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Brighter days ahead for Wilkinsburg

By Bill Zlatos
Thursday, April 17, 2008 

Following a blueprint he used to help create Station Square and improve the North Side, philanthropist Dick Scaife pledged $500,000 Wednesday to restore old homes and revitalize Wilkinsburg.”We hope to show that Wilkinsburg is a good place to live, attractive to a variety of people,” said Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. “And we want to demonstrate that there are properties available, and they can be beautifully restored and make very good homes.”   

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation will get the money from the Allegheny Foundation, officials from both organizations said.

The gift is Allegheny Foundation’s biggest grant in recent memory, said Executive Director Matthew Groll. The Downtown-based foundation is chaired by Scaife, owner of the Tribune-Review.


Through the Allegheny Foundation, which he chairs, Dick Scaife (center), philanthropist and owner of the Tribune-Review, pledged $500,000 to renovate old homes and revitalize Wilkinsburg. Surrounding Scaife on the porch of 516 Jeanette St. in Wilkinsburg, which was restored in the first phase of the project, is Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation CEO Howard Slaughter, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation President Arthur Ziegler and Wilkinsburg Mayor John Thompson. Standing is Jack Schmitt Sr., Jack Schmitt Jr. and Erin Cunningham with 1-month-old River, who purchased renovated home.  Photo by Sidney L. Davis/Tribune Review

The Allegheny Foundation helped finance restoration of Station Square, the Mexican War Streets and Manchester, Groll said, and Scaife was inspired during a drive through Wilkinsburg several months ago to continue restoration efforts there.”People see a little spark happening down the street,” Groll said. “Hopefully, the enthusiasm spreads and the community as a whole will rise up to meet the new enthusiasm.”

About two years ago, Ziegler’s group started a program to restore four houses in Wilkinsburg’s Hamnett Place neighborhood. The Sarah Scaife Foundation and Allegheny County each granted $500,000 to pay for that project.

History & Landmarks acquires the homes, oversees renovation and offers the homes for sale. The Hamnett Place houses have been sold. Renovations are under way and should be finished in six to eight weeks.

Walter and Rachel Lamory of Regent Square bought a turreted duplex on Jeanette Street for $95,000, one of the four buildings renovated.

“I know the perceived drawbacks of the area, said Rachel Lamory, 24, who attended nearby St. James School. “But I always saw the potential there. When I heard we had a chance to save these beautiful old homes I always admired, I felt we had to be part of it.”

Jack Schmitt and his wife Erin Cunningham paid $70,000 for a Queen Anne-style house that received $195,000 worth of renovations during the project’s first phase. The house has a scalloped dormer and gingerbread trim on the front porch.

“We spent a lot of time driving around, paying attention to the neighborhood,” he said. “We didn’t feel any hesitation whatsoever.”

The couple plans to buy the lot behind their home and the house next to it. They would raze the adjacent house and plant a vegetable garden. They want to set up a food stand and sell their food with a neighbor.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, praised Scaife’s gift as a boost to the community’s morale.

“It’s exciting when you see this kind of financial commitment,” Ferlo said. “It builds credibility for the economic restructuring and activities within Wilkinsburg that are aimed at revitalizing the core of the community.”


This home at 516 Jeanette St. in Wilkinsburg and several others are part of a successful first phase of a project to rehabilitate old houses in Wilkinsburg.  Photo by Sidney L. Davis/Tribune-Review



Bill Zlatos can be reached at or 412-320-7828. 

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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