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Archive: Wed Jan 2011

  1. Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House

    Friday, December 24, 2010
    By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Julia Tomasic of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society is trying to save the last great Victorian home in Carrick, at 1425 Brownsville Road, by nominating it for historic status. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

    At one corner of Brownsville Road and The Boulevard in Carrick sits state Rep. Harry Readshaw’s funeral home. Across The Boulevard, a late-19th-century Queen Anne house is the last of the grand Victorians remaining on the main drag.

    Its owners want to sell and may have a buyer in Mr. Readshaw, who said he is interested in buying the property and that demolishing it to provide parking “might be a decision to be considered.”

    Mr. Readshaw’s interest has spurred the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society to try to save the house.

    Historical society member John Rudiak documented the property and this week nominated it for historical designation. He said demolition of the house would put an end to any evidence of Carrick’s Victorian heritage.

    The nomination would stall any plan to demolish the house until the Historic Review Commission could determine whether it is eligible, based on a set of federal criteria. Eligibility ultimately must be decided by Pittsburgh City Council. Historic status regulates changes to a building’s exterior but not to its interior.

    Richard C. Gasior, whose wife’s family has owned the four-bedroom home since 1952, said the family needs to sell it and has been advised that $150,000 would be a fair price. “If I can’t get anybody to buy it, I’m going to go with Readshaw,” he said.

    Known as the Wigman House, it was built in the late 1800s by William Wigman, owner of Wigman Lumber on the South Side. The nomination states that it is “the last remaining example of several homes of the wealthy South Side gentry who lived in Carrick.”

    The current owners gave a tour to members of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society several weeks ago, said Julia Tomasic, a founding member of the society.

    “We’d love to buy it, but there are just three of us” in the society, which has no money, Ms. Tomasic said. “It has a brand-new furnace, a slate roof and the interior woodwork and walls in original hardwood, with six fireplaces, including one converted for wood. Nothing has been done to alter it.”

    According to the Pittsburgh code for historic preservation, a property must meet at least one of 10 criteria to be eligible for preservation.

    The nomination papers cite several possible eligibilities. One is that the home, a classic American Queen Anne, has not been modified. Its features include an asymmetrical facade, front-facing gable, overhanging eaves, polygonal tower, shaped and Dutch gables, a porch covering part or all of the front facade, a second-story porch or balconies, pedimented porches, dentils, spindles, differing wall textures including fish scales, and oriel and bay windows.

    “We heard rumors for a year that Harry [Readshaw] would buy it to tear it down, and we thought it was a joke because we consider Harry a friend of the neighborhood,” Ms. Tomasic said. “Parking? You park on the street. We’re city people.”

    “It’s not like I’m sitting here champing at the bit with a sledge hammer,” Mr. Readshaw, D-Carrick, said, “but business is business and any business is looking to improve its services.”

    “And if we don’t get it, what happens to it?” he said. “Somebody dying to live in a big Victorian who would be a wonderful neighbor would be a positive.” A Section 8 landlord is a more likely prospect, he said, adding, “The 29th Ward has been inundated with Section 8 housing.”

    Brownsville Road once had several grand Victorian homes owned by prominent businessmen. As a hilltop neighborhood, Carrick was a refuge from the smoky city. Through much of the 20th century, it was solidly middle class and owner-occupied. It remains so, but some of its stability is eroding.

    In its argument for historic status, the historical society calls the Wigman House the most prominent home in Carrick, “our crown jewel Victorian.” Losing it would be a shock, the document reads, and “one more loss that we cannot sustain.”

  2. This Beautiful Structure Must Be Saved

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011 05:00 AM

    *Open Letters is a place where the letters to the editor published by the Post-Gazette are offered up for broader comment and discussion.

    The late 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian house on Brownsville Road in Carrick (“Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House,” Dec. 24) is a gem that must be preserved.

    The Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society has done a yeoman’s job by documenting the property known as the Wigman House and nominating it for historical designation. One hopes that other area historical societies and individual philanthropists will join together to assure its salvation.

    While I was growing up on Madeline Street in Carrick, dozens of comparable homes in the area reflected the personalities of the moguls who built them on high ground in order to contemplate the night sky burned red by the glow of steel mills blazing far below.

    My family’s physician, Dr. Askins, was able to purchase one such mansion on Brownsville Road during the Depression. The exterior, painted contrasting shades of green, emphasized the eerie atmosphere that would have captivated the Addams Family.

    Each time we visited his office, I was startled by creaking sounds — veritable moans — coming from one of the turrets. When I asked him about them, he tossed me a sly smile. “Those are the ghosts of the original owners,” he said. “They cannot bear to leave the tower and lose sight of the city they built.”

    Just as those ghosts clung to the past, so must the ghosts of the last remaining Victorian mansion in Carrick be appeased.

    Scottsdale, Ariz.

  3. Downtown Honus Wagner Store has Finally Struck Out

    A sporting goods fixture for 93 years

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store on Forbes Avenue is closing after 93 years in business Downtown. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

    First it was Gimbels, then Joseph Horne, Kaufmann’s and Candy-Rama. Now another iconic Pittsburgh retailer is preparing to fade from the scene.

    After 93 years Downtown, Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods store plans to close its doors permanently within the next six weeks after a going-out-of-business sale.

    Harriet Shapiro, who co-owns the store with her husband, Murray, said Tuesday that the family, after four generations of ownership, simply had no one left to take over the reins.

    “We’re very sad to see it go. It’s been a Pittsburgh landmark for so many years,” she said.

    While word of the closing filtered out Tuesday, the clock has been ticking on the store for some time. In 2009, Point Park University reached an agreement with the owners on an option to purchase the property as part of its plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown.

    Under terms of the agreement, the university had the right to take over the property once the Shapiros vacate it or in four years, whichever came first.

    Mrs. Shapiro said she and her husband had considered selling the store but were unable to find anyone with an interest in purchasing it.

    She said the store was not closing because of poor business.

    “Absolutely not,” she declared. “It’s a closing sale. It’s not a desperation sale or a bankruptcy sale or anything like that.”

    Opened in 1918 by the legendary Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pirates, the store has been a sports fans oasis Downtown for decades, jam-packed to the rafters with jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, tennis shoes and other merchandise.

    At one time, the store also supplied uniforms for the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as semipro and high school teams in the region.

    The Shapiros purchased the store from Mr. Wagner about 1928. The shop first was housed on Liberty Avenue but moved to its current location on Forbes Avenue nearly 60 years ago.

    On Tuesday, the store with the black-and-gold awning and sign (what else?) was closed for inventory, but will reopen today for its final days.

    Patrons were saddened to hear about its demise.

    Ron Gruendl, spokesman for BNY Mellon Downtown, said he still had a Frank Robinson model baseball bat he bought at the store in the mid-1960s.

    “For many people who grew up and came into the city during the baby boom era, we’re losing part of our childhood,” he said. “Before there was Dick’s [Sporting Goods], before there was anything, it was Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner and Chatham Sports, those were the places.”

    David Vance, a former Pittsburgher who now lives in Hudson, Quebec, just outside of Montreal, remembers driving to the store with a friend to pick up their first Little League uniforms.

    “Along with standing out in the right field [seats] section of Forbes Field hoping to catch a home run and see [Roberto] Clemente up close, that visit to Honus Wagner was a cherished memory of my youth. It will be missed,” he wrote in an e-mail.

    The closing likely will be a boost for Ace Athletic, a sporting goods store that opened on Forbes a short distance from Honus Wagner in September. Manager Tim Piett, however, found no joy Tuesday in knowing that the old store was closing.

    “I worked there 27 years,” he said. “I was very close to the family. They’re very good people.”

    The store will eventually be reborn as a performing arts center. Point Park intends to use it and several adjacent properties it owns to relocate the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown. The new complex would feature three theaters ranging from 150 to 500 seats each, production and teaching areas, a residence hall and retail space.

    University spokeswoman Mary Ellen Solomon said the move wouldn’t occur until the second phase of the school’s academic village initiative Downtown and that that was still “several years down the road.”

    For some, though, the promise of new development did little to soothe the pain of seeing another local landmark disappear.

    “It’s sad. It’s a long-standing store in Pittsburgh. Downtown is getting empty,” said Brenda Lane of Scott, who stopped at the store Tuesday, hoping to purchase a Winter Classic T-shirt. “All our retail places are going by the wayside.”

  4. Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, Downtown, to Close After 93 Years

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    The Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store will be closing its doors after 93 years of business. The store was started in 1919 by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor, and relocated to Forbes Avenue in the mid-1960's. Philip G. Pavely | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

    Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store, Downtown — started by the Pirates baseball legend 91 years ago — is closing.

    Harriet Shapiro, who with her husband Murray are the fourth generation to own the store, confirmed Tuesday the closing by phone from her Florida home. She said “there was no one in her family willing to operate the store.”

    Plans are to begin a “Going-out-of-Business” sale within the next few days — or by the end of the week, a sale that could last for up to 60 days.

    The building, at 320 Forbes Ave., is under option to be purchased by Point Park University. About 10 are employed at the store, Shapiro said.

    The store was closed Monday and Tuesday for the staff to take inventory, said Joe Melcher, floor manager.

    The store will be reopened at 10 a.m. today.

    Melcher said the economy probably had more of an impact over the past year on sales than did major sporting-goods stores, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, although it did have some impact on sales.

    “If Dick’s had a Downtown location, the impact might have been more,” he said.

    The floor manager at Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, in Downtown heads to the back of the store to discount merchandise Tuesday. The store will be closing its doors after 93 years of business after being started in 1919 by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor and relocated to Forbes Avenue in the mid-1960's. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

    The Honus Wagner store dealt mainly in shoes and sports apparel, although it did some business in team-licensed goods, Melcher said.

    The store usually is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The store is closed Sundays, except for home Steelers games, Melcher said.

    “It’s always unfortunate that a Pittsburgh institution, such as Honus Wagner Sporting Goods closes, but with the generational change, those things happen,” said Mike Edwards, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, a group of business and community leaders, property owners, civic organizations and residents that promotes Downtown interests.

    The store always seemed “surprisingly busy,” Edwards said.

    The store was started in 1919 — at 813 Liberty Ave., Downtown — by former Pittsburgh Pirates players Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor, two years after Wagner retired, said Shapiro.

    Wagner is widely regarded as one of Major League Baseball’s greatest players. He was one of five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in its inaugural Class of 1936.

    Although the store carried the Honus Wagner name, that wasn’t enough to make the business a success — even with Wagner occasionally stopping at the store in the 1920s.

    In 1928, the store was in bankruptcy. That year, Shapiro’s father, E. Louis Braunstein, purchased it. At one time, Braunstein operated 15 stores, she said.

    In the mid-1960s, the store was relocated to its present site on Forbes Avenue, said Shapiro.

    “The problem of a single-store retailer is that it does not have a lot of leverage with its vendors,” said Sam Poser, senior retail analyst with Sterne and Agee, based in New York. “If traffic is slow and there’s a lot of inventory but cash is slow, the single-store operator can easily be impacted by the national economy.”

    Poser covers such retailers as Dick’s, Columbia Sportswear, Hibbett Sports Inc., Nike Inc. and Wolverine World Wide Inc.

    Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner was a Carnegie native who played Major League Baseball for 21 seasons — from 1897 to 1917. Wagner was with the Pirates for all but the first three of those seasons.

    The shortstop won eight batting titles and batted .300 or better for 17 consecutive seasons. He played in nearly 2,800 games; had 10,450 at-bats; recorded 3,430 hits; and amassed a .328 lifetime average. He had 651 doubles, 252 triples and 722 stolen bases.

    A Honus Wagner statue originally was outside Forbes Field in Oakland and later stood at Three Rivers Stadium. The statue was moved to PNC Park after the new North Shore ballpark opened in 2001.

    Born in 1874 in Mansfield — which merged with Chartiers in 1894 to become Carnegie — the Pirates legend died Dec. 6, 1955, while living in Carnegie.

    A nearly mint condition Wagner baseball card sold in 2007 for $2.8 million — believed to be the most ever paid for a baseball card. Another one, in poor condition, sold for $262,900 in November.

  5. South Side Site Gets Development Go-Ahead

    Retail, apartments slated for former Goodwill headquarters
    Friday, December 24, 2010
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    A $28 million project to convert the former Goodwill headquarters on the South Side into apartments and retail space is good to go, thanks in part to a $5 million state redevelopment assistance grant.

    The grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell last week, will help close a gap in the financing and enable the project to move forward, city Urban Redevelopment Authority board members were told Thursday when they authorized the receipt of the money.

    Green Tree developer Burns & Scalo Real Estate plans to convert the seven-story building on East Carson Street into 87 market rate apartments and 10,000 square feet of ground level retail space.

    James Scalo, Burns & Scalo president, said he expects the apartments to rent for about $1,500 a month.

    He said the state money will be used to help build a parking garage within the complex, an amenity he believes will be a big selling point. He said it would be the only residential project on the South Side with secure parking within the building.

    With the money committed, Mr. Scalo said he hopes to start demolition work inside the building next month. Construction work is expected to start in April, with an opening slated for spring 2012.

    Burns & Scalo will clean and preserve the facade and also seek to have the Renaissance Revival building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in part to make the project eligible for historic tax credits, Mr. Scalo said.

    Burns & Scalo came under some fire last summer when it received permission from the city Historic Review Commission to demolish an adjacent Goodwill building to make way for an Aldi supermarket.

    Mr. Scalo said there’s a reason the developer is seeking to preserve the Goodwill headquarters while it demolished the other structure.

    “This building has a lot of historic value. The other one did not,” he said. The structure used to be the mercantile store for the J&L Steel plant on the South Side.

    Also Thursday, the URA board approved a deal that allows Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises to make a $9 million lump sum payment to the URA to close out a $20.8 million loan dating back to 1984.

    The loan was used to build Liberty Center, the 27-story skyscraper that houses the Westin Convention Center hotel and Federated Investors. Since the loan’s inception, Forest City had made about $9.5 million in payments. The developer, about three weeks ago, approached the URA about discontinuing $400,000 in yearly payments in exchange for one final lump sum amount.

    In agreeing to the deal, the URA will be accepting about $2 million less than the original loan, not including interest. However, Rob Stephany, URA executive director, said there was a chance that future yearly payments, which were tied to cash flow, could decrease, depending on the tower’s occupancy and lease arrangements. He said Forest City originally offered $3.5 million as a lump sum payment.

    A consultant hired by the URA also analyzed the deal and concluded that a $9 million buyout was a “very fair number.”

    Mr. Stephany said the URA plans to reinvest the $9 million in city neighborhoods that are eligible for federal community development block grants.

    “It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said

  6. Kaufmann’s is Back? Well, the Kaufmann Center will be, with $100,000 from PPG

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Pop City Media

    The historic Kaufmann Center in the Hill District, home to social services and events in the neighborhood for decades, is that much closer to reopening as a state-of-the-art auditorium for community development, education, arts and cultural happenings, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the PPG Industries Foundation.

    The structure – part of the six-building Hill House Association, local provider of health, education, housing and other services – had fallen into disrepair and closed in June 2009. The grant from PPG, says Foundation Executive Director Sue Sloan, will aid the Center’s $5 million renovation effort, which includes a new entryway and LEED certification of the building as a newly energy-efficient green structure.

    Hill House hopes the renovated auditorium will attract regional events to the neighborhood as well. Overall, the building’s renewal should contribute to the organization’s and the neighborhood’s health, both financially and socially.

    “The real value is that this will help revive and increase services for individuals in the Hill District,” Sloan notes. “This is going to make a difference to the folks who are living here and using these services.”

    Writer: Marty Levine
    Source: Sue Sloan, PPG Industries Foundation

  7. $289,500 in Funding Will Help WCDC Continue to Revitalize Wilkinsburg

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Pop City Media

    On December 28, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation received its second annual installment of funding from Tristate Capital Bank, totaling $289,500.  The funding is part of a six year, $1.8 million commitment by the bank in order to assist the WCDC’s Business District Revitalization efforts.

    “The money is split 50/50,” says Tracy Evans, executive director of the WCDC.  “Half goes to our office, staff, and projects, primarily infrastructure improvement projects we’re working on as well as marketing money for the overall borough.”  The other half of that money is allocated for projects that the WCDC is collaborating with Landmarks Community Capital Corporation, a division of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, to achieve.

    The first installment of the Tristate Capital funds were used by the WCDC and LCCC to open Wilkinsburg’s Landmarks Community Resource Center last October, and this year’s funds will contribute to two new Wilkinsburg housing projects totaling $10 million.

    “This funding stream has been key to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation opening an office in the borough in 2010 and hiring three full-time personnel to further our goals in revitalizing the Wilkinsburg business community,” says John A. Thompson, WCDC president and mayor of Wilkinsburg.

    Sign up to receive Pop City each week.

    Writer: John Farley
    Source: Tracy Evans, WCDC
    John A. Thompson, WCDC

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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