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  1. Carnegie’s Library Legacy

    The Carnegie struggles with honoring the past while serving the present and future

    Sunday, March 02, 2003

    By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic

    From Fiji to Florida to Fresno, Calif., Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 libraries between 1881 and 1917, mostly in America, the British Isles and Canada. To this day, Carnegie’s free-to-the-people libraries remain Pittsburgh’s most significant cultural export, a gift that has shaped the minds and lives of millions.

    The Homewood library opened at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Lang Street in 1910. Today the branch becomes the first to be rehabilitated in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's $40 million systemwide renovation, libraries also must accommodate information available through electronic media. New computer stations are among the updates in the Homewood makeover, which restores major architectural elements while sacrificing others considered less significant. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

    From the monumental libraries of the Monongahela Valley steel towns to the smaller branch libraries in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the Carnegie library buildings of Western Pennsylvania also have a national significance — and for some, an uncertain future.

    In Pittsburgh, whether to bring these beloved, iconic but aging buildings into the 21st century or leave them behind is a question the city soon will face, as Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh reinvents itself with an emphasis on customer service and satisfaction.

    Last fall, when library director Herb Elish asked City Council to give the library the option to buy the city-owned buildings it occupies, it wasn’t because he has a real estate fetish. While Elish doesn’t want to talk publicly about which libraries eventually may have new uses, he acknowledges that three of the older buildings could be sold, although not without community input.

    The man who seems destined to have the biggest impact on Carnegie’s Pittsburgh libraries since the steelmaker himself is also a former steel executive, CEO at Weirton Steel Corp. from 1987 to his retirement in 1995.

    Elish said he took the library job because he thinks libraries can “raise up people’s consciousness,” leading to “greater literacy, better jobs and rich, useful lives.” He wants each library, old or new, to be a place “people want to come to, think is enjoyable, get a lot out of and have fun at, because at the end of the day, it’ll just make their lives better.”

    Elish’s $40 million systemwide makeover got under way last month when work began on the historic Homewood library. Renovations to the Brookline, Squirrel Hill and Woods Run branches and the central library in Oakland also will happen over the coming year. To design the plans, Elish hired five small Pittsburgh architecture firms known for imaginative, even provocative work, then matched them with the projects for which they seemed most suited. The idea, Elish said, was “to get a lot of ferment of ideas, with architects talking to each other about how things should be designed.”

    For the 19 city libraries expected to be renovated over the next five to seven years, the goals are the same: to create “fully modern buildings” that are air-conditioned and accessible for wheelchairs and baby strollers, have community meeting rooms and spaces for teens, and give “each neighborhood a space and an image that is new and that the community can be proud of,” Elish said.

    “Economic development can happen around a library because libraries attract a lot of people,” he added. “We think that libraries can be symbolic of belief in and support of the neighborhoods. It’s one of the reasons that we, as a policy matter, said we weren’t going to end library service in any neighborhood where it currently exists. We can be a force to help bring that neighborhood back.”

    The Woods Run branch library, shown on opening day, July 8, 1964, is scheduled for interior renovation this year as well as for construction of a drive-through drop-off for books.

    Let there be libraries

    Carnegie opened his first public library in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883. Rather than his name, he had a motto — “Let there be light” — carved within the Gothic-arched entrance; nevertheless, the three-story, turreted stone castle of a building announced that the weaver’s son had done rather well in America.

    As many full-blooded Pittsburghers know, Carnegie erected his first public library in this country in his adopted hometown, Allegheny City, where as a youth he drank from the sweet chalice of knowledge in the home of Col. James Anderson, who opened his personal library on Saturday afternoons to the neighborhood’s working boys.

    Braddock’s library had opened a year earlier, in 1889, but not as a publicly supported library. Braddock’s was fully funded by the Carnegie Steel Co. and governed by its officials — giving both the Braddock and Allegheny libraries bragging rights to firsts. Homestead’s library followed in 1898, Carnegie’s in 1901 and Duquesne’s in 1904.

    While some of Carnegie’s steelworkers literally and figuratively had no time for his libraries, preferring the saloon and the lodge, other men and their wives learned English there at night and made good use of the libraries’ music halls, gyms, bowling allies, swimming pools and baths.

    And their children and their children’s children embraced them. Monumental entrance arches, grand staircases, marble floors and hooded fireplaces transported girls and boys to another world. The medieval French chateau and the Renaissance palazzo, set down amid fire-breathing furnaces, clapboard houses and courtyards strung with laundry, gave hope to children in the first half of the 20th century that life wasn’t all blood, sweat and soot. Best of all, the shelves were lined with books, and you could carry your dreams right out the front door.

    For the Allegheny library, Washington, D.C., architects Smithmeyer & Pelz drew not from the lavish, ornate classicism of their 1873, Renaissance-style design for the Library of Congress but from Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s smaller, asymmetrical, towered New England libraries in rusticated stone.

    Smithmeyer & Pelz gave the Allegheny City library foyer a wide, white marble staircase leading to the second floor, much as patrons would have found in one of the homes on nearby Ridge Avenue. Beyond the entrance hall was the “delivery room,” where books fetched by librarians from closed stacks were dispensed to readers. At one end of the room, an early photograph shows, Andrew Carnegie’s benevolent gaze greeted them from above a roaring fireplace. To the right of the delivery room was the men’s reading room and, in a small alcove, the women’s reading room.

    There was no children’s room in the Allegheny City library — that innovation belongs to the Lawrenceville library of 1898 — but for adults and children alike, the Allegheny library’s “homey touches encouraged readers to think that the hierarchy was sustained not just by economic power but by mutual love and respect, as in an extended family,” writes architectural historian Abigail Van Slyck in “Free to All,” her 1995 book on Carnegie libraries. “Library users might then look upon Carnegie as a rich uncle, who deserved respect, obedience and affection, and whose affection in return precluded any class resentment.”

    Carnegie still presides over the library’s former delivery room, but not from over the fireplace mantel. A 1970s renovation gutted most of the original interior. Today, as Pittsburgh’s Allegheny branch, the library is bright, white, modern and actively used. But it has lost its grand staircase, fireplace and all of its domestic and hierarchical connotations. Uncle Andy’s portrait hangs unceremoniously above a periodicals rack, flanked by the men’s and women’s bathrooms.

    Visitors will have little trouble stepping back a century in the Braddock and Carnegielibraries, which have accommodated new technology without sacrificing the cozy comfort of their historic interiors. In both locations, Carnegie’s portrait still hangs over the fireplace.

    Like the Andrew Carnegie Free Library of Carnegie, the Carnegie Library of Homestead is majestically sited near a hilltop, overlooking the town and the river valley. Opened in 1898, it has seen some interior alterations over the years — for one thing, the fireplace gave way to bookshelves — but it’s still standing and serving its community — more than can be said for the 1904 library in nearby Duquesne. Rivaling the Homestead and Carnegie libraries in size and setting, the Duquesne building was demolished in 1968 to make way for a school district building that was never built. The library site is now Library Court, a cul-de-sac of ranch houses.

    A distinguishing feature of Pittsburgh's Carnegie library branches is the wood and glass partitions between rooms, which allowed a single librarian to watch over the entire facility. At the Homewood library, shown here with a view from the lobby into the children's reading room, sections of the partitions will be removed to create better flow between the lobby and the adult and children's reading rooms. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

    A late bloomer

    Pittsburgh also was getting in on the library boom, even if it was a little late to the party. In 1881, the same year Carnegie began his first library in Dunfermline, he offered Pittsburgh $250,000 for a library if the city would provide the land and $15,000 annually for its maintenance. It was an offer the city could and did refuse, believing it was not a state-sanctioned use of public money.

    By 1887, with the city assured by the state legislature that a public library was an appropriate use of tax funds, Pittsburgh officials told Carnegie they were ready to accept his gift. In 1890, the philanthropist expanded his original offer to $1 million for a conjoined central library and art museum, as well as branch libraries in the neighborhoods, which Carnegie came to view as more important in elevating the working class. Eventually, his gift to Pittsburgh would total $1,160,614.

    Twelve years after the initial offer, construction began on the central library and museum in Oakland, following a design competition won by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow of Pittsburgh and Boston. But not long after it opened, the library was found to be woefully inadequate. For one thing, everybody forgot about the kids.

    “So little thought was given to children as library users before 1895 that no provision was made for them,” library director Ralph Munn wrote in 1969. The library also had no room for scientific and technical books. An addition, opened in 1907, solved both problems, as well as one that had vexed Carnegie for more than a decade. The twin towers that flanked the music hall — “donkey ears,” he called them — were demolished in the expansion.

    Today, Elish said, the problem with the main library is its organization: “You sort of need a secret handshake to find your way around.”

    Books are shelved in unpredictable locations and departments, and even once visitors identify where a book is, they can have a hard time finding it.

    To remedy that, Friendship-based EDGE architecture is working with librarians and South Side’s MAYA Design to reorganize and, as MAYA likes to put it, “tame the complexity.” MAYA analyzed why people couldn’t find what they were looking for and discovered that, in a library with millions of items spread over a labyrinth of rooms, “wayfinding” is an issue right up there with book-finding.

    EDGE’s $3.1 million design is still being refined and won’t be ready for public review for a couple of months.

    “We’re looking to make an environment that’s a destination because it’s entertaining, it’s informative and it’s an exciting place to be — and not do anything that violates the existing architecture and character,” said EDGE architect Gary Carlough.

    Work could begin as early as mid-summer, but Dunham said it’s too soon to say how long the renovation might take.

    While the branch libraries have gone or will go through a neighborhood input process in their renovation planning stages, for the main library, that process will happen in public hearings before City Council, a requirement for any project in the main library with more than a $1 million budget.

    A first for Lawrenceville

    After impressing Carnegie with the quality of their work — and their ability to stay on budget — Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, who also completed an 1893 addition to the Braddock library, would go on to design the Homestead and Duquesne libraries and, as Alden & Harlow, eight Pittsburgh branches, as well as libraries in Oakmont, Erie and, in Ohio, at Salem and Steubenville.

    The first of the Pittsburgh branches, completed in 1898, was in Lawrenceville, the densely built neighborhood of factories and brick rowhouses. The library was built on residential Fisk Street, in the heart of the neighborhood but not on the main drag.

    No more would Carnegie build big, homey castles, as he had done in the towns with which he had personal associations. Correspondingly, Alden & Harlow “divested their libraries of the domestic connotations that had appealed to the paternalistic philanthropist of 1880, and allowed the buildings to convey their public nature to prospective readers,” Van Slyck writes. The branch libraries would be classical and symmetrical, and done in brick to better fit their surroundings.

    With a then-revolutionary open-shelf policy in all branches, the small libraries were planned so one librarian could oversee the entire operation. That dictated the interior plans of all the Pittsburgh branches, beginning at Lawrenceville and continuing through West End and Wylie Avenue (1899), Mount Washington and Hazelwood (1900), East Liberty (1905), South Side (1908) and Homewood (1910).

    Lawrenceville was “the most innovative and important of these Pittsburgh branch libraries,” a design that “broke with Richardsonian precedent in both style and plan,” writes Margaret Henderson Floyd in “Architecture After Richardson,” her 1994 book on Longfellow, Alden and Harlow.

    Located just beyond the lobby, the circulation desk — no longer a delivery desk — took center stage in Lawrenceville, flanked by turnstiles that admitted readers to the open stacks one at a time, under the librarian’s watchful eye. To thwart thievery, the stacks were arranged in a radial pattern. On each side of the lobby were a general reading room and, for the first time in a library anywhere, a room for children, many of whom were learning English as a second language or had immigrant parents. The reading rooms were separated by walls that became glass partitions above waist level — the better to see you with, my dear.

    Despite such controlling devices, the library was well used. Over a six-week period in 1925, for example, a YWCA study of the Lawrenceville library found that 190 young women between 18 and 25 requested 736 books, 590 of which were fiction; the most popular writer was Pittsburgh’s own Mary Roberts Rinehart.

    The Lawrenceville design — a rectangle with a semicircular rear projection to accommodate the radial stacks — was repeated at East Liberty, but economy forced other branches into a mostly rectangular plan, with shelves lining the perimeter walls.

    The plan developed here became a model for Carnegie libraries around the world, and, in 1911, was included in a design advisory pamphlet issued by Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram, who reviewed the plans of all Carnegie libraries after 1908.

    The East Liberty library, serving the wealthy East End community, was the largest of the branches when it opened, but it was demolished in the late 1960s to accommodate the city’s ill-fated urban renewal plan for the commercial district.

    The Wylie Avenue branch moved from its historic building to a new location in 1982, because demolition of the Lower Hill neighborhood in the 1960s had left it at one end of its former service area. The building now houses a mosque.

    But the six branches that survive as libraries — Lawrenceville, West End, Mount Washington, Hazelwood, South Side and Homewood — have a remarkably high degree of integrity, inside and out.

    A dwindling legacy

    By 1917, Carnegie had invested $68,333,973 in libraries here and abroad, equivalent to about $966 million today. Of the 1,689 Carnegie libraries built in America, at least 350 have gone on to other uses, writes Theodore Jones in his 1997 book, “Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy.” Another 259 have been razed or destroyed by fire or other natural disasters — 100 in the 1960s, 47 in the 1970s, 12 in the 1980s, a downward trend fueled by the historic preservation movement.

    But that trend, Jones writes, has been reversing since the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    “Public libraries are moving out of their original Carnegie buildings more frequently than ever,” he writes. According to 1991 and 1996 surveys, of the 350 or so libraries that have been reused, 60 were still libraries in 1991.

    Elish has said he would consider selling a branch building if it proves too expensive to upgrade or is in a difficult location that lacks parking, but he is keeping an open mind and hopes Pittsburghers will do the same. He also wants to hear from the community.

    “We don’t want to get in a position of saying, ‘We don’t want to be in [the old] building’ and have the community rise up in arms” and not use the new building, Elish said. But, he adds, “Part of this is a cost problem. If you find that the renovation of a building is prohibitive compared to what you’re going to get in a new building, you need to lay out the costs and talk about them. You can’t make irresponsible decisions.

    “I just think by the end of all of the conversations about this, that good sense will prevail on both sides. We will learn from each other and reach a conclusion together.”

    It’s a dialogue that should engage everyone who has a stake in the future of Pittsburgh’s archetypal neighborhood libraries.

  2. Two Schools Consolidate to Form Sister Thea Bowman Academy in Wilkinsburg

    Thursday, September 30, 2010
    By Tina Calabro

    The name of Sister Thea Bowman may not be widely recognized, but within the Catholic education community, she is celebrated for her commitment to the education of underprivileged children, especially those of African-American descent.

    Sister Thea, a Mississippi native and granddaughter of a slave, converted to Catholicism at age 9 and later joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin.

    As a scholar, speaker and performer, she presented as many as 100 inspirational talks per year before her death from breast cancer in 1990 at age 53. At the height of her ministry, she was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

    Over the past two decades, a number of Catholic schools across the nation have been named in her honor. Now her legacy has become part of a newly consolidated Catholic elementary school in Wilkinsburg.

    Sister Thea Bowman Academy, for pre-kindergarten through grade eight, replaces the former Holy Rosary elementary school in Homewood and the St. James elementary school in Wilkinsburg. The academy is in the former St. James building at 721 Rebecca St.

    The diocesan committee that chose the name for the school was attracted to Sister Thea’s “charismatic and prayerful” approach, said the Rev. Kris Stubna, diocesan secretary for Catholic education.

    “She is an excellent role model and inspiration for the school,” he said.

    The consolidation of the schools became necessary because enrollment in each had declined to below 150, Father Stubna said. He added that declining enrollment in those schools reflects fewer school-age children in the city overall. The new academy has 300 students.

    The consolidation decreases the cost of maintaining two buildings while enabling the new school to offer more programs, such as new science labs, he said.

    The St. James building was chosen for use because it is the newer of the two and because students who live in Wilkinsburg do not have school bus transportation, but those who live in Pittsburgh do.

    The decision to recast the school as an academy reflects its focus on “educational excellence and faith formation,” Father Stubna said.

    The consolidated school, like the two schools it succeeds, is an initiative of the Extra Mile Foundation, which provides financial support to selected Catholic schools located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as well as scholarships to cover tuition.

    The two other elementary schools supported by the foundation are slated for consolidation in the fall of 2011: St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District and St. Agnes in West Oakland.

    Father Stubna said the schools supported by the Extra Mile Foundation “give a choice for a quality program in an environment of faith.”

    Michael and Yulanda Johnson of Lincoln-Lemington have four children at Sister Thea Bowman Academy in grades two, five, seven and eight. Last year, all four attended St. James.

    Mr. Johnson said that combining school populations presents challenges, but “the staff is dedicated to making it go smoothly.”

    Among the new features he appreciates in the facility are the science labs and brighter lighting. “The new labs are beautiful, an environment where kids are excited about learning,” he said.

    He said he also is pleased about a strong turnout at parent meetings, the addition of two male teachers and upgrades to the school uniforms.

    The Johnsons moved to Pittsburgh from Baltimore five years ago and soon decided to send their children to a Catholic school.

    “We wanted them to be in a strong learning environment and have small class sizes,” Mr. Johnson said. Receiving help with the tuition cost also was a factor, he said.

    Tuition at Sister Thea Bowman Academy is $1,800 for the first child in a family and $600 for the second. Additional children attend at no charge.

    Like many families in schools supported by Extra Mile, the Johnsons are not members of a Catholic parish, but they say they are comfortable with the religious environment of the school.

    Mr. Johnson, a customer service representative for Comcast, volunteers as a basketball coach at the school and noted that the consolidation has produced more interest in the team. The school is planning to add soccer and track teams.

    “The larger enrollment has opened opportunities,” he said.

  3. Sculpture of Steel Worker to Highlight Natrona Heritage Park

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Natrona’s history is forever linked to industry, and that is the focus of a new park being planned there.

    “We’ve been working with Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, and one of the focuses of Natrona Comes Together is to preserve the history of Natrona,” said Bill Godfrey, president of the grassroots neighborhood improvement group, in discussing the proposed Natrona Heritage Park.

    Natrona’s first major industry was salt mining by The Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co. dating to 1850. In fact, Godfrey said the park site, which is about 100 feet by 100 feet, is the site of the old Penn Salt company store.

    Although Penn Salt evolved into a chemical conglomerate, it eventually became overshadowed in Natrona by the steel industry and Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp., now known as ATI-Allegheny Ludlum.

    It is the steel industry that is the focus of the heritage park, according to Godfrey and Stephen Paulovich, the New Kensington native who is a renowned Louisville, Ky.-based sculptor.

    Paulovich is known throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley for his sculptures at the coal miners memorial in Harmar and for the statue of New Kensington football legend Willie Thrower at Valley High School’s stadium.

    According to Paulovich, the park’s dominant structure will be a sculpture of an 8-foot-high steel worker set on a base that will have the sculpture rise 18 feet above the park.

    In addition, there will be smaller sculptures of buildings in Natrona, some of which still exist, he said.

    Paulovich said he will donate his services, including any foundry work.

    “I was trying to get something more public art-oriented,” Paulovich said. “Things that are more historical that kids can walk around and look at.

    “We want to incorporate some of the buildings … some of them might (still) be there, some might not,” he added. “Those buildings were so important. And if it wasn’t for steel, they wouldn’t be there.”

    Among the buildings Paulovich included in his initial drawings were the Pond Street School, St. Ladislaus Church and the Windsor Hotel.

    “People in New Kensington might get mad at me, but I think Natrona is the gem, architecturally, of that area,” he said.

    Paulovich and Godfrey said they plan to put the project in motion within the next week or two.

    They and Natrona Comes Together are developing the project with Frank McCurdy of Harrison, who taught architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, before retiring. He also is a member of the Natrona Comes Together board, Godfrey said.

    “We have absolutely no money for it yet, but we have strong passion for finding funds,” Godfrey said.

    “We’re going to approach Allegheny Ludlum and the unions and get some other private financing,” he said. He said that they don’t have a firm cost estimate yet. “We’ll give a presentation to anybody that will be very clear and will leave nothing to the imagination. It will be like ‘This is what you get for your dollar.’ It will be like selling any other product.

    “I think it is only fair that Allegheny Ludlum celebrates the history of the steel workers who actually built the company with their sweat and toil,” Godfrey said. “We have not approached them, but we are very excited about trying to get them to donate.

    “It could be a model for how a steel mill improves the quality of life for a community.”

    To underscore the community’s ties to steelmaking even further, Paulovich wants to cast the sculptures in stainless steel, Allegheny Ludlum’s core product for decades.

    “I was going to do it in bronze, but it just doesn’t make sense. Bronze? In a steel town?” Paulovich said. “If the guys are making stainless down there, why can’t we use stainless/”

    Also, Paulovich wants those “guys” to be involved with the project.

    “We want to get some of the welders from Allegheny Ludlum to come down and help us put this together for us,” he said. “I don’t sweat like they do in 4,000 degrees; they need this. It’s just amazing what they do. They have to do it, it’s going to be their sculpture.”

    “For them to drive by with their kids and hear them say, ‘Hey, Dad did that,’ that would be great,” Paulovich said.

  4. In McKeesport, Marina’s Success Boosts Other Businesses, City’s Hopes

    Thursday, September 09, 2010
    By Candy Woodall, freelance
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The McKees Point Marina is located on Water Street in McKeesport. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

    Summer may be winding down but Ray Dougherty already is preparing for next season at McKees Point Marina along the Youghiogheny River.

    The 200 docks are full to capacity, and the waiting list is growing, a stark difference from the 60 spots that were filled when Mr. Dougherty started as manager of the marina in McKeesport four years ago.

    In addition to the solar, steel building he plans to have constructed along Water Street to house boats during the off-season using a $150,000 Growing Greener grant, growth at the marina also has led to a new boat dealer opening in McKeesport and increased revenues at McKees Cafe.

    He attributes the surge at the marina to reducing rates and adding entertainment.

    The marina hosts free, live entertainment every weekend.

    Rates were $1,080 annually for either a 30- or 20-foot dock in 2006. Now, they are $900 per year for a 30-foot dock and $580 per year for a 20-foot dock.

    Mr. Dougherty said he puts the docks in the water for the boating season to begin April 15 and takes the docks out when the season ends Oct. 15. The marina also docks 18 jet skis and keeps 11 spots open for transient boaters who can anchor at the space for $20 to $25 per day.

    “We keep those prices low to encourage people to come visit McKeesport,” he said.

    The marina is now self-sustaining — purchased with a $1.8 million Housing and Urban Development Authority loan in 1998 — and costs about $100,000 a year to operate, he said.

    By the beginning of next season, he wants to use marina revenues to build a small park for children near the marina for the families who dock there.

    He attributes the surge in family boaters to a slow economy and the other offerings of McKeesport’s waterfront — not the least of which is its use as a trail head to the Great Allegheny Passage, Steel Valley Trail and Youghiogheny River Trail.

    The combination of water traffic, foot traffic and boat traffic has boosted sales by 50 percent at McKees Cafe along Water Street, which Mr. Dougherty also manages.

    His cafe, which makes its own homemade bread and sells $5 lunches, has a nautical theme, including a large mural of sea life on the walls. Another wall is signed by boaters, bikers and hikers who have visited the trails from seven countries and all but five states.

    “We see a lot of bikers in the morning and boaters in the evening,” he said.

    Boaters who buy a yearly lease at the marina also have a membership to the McKees Cafe Clubhouse, where they can host birthday parties, graduation parties or other events for free.

    Mr. Dougherty said most members are from the Mon Valley or Westmoreland County, including the communities of McKeesport, North Huntingdon and Greensburg.

    The boating activity is why Pittsburgh Boat Sales opened on Water Street this summer and celebrated a grand opening a few weeks ago.

    “The McKees Point Marina has a central location to Pittsburgh, and we wanted to jump into the Pittsburgh market,” said Dino Ellena, service manager.

    “We noticed a growth in boating. Families seem to be forgoing a $7,000 vacation in favor of buying a boat and having many summers of vacation.

    “It’s another way to help the economy here instead of going somewhere else and spending money. More people are keeping the money local.”

    And that’s great news, said Dennis Pittman, McKeesport city administrator.

    He hopes the city’s natural resources — as a confluence of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers — will create other economic opportunities for the city.

    He’s making plans to build a fishing pier, establish a rowing club, partner with Penn State Greater Allegheny to construct a fish hatchery and develop the waterfront with small businesses.

    Seeking Hope VI grant money, he hopes to use those public funds to build a $100,000 fishing pier at 13th Street along the Youghiogheny River next year.

    “I may be dreaming a little because we’re rich in ideas and poor in dollars,” Mr. Pittman said. “But there’s no doubt we need to take advantage of what we have.”

    When the Army Corps of Engineers is finished with its work on the Braddock Dam and eliminates the Elizabeth Dam, McKeesport will have a 20-mile pool of free-flowing water to use, doubling the 10-mile pool it has now.

    Those changes also will cause the Youghiogheny to rise about 5 feet, according to Mr. Pittman, making boating on that river a more pleasurable experience.

    Mr. Pittman also wants to see some rowing boats in the water within the next three years.

    He said the city has the space and desire for a rowing club that could host high schools, colleges and junior programs.

    He’s partnering with executives at Three Rivers Rowing to establish a program — possibly as a third site for the rowing club, which already operates facilities at Washington’s Landing and in Millvale.

    Mr. Pittman would like to see an indoor facility with a glass front built along the water in an old pipe yard. It could include a gym, boat storage and restaurant. He’s seeking public funds, philanthropic support and partnerships with the private sector. He declined to give specific figures while costs are being analyzed and collaborations are forming.

    He hopes a partnership with Penn State Greater Allegheny will lead to the creation of a fish hatchery at an old Westmoreland County water plant near 15th Street through the school’s agriculture program.

    “We’ve talked to school officials there about raising the fish and stocking our local streams,” he said. “It’s a teaching and vocational opportunity.”

    Mr. Pittman said he is talking to John Hohman, plant manager, to work out a ground lease. It also may be donated to Penn State Greater Allegheny or the city, he said.

    “The elements are in place, but there’s still some work to be done,” he said.

    The economic impact of developing a waterfront and using rivers can be huge, according to Rick Brown, executive director of Three Rivers Rowing.

    It takes some work and money, but not necessarily much money, he said. Facilities range in costs, and sometimes boathouses start out with simple materials such as chain-link fencing, he said.

    Eight high schools, three colleges and a junior team representing 20 local high schools compete through Three Rivers Rowing. It has 400 adult members, 100 youth members and about 3,000 total participants a year.

    Mr. Brown is pleased that another local municipality wants to start a rowing program.

    “I think more rowing in the area would help all of us. We’ll be an area better served,” he said.

    And McKeesport would have more to offer, Mr. Pittman said.

    “We want people to see us as a destination point,” he said. “We just have a lot more potential than what’s been tapped.”

  5. Thank You Summer Interns

    PHLF News
    July 29, 2011

    Since March, PHLF has involved 15 students (high school, college, and graduates) in its educational programs and preservation activities. As volunteers with PHLF, each student decides how many hours a week and what days h e/she is able to help out. Once here, interns assist with school tours, workshops for teachers, research and archival assignments, and main street programs. And, if they enjoy being with students, they help out with CampDEC, a 2 0-day adventure with middle school students in the Pittsburgh Public School’s Summer Dreamers Academy. Thank you everyone for your help and effort!

    As a result of their experiences, interns add to their portfolios and gain a new (or deeper) appreciation for Pittsburgh’s architecture and history and for the economic, social, and cultural benefits of historic preservation. Intern comments on the value of their experiences include the following:


    • Julie Edwards: “PHLF has given me a deeper understanding of Pittsburgh’s extensive architectural heritage and a greater appreciation for the built environment.”
    • Alyssa Malobicky: “Thank you for welcoming me back to PHLF again. The hands-on involvement in the day-to-day activities of PHLF teaches me so much. I appreciate all that PHLF does to keep Pittsburgh a special place.”
    • Ashley Moore: “Through interning with PHLF, I have a new-found appreciation for Pittsburgh. It is amazing how evidence of the city’s changes was here long before I was and may be here long after I am gone.”
    • Barrett Reiter: “My experiences with the educational, non-profit portion of PHLF have taught me that educating future generations is as important as preserving the accomplishments of those past. Without understanding and a personal connection to the built environment our unique history is too easily lost.”
    • Shane Martin: “My time with PHLF has broadened my horizons on subjects ranging from historic preservation to urban design and the strenuous human effort put into the systems that hold our society together. I was fortunate to work alongside the very minds that ensure our city’s rich history and put forth my own efforts at planning the future.”

    We thank the following 15 people (all pictured above) who volunteered their time and talent to PHLF:

    1. Lauren Borrelli, Penn State University (Architecture)
    2. Emily Bush, Miami University of Ohio (History/Journalism)
    3. Julie Edwards, Kent State University graduate (Interior Design)
    4. Michal Gould, University of Pittsburgh
    5. Stacy Litwinowicz, West Virginia University (Interior Design)
    6. Samantha Mabe, Clemson University (Architecture)
    7. Alyssa Malobicky, Virginia Tech (Landscape Architecture)
    8. Shane Martin, University of Pittsburgh (Urban Studies/Architectural Studies)
    9. Grace Meloy, University of Pittsburgh (Architectural Studies/Civil Engineering)

    10.  Ashley Moore, University of North Carolina graduate (Masters of Urban Design)

    11. Barrett Reiter, University of Pittsburgh ( History/Political Science/Historic Preservation)

    12.  Katherine Schmotzer, Baldwin High School

    13.  Emily VanBuren, Slippery Rock University––Masters (History)

    14.  Camden Yandel, Saint Vincent College (Graphic Design)

    15.  Sydney Zalewski, Carnegie Mellon University (Architecture/Photography)

    To learn more about PHLF’s volunteer internship program click here.

  6. Historical Groups Left in Lurch by Funding Cuts

    By Richard Robbins, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW
    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Museum inn keeper and Curator Jim Koontz, of Ligonier, builds a birdhouse that is being modeled after the Laughlintown museum's cook house. Barry Reeger/Tribune-Review

    Just two years ago, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the Oakland landmark honoring veterans of all of America’s wars, was on the receiving end of a nice piece of change from Pennsylvania: $260,000.

    In 2009, the state’s largesse shrank dramatically, to a mere $30,000.

    This year, Soldiers & Sailors is in line to get nothing, a result of a state budget that eliminated grants for historical sites, from the 218-acre Bushy Run Battlefield in Penn Township to the smallest local historical society.

    The funding cuts will have a huge impact on groups devoted to local history, according to Ronald Gancas, Soldiers & Sailors president and CEO.

    He foresees severe retrenchments, including the continuation of a wage freeze in effect at Soldiers & Sailors since 2007 and the need to recruit and mobilize even more volunteers. The museum’s education department has gone from five full-time and two part-time employees a few years ago to one full-time and one part-time employee today.

    “If this trend continues, it will take 50 years to put things back together,” Gancas said.

    The 2009 state budget contained $1.7 million for regional and local history, a sum that the state House added after several months in which it appeared there would be no funding for historical groups.

    But this time around, there was no late change to rescue local history grants, either for general operations or special projects.

    There was lip-service support for public history from members of the General Assembly but nothing more, said Deborah Filipi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations.

    “We are in a crisis, there is no doubt about it,” Filipi said. “There are some museums that are already hurting. I suspect some of these are not going to survive.”

    Jeremy Burnworth, president of the Fayette County Historical Society, said the funding cuts could not come at a worse time for his group, which conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at its new museum and headquarters in a renovated 1700s building.

    “This is really bad timing,” Burnworth said, adding that the historical society will be “held back without” the state dollars. He was counting on $10,000 from the state and a $10,000 match from the county to help staff the museum and the Searight Tollhouse, both along the National Road.

    “We were on track” for the funding, Burnworth said. Now the game plan is to utilize volunteers in place of paid staff.

    Tina Yandrick, director of operations for the Ligonier Valley Historical Society, said the expiration of funding meant elimination of summer internships cutting general maintenance “over and above the usual.”

    Yandrick noted Compass Inn, a restored Laughlintown stagecoach stop built in 1799, “always” needs refurbishing.

    Nevertheless, she said, “we are fortunate we have Compass Inn,” a money-maker for the society that helps to offset the loss of state money.

    State funding was “always important money for us,” said Lisa C. Hays, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, adding that money has been so scarce, “I’m trying to get through this month.”

    “We’ve already tightened our belts a lot,” Hays said. She forecast the potential for shorter business hours beginning in 2011 to “save staff time.” However, because the society likely will make a greater effort to raise private dollars, Hays was uncertain if savings are actually possible.

  7. PHLF Awards Five Scholarships to College-Bound Students

    Written by Courier Newsroom (New Pittsburgh Courier)
    Wednesday, 14 July 2010 06:48
    On June 16, during a luncheon celebration, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation awarded scholarships to five high-achieving college-bound students who are involved in their communities and value Pittsburgh’s history, architecture and landscape design. PHLF received 47 applications this year and was able to award five scholarships, thanks to the continuing support of the Brashear Family Named Fund at PHLF and generous donations from others.

    “Each year the Landmarks Scholarship Committee looks forward to reviewing all the applications,” said David Brashear, founder and chair of PHLF’s Scholarship Committee. “This program helps us connect with young people who share our values and who we believe will contribute to Pittsburgh during their lifetime.” The five scholarship recipients are Stephen R. Karas of Schenley High School, who will attend Penn State University to study mechanical engineering; Victoria N. Lewis of Woodland Hills High School, who will attend Howard University to study architecture; Anna M. Murnane of Woodland Hills High School, who will attend Syracuse University to study architecture; Candice L. Thornton of Sto-Rox High School, who will attend the College of Wooster to study chemistry and archaeology and Eric C. Wise of South Fayette High School, who will attend Carnegie Mellon University to study mechanical and biomedical engineering. Each scholarship is for book and tuition expenses only, and has a maximum value of $4,000. It is made payable to the recipient’s college or university over a four-year period.

    “Each year the Landmarks Scholarship Committee looks forward to reviewing all the applications,” said David Brashear, founder and chair of PHLF’s Scholarship Committee. “This program helps us connect with young people who share our values and who we believe will contribute to Pittsburgh during their lifetime.”

    The five scholarship recipients are Stephen R. Karas of Schenley High School, who will attend Penn State University to study mechanical engineering; Victoria N. Lewis of Woodland Hills High School, who will attend Howard University to study architecture; Anna M. Murnane of Woodland Hills High School, who will attend Syracuse University to study architecture; Candice L. Thornton of Sto-Rox High School, who will attend the College of Wooster to study chemistry and archaeology and Eric C. Wise of South Fayette High School, who will attend Carnegie Mellon University to study mechanical and biomedical engineering. Each scholarship is for book and tuition expenses only, and has a maximum value of $4,000. It is made payable to the recipient’s college or university over a four-year period.

  8. Kids Can Get Hands on With Historical Games at Old Economy Village

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Hoop Dreams. Children roll hoops with sticks at Old Economy Village. Old Economy Village Museum

    Long before the days of battery-operated Buzz Lightyear toys and Wiis, kids had to get pretty creative in order to make toys and play games.

    Children in the 19th century would amuse themselves with activities like rolling hoops with sticks, and doing “Lady Ann’s ring tosses,” which involved a stick tied to a wooden circle about the size of a doughnut. Kids would toss the stick around, and try to catch the circle with it. In another old-fashioned game, quoits, people would throw rings to land around a peg in the ground. Many of the toys were made with scrap wood that came from building houses.

    “They had to make their own toys, mostly,” says Lynn Popovich, who is organizing a play-themed event at Old Economy Village this weekend. “You couldn’t go to the store and buy them. … Most of the toys back then were creative things that the parents sort of invented when the kids were little to keep them busy.”

    On Saturday, Old Economy Village — which re-opened in April, after a state budget crisis closed the National Historic Landmark for a few months — will let its visitors explore, learn about and try out toys and games from the 1800s, when the Harmonists from Germany settled the Beaver County village. Hands On History Day features the old-fashioned amusements, along with arts and crafts, sack races, a historical scavenger hunt, and more. Kids can get their pictures taken while wearing reproduction 19th-century clothing, attend an 1830s schoolhouse session, watch puppet shows, play old instruments like kazoos, and more.

    The activities will allow visitors of all ages to step back in time and enjoy getting a feel for early American life, says Popovich, who is the village’s volunteer coordinator and store manager.

    “We just want them to come and have a fun time and experience the days of yore … with their children,” she says. “It’s something for the entire family. There aren’t a lot of activities where kids and parents can enjoy themselves together. They can walk around the garden, pavilion and gazebo, sit on the bench and reflect how people lived back then.

    Kids, Popovich says, are “fascinated, I think, with how the children of yesterday lived, without the modern conveniences.”

    “They love playing with the old-fashioned toys,” she says. “You wouldn’t think that they’d be interested because they’re so involved with iPods .. and all that high-tech stuff.”

    Hands On History Day includes demonstrations from a blacksmith, weaver, broommaker, baker and other artisans, and visitors can try out these activities, Popovich says. The Ambridge Steel Drum Band will be performing at 1 and 3 p.m. Hot dogs, drinks and other snacks will be sold.

    During school tours at the village, she says, the kids are fascinated by how their predecessors amused themselves without batteries and electricity.


    Hands On History Day

    When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

    Admission: $9 for age 11-64; $6 for ages 3-11; $8 for age 65 and older; free for age 2 and younger

    Where: Old Economy Village, 270 16th St., Ambridge, Beaver County

    Details: 724-266-4500 or website

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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