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  1. A Young Preservationist Determined to Learn a Trade

    By Haley Roberts

    Haley Roberts, on the far right in the picture, spent an academic year as a Landmarks Fellow at PHLF, and recently took a preservation demonstration course on restoring windows.

    I have been an advocate for historic preservation for many years. I can talk anyone’s ear off about the historical significance of a place, and I can run an economic analysis to prove that a historic structure is a good investment for families or developers. However, in spite of those valuable skills, I still felt hypocritical in demanding the preservation of historic properties in Pittsburgh for one very good reason.

    I could not actually DO historic preservation.

    By that, I mean that I had no experience in the preservation trades like plaster repair, repointing masonry, or—my personal interest—wood window restoration. How could I possibly expect Pittsburgh residents to be good stewards of their historic homes if I had no idea how to maintain them myself?

    I became determined to learn a trade. I chose to tackle window restoration specifically because windows, in my opinion, are the eyes into the soul of a home. Through them, people can see the spirit, passion, and craftsmanship that was poured into the construction of an older building. However, with an ever-decreasing supply of window restoration specialists, original wood windows in historic homes are at risk for being swapped out for vinyl replacements. When that occurs, these homes lose a significant part of their charm.

    In trying to learn about wood windows through YouTube videos and blogs, I stumbled across the Historic Homes Workshop, an event in Tampa hosted by a local window restoration company called Wood Window Makeover that teaches people, step by step, how to repair wood windows. This nine-day intensive training consisted of two “classroom” days – one to learn the process of restoring a window, and the other to become an EPA-certified renovator – and two multi-day, hands-on projects where I put my knowledge to the test under the mentorship of window restorers from across the country.

    During the workshop, I pulled window sashes out of their frames and restored the functionality of their rope and pulley mechanisms. I scraped layers of paint off of 100 year-old window jambs. I took wavy glass panes out of these windows and re-glazed them. I even learned to paint without painter’s tape and to use lots of different saws! All the while, I was networking with preservationists in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and many other states who shared their experiences, tactics, and struggles in protecting historic architecture in their hometowns.

    I was thrilled to develop all of these skills and meet new people, but perhaps the most valuable thing I walked away with from the Historic Homes Workshop was an appreciation for the love and craftsmanship that went into wood windows when they were originally installed. I would have never known how rewarding working on windows can be without this hands-on experience. It only made my passion for historic preservation that much stronger.

    As a result of the Historic Homes Workshop in Tampa, I feel confident that I can restore historic wood windows from start to finish. I cannot wait to start sharing my knowledge and advancing historic preservation efforts through preservation-specific trades here in Pittsburgh.

  2. Featuring Architect William George Burns

    This is the best preserved of the large Pittsburgh railway stations still extant [containing] some 80,000 feet of floor space. . . . Designed in 1898 by William George Burns, it was completed in 1901. . . . On the interior the great waiting room is undoubtedly, after the foyer of the Carnegie Music Hall, the finest Edwardian space extant in Pittsburgh. The staircase that descends into the room like a waterfall is especially noteworthy and the ornate detail that adorns this great two-story hall contributes a general air of subdued cruscating [sparkling] richness to the whole convoluted space. Every effort should be made to preserve this elegant structure. —— James D. Van Trump, Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (1967)

    By Albert M. Tannler
    PHLF Historical Collections Director

    In the main, William George Burns should be considered a Canadian architect. He was born in Toronto, Canada, on either August 1, 1870 (according to Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1850-1950 (2009-2016) or in July 1871 (according to US Federal Census 1900), worked as a carpenter in Toronto in 1887, worked as an apprentice to architect Mancel Willmot (1853-1934) from 1888-1892 and subsequently worked as a draftsman for architect William G. Storm (1826-1892).

    Burns came to America either in 1892 (according to the 1900 Federal Census) or in 1895 (according to Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950) which states “He left Canada in 1895 and went to New York City where he obtained further education before moving to Pittsburgh, Penn.” Burns’ work in Pittsburgh has been documented and spans 1898-1904. He first appears in Pittsburgh directories in 1899 in two entries: Wm G. Burns is listed as a draftsman, living at 12 Stockton Avenue, Allegheny, while G. W. Burns, architect, appears at the same address. He resided in Allegheny (1899), Beaver (1900), and Sewickley (1901-04). In 1901 Burns formed a partnership with Charles H. Craig and Harvey Childs Hodgens in the firm of Craig, Hodgens & Burns (1901-02), later Hodgens & Burns (1903-04).

    Three of Burns’ projects in Western Pennsylvania have been documented: the Lincoln Hotel, (demolished); the John Snyder residence, Beaver, Pa., 1901; and the first and most important: the P&LE RR Station in Pittsburgh, 1898-1901.

    Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950 notes that Burns “was fortunate enough to obtain a position as Staff Architect for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Rail Road in 1899 and was given the opportunity to design the P. & L.E. Railroad Station, Smithfield Street at Carson Street, PITTSBURGH, PENN., 1898-1901. . . . The significant Beaux-Arts landmark integrated commercial offices, passenger arrival and departure halls, and train sheds into one complex, and the Grand Concourse is now considered one of the finest interior public spaces in Pittsburgh.” The waiting room was decorated by Crossman & Sturdy, 287 Michigan Ave., a Chicago firm established in 1893. Their design for the P.&L.E. waiting room was published in the 1900 and 1903 Pittsburgh Architectural Club Exhibition catalogs.

    Around 1905 Burns returned to Toronto and opened his own architecture practice. Among his documented works between 1905 and 1916 are nine houses (including his own); two churches and a Sunday school; and a factory. He left the architectural profession after 1922 and worked in real estate and construction before retiring. He died on November 23, 1949.

  3. Scholarship Opportunity for High School Seniors

    Thanks to funding support from PHLF’s Brashear Family Named Fund, the McSwigan Family Foundation, and many other donors, PHLF offers a scholarship program for high-achieving, community-minded, high-school seniors in Allegheny County who will be attending college or university in the fall of 2017.

    “The Landmarks Scholarship recognizes students who have achieved academic excellence and possess the potential to make a difference in the Pittsburgh community and beyond,” said David Brashear, a PHLF trustee and the program founder. “The students selected by our committee already feel connected to the city and its history and will hopefully continue to serve the region as leaders in promoting PHLF’s values.”

    Since 1999, PHLF has awarded scholarships to 64 students who care deeply about the Pittsburgh region. The scholarship award of $6,000, payable over four years to the recipient’s college or university, is for book and tuition expenses only.

    Click here to learn more about the eligibility requirements and criteria and to download an application. The application deadline is Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

  4. “Portable Pittsburgh” Builds Hometown Pride and Knowledge

    “The children really need an understanding of where they live in this world. Portable Pittsburgh supplements our unit studies.” ––Pittsburgh Public School teacher

    Karen Cahall, PHLF’s education coordinator, helps third-grade students understand how Pittsburgh has grown and changed over time by having them unwrap “mystery artifacts” and by showing them images of Pittsburgh from 1765 until 2014. Through her hands-on discussion and interactive presentation, students are able to “visualize the progression of time in Pittsburgh and understand how people lived throughout the years,” according to one teacher.

    Portable Pittsburgh is one of the programs PHLF presents to Pittsburgh Public Schools through its “Building Pride/Building Character” program, offered through the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Contributions from the following corporations and private foundations are funding PHLF’s programming in 2016-17:


    • First National Bank of Pennsylvania
    • McSwigan Family Foundation
    • Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation
    • PNC Bank


    • Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.
    • Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale Company
    • Huntington Bank


    • Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.
    • Maher Duessel, CPA
    • C. S. McKee, LP
    • UPMC
  5. Renovation of the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon’s Building Reveals Surprising Discoveries

    The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon is creating a permanent history center for the community in a Mediterranean-inspired building at 794 Washington Road. The stucco home was constructed in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Original stained glass and stenciling have been discovered in the course of restoration work.

    During the past several months, Ramp Construction Company has replaced and reinforced the existing roof, removed hazardous material, and demolished walls and ceilings in certain areas of the house in order to create larger spaces for the history center. The front porch has been rebuilt to match a photo from the late 1940s or early 1950s. Five new skylights have been installed in the roof to illuminate the nine stained-glass panels in the ceiling of one of the first-floor rooms. Williams Stained Glass Studio is in the process of cleaning and restoring these panels. (The skylight illuminating these stained-glass panels was removed sometime after 1982.) Funding for this first phase of the restoration was made possible through a grant by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County and the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

    When the contractors removed some of the crown molding in the dining and living rooms, they discovered stenciling. The stenciling uncovered in the dining room is about 12 inches deep. Boris Brindar, the chief conservator for A. J. Vater & Company, has revealed hand-painted details of a woman wearing a tiara. What was found under the paint in the living room is even more spectacular! A decorative wall mural seems to be about 30 inches deep, extending down from the ceiling. The pattern probably repeats itself along this living-room wall. On the wall directly opposite, is another hand-painted design, also about 30 inches deep. There is a crest, flanked on each side by a bird (maybe a griffon?). In the middle of the crest are the faint markings of the letter “O”.

    Society members have discovered that Edward J. and Laura M. Ohl bought the lot and built the house in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Therefore, this stenciling/decorative art on the walls is most likely original to the house. None of this stenciling appears in any photos the Society has from the McMillan family, who were the third owners. Dr. Donald McMillan and his wife, Christine, purchased the house in 1946 and lived there until 1982. They had four children, and Dr. McMillan had his office on the lower level, accessible from Lebanon Avenue.

    The Society plans to incorporate the cost of restoring the original stenciling in its total project budget. In the next phase, Joel Cluskey of RSH Architects will restore the interior spaces so the Society can occupy and operate on the first-floor. The Society has a long way to go to secure funding for the remainder of the project. If you know of some person, corporation, or fund that may be interested in naming opportunities, please send an email to Thank you!

  6. 12 Pittsburgh Public Schools Participate in “Building Pride/Building Character,” Thanks to Foundation and Corporate Support

    In mid-January, PHLF received a $10,000 grant from the Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation that closed the funding gap needed to support its “Building Pride/Building Character” educational program.

    “This generous grant, when combined with the $39,500 that we received from eight corporate contributors through the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, will make it possible for us to involve students (grades 3 – 8) from 12 Pittsburgh Public Schools in creative, engaging field trips and in-school programs over the next several months,” said PHLF Executive Director Louise Sturgess.

    We thank the following for contributing to PHLF’s “Building Pride/Building Character” educational program in 2016-17:


    • First National Bank of Pennsylvania
    • Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation
    • PNC Bank


    • Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.
    • Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale Company
    • Huntington Bank


    • Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.
    • Maher Duessel, CPA,
    • S. McKee, LP

    In addition, the McSwigan Family Foundation and others provide needed support for PHLF’s educational programs.

    Below is a gallery of photos of third, fourth, and fifth-grade students from Pittsburgh Beechwood, Minadeo, and Whittier, who participated in PHLF’s career-awareness program and poetry and art programs in January.

    Distinguished Pittsburgh poet Samuel Hazo spoke to Pittsburgh Beechwood students during their poetry and art field trip to Carnegie Mellon University on January 26. He explained to students that in poetry “You are called upon to give something it’s right name––it’s not easy to do. Take words seriously for what they sound like, for what they suggest, and for the colors that they assume when they are next to another word.” It was an honor to have Dr. Hazo with us, explaining the art of poetry and assisting students with their individual poems.

    The poetry and art program for Pittsburgh Whittier students on January 27 was especially designed to connect to the school’s Mt. Washington neighborhood and to the theme of civil rights. The fifth-graders walked along a wooded path to the Bigham house in Chatham Village, which was a stop on the “underground railroad” in the 1850s. Once back at school, they wrote poems and drew architectural details of neighborhood landmarks.

    When asked to think about his experience that day, one student wrote: “I think all the kids loved walking the trail to the Bigham house. We loved learning about Mt. Washington history and poetry and art. My experience was good. I hope you continue this program. Please do.”

    Another student added: “I liked walking in the woods because I felt very free. I learned about the escaped slaves and that they walked on the same route as we walked. I would recommend this program for everyone in Pennsylvania.”

    We are grateful to the eight corporations and to the McSwigan Family Foundation and Alfred M. Oppenheimer Memorial Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation for making these enriching “hands-on and eyes-on activities” possible.

  7. Architecture Feature: Frank & Seder Building

    Frank & Seder Department Store, 441 Smithfield Street [1918-1954]

    On January 19, 2017, an article “Oxford abandons plans to build office tower” appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on pp. A-1 and A-9. Author Mark Belko observed that Oxford Development Co. had given up plans for a “big iconic skyscraper in Downtown Pittsburgh” and had sold the property on Smithfield Street between Fifth and Forbes avenues to Stark Enterprises of Cleveland who “according to sources, intends to renovate the existing building––the former Frank & Seder department store. It sits across the street from the old Macy’s/Kaufmann’s department store, which also is being redeveloped.”

    With its history and architectural significance, the former Frank & Seder building is worth saving and adapting for new uses. As a contributing structure in a downtown National Register district, the stage is set for the developer to take advantage of the federal 20% investment tax credit for the “certified rehabilitation” of an income-producing property and/or receive benefits through the tax code by donating a preservation easement to a qualified recipient, such as the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

    Historical and Architectural Significance

    In 1907, Jacob H. Frank and Isaac Seder opened a store at 344 Fifth Avenue devoted to “ladies specialties.” In 1917 Frank & Seder began planning for a new, larger building in the 400 block of Smithfield Street. The store opened on May 21, 1918 and is a contributing structure in the expanded Pittsburgh Central Downtown Historic District (placed on the National Register May 2, 2013). The nomination form states:

    “The seven-story building . . . was built . . . in a rather severe Classical Revival Style. The first story features polished stone walls framing large display windows, the second and third floors are grouped under fluted Ionic pilasters, and the fourth through sixth stories are simple brick walls with rectangular windows cut-out. The whole department store is capped like a renaissance palace with a projecting cornice and a recessed seventh story.”

    Three architectural firms worked together on the building: Charles Bickel, MacClure & Spahr, and William E. Snaman.

    Charles Bickel (1852-1921) designed many downtown commercial buildings, including the 1898 Kaufmann’s Department Store building across the street.

    The firm of MacClure & Spahr was formed in Pittsburgh in 1901 by Colbert A. MacClure (1879-1912) and Albert H. Spahr (1875-1966), graduates of M.I.T. in Cambridge, MA, the oldest architecture school in the USA. Their buildings include the Mon Incline Carson Street Station, the former Meyer, Jonasson & Co. store at 606 Liberty Avenue, and the home of George M. Laughlin, Sr. on Woodland Road, later owned by Andrew W. Mellon.

    The best-known Downtown building by William E. Snaman (1875-1953) is the former Donahoe’s Market and Restaurant with its imposing Classical colonnade, now occupied by CVS Pharmacy on Forbes Avenue between Market Square and Wood Street.

    A collection of Seder Family Photographs, 1900-1940, is in the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center. Among the photos are “building construction, exterior and interior shots of the Frank & Seder store.” The collection guide can be read and downloaded on the Historic Pittsburgh website/Finding Aids.

  8. PHLF’s Newest Poetry and Art Book, by Pittsburgh Gifted Center Students

    Layout 1Poems and charcoal drawings by 41 fifth- and sixth-grade students from the Pittsburgh Gifted Center are featured in a 78-page book, to be released in January by PHLF. This edition of Pittsburgh Details in Poetry and Art is dedicated to Ann Power Wardrop (1915-2016), a devoted preservationist and trustee emeritus of PHLF who inspired us to help young people see that historic places in Pittsburgh are works of art, worthy of restoration, and sources of great beauty, enriching our daily lives and contributing to our unique cultural heritage.

    Click here to read five “group poems” about Pittsburgh and several individual poems. The students were required to use personification and to imagine what it would be like to be the architectural detail they selected.

    Please visit our library on the fourth floor of The Landmarks Building to read the entire book, and to read many other Poetry and Art books published by PHLF since 2003.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633