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Archive: Feb 2011

  1. Historic District Building’s Wall Collapses in South Side

    By Margaret Harding
    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Historic District Building’s Wall Collapses in South Side

    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.”

  2. Book-Signing & Celebration: August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays

    The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), Historic Hill Institute, and Hill Community Development Corporation are hosting a free public event on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Avenue, in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The public is invited any time between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. to celebrate the publication of a 166-page guidebook, August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays, by Laurence A. Glasco and Christopher Rawson, with introductions by Kimberly C. Ellis and Sala Udin. RSVP (required by February 22): or 412-471-5808, ext. 527.

    At 2:00 p.m., the authors will present brief remarks (see page 3 for brief bios of the authors). Representatives from BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, lead donors, will present complimentary copies to high schools and libraries in the city and county. The guidebook research, writing, design, and printing were supported by a Preserve America grant from the National Park Service, administered under the Preserving African American Heritage in Pennsylvania program of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Multicultural Arts Initiative and 75 PHLF members and friends also contributed to the guidebook.

    August Wilson is one of America’s great playwrights. He lived in Pittsburgh from his birth in 1945 to 1978, when he moved to St. Paul, MN, and later to Seattle, WA. He died in 2005 and is buried in Pittsburgh. Wilson composed 10 plays chronicling the African American experience in each decade of the twentieth century––and he set nine of those plays in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. He turned the history of a place into great theater. His plays, including Fences, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Jitney, Gem of the Ocean, and Radio Golf have become classics of the American stage.

    August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays guides visitors to key sites in the playwright’s life and work in the Hill District and elsewhere in the Pittsburgh area. The guidebook enriches the understanding of those who have seen or read his plays, inspires others to do so, and educates all to the importance of respecting, caring for, and preserving the Pittsburgh places that shaped, challenged, and nurtured August Wilson’s rich, creative legacy.

    Contents of August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays, by Laurence A. Glasco and Christopher Rawson, include:

    • Introductions by Kimberly C. Ellis and Sala Udin;
    • Essays on the life and work of August Wilson and on Pittsburgh’s Hill District;
    • A guide to 45 places in the Pittsburgh area associated with Wilson’s life and plays;
    • Summaries of the 10 plays in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle and a bibliography.

    Book Specifications:

  3. 166 pages, soft cover; 5? x 8?
  4. 104 photos and maps (mostly color)
  5. ISBN 978-0-9788284-7-9
  6. Price: $8.95
  7. Trade discount available
  8. This is the fourth in a series of guidebooks published by PHLF. Other guidebooks feature H. H. Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown Pittsburgh, and Connick stained glass. To order books: click on STORE. Or:; 412-471-5808, ext. 525.

    Founded in 1964 and recognized as one of the nation’s most innovative and effective nonprofit historic preservation organizations, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) works to: identify and save historically significant places; revitalize historic neighborhoods, towns, and urban areas; preserve historic farms and historic designed landscapes; and educate people about the Pittsburgh region’s rich architectural heritage.

    (1)    The activity that is the subject of this guidebook has been financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Department of Interior.

    (2)    This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.

    About the Authors

    August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays

    by Laurence A. Glasco and Christopher Rawson

    Published by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 2011

    Laurence A. Glasco, associate professor of history of the University of Pittsburgh, has a PhD in Afro-American and Ethnic History and has taught at the University since 1969 in those areas, as well as in Quantitative and Urban History. His essay, “Double Burden: The Black Experience in Pittsburgh,” published in City at the Point in 1989, was the first comprehensive survey of black history in this region. A trustee of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and noted author and speaker, Glasco leads tours of Pittsburgh’s Hill District and interviews Hill residents on a regular basis in his ongoing efforts to research, document, and interpret the significance of the Hill.

    Christopher Rawson, a member of the University of Pittsburgh English Department since 1968, has a PhD in English Literature and teaches satire, criticism, August Wilson, and Shakespeare. Rawson is also senior theater critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PPG) and has twice been the chair of the American Theatre Critics Association. As the PPG’s full-time theater critic and theater editor from 1983 to 2008, he chronicled Wilson’s career in detail, starting with his Broadway debut in 1984, and compiled a comprehensive record of reviews, interviews, and news stories about his work. He was the first to suggest in print Hill District locations for Wilson’s plays.

    Introductions by Kimberly C. Ellis and Sala Udin

    Dr. Kimberly C. Ellis is a scholar of American Studies and African American Literature and History. She taught the first seminar course on August Wilson at the University of Pittsburgh, is the founder of AW-L, a listserv celebrating the life, literature, and legacy of August Wilson and is publishing a Teacher Training Workbook entitled “August Wilson for Young Minds,” for educational use in the schools, which can easily accompany PHLF’s guidebook. Dr. Ellis is also Executive Director of the Historic Hill Institute, which provides August Wilson Tours and much more. To schedule tours, please visit:

    Sala Udin, born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, grew up with August Wilson and established the Black Horizon Theater with Wilson and others in 1968. Sala is well known to Pittsburgh audiences for his performances in August Wilson’s plays. He played the lead in Jitney, performed by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company in 2010, and he recently read the part of Cutler in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Sala served in Pittsburgh’s City Council from 1995 to 2006. Recognized for his extensive community experience and leadership, Sala is on a number of boards and is President and CEO of the Coro Center for Civic Leadership in Pittsburgh.

  9. Construction Managers Picked for New Hill Grocery

    Thursday, February 10, 2011
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Construction Managers Picked for New Hill Grocery

    A Hill District grocery store is moving a step closer to reality.

    The Hill House Economic Development Corp. announced today that it had hired the joint venture team of L.S. Brinker and CM Solutions to serve as construction managers for the project.

    The minority-owned firms will oversee the construction of the 36,410-square-foot retail plaza on Centre Avenue that will contain a full-service Shop ‘n Save store. Brinker is headquartered in Detroit with offices in Pittsburgh, and CM Solutions is Pittsburgh-based.

    Site work is expected to begin in March. The goal is to open the grocery before Thanksgiving. Besides the supermarket, the plaza will contain 6,900 square feet of commercial retail space.

  10. Grant to Help Return Saxonburg Main Street to 1850s

    Thursday, February 10, 2011
    By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Saxonburg’s Main Street program manager says he’s feeling “pretty blessed” by the news last month that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had come through with a $1.4 million grant.

    The money was both needed and expected. But, Raymond Rush said he was happy it was all official.

    “We’ve been blessed by PennDOT and beyond,” he said.

    Design and engineering work is under way for reconstruction of both sides of Main Street — a four-block section of the street that spans about 2,200 feet from Butler Street to Rebecca Street. Those costs are being covered by a $373,027 grant awarded in May by the Department of Community and Economic Development.

    Now, PennDOT has come through with a $1.4 million grant for construction of half of the project: from Pittsburgh Street west to Rebecca Street.

    The work will involve reconstructing sidewalks and curbs, and installing landscaping. Street lights that replicate old-style German lights will be installed.

    The first half of the project is to be under way in the second half of the year with finishing work in the first quarter of 2012, Mr. Rush said. Sometime early in 2012, he’s expecting to hear that PennDOT is coming through with the rest of the funding. The total project cost is estimated at $2.4 million. The second half of the project would start during the 2012 construction season. Mr. Rush predicted the job would be completed within a year’s time.

    He credits receipt of the grants to a partnership between the borough and the John Roebling’s Historic Saxonburg Society Inc., a nonprofit group that sponsors the Main Street program. The society is named for the town’s founder who invented wire cable and is famous for bridge design. One of his most notable projects was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

    Saxonburg’s Main Street is an official historic district on both state and national levels. There are 52 historic buildings in the four-block project area, including Mr. Roebling’s home. A native of Germany, he designed the borough.

    Mr. Rush said the reconstruction project will maintain the borough’s historic look while modernizing the infrastructure.

    “It will bring the 1850s look into modern society,” he said.

  11. Vacant Motel Coming Down

    Blue Spruce a Murrysville landmark
    Thursday, February 10, 2011
    By Laurie Bailey

    Murrysville’s landmark Blue Spruce Motel on Route 22 will be demolished at the end of this month.

    “Basically, it’s going to be a flat piece of land,” said Hallie Chatfield, revitalization coordinator at the Westmoreland Redevelopment Authority. The organization is funding the demolition contract awarded to A.W. McNabb LLC of Burgettstown. Ms. Chatfield said the $56,800 grant for the work comes from a federal Community Development Block Grant.

    Work that will result in the demise of the motel, pool, pool house and beverage area was originally scheduled to start Monday, but the necessary equipment was unavailable, said Ms. Chatfield. A.W. McNabb is contracted to complete the work within 90 days.

    “They will first need to do an internal clean-out before they can demolish it,” said Ms. Chatfield who noted the outside probably wouldn’t be coming down for two more weeks.

    In 1956, Camille Naffah purchased the five-acre property for $7,500 and tore down the original structure, the ’40s-era John’s Motel. In its place, he built the Blue Spruce, a single-level motel with clean, simple architecture. In the summer, the large public pool attracted locals from surrounding communities.

    Stuart Patz remembered coming out to swim as a high school and college student from his Stanton Heights home in the late 1950s and early 1960s when there were few other public pool options.

    “All the kids from the East End were there. It was very pleasant and a nice, social thing. I have such great memories, a real nostalgic feeling toward the facility,” said Mr. Patz, now living in Washington, D.C.

    In the mid-’80s, a second level, a restaurant and bar were added to the structure. Mr. Naffah lived in an apartment above the motel’s lobby.

    In 1996, the aging motel gained brief local notoriety as a location for the movie, “Kingpin,” with Woody Harrelson.

    “They really fixed it up, repainted the outside pink and blue,” said John Cardwell, executive director of the Murrysville Economic and Community Development Corporation.

    For several years, the property has been vacant, with the paint in the abandoned pool increasingly chipping.

    “The motel closed about four years ago. The pool probably has been closed for 10-plus years,” Mr. Cardwell said.

    Mr. Naffah tried unsuccessfully to sell his motel in 2005 before his death in 2007. He left the property to his employee, Emily Moroney, who also died that same year.

    Currently, the Blue Spruce is part of the estate of Ms. Moroney, which approved the demolition in hopes of making the property more attractive to developers, Mr. Cardwell said.

    Right now, there are no plans for the land, which includes a one-acre “banner parklet” adjacent to the Blue Spruce. It is also for sale with the property and is owned by the development corporation.

    “I think there is a vision that is consistent with the streetscape study done in the ’90s,” Mr. Cardwell said.

    That vision includes small shops and offices.

  12. Market Square Shines with Jos. A. Bank and Crazy Diamonds

    Pop City

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Market Square Shines with Jos. A. Bank and Crazy Diamonds

    This spring, mens’ clothing store Jos. A. Bank will be moving from its current Downtown location at 527 Smithfield Street to Market Square.  Another recent Market Square development includes the upcoming installation of a beautiful work of public art.

    Jos. A. Bank signed a deal with developer Millcraft Industries at the beginning of February to lease space in the 40,000-square-foot Market Square Place development, located in the former G.C. Murphy building. Herky Pollock of CB Richard Ellis represented Millcraft Industries in the deal. Jos. A. Bank will share ground floor retail space in Market Square Place with the recent additions of Liberty Travel, DiBella’s Old Fashioned Submarines, Chipotle, and Vallozi’s.

    “This relocation, which will feature the Jos. A. Bank’s new prototypical layout and design, further validates the success of our vibrant central district and all the new energy that has been harnessed with the new development project in the corridor,” says Pollock.

    Keep your head up when entering Market Square from Fifth Avenue this spring as artist Carin Mincemoyer’s light sculpture “Diamond, Diamonds” will soon be hanging around.  The piece entails the installation of 80 glass “diamonds” lit with LED lights and hung from two poles–a nod to the public space known as The Diamond, which was located at the Market Square site until it was demolished in 1961.  Mincemoyer won a design competition to illuminate the connection between the square and the Cultural District after the City’s Office of Public Art put out a call for proposals.

    Sources: Herky Pollock, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis
    Hollie Geitner, vice president of marketing and communications for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

  13. Allegheny Grows Funds First-Year Projects in Wilkinsburg, Bellevue and Penn Hills

    Thursday, February 10, 2011
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Allegheny Grows Funds First-Year Projects in Wilkinsburg, Bellevue and Penn Hills

    “Allegheny Grows” is itself growing with urban-agriculture projects spreading to three more communities.

    Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato will announce today that Bellevue, Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills will be the sites this spring of new urban farms and community gardens.

    This year is the second for the program designed to dress up empty lots, build community spirit, encourage local organizing, aid the environment and provide fresh produce for local food pantries.

    “Allegheny Grows builds on the county’s ongoing initiatives to revitalize older communities and distressed municipalities through sustainable development and strategic investment,” Mr. Onorato said in a statement.

    A dozen communities competed to participate in this year’s program.

    The three that were chosen were selected for their strong leadership, enthusiasm of local volunteers, suitability of their garden site and community need, project manager Iris Whitworth said. She works for the business development unit of the county’s economic development office.

    Allegheny Grows has a budget this year of about $75,000. In addition to setting up the three new agricultural projects, the funds will be used to cover second-year costs for garden projects begun last year in Millvale and McKees Rocks. The source of the money is federal community development block grants.

    The effort is a collaboration with Grow Pittsburgh and local partners in each community. Grow Pittsburgh was formed in 2005 to encourage city gardening.

    Bellevue’s project will be a urban farm on Davis Avenue on a 1-acre vacant tract owned by North Hills Community Outreach. The land had been donated in 2008 to the social-service agency by the Amelio family for an organic garden, according to Fay Morgan, executive director of North Hills Community Outreach.

    North Hills Community Outreach is a faith-based social-service agency that serves families and individuals in communities north of Pittsburgh. Most of the labor for the organic farming effort will be provided by volunteers, supervised by a part-time agency employee. Produce grown there will be donated to food pantries.

    Wilkinsburg’s urban farm is a 2-acre site in the city’s Hamnett Place neighborhood. The land is owned by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which already is involved with several housing renewal projects in the community. Allegheny Grows will be working with a citizens organization called Hamnett Place Community Garden Association to plant and care for the site.

    Penn Hills officials are providing a water truck and leaf-mulch compost for a community garden on the site of a former municipal ballfield. The tract had been planted as a garden last year by a youth group. Produce grown through this year’s effort will benefit up to three local food pantries.

    Second-year Allegheny Grows’ assistance to gardens in Millvale and McKees Rocks will include providing both seedlings and some technical advice from Grow Pittsburgh. Millvale also will receive several rain-collecting barrels and McKees Rocks will get help in edging its garden beds and making them accessible to people with disabilities.

  14. Deal Reached to Save Historic Franklin County House

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Deal Reached to Save Historic Franklin County House

    A history-loving physician has worked out a deal to save an 18th century home in Mercersburg.

    Dr. Paul Orange said today the William Smith House will be taken apart piece by piece over the next several weeks and reassembled on a new site elsewhere in the Franklin County community.

    The future of the building has been in question since the structure and land on which it stands were acquired two years ago by a local volunteer fire company. The MMP&W Fire Co., which has its headquarters and garages next door to the house on Main Street, bought the property for expansion and had announced plans to demolish the building.

    That news resulted in the creation of a citizens group, the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House. Members say that events planned in the stone Ulster-style cottage in 1765 resulted in the earliest opposition to British rule in the American colonies and laid the groundwork for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

    Dr. Orange, who has a family medical practice outside Chambersburg, estimated that the relocation project will cost as much as $250,000. He has agreed to fund at least $50,000 of that amount.

    The first steps involve removing 19th- and 20-century additions to the structure, carefully taking apart and numbering stones and timbers from the core of the building and arranging for storage nearby. That process is likely to take several weeks, he said.

    No decision has been made on where the house will be rebuilt. Several suitable properties are vacant along and near the borough’s Main Street.

    Mercersburg is about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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