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‘Historic’ tag likely for North Side Garden Theatre

By Tony LaRussa
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The city’s Historic Review Commission is likely to designate the Garden Theatre on the North Side as a historic landmark today.

If historic designation is granted, developers would be required to preserve the 92-year-old building’s beaux arts terra cotta exterior by requiring that any alterations be approved by the commission.

The West North Avenue building features a vertical neon sign built in the 1930s and a canopied marquee installed in 1958, after the original marquee fell to the street from a heavy snowstorm. Much of the original interior ornamentation remains.

The once grand movie house showed X-rated films from the 1970s until the city bought and closed it earlier this year. It has since deteriorated because of a lack of maintenance, said David McMunn, president of the Mexican War Streets Society, which is seeking the historic designation.

“There’s some water damage to the plaster, and a lot of the ornate features on the interior have been painted over,” McMunn said. “But for the most part, the building is intact and most definitely can be restored.”

The interior has its original chandeliers, ornate wall sconces and wrought-iron archways leading to the main seating area.

A historic designation would not prevent a developer from removing or altering the theater’s interior features.

McMunn said North Side neighborhood groups support the historic designation and want the theater used for entertainment and the arts.

In September, the seven-member Historic Review Commission agreed that the building meets the requirements to be considered for historic designation.

After a decade-long battle to acquire the building through eminent domain, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority bought it this year for $1.1 million.

McMunn said he is “fairly confident” the commission will grant the historic designation.

“There’s been nothing to indicate otherwise,” he said.

Paul Tellers, vice chairman of the Historic Review Commission, said Tuesday that he is “not aware of any commission members being opposed to the designation.”

If the commission grants historic designation, it would have to be approved by the city planning commission and City Council.

The URA is reviewing development proposals for the theater as part of its Federal North redevelopment project.

Tony LaRussa can be reached at or 412-320-7987.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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