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‘Market at Fifth’ center of multimillion-dollar makeover

By Ron DaParma
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A trio of deteriorated but historically significant buildings once in the crosshairs of a city wrecking ball now are part of plans to revitalize Downtown.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation plans to join the vacant buildings on the edge of Market Square as “Market at Fifth,” a $2.5 million to $3 million complex that will include a ground-level restaurant or retail store, seven upper-floor apartments and a rooftop garden.

“This is purely a do-good project,” said Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., foundation president.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks is assuming a role as a city developer nearly three decades after transforming a group of historic Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station buildings in the South Side into the Station Square complex that attracts about 3 million people annually.

“We’re engaged here in an act of significant preservation because of the nature and location of these buildings,” Ziegler said.

For years, the South Side-based foundation fought to save what it considered significant buildings in the city’s Fifth-Forbes retail corridor, particularly after former Mayor Tom Murphy proposed revitalization plans that included substantial demolition.

Among those targeted were:

• 439 Market St., the fire-damaged, four-story former home of the Alexander’s Graham Bell bar

• 441 Market St., four stories, which still bears its “Novelties” store sign

• 130 Fifth Ave., the two-story former Regal Shoe Co. with a noteworthy architectural bloodline

“All three are significant buildings,” Ziegler said, and all are within the Market Square historic district.

The 439 Market and 441 Market structures are examples of Victorian commercial buildings, constructed in Italianate style in the late 1880s, said Ziegler and Al Tannler, the foundation’s historian.

The Regal Shoes building, which opened in 1908, was designed by Alden & Harlow, then one of city’s prominent architectural firms, responsible for the Carnegie Institute and Library additions in Oakland and Carnegie branch libraries in various communities.

The building’s chief designer was one of the firm’s principals, Frank E. Alden, who in the late 1800s worked with architect H.H. Richardson, supervising construction of such noteworthy Downtown buildings as the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Tannler said.

After more than a decade of failed city redevelopment efforts, the foundation — in the final year of the three-term Murphy administration — secured an agreement from then-Deputy Mayor Tom Cox to accept its offer to pay $33,000 to physically stabilize the 1870s-vintage 439 Market building so it wouldn’t crumble to the ground.

The foundation stepped in after the cash-strapped city said it couldn’t afford to fix it, and wanted to tear it down for safety reasons.

“Still, nothing happened,” said Ziegler — until Mayor Bob O’Connor took office in 2006 and decided to allow multiple private developers to redevelop city-owned properties.

When O’Connor died last year, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl continued that strategy. Focused more heavily on residential development than on retail, the city’s Downtown development effort is led by Washington County’s Millcraft Industries Inc., PNC Financial Services Group and its representative, Oxford Development Co.

“Things are really moving forward now,” said Jerome Dettore, executive director of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Dettore said the Murphy administration delayed doing something with the buildings because it believed the city needed to retain a number of buildings it could to turn over to one master developer.

“They didn’t want to do it piecemeal,” he said.

“I’m thrilled with the (foundation’s) plan,” said Mino Fazio, co-owner and executive chef of Ciao Baby in Market Square.

Fazio’s Italian restaurant at 435 Market is adjacent to the 439 Market building. From his building’s roof, one can look inside the neighboring structure, whose roof collapsed several years ago.

“For years the city did nothing, but it’s going to be great to see things finally getting fixed up Downtown,” he said.

In December, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks won the redevelopment authority’s approval to buy the three buildings for $257,000. It hopes to start work once it obtains other city approvals, possibly within two months, Ziegler said. The city Historic Review Commission will review the project Feb. 7.

Market at Fifth will be an example of how to renovate historic buildings according to environmentally-friendly “green building” standards, said Ellis Schmidlapp, architect for the project.

The work will include recyclable building materials and energy-efficient mechanical systems. The rooftop garden, accessible from two units, will absorb moisture and reduce water run-off.

“This will be important in showing in the Fifth-Forbes corridor how a restoration/adaptive use project can be part of a revitalization,” said Schmidlapp, principal in South Side-based Landmark Design Associates.

“It will preserve three historic buildings, and put them back into productive use.”

Ron DaParma can be reached at or 412-320-7907.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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