City’s historic buildings have passionate advocate
By Richard Byrne Reilly
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Dan Holland has come a long way since he set out to save Pittsburgh’s historic buildings with $500 in his pocket.
“It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a volunteer effort on my part. I’ve had to scrape, borrow and steal,” Holland said, chuckling.
Holland, 38, is director of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh, a one-man operation he launched in 2002 from an office inside his 1894 Victorian home in Friendship. Before setting his mind to locating, researching and protecting buildings of significant historical note, Holland spent years working for others to learn the intricacies of preservation.
“He has found his mission in life,” said Stanley Lowe, a friend and a vice president with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington D.C. The two men worked together at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation in the early 1990’s.
“For Dan, its not about money. He does whatever is necessary to galvanize people around him to help Pittsburgh understand what it takes to cherish and maintain its architectural heritage. And he doesn’t take the easy road to do it,” Lowe said.
The Young Preservationists Association has an annual budget of $57,000 and now counts 350 members in 19 states. Holland travels frequently, talking preservation with Baltimore’s mayor or speaking with urban preservationists from Portland, Ore. to Miami. Running the association is a full-time gig, yet Holland earns money from consulting projects he does on the side.
He has racked up an impressive set of accomplishments with the group, people who have worked with him say. He was instrumental in saving the Centre Avenue YMCA and the New Grenada Theater in the Hill District from demolition. He helped obtain a historical designation for playwright August Wilson’s childhood home in the Hill District, sparing it from the wrecking ball.
His current project is saving a Lincoln-Lemington mansion that once housed the National Negro Opera Co. Roberto Clemente, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington and jazz great Ahmad Jamal were frequent visitors to the now-dilapidated structure.
The YPA distinguishes itself from similar groups by making the concept of saving old buildings attractive to children and young adults, Holland’s colleagues say.
“Oftentimes, others regard the topic of historic preservation as a grown-ups activity. One of the things about YPA under Dan’s leadership is he’s been good at making a connection to young people,” said Ann Fortescue, the director of education and visitor services at the Senator John Heinz History Center.
Holland and Fortescue are collaborating on the Pittsburgh Regional Youth Heritage Festival set for next summer as part of the city’s 250th birthday celebrations.
Holland’s work is time-consuming. He spent several months photographing and compiling histories for more than 100 vacant buildings in Manchester slated for demolition, Lowe recalled. On Dec. 10, Holland organized the Youth Main Street Advisors Project at Pittsburgh Filmmaker’s in Oakland where 100 kids created video documentaries with their visions of how to revitalize communities.
“He can’t take no for an answer. One of the best things is our children. Sometimes when we’re driving and the kids see a house being torn down they’ll say ‘Oh, no, Mommy and Daddy, they’re demolishing a building,'” said Holland’s wife, Kasia, a physician.
The couple met in high school, dated, and then went their own ways while she studied in Washington D.C. and later obtained a medical degree from Penn State. Holland went to Carnegie Mellon University, where he obtained a degree in history and a master’s degree in public policy. Holland grew up in Squirrel Hill, the son of an artist father who taught at CMU. The couple have two children, Konrad, 4, and Adela, 2.
Holland is convinced he’s making a difference.
“Our biggest achievement is that we’ve survived at all. No other organization has done what we’re doing. We’re speaking directly to young people on a regional scale. That’s our core mission,” Holland said.
Richard Byrne Reilly can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5625.