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Architectural board looks to past, future

By Bob Stiles
Monday, February 26, 2007

Bill Malloy looked to the past when he was considering renovations last year to the Park Building on North Main Street in Greensburg.

Building designers used arched vaults inside the building for air-conditioning units, rather than putting them on the roof. And energy-efficient windows that appear to be from the late 1800s were added to the more than century-old structure.

“What we were really doing was bringing out what was just under the surface there,” said Malloy, president of ROAM Investments in Greensburg.

The work done on the Park Building is an example of what the city’s recently formed Historical and Architectural Review Board wants, mostly for buildings in downtown Greensburg, board members said.

“In general, a lot of it is to help maintain the architectural and historical aspects,” said Steve Gifford, executive director of the Greensburg Community Development Corp. and a member of the review board.
The seven-member board consists of an architect, an engineer, the city’s planning director and business and property owners.

Plans call for the city planning director to examine proposals and forward them to the review board.

“We just wanted it to be a professional board that looks at the facade impact for a district, and work with the property owner,” said Barbara Ciampini, city planner.

“We want it to look like everything fits in,” she said, adding that the hope is not to stifle creativity in the process.

Designers of the new state office building on North Main Street, the addition to the Westmoreland County Courthouse Annex and Seton Hill University’s arts center on Harrison Avenue considered the appearance of surrounding buildings when planning their structures, parties involved in the projects said.

The exterior of the nearly 90,000-square-foot state office building consists mostly of brick and glass — the same type of exterior as most of the buildings near the structure. The outside of the annex addition is similar to the courthouse’s exterior.

The 73,000-square-foot arts center will have an exterior consisting mostly of brick and monument concrete block, said Bob Russ, of MacLachlan, Cornelius and Filoni Architects Inc., Pittsburgh. He was one of the architects involved in designing the center.

“Great care went into it,” Russ said.

He said the outside appearances of the nearby Stark Building and Palace Theatre were among the structures considered in the art center’s design. The monument concrete block proposed for the center should help to match the nearby exteriors of the Otterbein United Methodist Church as well as the annex and courthouse, Russ said.

A related tower at the center ties in to other buildings in Greensburg as well as the university’s campus, Russ explained.

Louise Sturgess, executive director of the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation, said a board such as the one set up in Greensburg enables a community to consider the past and the future.

“I love the idea because it puts value on the old. Without such a committee, the old sometimes is not part of the dialogue,” she said.

“And we want the buildings to be useful today. Preservation is not against development and creative design.”

Gifford said the work should increase the value of the restored properties and that of neighboring ones.

Ciampini said the goal is to create a pleasing appearance with the historical buildings.

“I think the role of the HARB … is we’ll try to enhance not only restoration but new development,” she said.

Anyone not satisfied with the board’s decisions may appeal to city council.

Gifford said several other communities were considered when the review board was being planned. They included Stanton, Va., and the Pennsylvania cities of York, Lancaster and Pittsburgh.

Malloy conceded that the restoration steps cost slightly more than they might have, but he still likes the concept of the review board. Work on the Park Building was completed in 2006, prior to the review board’s formally being set up by city council.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Malloy said. “I absolutely like the idea of some bar, some measure that everyone is aspiring to.”

Bob Stiles can be reached at or (724) 836-6622.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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