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Foundation tries to save Market Square building

By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Friday, August 26, 2005

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is offering to repair a deteriorating four-story building at 439 Market St., Downtown, to keep the city from demolishing it.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks President Arthur P. Ziegler Jr. has sent letters to the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority with his offer after learning that the vacant city-owned building, part of the Market Square historic district, could be facing the wrecking ball.

There is no doubt that the building is in need of work. The roof is falling in, floors are collapsing and walls need to be stabilized. Its condition has spawned complaints from some Market Square property owners, which, in turn, has prompted talk of demolition.

But the structure also is targeted for redevelopment by Preservation Pittsburgh as part of its plan for a “transit cafe” at Market and Fifth Avenue.

That proposal relies mainly on the former Regal Shoe Co. building at the corner, a structure designed by Alden & Harlow, one of the city’s most prominent architectural firms in the early 20th century. But the group also is interested in 439 and 441 Market as well.

After visiting 439 Market with Preservation Pittsburgh President Rob Pfaffmann Monday, Ziegler presented two proposals to the city and the URA in an effort to save the building.

One would be for Pittsburgh History & Landmarks to take ownership of the structure, plus the old Regal Shoe Co. building and 441 Market, both owned by the URA. As part of the transfer, it would put on a new roof at 439 Market and clean up the inside.

As an alternative, the foundation is offering to lend the city up to $33,000 interest-free for the new roof and to clean up the inside, with the loan to be repaid once the building is sold or developed by the city.

The only stipulation would be that the building, along with 441 Market and the old Regal Shoe Co. store on Fifth, be preserved and that the foundation have approval over any exterior design done as part of a redevelopment.

Ziegler was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.

But Cathy McCollom, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s chief programs officer, said it is not routine for the agency to offer to make repairs or assume ownership. But she added it was willing to do so in this case because “we believe those buildings are important.”

“It’s an attempt to address the issues of concern to the city and to allow time to look at the reuse of the buildings because once they’re gone, they’re gone,” she said.

Pfaffmann said the city has received an estimate of $30,000 to repair the roof and to clean up the inside of 439 Market. While neither that building nor the one at 441 Market were designed by Alden and Harlow, they both are “contributing buildings” with good facades that deserve to be preserved, he said.

“Preservation Pittsburgh and the PHLF have been constantly told by Mayor [Tom] Murphy that we ought to put our money where our mouth is. We believe this is exactly what we’re doing now,” he said.

All three buildings are part of the Market Square historic district, meaning that the demolition of 439 Market could not occur without approval of the Historic Review Commission, unless it were an emergency.

Neither Murphy nor his executive secretary, Tom Cox, was available for comment yesterday. They have fought preservationists in the past over plans for the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor. URA Executive Director Jerome Dettore reacted favorably to the proposal however.

“It sounds good to me. It’s an area where we’re all supportive of preservation. I think the preservation of those buildings is probably a good thing,” he said.

Dettore said negotiations over 439 Market would have to be handled through the city, since the building is owned by the city, not the URA.

Ron Graziano, chief of the city Bureau of Building Inspection, said any attempt to demolish the building at 439 Market is on hold as a courtesy to Pittsburgh History & Landmarks while it tries to work out a solution.

Aaron Klein, owner of Camera Repair Service Inc. a couple of doors down from 439 Market, said he would like to see something — anything — done with the building. He said it “already is falling down in the back” and attracts rats.

(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262.)

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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