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Community Engagement on Hunt Armory

By Molly Soffietti, PHLF Summer Intern
Graduate Studies in Historic Preservation Planning at Cornell University

Hunt Armory
On June 8th approximately 100 interested and concerned residents of Shadyside, developers, and preservationists met at Calvary Episcopal Church. The topic of discussion was the fate of the Hunt Armory located at 324 Emerson Street in Pittsburghu. Completed in 1916, the 90,000-square-foot former armory is in the process of being purchased by the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A meeting with community members, led by Kyra Straussman, URA director of real estate, and City Councilman Dan Gilman, served as a time to brainstorm possible uses and concerns to be included in a future Request for Proposals for the site.

Ms. Straussman emphasized that the project is one of preservation. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also designated a City Historic Landmark. Retention of the facade is mandatory. Straussman also commented that while the historic status of the structure may limit alteration to the interior, it will provide opportunities for the use of Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits in its potential redevelopment and adaptive reuse.

The lively discussion between residents included ideas for indoor recreation facilities and residential developments. Concerns were voiced regarding the noise pollution, traffic congestion, and parking created by a new development in the already-crowded street surrounded by Sacred Heart Parish and the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech. Suggested uses from the audience include an indoor velodrome, recreation space for nearby schools, or an indoor market.

Hunt Armory in Shadyside

The armory was once home to the 28th Infantry Division, the oldest division-sized unit in the armed forces of the United States. The “Keystone Division,” named after the keystone ornamentation on the building’s facade and on uniform lapels, fought in key battles in US history: Antietam, Gettysburg, The Marne, Normandy, and the Battle of the Bulge. The building still contains plaques memorializing the fallen from the 28th Division dating back to the American Civil War. The structure’s listing on the City Register, spearheaded by local veteran and Senator Jim Ferlo, was spurred by a desire to protect the memorials.

The Hunt Armory’s namesake, Captain Alfred E. Hunt, was a hero of the Spanish-American War. A chemist and metallurgist, Hunt is remembered for founding the Pittsburgh Reduction Company in 1888, renamed the Aluminum Company of America in 1907, and now widely known as ALCOA. A member of the Hunt Family, Todd M. Hunt, Jr., spoke briefly about the family’s desire to find the highest and best use for the site while preserving the historic structure.

The building has a capacity of 15,000 and was the largest auditorium in Pittsburgh until the completion of the Civic Arena in 1961. Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower both spoke to standing-room-only crowds at the armory.

Walter C. Kidney wrote of the Hunt Armory in Pittsburgh’s Landmark Architecture (PHLF 1997):

“Repeated Doric pilasters lend a magnificence, and yet delicacy as well, to a Pennsylvania National Guard artillery armory that has its neighbors the Alder Court apartment house and Sacred Heart Church. The great length of the building is broken up by many closely spaced verticals, and the scale is so ambiguous that one is pleasantly unclear whether this is a big building trying to look small or a small building trying to look big. Either way it is a dramatic feature of a quiet neighborhood street.”

A Request for Proposals for the site was distributed on June 20th. A five- to six-week submission period will follow. Straussman emphasized the importance of community engagement in the selection criteria for the developer. Community members, including a former show usher at the Armory, spoke of their memories of the site. The enthusiasm shown by local residents exemplifies the pride and commitment the community has for safeguarding cultural and architectural landmarks.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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