By Chris Buckley
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Charleroi’s historical heritage has been confirmed with its inclusion on the National Register by the National Park Service.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved Charleroi’s application to add much of the Magic City to the National Register of Historic Places at a meeting Sept. 11. The federal agency notified the commission Nov. 9 that it has accepted the nomination.
Bill Callahan, state representative from the commission office in Pittsburgh, previously reviewed the district, and encouraged Charleroi’s application as a historic district.
Terry Necciai, who served as Main Street program manager in Charleroi in the late 1980s, now is an architect working for the historic preservation firm John Milner Associates in its Alexandria, Va., office.
He has submitted 58 nominations for National Register of Historic Places, but said Charleroi’s was the most difficult and time-consuming process.
Inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is approved for one or more of the following:
* A site associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
* A site associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.
* A site that embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, or that represents the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.
* A site that yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.
Necciai said most historic properties are a combination of more than one of these criteria.
In the 1980s, the state decided it had enough CDBG grants from such Valley communities as Charleroi, Donora and Monongahela for historic building facade improvements that officials came out and developed maps of the historic regions.
In 1982, Necciai filed with the National Register of Historic Places for Monongahela because he “did not like that so many buildings were being torn down.”
The year before Necciai became Charleroi’s Main Street manager in 1987, the state reviewed Charleroi’s downtown area.
State officials believed at the time that Charleroi was already protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 because of the architectural character and age of the downtown area.
From that time forward, Charleroi received more consideration for improvement project grants in the downtown area.
When state officials reviewed Charleroi in 1986, it recognized the eligibility for inclusion on National Register of Historic Places a section stretching from the 900 block to the 1300 block of Lincoln Avenue and Railroad Street as well as from First to 13th streets.
When state officials toured Charleroi in 2004, however, they said the boundary should be extended to include 120 blocks of Charleroi, about 80 percent of the Magic City.
Necciai returned to the Valley every weekend for four years developing an inventory for 1,800 buildings in the proposed district. The argument for Charleroi’s inclusion totaled 40 pages. The inventory is about 100 pages.
“In 1986, the state said it was historic, but this expanded the scope of the historic district,” Necciai said. “It proves what was true all along, that it is an historic district.”
The state reviewed Charleroi’s initial nomination, which was revised over several months prior to the commission meeting in September.
In September, the PHMC staff presented Charleroi’s case to the commission board
Once an application is approved at the state level and forwarded to the keeper of the national register – an office of the National Park Service – the federal agency has 90 days to act.
Necciai said the National Register of Historic Places designation will be a great marketing tool for Charleroi.
For example, he pointed to Alexandria, Va., where he lives.
During the first half of the 1960s, many buildings in a two- to three-block section of the city were razed.
But when the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, Alexandria was among the first cities to file nominations.
Four decades later, Alexandria has become the 11th densest community in the country with a steady stream of tourists, Necciai said.
Necciai pointed to the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Once a torpedo factory during World War II, it is now home to more than 165 artists in every form of media from painting, ceramics, photography and jewelry to stained glass, fiber, printmaking, and sculpture.
It also is home to various studios and workshops.
Federal government offices and political action committees also call Alexandria home, adding greatly to its growth, Necciai noted.
“But a part of the equation is that the community decided to not only value what it had, but do something about it,” Necciai said.
Chris Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2642.