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Category Archive: Legislative / Advocacy

  1. Historic Designations in Pittsburgh: A Primer

    Pittsburgh has a wealth of historic buildings.  How these buildings are historically designated and whether these buildings are protected by their designations varies depending on the type of designation. This primer provides a brief overview of the various historic designations of buildings and districts throughout Pittsburgh.

    National Historic Landmarks: Brings Benefits to Property Owners; No Restrictions

    This is the highest category of distinction. In Pennsylvania, the National Historic Landmark program is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the National Park Service (NPS).   National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places that “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”  There are fewer than 2,500 NHLs in the country.  There are 11 in Allegheny County: the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, the Bost Building, Braddock Carnegie Library, Carrie Furnaces, Chatham Village, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Forks of the Ohio, Kennywood, Oakmont Country Club, the Smithfield Street Bridge, and Woodville Plantation.

    NHL listing has similar results as the National Register listing (as discussed below).  One difference is that further protection is provided under Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in the case of a federal undertaking.  Section 110 requires that government agencies, “to the maximum extent possible, undertake such planning and actions as may be necessary to minimize harm to any National Historic Landmark that may be directly and adversely affected by an undertaking.”

    Click here for more information on NHLs.


    National Register of Historic Places: Brings Benefits to Property Owners; No Restrictions

    The National Register of Historic Places “is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.”  In Pennsylvania, the National Register is administered by the PHMC and the NPS.   To be eligible for the National Register, a property or district must possess historic integrity and meet one of the following four Criteria for Evaluation: (a) that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; (b) that are associated with the lives or persons significant in our past; (c) that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or (d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.  Buildings and structures can be listed individually on the National Register or as a contributing structure to a National Register-listed historic district.

    In Pennsylvania, National Register nominations are submitted to and reviewed by the Bureau of Historic Preservation of PHMC.  (PHLF is one of the many groups/individuals qualified to complete and submit a National Register nomination for a structure or district.)  A property owner must consent to an individual National Register listing and, in the case of districts, a district will not be listed if a majority of the property owners object to the nomination.

    Listing on the National Register (1) identifies and honors historic properties of national significance; (2) provides federal preservation tax incentives, such as the 20% rehabilitation tax credit and a charitable contribution deduction for a preservation easement donation; (3) satisfies an eligibility requirement of many federal and state grant programs; and (4) requires government agencies, if there is a federal undertaking, to evaluate alternatives to mitigate adverse impacts on historic properties pursuant to Section 106 of the NHPA.  It does not place any restrictions or obligations on a property owner.


    There are more than 85,255 listings on the National Register and more than 1,616,138 total contributing structures.  For more information on the National Register and the application procedures, click here to visit PHMC’s website and visit the NPS’s website, here.

    City of Pittsburgh Historic Designation: Requires Approval Process for Exterior Changes

    Title 11 of the City of Pittsburgh (City) Code permits the historic designation of structures, districts, sites, and objects that meet one or more of the ten criteria listed in §1101.04.  Nominations are initially submitted to the City’s Historic Review Commission (HRC) for approval. Public hearings and votes are held by the HRC, the Planning Commission and the City Council to approve a nomination.

    Once designated, any new construction, demolition, or alteration of exterior architectural features which can be seen from a public street or way are subject to review and approval by the HRC.  A property owner must obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the HRC prior to commencing work.

    While City historic designation does provide a review process to ensure that exterior alterations are appropriate to a building or district, it does not provide a permanent protection.  Property owners may petition to have a building and/or district’s designation removed or apply for an economic hardship to circumvent the requirements of Title 11.  For example, in 2000, at the request of former Mayor Tom Murphy, the HRC approved the demolition of numerous buildings in the City-Designated Market Square historic district to make way for his Fifth/Forbes plan, that was ultimately defeated due to public protest.

    For more information on the City’s historic designation process and a list of City-Designated structures and districts, visit the HRC’s website.

    PHLF Historic Landmark Plaques: No Restrictions

    Since 1968, PHLF has been awarding Historic Landmark plaques to buildings, structures, districts and landscapes that meet the following conditions: (1) they are remarkable pieces of architecture, engineering, construction, landscape design, or planning, or impact a rich sense of history; (2) alterations, additions, or deterioration have not substantially lessened their value in the above respects; (3) they are at least 50 years old and located within 250 miles of Pittsburgh; and (4) they are not located in historic districts bearing a plaque (unless of exceptional individual significance).

    The Historic Landmark plaque is an honorary designation that identifies the site as a significant part of our local heritage, but it does not protect a building from alteration or demolition.  PHLF’s Historic Designation Committee generally meets once a year to review all nominations and recommend awards.  Since 1968, PHLF has awarded 546 Historic Landmark plaques.  For an application and more information, visit PHLF’s website.


    Preservation Easements: Offers Protection in Perpetuity

    While it is not a designation per se, one of the strongest tools for protecting a historic building is a preservation easement.  A preservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and a qualified organization, such as PHLF, that places permanent restrictions on the exterior of a building.  For example, changes may not be made to the façade of a building that are contrary to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation without the prior written approval of PHLF.

    Preservation easement agreements are recorded in the local deed registry office and run with the land.  For buildings listed on the National Register or contributing to a National Register historic district, a property owner may be eligible to receive a federal charitable contribution deduction for the donation of a preservation easement.  PHLF holds preservation easements on more than thirty (30) properties in five (5) counties.  For more information on preservation easements, visit PHLF’s website.

    Designation Summary

    To summarize, the various types of historic designations have different criteria and different impacts, but they all bring attention to our region’s rich architectural heritage, facilitate economic development, and encourage heritage tourism.


    Historic Designation Owner Consent Needed for Designation? Restriction of Property Rights? Section 106 Review? Eligible for Federal Tax Incentives?
    National Historic Landmark Yes.  A district will not be listed if more than 50% of the property owners object. No Yes, if federal funds or a federal action is involved.  Yes
    National Register of Historic Places Yes.  A district will not be listed if more than 50% of the property owners object. No Yes, if federal funds or a federal action is involved. Yes
    City Designation No, except for the nomination of a religious structure. Yes, a certificate of appropriateness must be obtained from the Historic Review Commission It depends.  If eligible for the National Register, a Section 106 review may be required. Contributing structures to local historic districts that have been certified by the NPS are eligible for federal tax incentives
    PHLF Historic Landmark Plaques Yes No It depends.  If eligible for the National Register, a Section 106 review may be required. No
    Preservation Easements Yes Yes It depends.  If eligible for the National Register, a Section 106 review may be required. No


  2. Grant to Help Return Saxonburg Main Street to 1850s

    Thursday, February 10, 2011
    By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Saxonburg’s Main Street program manager says he’s feeling “pretty blessed” by the news last month that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had come through with a $1.4 million grant.

    The money was both needed and expected. But, Raymond Rush said he was happy it was all official.

    “We’ve been blessed by PennDOT and beyond,” he said.

    Design and engineering work is under way for reconstruction of both sides of Main Street — a four-block section of the street that spans about 2,200 feet from Butler Street to Rebecca Street. Those costs are being covered by a $373,027 grant awarded in May by the Department of Community and Economic Development.

    Now, PennDOT has come through with a $1.4 million grant for construction of half of the project: from Pittsburgh Street west to Rebecca Street.

    The work will involve reconstructing sidewalks and curbs, and installing landscaping. Street lights that replicate old-style German lights will be installed.

    The first half of the project is to be under way in the second half of the year with finishing work in the first quarter of 2012, Mr. Rush said. Sometime early in 2012, he’s expecting to hear that PennDOT is coming through with the rest of the funding. The total project cost is estimated at $2.4 million. The second half of the project would start during the 2012 construction season. Mr. Rush predicted the job would be completed within a year’s time.

    He credits receipt of the grants to a partnership between the borough and the John Roebling’s Historic Saxonburg Society Inc., a nonprofit group that sponsors the Main Street program. The society is named for the town’s founder who invented wire cable and is famous for bridge design. One of his most notable projects was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

    Saxonburg’s Main Street is an official historic district on both state and national levels. There are 52 historic buildings in the four-block project area, including Mr. Roebling’s home. A native of Germany, he designed the borough.

    Mr. Rush said the reconstruction project will maintain the borough’s historic look while modernizing the infrastructure.

    “It will bring the 1850s look into modern society,” he said.

  3. Deal Reached to Save Historic Franklin County House

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Deal Reached to Save Historic Franklin County House

    A history-loving physician has worked out a deal to save an 18th century home in Mercersburg.

    Dr. Paul Orange said today the William Smith House will be taken apart piece by piece over the next several weeks and reassembled on a new site elsewhere in the Franklin County community.

    The future of the building has been in question since the structure and land on which it stands were acquired two years ago by a local volunteer fire company. The MMP&W Fire Co., which has its headquarters and garages next door to the house on Main Street, bought the property for expansion and had announced plans to demolish the building.

    That news resulted in the creation of a citizens group, the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House. Members say that events planned in the stone Ulster-style cottage in 1765 resulted in the earliest opposition to British rule in the American colonies and laid the groundwork for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

    Dr. Orange, who has a family medical practice outside Chambersburg, estimated that the relocation project will cost as much as $250,000. He has agreed to fund at least $50,000 of that amount.

    The first steps involve removing 19th- and 20-century additions to the structure, carefully taking apart and numbering stones and timbers from the core of the building and arranging for storage nearby. That process is likely to take several weeks, he said.

    No decision has been made on where the house will be rebuilt. Several suitable properties are vacant along and near the borough’s Main Street.

    Mercersburg is about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

  4. Around Town: Point of Realism Interferes With Preserving Arena

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011
    By Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Around Town: Point of Realism Interferes With Preserving Arena

    An architectural superstar of its time. And now?

    The Civic Arena can still pack ’em in. It was standing-room-only last week at the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission meeting on Ross Street, just down the hill from the vacated hockey palace.

    Some very smart people made a polished and impassioned presentation that showed the 49-year-old Igloo to be an architectural superstar, an engineering marvel and the symbol of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance, rising just as the city’s skies were clearing.

    What nobody offered, though, is what practical use it has now. In the past quarter-century, three multipurpose arenas of ascending size — the 5,400-seat Palumbo Center, the 12,500-seat Petersen Events Center and the 19,000-seat Consol Energy Center — have been built within two miles of the place.

    This city needs another arena like it needs a hole in the Hill.

    To be fair, it wasn’t the job of preservationists this day to offer a practical new use for the empty building. The question was whether the Civic Arena should be designated a historic structure.

    But if the commission votes next month to grant historic designation (preliminary approval last month is no guarantee), that would prevent the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority from demolishing the arena. That would muck up the Penguins’ development plans for the 28-acre site, and the most prominent Hill District leaders don’t want those plans blocked. Residents have been waiting 50 years to get their neighborhood back.

    Both preservationists and those who want to see office buildings, stores and about 1,200 new homes built at the site agree on one thing: The way the Hill District was treated when the arena site was cleared in the 1950s was a civic crime. About 1,300 buildings, 400 businesses and 8,000 lower Hill residents got the heave-ho. Promises of better housing were never kept, and the highway ditches and largest park-for-pay lot in Western Pennsylvania are the neighborhood amputation scars.

    Rob Pfaffmann, the Downtown architect who has spearheaded the Reuse the Igloo campaign, suggests that keeping the building can help future generations remember that painful history. He quoted the native son who did the most to celebrate the neighborhood, the late playwright August Wilson, who said, “My plays insist that we should not forget or toss away our history.”

    Mr. Pfaffmann even broke out a Rick Sebak video on the arena. (The video player, like the Igloo’s acoustics, went awry shortly.) But neither Mr. Pfaffmann nor the city’s premier architectural storyteller, Franklin Toker, could persuade Hill leaders that this mammoth steel assemblage would be anything but a humongous kink in plans to reknit the neighborhood into Downtown.

    City Councilman Dan Lavelle said the commission’s mission statement also speaks to the preservation of neighborhoods. He hoped it would pay attention to community residents rather than those with fond memories of coming to the lower Hill “to listen to the Beach Boys at the expense of those who lived there.”

    This “case study of urban renewal gone wrong,” which isolated and divided the Hill, is “not the sort of history we wish to preserve,” Mr. Lavelle said. Preserving it, he said, would be like flying Confederate flags on state buildings in the South.

    Paying $50,000 a month to maintain it, or tens of millions of dollars to modify it for a new use, would not be a smart move for a strapped city, he concluded.

    What do you do with a spare arena? Modification plans all seem a bit like getting a bear to ride a bicycle. It can be done, but that’s not really what either bears or bicycles are for.

    What about saving part of it? TV actor David Conrad, in a videotaped presentation, said he understood why neighborhood residents want the arena erased, but saving a piece could “transform an insult into pride.” Preservation of a remnant would be akin to the iconic murals of saints, he said, which often show the martyred figures holding the very weapons that killed them.

    Sala Udin, who formerly held the council seat in the Hill, didn’t think the neighborhood would oppose a “remnant that stayed as some kind of icon.” But full preservation would block development plans.

    Penguins President David Morehouse said preserving a remnant, as was done with the Forbes Field outfield wall, is possible, but “you can’t have half of a dome in the middle of your development.”

    The Hill’s comeback has to be the primary goal. That started more than 20 years with the hugely successful Crawford Square townhouse development just east of the arena. With gasoline prices soaring, building another 1,200 new homes in the heart of the region is about the best news a shrinking city could get.

  5. Picketing Planned to Save Historic Mercersburg House

    Saturday, February 05, 2011
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    When the British government failed to protect their homes and farms, residents of Pennsylvania’s Conococheague Valley gathered in 1765 at a house in what is now Mercersburg to organize themselves into a militia.

    That historic house may be demolished to make room for a volunteer fire company’s expansion, and some 21st century residents plan to gather this weekend to oppose that plan.

    “It will be a peaceful protest,” said Tim McCown, a spokesman for the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House. “We want the fire board to see that the community is behind saving the house.”

    Participants will gather at 8 a.m. today, Sunday and Monday in front of the property on Mercersburg’s Main Street. They will hand out fliers describing the building’s history and will outline efforts to rescue or relocate it.

    The house and land on which it stands belong to the MMP&W Fire Co., which acquired them in August 2009. The initials in its name stand for the Franklin County communities it serves: Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren. They are about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

    The site is next to the fire company’s aging garage and headquarters. Fire officials have said they were interested in only the land. Plans to demolish the building, however, have been on hold since a Chambersburg physician came forward with a plan to relocate the house to a vacant lot across the street. That property had been occupied by a gas station. Dr. Paul Orange has said he was willing to cover the costs of moving the building if it will save it from demolition.

    Dr. Orange placed $10,000 in an escrow account as a show of good faith while sporadic talks have continued with the firefighters and the demolition firm. The parties, however, have been unable to come to an agreement.

    The relocation plan has support from Mercersburg Mayor James Zeger and some members of borough council. Dr. Orange said he was hoping to enlist their aid in setting up another meeting with the firefighters.

    Supporters of the house are worried, however, by signs of activity around the Smith house that they fear are preparations to start the demolition. A chain-link fence was put up Thursday.

    A spokesman for the fire company did not return calls seeking comment.

    William Smith was an 18th-century businessman and local magistrate. His home, originally a one-story stone cottage, has been altered and renovated extensively in the 250 years since it was built.

    His house was the meeting place for mostly Scotch-Irish settlers who armed and organized themselves into militia units. Their purpose was to protect themselves from raids by Native Americans who opposed white settlement in the region.

    William Smith’s brother-in-law, James Smith, took armed resistance one step further. Among the settlers’ complaints was that Philadelphia merchants were sending arms and ammunition to Fort Pitt, knowing that some of those weapons would be sold to hostile Native American warriors.

    Eight years before Bostonians dressed up like Indians to throw British tea into Boston Harbor, James Smith led disguised settlers in a raid on pack trains heading west. Smith’s “Black Boys” confiscated and destroyed supplies they thought might aid their Indian foes.

    When the British sent troops to nearby Fort Loudon to protect the traders, the soldiers found themselves surrounded and besieged by angry frontiersmen.

    Those actions, years before the Boston Tea Party, were the first shots of the American Revolution, Mr. McCown said. The activities of the frontier militia also laid the groundwork for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms, he said.

  6. Civic Arena a ‘Symbol of Genocide’

    By Bill Vidonic
    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Former City Councilman Sala Udin was among the 8,000 residents and businesses in the lower Hill District who were displaced in the 1950s for construction of the Civic Arena.

    On Wednesday, he urged Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission to reject a push to grant the arena protection under the city’s historic structure preservation law.

    “This is more a symbol of genocide than a historic icon,” Udin said. “Demolish the arena and let the promise begin.”

    During more than four hours of testimony, preservationists said that the arena’s distinct domed shape, its engineering and its place in the fabric of Pittsburgh’s history should spare it from a wrecking ball.

    The city-county Sports and Exhibition Authority, which owns the building, and city Planning Commission have voted to demolish the building. The SEA had hoped to start in April, but the nomination for historic status has delayed that.

    “There’s nothing like it anywhere else,” said Eloise McDonald of the Hill District, one of the people who nominated the structure in November. “That’s what makes it historical.”

    Franklin Toker, a University of Pittsburgh art and architecture professor, said development and construction of the arena in the 1950s and ’60s coincided with “the most exhilarating, most creative and most ambitious moment this city has ever known: the Pittsburgh Renaissance.”

    “It is the branding image for Pittsburgh, right under our noses,” Toker said.

    A 2007 agreement between the Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the sports franchise development rights for the 28-acre site.

    Various representatives outlined a long-term redevelopment plan — one in which the arena is leveled — to make way for residential, retail and commercial development, creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.

    City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District, said there’s no redevelopment plan for the arena itself.

    “The hard truth is that the Civic Arena remains a symbol of failed public policy and a continual deterrence to economic viablility for the Hill District community. Historic designation and preservation, for many reasons, is not the correct decision. On the contrary, what might be more appropriate at this time is an apology for the historic injustices that were heaped upon the Hill District when it was torn asunder nearly a half-century ago.”

    The city rejected historic status for the structure in 2002. The Historic Review Commission could make a recommendation next month; the city’s Planning Commission and City Council still must consider the request, a process that likely will stretch into summer.

  7. Demolition of Iron City Ice House OK’d

    Thursday, February 03, 2011
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The Historic Review Commission Wednesday approved demolition of the original ice house at the Iron City Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville, one of a collection of buildings on the site that has the city’s protection of historic status.

    The one-story building, which sits behind the original brewhouse, is dilapidated. Brewery CEO Tim Hickman said he would not consider an estimated $750,000 it would take to restore it.

    Acting commission chair Ernie Hogan said that the Pittsburgh Historical and Museum Commission and a preservation planner advised the commission that if the building is properly documented it can be demolished without jeopardizing the rest of the site’s potential for placement on the National Register of Historic Places or the tax credits that would go with its redevelopment.

    Preservationists argued against any demolition at the brewery site before completion of a master plan.

    The commission also approved demolition of an unused garage in Deutschtown, to be replaced by a new Duquesne Light valve station, with pipes and conductors beneath it. The original plan to build the station in Allegheny Commons Park was abandoned after strong neighborhood outcry.

  8. Fate of Civic Arena Debated

    Panel considering historic designation for Hill landmark
    Thursday, February 03, 2011
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    John Oyler, right, an engineer, talks Wednesday about how important the Civic Arena is as an example of structural engineering because it was done in the days before computer design. Speaking before the Historic Review Commission, he described how remarkable and unique the retractable dome is. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

    To those who want to see it saved, the Civic Arena is an engineering marvel, an irreplaceable icon and a testament to Pittsburgh know-how.

    But to those who want to see it go, the arena is “more a symbol of genocide” than a civic treasure, an aging relic with bad pipes, lousy acoustics and high maintenance costs.

    So it went for more than four hours Wednesday during a public hearing before the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission to determine whether the 49-year-old landmark should be designated as a city historic structure.

    The commission, in a 5-1 vote last month, already gave preliminary approval to the designation, which would prevent the city-Allegheny Sports & Exhibition Authority from demolishing the building as part of a plan by the Pittsburgh Penguins to redevelop the site.

    It is scheduled to take a final vote next month. Preliminary approval is no guarantee the arena will survive. In 2002, the panel gave similar approval to the designation only to reject it in a final vote.

    Perhaps that’s the reason the nominator, Hill District resident Eloise McDonald, backed by Preservation Pittsburgh and Reuse the Igloo, and the SEA and the Penguins each spent more than an hour Wednesday advancing their arguments for or against designation.

    Ms. McDonald and her allies believe the arena meets six of the 10 criteria that make a structure worthy of designation, including its location as a site for significant historic events, its exemplification of a rare, unique or innovative architectural style, and its unique location and distinctive physical appearance.

    Only one of the 10 must be met to get a designation.

    Franklin Toker, an architecture professor and the author of “Pittsburgh: A New Portrait,” argued that the arena “is, historically, the most representative building now standing in the city of Pittsburgh,” more so than the Cathedral of Learning, the county courthouse or the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

    He said the arena’s planning and construction “coincided exactly with the most exhilarating, most creative and most ambitious moment this city has ever known: the Pittsburgh renaissance.”

    Others cited the arena’s retractable dome, one of the few in the world, or the engineering that made it work as reasons the old building should be saved.

    Shawn Gallagher, the SEA’s attorney, said the agency doesn’t believe the arena meets even one of the 10 criteria for nomination.

    He and others who support demolition said the arena requires millions of dollars in capital improvements, doesn’t meet accessibility standards and has no viable future as an entertainment venue.

    “It clearly is not worthy of preservation,” Mr. Gallagher said.

    City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said the arena, for many in the Hill, represents failed public policy, one that destroyed homes and businesses and displaced thousands of residents.

    “This is not the sort of history we wish to preserve,” he said.

    The hearing drew a number of other Hill residents who made similar comments, including former city Councilman Sala Udin, who said the arena is “more a symbol of genocide than a historic icon.”

    And while some remember favorite concerts or exciting hockey games when they go into the arena, Hill resident Angela Howze recalls something else.

    “Every time I go in there I remember it once was my grandmother’s house,” she said.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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