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Market Square may get historical makeover

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
Monday, July 30, 2007

Two Market Square landmarks could be poised to regain their early-20th century charm when the city’s Historic Review Commission weighs renovation plans Wednesday.

Developers and architects believe the improvements will heighten the appeal of the square — a place many avoid because of the prevalence of homeless people and panhandlers.

Washington County developer Lucas Piatt said exterior renovations to the vacant G.C. Murphy Building will restore a 1920s or ’30s era look, based on photographs of the store in its heyday. On the opposite side of Market Square, Nicholas Coffee Co. plans to turn a closed bar into a coffee shop with an old-style European look.

Most of Piatt’s $32 million renovation project is to begin by year’s end. Retail space will occupy the first floor of the G.C. Murphy Building, and most of the 38,000-square-foot headquarters of the YMCA will be on the second floor. The Y will occupy a portion of another floor as well.

“The benefit of having the activity back in the building is huge,” Piatt said. “The tax repercussions for the city will be phenomenal.”

Piatt’s project will receive about $6 million in state aid and benefit from tax credits for restoring historic buildings.

Downtown architecture firm Strada LLC is handling the design work on the G.C. Murphy Building and nearby structures, such as the adjoining seven-story D&K Building.

“There’s a combination of architectural styles within all these buildings,” said John Martin, a Strada principal. “We’re trying to bring the buildings as close as we can to their own original look.”

Original brick that was painted over will be exposed, decorative stone fixtures at the entrance will be rebuilt, and windows will be replaced.

“The (historic commission) would rather you don’t invent,” Martin said. “They don’t want it to be Disneyized.”

To avoid that, he’s relying on photographs of the buildings from the 1930s to help guide the design. Martin said he thinks the commission will approve the project. The changes still would need approval from the state Museum and Historic Commission.

Nicholas Coffee hopes to expand its imported coffee, tea and spices business to include the former Mick McGuire’s bar next door on Graeme Street. The Irish pub was closed Jan. 12 after police arrested three people accused of dealing drugs from the business.

Architect Doug Sipp of Sipp & Tepe Architects has designed about $50,000 worth of facade renovations for coffee shop owner Nicholas G. Nicholas. The interior would be changed into a cafe offering coffee, espresso, pastries and other treats.

“The facade will be like a step-down European storefront,” said Mike Kratsas, project manager. “There will be large windows like an old-time storefront.”

Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, welcomed both of the historically sensitive upgrades to Market Square.

“I think that both coming together give a great deal of substance to the effort to make the square a vital part of the residential Downtown,” Ziegler said. “Restoring historic buildings creates an environment where people want to be.”

Jeremy Boren can be reached at or 412-765-2312.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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