Historic Downtown Site Sold
By Thomas Olson, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 30, 2010
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has sold the oldest architect-designed building in Pittsburgh — and granted an easement to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to make sure it’s never torn down.
Built in 1836, the Burke Building at 209 Fourth Avenue, Downtown, was sold Monday to Burke Building Enterprises L.P., said conservancy spokeswoman Stephanie Kraynick.
She declined to provide further information about the purchaser but described the partnership as people “who appreciate the historical quality of the building and plan to preserve” it.
The three-story, stone structure — a striking contrast to the modern PPG Place that sits next to it — is one of the few remaining structures to survive the city’s great fire of 1845. The building is unoccupied.
“It is a really important building,” said Arthur Ziegler, president of History & Landmarks. “Anyone who owns the building now and forevermore is subject to the condition that they can’t demolish it or change the exterior without our consent.”
“The conservancy has easements on lots and lots of land. They gave us this (easement) because we protect buildings,” he said.
The conservancy’s headquarters was located in the Burke Building until September 2007, when the organization relocated to Washington’s Landing.
The architect was John Chislett, an British native who relocated to New York in 1832. He moved to Pittsburgh a year later and remained here.
“The Burke Building is extremely handsome and the oldest building we’ve got,” said Al Tanner, the foundation’s historical collections director. “Over the years, it housed a bank, a restaurant, and a variety of other (tenants).”
Three other buildings in Pittsburgh that Chislett designed are still standing. The Gateway and Lodge of Allegheny Cemetery, which are two adjoining structures in Lawrenceville; and the Widows and Orphans Society of Allegheny City building on the North Side.
Tanner said that in Chislett’s day, he was probably best known in Pittsburgh for designing the original Allegheny County Court House in 1841. It burned down in 1882 and was replaced two years later with a design by the world-famous H.H. Richardson, who designed other buildings in this region.