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Councilman protests forced preservation of Malta Temple

By Jeremy Boren
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 

Forcing the Salvation Army to preserve an 81-year-old North Side religious and social services center would violate a city rule that says a church’s owner — not interlopers — must willingly seek historic protection, a Pittsburgh councilman said Monday.”Churches have an inherent right to have control over their own property,” said the Rev. Ricky Burgess, a councilman and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Homewood. “They have autonomy in terms of seeking historic designation.”

To back up his claim, Burgess cited a 2003 amendment to the city’s historic preservation law sponsored by then-Councilman Bob O’Connor.

The amendment states: “Nomination of a religious structure shall only be made by the owner(s) of record of the religious structure.”

A religious structure is defined as a “place of religious worship.”O’Connor fought for the amendment under the belief that some churches can’t afford to make repairs or facade improvements to comply with historic preservation standards.

Burgess said Sunday church services have been held regularly for nearly 35 years in the Salvation Army-owned property commonly known as the Malta Temple building because it is the former headquarters of the Ancient and Illustrious Order of the Knights of Malta.

The nonprofit Mexican War Street Society, a historic preservation group, nominated the Malta Temple for historic protection in January to prevent the Salvation Army from demolishing it.

The city Planning Commission and Historic Review Commission approved the nomination. It faces a preliminary vote Wednesday before City Council.

David McMunn, president of the society, said the Malta Temple is zoned as a commercial structure, not as a church. Allegheny County assessment records confirm that.

McMunn said tearing down the stately brick building at 100 W. North Ave. and replacing it with a modern building nearby would remove an important thread from the North Side’s already frayed historic fabric.

McMunn and other historic preservationists want the building to be renovated.

“The Salvation Army has first and foremost been a place of worship,” said Maj. Jim LaBossiere, Allegheny County coordinator for the organization.

LaBossiere agreed with Burgess’ argument.

He said religious services are held at 9:30 and 11:30 every Sunday morning in the Malta Temple building. The center doubles as a daytime homeless shelter where the indigent can receive lunch, counseling and use shower and laundry facilities.

Salvation Army officials have said previously that renovations would be too costly and that the building isn’t large enough to accommodate plans for additional worship, classroom, gymnasium and computer lab space.

“They don’t seem to see the need to partner with the neighborhood,” McMunn said. “Well, they need to because, as residents, we’re here forever.”



Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.comor 412-765-2312.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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