Foundation’s goals come to fruition after parting with Station Square
By Ron DaParma
TRIBUNE-REVIEW REAL ESTATE WRITER
Sunday, August 3, 2003
A group of grade-school students ambles down a residential street, looking and learning about the buildings. At times, they stop to draw sketches of the decorative features. A crew of workers restore a historic building, a religious property or former business. A writer toils on a new book about a segment of the region’s architectural history.
The number and scope of these kinds of activities in the Pittsburgh area have increased, thanks, in part, to a $25 million fund established nine years ago. The driving force behind these activities and the fund is the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, a local preservationist organization.
” Rather than putting our assets behind mortgages for more new buildings, we are putting those assets to work in historic preservation and our other activities,” said Arthur P. Ziegler, president of the nonprofit foundation.
That is the course adopted by the foundation since 1994 — the year it sold the last of its holdings at Station Square, the popular entertainment, retail, entertainment complex on the South Side.
” I think it was the right thing to do,” Ziegler said of the sale of the 52-acre property to a partnership of developer Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Promise Companies Inc., Memphis, then owner of Harrah’s Casinos.
Forest City, a prominent Cleveland-based development company, has since taken full control of Station Square. It has continued to enhance the complex, committing $70 million to an expansion that added a Hard Rock Cafe and other restaurants, retail shops and amenities.
At the same time, the 39-year-old foundation has followed a script written by Ziegler and others — placing funds from the Station Square sale into an endowment to support restoration of historic inner-city neighborhoods, preserve architecturally significant buildings and provide educational programs.
” No one can do an historic tour of the South Side better than History & Landmarks,” said Lola O’Dea, director of services for the Brashear Association, a community services organization in that city neighborhood.
O’Dea said the foundation is a valuable partner in the association’s Discover South Side program, and she calls its offerings “informative, fun and exciting.”
In July, the foundation participated in two separate events with a group of school-aged children: one, a walking tour to view neighborhood buildings, including the Morning Glory Inn bed-and-breakfast; and the other, a field trip to the South Side Works, a major mixed-use development now being built between East Carson Street and the Monongahela River.
Such tours are part of an expanded group of education programs sponsored by the foundation that touch thousands each year.
” I would give them an A double plus just for wanting to make a difference,” said Rosemary Moriarty, principal of the Miller African Centered Academy in the Hill District.
During the 2001-02 school year, Landmarks and Mercy Hospital cooperated in a nine-month project that helped students in a mentoring program for grades three to five learn about the history and architectural significance of their school, which opened in 1849 as the first black public school in the city.
” It was very, very rewarding,” Moriarty said. The program concluded with the students presenting a play to convince Landmarks’ trustees that their school was worthy of the Historic Landmark plaque that today adorns the front of the Reed Street building.
The effort brought recognition to the foundation, which received a 2003 Historic Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Such recognition is verification that officials and supporters of the organization made the right choice when they decided the timing was right for the sale of Station Square, Ziegler said.
Prominent among those supporters was philanthropist Richard M. Scaife, owner of the Tribune-Review Publishing Co. His pledge of $5 million through the Allegheny Foundation in 1974 was the key to jump-starting transformation of the one-time Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad warehouse site along the Monongahela River.
” I felt we had accomplished exactly what our board, the Allegheny Foundation and Dick Scaife set out to do,” Ziegler said. “We proved our principles of urban renewal, and we introduced Pittsburghers to the rivers, which was really new here. Sure, it was hard to let go, but there were so many things that we wanted to do, things that we could move on to.”
Louise Sturgess, executive director who oversees the foundation’s education activities, said it strives to turn the region “into a classroom for learning” through its tours, architectural design challenges, special educational programs and publications.
” Landmarks’ education program has greatly expanded since 1994, because of our organization’s support and commitment, and because private foundations and members have contributed to specific programs,” Sturgess said. In 2002, more than 14,000 students, teachers, members and visitors participated, she said.
A majority of the foundation’s education programs are focused in Allegheny County, but they also reach schools in other counties. Examples are an Architectural Design Challenge that annually involves about 200 middle and high school students from Westmoreland County, and a special series of annual tours for Charleroi and Bentworth Elementary Centers in Washington County.
Chris and Jason Farmakis also are beneficiaries of the foundation’s efforts in neighborhood preservation. The two brothers and business partners currently are working to restore a vacant building at 233 W. Eighth Avenue in West Homestead, where in the fall they to open a new embroidery store.
Helping to make the work possible is a $2,500 grant from the Homestead Economic Revitalization Corp. and a $5,000 facade restoration grant secured through Pittsburgh History & Landmarks. It is one of six different grants totaling $30,000 the foundation (with financial support from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Local Initiative Support Corp. and Eat n’ Park Corp.) arranged for building owners along Eighth Avenue corridor in the Homestead area,
With their help, we are talking a dilapidated, run down, vacant building … and hopefully putting a productive business there that will pay taxes to the community,” said Chris Farmakis “We would not be able to put on a whole new complete facade but for the fact we are able to do it for 50 cents on the dollar.”
Such neighborhood and education efforts will continue as the foundation goes forward, and there surely will be others, Ziegler said.
” Because we are a very flexible organization, we are always trying to be open to needs, opportunities, ideas and learning,” he said. “I think we will continue with the same operating principles, but we will always be willing to look at fresh things.”
A list of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s activities in 2002:
* Awarded $64,150 to 24 historic religious properties in Allegheny County for building projects.
* Saved a historic, 62-acre Westmoreland County farm through creative gift-planning strategies, and talked with 23 farm and land owners about rural preservation.
* Continued restoration of the Allegheny County Courthouse and began work on a museum in the former county jail.
* Partnered with Duquesne Light Co., the Riverlife Task Force and others to light the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh.
* Participated in planning for development projects including Fifth-Forbes, Point State Park and with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
* Published “Henry Hornbostel: An Architect’s Master Touch,” by Walter C. Kidney, the foundation’s architectural historian.
* Committed $395,000 in loans to aid neighborhood restoration programs in the Allegheny West, Bloomfield and Homestead communities.
* Installed a new cedar roof on the Neville House and underwrote restoration studies of the Woods House and Oliver Miller Homestead.
* Connected more than 1,000 people with restoration experts and services during the organization’s Seventh Annual Old House Fair, sponsored by Dollar Bank.
* Involved more than 14,000 students, teachers, members and visitors in a variety of educational programs featuring local history and architecture.
Ron DaParma can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7907.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review