford College and studying mathematics;
- Mitchell Ford, from South Fayette High School, who will be attending the Catholic University of America and studying architecture;
- Jeewon Lee, from North Allegheny High School, who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania and studying biochemistry; and
- Genevieve Nieson, from The Ellis School, who will be attending the Pratt Institute of Art and Design.
“We welcome these eight new winners to our remarkable group of Scholarship recipients,” said David Brashear, founder and chair of the Landmarks Scholarship Committee. “I am continually impressed by the type of people who grow up in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is a humble place, and self-promotion and large egos really aren’t part of the regional DNA. But I believe there is value in recognizing that someone has something to contribute and that their efforts have been appreciated. I think our scholarship winners have shown that they take our recognition in a very positive way, and become better people because of it.”
Since PHLF began awarding scholarships in 1999, many of the recipients have graduated from college/university and are employed or are pursuing further education. “We have scholarship alumni working in the fields of architecture, business, construction, engineering, development, and medicine, among other professions,” said PHLF Executive Director Louise Sturgess. “One student is pursuing a PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh in Environmental Engineering, while others are pursuing studies or working in Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York City, California, Germany, and Scotland. Two former recipients are now trustees of PHLF––Kezia Ellison and Todd Wilson––and each recipient stays in touch with PHLF and continues to care about this region.”
PHLF’s scholarship program is funded by generous contributions from the Brashear Family Named Fund and by donations to the Landmarks Scholarship Fund, including contributions to the 2008 and 2014 Scholarship Celebrations.
We welcome the support of our members and friends to help us sustain this program. To contribute, please click here (and designate your gift to “Scholarship Programs”) or contact Mary Lu Denny (412-471-5808, ext. 527). Thank you very much.
PHLF has completed restoration—including new infill construction—of townhouses and an apartment building in Wilkinsburg, as part of an $11.5 million neighborhood development program to create more quality affordable housing in restored buildings.
The buildings include 608 Mulberry Street, a wonderful brick building with character, which will offer three family apartments, one on each floor. Two adjacent townhouses, 604-606 Mulberry, are new buildings that replaced a structure which could not be saved. The townhouses, which are located across the street from St. James R.C. Church, have off-street parking in the rear.
At the intersection of Rebecca Avenue and Coal Street, we have completed the restoration of an eight-unit brick apartment building, which will be known as the Columbian Hall Apartments, which we discovered was the building’s original name.
Leasing by NDC Real Estate Management is currently underway and ahead of schedule.
Still under restoration construction is a building at 520 Jeanette Street, which will include two family apartments and the Falconhurst Building, a red-brick apartment building located at 724 Kelly Avenue.
In the gallery below are some before-and-after photos of the houses and the interiors of the units.
After reviewing 74 applications submitted by college-bound high school students from throughout Allegheny County, PHLF’s Landmarks Scholarship Committee selected eight winners: four students will receive scholarships in the amount of $6,000 each for book and tuition expenses only, and four students will receive Honorable Mention awards––a one-time gift of $250 each. Click here to read about our eight new award recipients.
David Brashear, chair of the Landmarks Scholarship Committee, will present the awards during a reception on Tuesday evening, June 14, in the Hill District. Leroy Dillard, a member of the Scholarship Committee, and his wife Gwen, will host the reception at their home for invited guests, including award winners and their parents, former scholarship recipients, and recent donors. From their architecturally distinctive home that provides an incredible view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River Valley, guests will enjoy barbecued ribs, chicken, and macaroni and cheese, while listening to live jazz. “This is just another example of the positive events happening here in the Hill,” said Leroy.
“Since 1999, PHLF has recognized 68 young people through its annual scholarship program,” said David. “Each person has achieved academic excellence and possesses the potential to make a difference in the Pittsburgh community and beyond. The students we select already feel connected to the city and its history and will hopefully continue to serve the region as leaders in promoting PHLF’s values.”
PHLF’s scholarship program is funded by generous contributions from the Brashear Family Named Fund and by donations to the Landmarks Scholarship Fund, including contributions to the 2008 and 2014 Scholarship Celebrations. To contribute, click here (and designate your gift to “Scholarship Programs”) or contact Mary Lu Denny (412-471-5808, ext. 527). Thank you.
PHLF involved 10 Pittsburgh Public Schools on 11 trolley tours (Colfax needed two dates to accommodate the entire third grade) in March, April, May, and June. Although students from only one school met “Iceburgh,” students from each school met James Hill, special assistant to the Mayor, and their Council representatives or staff members, and visited five historic landmarks––the City County Building, Allehgeny County Courthouse, Fort Pitt Museum, Fort Pitt Block House, and Duquesne Incline.
“The beauty of the program,” said PHLF Education Coordinator Karen Cahall, “is that during the full-day tour students are challenged to develop the ‘character-building’ qualities of each place within themselves. For example, they are encouraged to be respectful, responsible, tolerant, and proud, just like the design and purpose of the City-County Building suggests.”
The “Building Pride/Building Character” trolley tours were funded through donations from private foundations and from corporate contributions through the PA Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.
The following comments are representative of the many positive comments that PHLF received from teachers and parent chaperones:
- “I have been on this field trip twice, with two daughters 6 years apart, and my husband went with our son 3 years ago. It was the most memorable and educational field trip any of our kids went on in elementary school. On today’s trip, one student said to me that she wishes she could do this trip every day.”
- “As a third-grade teacher for 16 years, this program is by far one of the most worthwhile and memorable to our students. Would love to attend for another 16+ years!
- “This program helps to develop future citizens of Pittsburgh in a very unique way, instilling a pride that lasts a lifetime.”
- “This was a wonderful experience for our students and they learned so much too. Often they learn things they can’t relate to, but this trip is so relatable and tangible to them and they retain so much of the information.”
- “I love it. Best trip every year.”
Graduate student Alaina Bernstein from the Rhode Island School of Design and two undergraduates from the University of Pittsburgh––Kimberly Goldstein and Alayna Jordan–– volunteered their time and expertise to PHLF during the first half of 2016.
“Alaina Bernstein (not shown), Kimberly Goldstein, and Alayna Jordan were a great help to PHLF between January and April,” said Louise Sturgess, executive director of PHLF.
A graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Alaina used her skills in interior architecture to propose a new design for PHLF’s front office. She volunteered five days a week from January 12 to February 12, and also assisted with several educational programs. The ideas she proposed are now being considered by professional architects as they move forward on design renovations for PHLF’s front office.
Kimberly Goldstein, who is studying History, Urban Studies, and Historic Preservation at the University of Pittsburgh, led several school tours and prepared worksheets for walking tours in Mt. Washington, Oakland, and Aspinwall. She was among the PHLF representatives who attended the City’s Incorporation Day Celebration on March 18, 2016, and was interviewed by Pittsburgh’s NPR news station. Kim volunteered three days a week from January 13 to May 2. “Interning with PHLF has not only taught me how to apply my education in the real world, but also has reconfirmed my passion for history, community outreach, and historic preservation,” said Kim.
Alayna Jordan, who is majoring in Architectural Studies and Civil Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, volunteered four days a week from January 13 through May 2. She created renderings showing how a property in Wilkinsburg could be improved, and provided research and organizational assistance for many educational programs. This summer, Alayna is interning with the Technical Preservation Services of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. She also applied for a Diversity Scholarship in the hope that she will be able to attend the National Trust’s Preservation Conference in Houston in November. “The time I spent at PHLF was filled with word documents, stuffing envelopes, and applying postage in preparation for tours, the scholarship program, and the City’s Incorporation Day Celebration––and going on tours. My work paid off in that I now conduct personal tours with my friends and family through new eyes. I thank the experience at PHLF and Al Tannler’s Pittsburgh Architecture in the Twentieth-Century (what a gem!) for broadening and changing my view of Pittsburgh,” said Alayna.