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Historic status for ex-factory site crumbling

By Sandra Tolliver
Thursday, June 24, 2004

The owner of the former Nabisco bakery in East Liberty has asked the city to withdraw a nomination to designate the building a historic site because the property owner was not party to the request.
The Historic Review Commission bylaws, however, say a nomination can be withdrawn only by the nominator, although a building’s owner has the right to speak at a public hearing.

Both the Regional Industrial Development Corp. (RIDC), which owns the building, and the Young Preservationists, which nominated it for city historic status, will send representatives to the commission’s July 7 meeting.

Robert Stephenson, president of RIDC, said historian Lu Donnelly should have contacted his organization to discuss the idea before nominating the former Nabisco factory. Donnelly filed the nomination on behalf of the Young Preservationists as a member of the group’s advisory board.

“I think it’s very rude for people to take it upon themselves, without discussion, to go forth and make a nomination like that,” Stephenson said.

In a June 14 letter to the city’s Department of Planning, the RIDC president had asked the historic-preservation staff to withdraw the nomination.

“We certainly weren’t trying to ruffle anybody’s feathers,” said Deborah Gross, vice chair of the Young Preservationists.

She said the organization still believes the Nabisco plant is a valuable part of Pittsburgh’s history.

“It’s significant architecturally. It’s significant in terms of national industrial history,” Gross said. “It’s certainly a visual landmark and a real place-making piece of architecture for the East End.”

Nabisco built the factory in 1918 and operated it until 1998. A second operator, Bake-Line Group, reopened the plant as a bakery for four years but closed it in March.

RIDC — a private, nonprofit economic-development corporation — continues to evaluate proposals for the building’s re-use, Stephenson said.

“We’re trying to do something with the property, and it will be done in a first-class, quality fashion,” Stephenson said, declining to comment on specifics of any proposals. “The bakery concept is still being somewhat looked at.”

Historic designation by the city does not affect a building’s use but does require approval by the Historic Review Commission if a property owner wants to alter a building’s exterior, change signage or demolish a building.

Sandra Tolliver can be reached at or (412) 320-7840.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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