A crown jewel where a duke and count played
By Tony LaRussa
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Historic preservationists have taken the first steps toward protecting the famed New Granada Theater, on Centre Avenue in the Hill District, from demolition or major alterations.
Built in 1927, the building is the principal surviving work of Louis Arnett Stuart Bellinger, an important African-American architect. Only a few of Bellinger’s buildings survive today.
“Even though the New Granada has been closed for decades, people still talk about it,” said Esther L. Bush, chief executive of the Urban League of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s seven-member Historic Review Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to proceed with the process of designating the New Granada Theater as a City of Pittsburgh Historic Structure — a measure proposed by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
A series of public hearings by the Historic Review Commission, the city Planning Commission and City Council must be conducted before council can vote on granting the designation.
“The New Granada is not only a part of Pittsburgh’s cultural heritage, it has the potential of being part of this city’s future,” Bush said. “If it’s developed, it can become another cultural attraction.”
The theater was built as the Pythian Temple, a lodge for a group of African-American construction workers known as the Knights of Pythias. In the 1930s, the building was sold to the owner of the Granada Theatre, located several blocks up on Centre Avenue. When the movie house was moved to the current location, the word “new” was tacked onto the marquee.
In its heyday, the 11,341-square-foot New Granada Theatre was a major draw for live entertainment and movies. Jazz greats Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed there.
“The building is in very bad shape,” said Mulugetta Birru, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. “It’s going to take a lot of money to rehab it.”
Representatives of Hill Community Development Corp., which owns the theater, could not be reached for comment.
Councilman Sala Udin, whose district includes the Hill, said the designation could be a draw for proposed redevelopment along several blocks of Centre Avenue.
“Obviously it will take a developer with some vision to turn that theater into something that is commercially successful,” Udin said.
Udin said he believes a mix of new housing, storefronts and restored buildings could help revive the neighborhood.
“I would like to see the storefronts built so we can consolidate the businesses in the area and create some momentum outward,” he said.
Efforts to develop the area stalled last year after a Las Vegas developer selected by the city failed to deliver on a master plan for the proposed project.
Tony LaRussa can be reached at email@example.com.