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Category Archive: Preservation Alert

  1. Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House

    Friday, December 24, 2010
    By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Julia Tomasic of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society is trying to save the last great Victorian home in Carrick, at 1425 Brownsville Road, by nominating it for historic status. Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

    At one corner of Brownsville Road and The Boulevard in Carrick sits state Rep. Harry Readshaw’s funeral home. Across The Boulevard, a late-19th-century Queen Anne house is the last of the grand Victorians remaining on the main drag.

    Its owners want to sell and may have a buyer in Mr. Readshaw, who said he is interested in buying the property and that demolishing it to provide parking “might be a decision to be considered.”

    Mr. Readshaw’s interest has spurred the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society to try to save the house.

    Historical society member John Rudiak documented the property and this week nominated it for historical designation. He said demolition of the house would put an end to any evidence of Carrick’s Victorian heritage.

    The nomination would stall any plan to demolish the house until the Historic Review Commission could determine whether it is eligible, based on a set of federal criteria. Eligibility ultimately must be decided by Pittsburgh City Council. Historic status regulates changes to a building’s exterior but not to its interior.

    Richard C. Gasior, whose wife’s family has owned the four-bedroom home since 1952, said the family needs to sell it and has been advised that $150,000 would be a fair price. “If I can’t get anybody to buy it, I’m going to go with Readshaw,” he said.

    Known as the Wigman House, it was built in the late 1800s by William Wigman, owner of Wigman Lumber on the South Side. The nomination states that it is “the last remaining example of several homes of the wealthy South Side gentry who lived in Carrick.”

    The current owners gave a tour to members of the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society several weeks ago, said Julia Tomasic, a founding member of the society.

    “We’d love to buy it, but there are just three of us” in the society, which has no money, Ms. Tomasic said. “It has a brand-new furnace, a slate roof and the interior woodwork and walls in original hardwood, with six fireplaces, including one converted for wood. Nothing has been done to alter it.”

    According to the Pittsburgh code for historic preservation, a property must meet at least one of 10 criteria to be eligible for preservation.

    The nomination papers cite several possible eligibilities. One is that the home, a classic American Queen Anne, has not been modified. Its features include an asymmetrical facade, front-facing gable, overhanging eaves, polygonal tower, shaped and Dutch gables, a porch covering part or all of the front facade, a second-story porch or balconies, pedimented porches, dentils, spindles, differing wall textures including fish scales, and oriel and bay windows.

    “We heard rumors for a year that Harry [Readshaw] would buy it to tear it down, and we thought it was a joke because we consider Harry a friend of the neighborhood,” Ms. Tomasic said. “Parking? You park on the street. We’re city people.”

    “It’s not like I’m sitting here champing at the bit with a sledge hammer,” Mr. Readshaw, D-Carrick, said, “but business is business and any business is looking to improve its services.”

    “And if we don’t get it, what happens to it?” he said. “Somebody dying to live in a big Victorian who would be a wonderful neighbor would be a positive.” A Section 8 landlord is a more likely prospect, he said, adding, “The 29th Ward has been inundated with Section 8 housing.”

    Brownsville Road once had several grand Victorian homes owned by prominent businessmen. As a hilltop neighborhood, Carrick was a refuge from the smoky city. Through much of the 20th century, it was solidly middle class and owner-occupied. It remains so, but some of its stability is eroding.

    In its argument for historic status, the historical society calls the Wigman House the most prominent home in Carrick, “our crown jewel Victorian.” Losing it would be a shock, the document reads, and “one more loss that we cannot sustain.”

  2. This Beautiful Structure Must Be Saved

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011 05:00 AM

    *Open Letters is a place where the letters to the editor published by the Post-Gazette are offered up for broader comment and discussion.

    The late 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian house on Brownsville Road in Carrick (“Some in Carrick Strive to Save Victorian House,” Dec. 24) is a gem that must be preserved.

    The Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society has done a yeoman’s job by documenting the property known as the Wigman House and nominating it for historical designation. One hopes that other area historical societies and individual philanthropists will join together to assure its salvation.

    While I was growing up on Madeline Street in Carrick, dozens of comparable homes in the area reflected the personalities of the moguls who built them on high ground in order to contemplate the night sky burned red by the glow of steel mills blazing far below.

    My family’s physician, Dr. Askins, was able to purchase one such mansion on Brownsville Road during the Depression. The exterior, painted contrasting shades of green, emphasized the eerie atmosphere that would have captivated the Addams Family.

    Each time we visited his office, I was startled by creaking sounds — veritable moans — coming from one of the turrets. When I asked him about them, he tossed me a sly smile. “Those are the ghosts of the original owners,” he said. “They cannot bear to leave the tower and lose sight of the city they built.”

    Just as those ghosts clung to the past, so must the ghosts of the last remaining Victorian mansion in Carrick be appeased.

    Scottsdale, Ariz.

  3. Washington County Farm on Statewide Danger List

    Monday, December 20, 2010
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    A Washington County farm that has been operated by the same family for more than 200 years has been included on a list of 10 historic sites most at risk across Pennsylvania.

    Longwall coal mining could harm several historic buildings at Plantation Plenty in Independence Township, according to Preservation Pennsylvania. The nonprofit organization released its list of endangered properties on Thursday.

    State and federal environmental and preservation regulations require an analysis of the impact of commercial activities like mining on historic properties, according to Erin Hammerstedt, a field representative for Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    “Our goal would be to keep longwall mining out of this historic farm,” she said.

    Preservation Pennsylvania is a private membership organization that seeks to protect historically and architecturally significant properties. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, created by Congress in 1949, plays a similar role across the country.

    Plantation Plenty has been operated since 1800 by Isaac Manchester and his descendants. Joseph Pagliarulo and his wife, Margie, who is a Manchester descendant, acquired the 400 acres in 2005 and now run it as an organic farm, producing milk, beef, pork and vegetables.

    The Manchester family had sold coal rights to the property in 1915, except for three acres under the farmhouse and other nearby buildings. The mining rights are owned by Penn Ridge Coal, a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners, a Tulsa, Okla.-based coal producer with $1.2 billion in revenues.

    While longwall mining would never occur directly under the farmstead, major mine subsidence nearby still could damage the structures, Ms. Hammerstedt said. Another possible side-effect of the mining could be to degrade or ruin the farm’s water supply by fracturing the rock that feeds its springs and wells, according to Preservation Pennsylvania.

    Penn Ridge has not yet applied for mining permits, Mr. Pagliarulo said, but he fears “it is just a matter of time.” He said it is not financially possible for him and his wife to buy back the coal rights.

    An end to farming on the Manchester property would represent a cultural and environmental loss, he said.

    “This property has been in my wife’s family for more than 200 years,” he said. “A visit here lets you step back in time … and see how 18th and 19th century farming took place.”

    Two other Western Pennsylvania properties or areas are on the preservation organization’s list.

    Holland Hall in Meadville, which has been vacant for 15 years, is in danger of demolition, according to Preservation Pennsylvania. The poor condition of the building — many interior walls and electrical, plumbing and heating mixtures have been removed — make it attractive to a buyer who would tear it down and replace it with a new structure.

    Holland Hall was built in 1899 by A.C. Huidekoper, a Civil War veteran who made fortunes in coal, iron, oil and railroad businesses. The Gilded Age mansion was built around a smaller red-brick building constructed in 1804. Mr. Huidekoper and his wife, Frances, had lived in the smaller structure before the larger house was built.

    Following the death of Mrs. Huidekoper, Holland Hall was sold and used as a fraternity house from 1935 to 1995. Plans to redevelop it as a conference center and bed-and-breakfast fell through.

    “In order to prevent the demolition or continued neglect of Holland Hall, a buyer interested in acquiring and rehabilitating this architecturally significant building is needed,” according to “Pennsylvania at Risk 2010,” the organization’s newsletter.

    Plans for a wind farm on the crest of Evitts Mountain in Bedford County’s Bedford Township could endanger a rural historic district known as Dutch Corner, according to Preservation Pennsylvania.

    Dutch Corner has more than 30 farmsteads and a historic school, church and several cemeteries.

    Plans to build 24 wind turbines on the ridge above the valley would require blasting and filling to construct concrete foundation pads and to bury a transmission cable, according to the organization. It also warns that noise from the wind turbines would disturb the neighborhood’s rural character while the blasting could affect water supplies.

    Preservation Pennsylvania does not oppose either longwall mining or wind farms in general, Ms. Hammerstedt said. “There are places where these activities are a good thing,” she said. “But there are other areas where these projects are not appropriate, because they would endanger historic buildings or landscape features.”

    Preservation Pennsylvania’s 2010 list of at-risk sites is available on its Web site,


    December 16, 2010

    Preservation Pennsylvania announces the annual listing of the Commonwealth’s most endangered historic resources.

    Preservation Pennsylvania, a statewide non-profit historic preservation group, released its annual Pennsylvania At Risk list today, which highlights 11 endangered resources.

    Pennsylvania At Risk serves as a representative sampling of the Commonwealth’s most endangered historic resources. For the purpose of the list, endangerment is defined as threat of demolition, significant deterioration, vandalism, alteration, and/or loss of its historic setting. It is Preservation Pennsylvania’s belief that publishing this list draws statewide attention to the plight of Pennsylvania’s historic resources, promotes local action to protect resources, and encourages additional state funding for historic sites.

    Resources included on the Pennsylvania At Risk 2010 list include:

    East Stroudsburg Railroad Station (East Stroudsburg, Monroe County)
    Built in 1864 as the Stroudsburg station on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the East Stroudsburg Railroad Station is a landmark in the community. The depot’s presence led to rapid commercial growth, establishing Crystal Street as the business hub of a rapidly expanding community. Thanks to the efforts of East Stroudsburg’s residents and supporters, and the partnerships between community groups, non-profits, private corporations and individuals and the borough, the building was saved earlier this year after demolition of the station had begun. However, initial funding to save the 1883 building only covers partial reconstruction and restoration, so efforts to secure the long-term future of the station will need to continue.

    U.S.S. Olympia (Philadelphia, Philadelphia County)
    Built by the United Iron Works of San Francisco in 1890-1893 and commissioned in 1895, the cruiser U.S.S. Olympia is a National Historic Landmark that represents critical points in American history. She served as the flagship of the Asiatic Squadron in the Spanish-American War, and it was from the Olympia’s bridge on May 1, 1898 during the Battle of Manila that
    Commodore George Dewey issued the famous command: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Its final mission was bringing home the body of World War I’s Unknown Soldier from

    France in 1921. It was decommissioned in 1922, then opened as a museum in 1958. Since taking ownership of the ship in 1996, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia has spent $5.5 million on repairs, inspections and maintenance of the Olympia; yet, without major a refurbishment and plans for its future use/preservation, the Olympia will either sink at its moorings, be sold for scrap, or be scuttled for an artificial reef off Cape May, New Jersey. While efforts to secure private or public funding for the project have been unsuccessful to date, the National Park Service has begun working with stakeholders to seek a positive preservation outcome. The U.S.S. Olympia was scheduled to close to the public November 22, 2010. However, it was recently announced that she will remain open until January.

    Schuylkill School (Schuylkill Township, Chester County)
    Schuylkill School was built in 1930 and brought children together from a number of area one- and two-room schoolhouses. Construction of the school was made possible through the philanthropy of Frank B. Foster, who helped fund three consolidated schools in Chester County (the other two of which are still in use). In 2002, the Schuylkill School was determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places; that same year the Phoenixville Area School District began to consider the school’s demolition. Despite studies that have identified several potential new uses for the building, the Phoenixville Area School District plans to begin demolishing the building in December 2010. The ground where the historic school now stands will become a parking lot.

    Stewartstown Railroad (Stewartstown to New Freedom, York County)
    From 1884 to 1972, the Stewartstown Railroad connected farmers and manufacturers to markets in Baltimore. The Stewartstown Railroad remains in business under its original charter of 1884–the only such operation in existence that did not merge with another railroad or was subjected to any form of corporate reorganization. Seven railroad structures along the 7.4-mile line have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the line itself has been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register. The financial generosity of George Hart, President of the Stewartstown Railroad, kept the company operational through recent tough times; however, this resulted in a substantial lien against the railroad. Arrangements to forgive the $352,000 sum were not made in Mr. Hart’s estate plans as expected. Now, unless the Bucks County Historical Society, beneficiary of Mr. Hart’s estate, will agree to defer payment of the lien for several years, the Stewartstown Railroad would be forced to liquidate its assets to raise the $352,000 that it owes.

    Holland Hall “Huidekoper Mansion” (Meadville, Crawford County) Holland Hall was built by Arthur Clark (A.C.) Huidekoper in 1899 and it survives as Meadville’s only Gilded Age mansion. Holland Hall is currently threatened with demolition. Following the death of Frances Reynolds Huidekoper in 1932, Holland Hall was occupied by Allegheny College’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity who occupied it from 1935 until 1995. It was then sold and has remained vacant for fifteen years. In order to prevent the demolition or continued neglect of Holland Hall, a buyer interested in acquiring and rehabilitating this architecturally significant building is needed.

    “Plantation Plenty” Isaac Manchester Farm (Avella, Independence Township, Washington County) Plantation Plenty is a farm of just over 400 acres that has been owned and occupied by the members of the Manchester family for 210 years. The house, completed by Isaac Manchester in 1815, is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Western Pennsylvania. The property is currently operating as a multi-faceted organic farm, producing milk, beef, pork, eggs and a variety of fruits and vegetables. While much of the significance of Plantation Plenty is clearly visible through its buildings, it also contains potentially important prehistoric and historic archaeological sites. Despite the property’s importance, it is now threatened by longwall mining. Subsidence caused by longwall mining under the farm, which causes the ground to drop between 4 and 6 feet at the surface, may cause severe damage to the historic buildings, and will fracture the rock that forms springs and wells which may alter or eliminate them. In addition, a large ventilation shaft is proposed immediately adjacent to the 3-acre protected farmstead. This would be a visual intrusion on the historic farm, and would alter the farm’s setting by introducing noise inappropriate to the quiet, agrarian landscape.

    122-124 and 126 West Miner Street (West Chester, Chester County)
    The National Register listed West Chester Historic District (Boundary Increase) is locally significant as a governmental and commercial center that reflects period architectural styles and the community’s development. Residential structures built circa 1844 and 1837, respectively, the buildings at 122-124 and 126 West Miner Street in West Chester are contributing elements to the West Chester Historic District. Both buildings are currently threatened with demolition. They are owned by the adjacent First Presbyterian Church, which proposes to tear them down to make room for additional facilities. The current proposal is a complete reversal from the Church’s originally presented plan which incorporated the two buildings into the expanded facility. The demolition of these two historic buildings will result in a significant loss of the community’s historic fabric and will erode the historic character of the larger community.

    Laverock Hill “Sims” Estate (Cheltenham & Springfield Townships, Montgomery County)
    One of the last intact Gilded Age country estates in Montgomery County, the centerpiece of the Laverock Hill Estate is an 11,000 square foot residence created in a neo-Georgian style. The 42-acre property also includes a 19th century stone dwelling, the farm’s original horse and cattle barn, the former dairy barn (now a residence), and four additional dwellings. The Laverock Hill mansion has been vacant for nearly three years, as have the stable, carriage house and greenhouse. In early 2008, Hansen Properties, LLC acquired the 42-acre tract, and proposed a development that would include 216 residential units targeted for sale/rental to adults age 55 and over. No plans have been submitted yet for the portion of the property in Springfield Township, but the developer has expressed an interest in building at least 120 cluster housing units with requisite parking, roads and utilities on that portion of the estate. The property has been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, however, it is not located in a local historic district that is regulated by a historic preservation ordinance. In an attempt to preserve the site, over 150 neighboring families have informally organized into a group called Save Laverock Hill. Their goal is to have the current permit application denied, and to work to find an alternative plan for the use of the property.

    Dutch Corner Rural Historic District (Bedford Township, Bedford County)
    The Dutch Corner Rural Historic District includes over 30 historic farmsteads as well as a church, a school and multiple cemeteries. Evitts Mountain is a dominant natural feature that clearly forms the physical, visual and legal edge of the Dutch Corner district. Atlantic Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, proposes to develop 24 40-story wind turbines in a chain along the top of Evitts Mountain, surrounding Dutch Corner on two sides. The development will involve removal of trees from the mountain, as well as blasting and bulldozing rock then pulverizing it for use as fill to flatten the mountain top for the turbine pads, access road and cable trench. In addition to reshaping the mountain, the blasting will fracture the bedrock and disrupt the flow of groundwater to the area. Operation of the wind turbines will result in a noise increase of 15 to 20 dBA, replacing the natural sounds of a rural community with constant noise. This development will result in drastic changes to the Dutch Corner Rural Historic District, and will severely compromise qualities of the district that contribute to its significance.

    Eagles Mere Historic District (Eagles Mere, Sullivan County)

    Eagles Mere Historic District is an intact turn-of-the-century resort community consisting of cottages, boat houses, commercial buildings, churches and outbuildings situated around a natural spring-fed lake 2,100 feet above sea level in the Allegheny Mountains. The district also includes Eagles Mere Beach, hiking trails, pristine wooded areas, and is surrounded by thousands of acres of forest.  Since its establishment in the 1880s, people have been working to preserve Eagles Mere as a secluded retreat for visitors and residents. However, the setting of this historic district is currently threatened by natural gas extraction from Marcellus shale.  Unlike many places whose economy could benefit from natural gas extraction, if the District’s water supply/quality is damaged, its beautiful setting is altered, or the peaceful, secluded nature of the area is disrupted by increased truck traffic and the operation of heavy equipment, those very features that make Eagles Mere attractive and economically viable will be lost.

    Neuweiler Brewery (Allentown, Lehigh County)

    Construction of this large brewery began in 1911 and the facility opened in 1913 producing traditional German style beers.  Designed by architects Peuckert and Wunder to satisfy the demands of owner Louis F. Neuweiler, the brewery was more elaborately adorned than most industrial facilities of its day.  The company closed its doors in 1968, and the site has remained mostly vacant since then.  Underutilization of the buildings has led to their neglect and deterioration, which threaten the resource’s survival.  The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Allentown (RACA) now owns the property.  Recognizing its significance, they have conducted a study that shows that the vast majority of the complex is still structurally sounds.  RACA is taking initial steps to facilitate rehabilitation of the brewery, but a developer will be needed to complete the rehabilitation and put the building back in use to prevent further deterioration or the need for demolition.

    Updates on Previously Listed Properties

    The Pennsylvania At Risk list also includes updates on previously listed properties. Articles about the J. W. Cooper High School Shenandoah, Schuylkill County (PA At Risk 2001); Saylor Cement Kilns Coplay, Lehigh County (PA At Risk 2005); and Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia (PA At Risk 2009) are featured in the 2010 issue.  For additional information on updates, please see the attached link for the Pennsylvania At Risk publication or contact Preservation Pennsylvania at 717-234-2310.

    The Pennsylvania At Risk 2010 list is released in partnership with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Committee ( Preservation Pennsylvania is a statewide, not-for-profit, educational and advocacy historic preservation organization and serves as a statewide voice on historic preservation issues.  For more information, visit the website at or contact Preservation Pennsylvania at 717-234-2310.

  5. Jones’ Cresson Home May Avoid Razing

    Saturday, November 20, 2010
    By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    A tentative sales deal has been reached for the Cresson house built by Pittsburgh steelmaker B.F. Jones in 1887-88. Patricia Lowry/Post-Gazette

    Cambria County’s Benjamin Franklin Jones cottage may have found its angels, and it didn’t have to look far.

    The Cresson Area Historical Association, which has owned the 14-room, Queen Anne-style house since 1990, has a tentative agreement to sell it to Andrew and Carrie Dziabo, who grew up nearby and live just a few minutes away.

    The tentative agreement, reached Friday, appears to have the blessing of Cresson Township supervisors, who heard the couple outline their plans at a township meeting earlier this month.

    “We’re still working on it,” said Mr. Dziabo (pronounced zay-bo). “There are issues that need to be worked out, but it’s looking promising.”

    The dilapidated house has been under threat of demolition since a Cambria County judge approved its razing in late 2008. Supervisors had told the historical association the house could be torn down after Sept. 30.

    A member of the historical group wrote in an e-mail that the house would be sold for a nominal fee, with the new owners also paying the township’s legal expenses incurred during the long court proceedings. Mr. Dziabo referred questions about sale price to the township solicitor, who was unavailable Friday.

    Mr. Dziabo grew up a block away from the Jones cottage, in a historic house that also was part of the Mountain House resort grounds. He worked with his father, civil engineer Michael Dziabo, on restoring that house, and the two plan to collaborate on this one.

    While Andrew Dziabo, who works for a power company, has admired the Jones house since he was a child, it wasn’t until the historical group offered tours in the spring that he was able to see the interior.

    “The house isn’t in as bad shape as I thought,” he said. “It’s actually very sturdy inside. There is some water damage that ate the plaster in a lot of the rooms, but as far as the structure goes, it seems pretty sound and sturdy. The floors don’t even creak.”

    The Dziabos intend to restore the exterior and preserve as much of the interior woodwork as they can.

    “The whole appeal of it to my wife and me is the character of the Victorian-style home,” he said, adding that its ornate, well-preserved foyer and staircase “would be very easy to restore. It’s just a matter of elbow grease.”

    The Dziabos expect to know soon whether the Jones cottage is theirs.

    “The township wants to have this issue to bed by the next [supervisors] meeting.”

  6. Buying Here: Larimer

    Saturday, November 20, 2010
    By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Heavenly Vision Ministries and parsonage, formerly known as the Our Lady Help of Christians in the Larimer section of Pittsburgh, has a 6,000-square-foot rectory and a banquet hall in the lower level. It's on the market for $169,900. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

    Our Lady Help of Christians in Larimer was barely 5 years old when fire ripped through it in 1905, destroying the church at the corner of Meadow and Turrett streets. The Italian immigrants who had guided its construction in 1898, though, were a resolute bunch.

    Within a year they’d rebuilt the Baroque-style structure, and until it closed in 1992, Help of Christians served as a center of Italian-American religious and social life, hosting not just Catholic Masses but everything from the annual celebration in honor of St. Agnello Abate to an array of sporting activities for neighborhood kids.

    The ceiling and plaster walls have peeling paint at the former Our Lady of Help Christians church in Larimer. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

    Like many churches in the city, however, its parish aged and dwindled and was merged in the 1990s with five others to form St. Charles Lwanga parish in Lincoln-Lemington. In 1995, the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese sold the church, which has a banquet hall in the lower level, and adjacent rectory to Heavenly Vision Ministries.

    Three years ago, Heavenly Vision put 6513 Meadow St. back on the market, at first quietly through word of mouth, and then last year officially for $169,000 through Coldwell Banker Real Estate’s Fox Chapel office (; MLS No. 838378; 412-963-7655).

    At a glance
    • Website:
    • Size: .445 square miles
    • Population: 2,602 (2000 census)
    • School district: Pittsburgh Public,
    • Enrollment: About 28,000
    • Average 2010 SAT scores: (Peabody High School) 379 verbal; 410 math; 380 writing
    • Taxes for a property assessed at $100,000 *: $2,870; City: $1,080 (10.8 mills); School district: $1,392 (13.92 mills); County: $398 (4.69 mills)
    • Wage tax: 3 percent (1 percent to the city, 2 percent to the school district)
    • Bet you didn’t know: Originally settled by Germans in the mid-1800s, Larimer was Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy” until the 1960s. It is named for railroad magnate and radical abolitionist General William Larimer, who built a manor home overlooking East Liberty along a path that would eventually become known as Larimer Avenue.
    * Includes the Act 50 Homestead Exclusion, which reduces assessed market value by $15,000 for county taxes.

    The cupola is missing stained-glass windows. J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

    Time has not been kind to Help of Christians, which could accommodate up to 1,000 worshippers in the nave and balcony in its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s. The amount of repairs necessary to breathe life back into the property are pretty extensive.

    There is no glass in its long, arched windows and holes in the roof. The coved ceiling and plaster walls are peeling paint. Vandals have broken the pews and stolen the pipes from the organ. Carpeting is matted with dust, debris and pigeon feathers. The hand-painted frescoes that brightened the chancel are so badly faded and tarnished you almost can’t tell they were ever there. There’s no heat or water.

    “People go in an ooh and aah over the architecture, but it’s a broken structure,” says Realtor Ted Harchick, who shares the “as-is” listing with Dan Boehler.

    Adding insult to injury are the many thefts that have stripped the space of most everything of architectural significance. Only a handful of the dozens of original stained-glass windows remain. And it’s only because they’re too heavy to lift that looters also didn’t carry away the marble communion rails in the chancel.

    Most heartbreaking is the massive circular window that crowned the front door. Somehow, the robbers managed to sneak the stained glass out of the wood framing in the stealth of night.

    Vandals also have trashed the 6,000-square-foot rectory, which during Heavenly Vision Ministries’ tenure housed Family Options Foster Care, in addition to church offices. The property’s current market value is $256,400 ($172,900 for the church and $83,500 for the rectory). Taxes are in arrears on the rectory.

    “It’s not for the faint of heart,” admits Mr. Harchick. “We need a risk-taker.”

    On the plus side is its location in Larimer. Developments such as Bakery Square, a new “lifestyle center” in the old Nabisco plant on Penn Avenue, are helping to make one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods attractive to national retailers and other businesses. UPMC, for instance, is planning to open a technology development center there by the end of the year, and Free People, a hip clothing boutique, follows on the heels of Anthropologie this winter. Next year, a $1.8 million, 14,500-square-foot vocational center funded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Small Business Administration will open not far from the church on Meadow Street.

    The Rev. Armenia Johnson, leader of Heavenly Vision Ministries, says she will be very careful in selecting a buyer for the old church.

    “We want them to restore it into something that is beneficial and positive for this community,” she says.

    In other words, if you’re thinking “brew house” or “night club,” it’s probably not going to fly.

    Rev. Johnson, who is now associate pastor of St. James Baptist in Homewood, paid $100,000 the property in 1995. Although the Garfield native did her best to maintain the elegant building, she never had the funding she needed to properly maintain or improve it. So bit by bit, the once grand structure fell into terrible disrepair.

    It’s a common fate for churches, which account for a growing number of real estate listings thanks to declining membership and consolidations. According to RealSTATS, a South Side-based real estate information company, 45 churches have changed hands in Allegheny and surrounding counties since January 2009, with sales prices ranging from $5,000 for Ambassador Baptist Church in Ross to $1.1 million for Christian Community Church in Adams.

    Occasionally one will make the transition from place of worship to heavenly home. But given the high redevelopment costs, it often takes a grand idea — restaurant, performance hall, multi-unit condo development — and corporate investors to fill such a grand space. CVS, for example, bought the church in Adams. Most are purchased as-is by other religious organizations, or they languish on the market for years.

    “You definitely don’t have as many players,” notes Tom Conroy of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, who has sold so many churches for Hanna’s commercial division that he’s known as The Church Guy.

    Mr. Conroy’s current listings include Harvest Baptist Church in New Kensington ($199,000; MLS No. QL102931); St. Michael Church ($250,000; MLS No. QL103962) in Munhall; and St. Mary Magdalene ($159,000; MLS No. QL103653) in Homestead.

    Financing, zoning and parking all can be challenges. Many older churches were built in walkable residential areas that prohibit commercial enterprises. Former parishioners add to the difficulty. Even after religious artifacts have been removed and the building is just a building, some stay emotionally attached.

    “Significant events take place there,” says Mr. Conroy. “Marriages, baptisms, funerals.”

  7. South Side Hardware Store Ends 74-Year Run

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Pittsburgh’s South Side was a different neighborhood in 1936 when Stanley J. Tumas scraped together $800 to open his T&T Hardware store on East Carson Street.

    “It was an old ethnic neighborhood. People took pride in that neighborhood,” said his son, Mike Tumas, 59, of Coudersport, Potter County, who has decided to close the store his father started 74 years ago.

    The hardware store became a staple of the neighborhood anchored by the nearby J&L Steel mill, he said.

    “Guys would get laid off. Their wives would say, ‘You’re painting the house,’ ” Mike Tumas said. “We did well. We did a good business.”

    And the business grew over the years. It doubled in size when Stanley Tumas knocked down a wall separating the building.

    Father and son worked hard.

    “You spent vacations, days off, working at the store,” Mike Tumas said. “That was our life.”

    But T&T and other neighborhood hardware stores found it hard to compete with big box chain stores and a changing market. Modernization — fax machines and computers — proved difficult for veteran shopkeepers used to sales receipt books with 50 pages in them, Mike Tumas said.

    “My dad’s idea of a fax machine was to hand you a receipt and say, ‘Run this down the corner,’ ” Mike Tumas said.

    Three people will lose their jobs when T&T closes before the end of the year. Tumas said he tried to sell the business but found no takers. He plans to sell the building.

    “A lot of commercial accounts told me they were leaving Pittsburgh and Allegheny County because of the taxes,” he said. “What commercial businesses are on the South Side anymore?”

    Hardware stores used to dot the area — three in Mt. Washington, two in Allentown, four in the South Side.

    “We ran longer than most,” said Mark McNally, T&T’s manager.

    It was an uphill run.

    Home Depot said its sales during the third quarter totaled $16.6 billion, a 1.4 percent increase from the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Lowe’s Cos. Inc. reported sales for the quarter increased 1.9 percent to $11.6 billion, up from $11.4 billion in the third quarter of 2009.

    “It’s hard to fight the big guys — they are so big,” said Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey. “These are family owned, the money stayed here, and the owners poured their hearts and souls into the business.”

    The inventory at T&T Hardware, kept in homemade wooden drawers and metal bins, will be liquidated before the store closes, Tumas said.

  8. Setback Won’t Deter Move of Historic House

    Friday, November 05, 2010
    By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Paul Orange hasn’t given up hope that he will be able to buy and relocate the historic William Smith House in Mercersburg, despite a setback Thursday.

    The house is on land owned by the MMP&W Volunteer Fire Co., which acquired the property in 2009 with plans to expand its aging facilities.

    The board that oversees the regional fire company opened bids on Thursday for demolishing the 260-year-old structure but did not consider a proposal from Dr. Orange to move it.

    Contacted after the meeting, Dr. Orange said he was advised that his offer to pay the fire company $100 for the building, rather than charge for tearing it down, had not been submitted in the right form.

    The fire board, however, took no action on the demolition bids it received during its 15-minute meeting. That decision gives him hope that he still can reach an agreement to preserve the house, he said.

    Joel Bradnick, a spokesman for the fire board, said the five bids would be forwarded to the fire company’s engineer for evaluation. He described Dr. Orange’s offer as a nonbinding “one-line memo.”

    The low bid for demolition was $18,000.

    “But why pay $18,000 to knock something down when you have someone willing to give them money to take it away,” Dr. Orange said.

    The fire station and the Smith House are next to each other on Mercersburg’s Main Street.

    If he is able to reach an agreement to move the house — either with the fire company or with the firm chosen to do the demolition — the next likely step would be to acquire a new location nearby. One possibility is a lot on the other side of Main Street, the site of a closed gas station.

    Relocation and land acquisition could cost him as much as $100,000.

    The Smith House was built in the 1750s. Constructed as a one-story cottage, it was greatly modified in the 19th and 20th centuries with the addition of a second story and porches.

    News that the Smith House might be demolished attracted the interest of a museum in Northern Ireland. The Ulster American Folk Park has been developing plans to rescue the 18th-century first floor of the structure and move it to Europe. There it would become part of a collection of buildings with ties to Scotch-Irish immigration history. Several structures at the outdoor museum were moved from their original sites in southwestern Pennsylvania.

    Worries about demolition also resulted in the formation of a small citizens group called the Committee to Save the William Smith House. Committee members have thrown their support behind Dr. Orange’s efforts to move the building.

    “I hope we all can come together in a goodwill effort to restore this important piece of history,” said Karen Ramsburg, president of the Smith House committee. “This is America’s house, and I think it could become a real tourism magnet near the Interstate 81 corridor.”

    Mercersburg is about 150 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It is about 10 miles west of the Greencastle exit of I-81.

    William Smith, an 18th-century businessman and local magistrate, was one of the leaders of what historians describe as the earliest organized opposition to British rule of its American colonies.

    His home was a meeting place in 1765 for mostly Scotch-Irish settlers who organized themselves into armed bands. They formed a local militia after concluding that neither the Quaker-dominated colonial government in Philadelphia nor British officials in London were able to protect them from Indian raids.

    William Smith’s brother-in-law, James Smith, was the leader of a group of settlers known as the “Black Boys,” who disguised themselves with paint and Indian clothes. Armed and angry, the Black Boys stopped pack trains traveling from Philadelphia to Fort Pitt that they believed were carrying weapons and ammunition that would end up in the hands of their Native American enemies.

    After the British sent troops to nearby Fort Loudon to protect the traders and arrest the Black Boys, the soldiers twice found themselves besieged by the frontier militia.

    The shots fired in 1765, 10 years before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, could be called the opening shots of the American Revolution, supporters of the Smith House say.

    Dr. Orange describes himself as a history buff. A Westmoreland County native, he is a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School and Saint Vincent College. He has a family medical practice on Route 30, east of Chambersburg.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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