By Bill Bates, FAIA, NOMA
When I was asked to write about my favorite building in Western Pennsylvania I was torn, given all of the iconic architecture in the region. I finally decided to highlight a building that I know better than any other, having lived in it for 41 years.
It’s a humble 1924 craftsman style bungalow located in the historic district of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The McCann Cottage is named after its builder, Clyde McCann, who constructed approximately 48 of these one- and a-half story cottages in the South Hills. Unfortunately, the architect of this modest gem is unknown.
The moment that I first saw the house I was struck by its solid form, which is reminiscent of H. H. Richardson’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side. The fenestration’s graceful proportions provide a perfect lightness to the cottage’s otherwise heavy masonry and clay tile cloak. The stone exterior has a rustic elegance that celebrates the deft artistry of its masons, while the interior woodwork and cabinetry express a playful honesty that conveys a sense of restful comfort.
The basic model has two bedrooms on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. Their exterior was typically constructed of local gray sandstone exterior walls with a hipped 10-on-12 pitch, clay tile roof. The builder produced several variations of the plan. There is an extended model that has two extra dormers on the side of the house and a porch that projects beyond the plane of the front facade. The basic model was also replicated in brick using the same footprint as the stone cottage. These houses are typically sited on corner lots allowing easy access to the integral tandem garage which opens on the side of the house.
One might expect the interiors to be dark but the house is very bright and airy thanks to its French casement windows that provide unimpeded views when opened and flood the cozy interior with light and abundant cross ventilation. Exterior views and access are further enhanced by the presence of 15 lite French doors opening onto the porch from the dining room and entry sunroom. Together all of these openings give the house a warm lantern-like street presence at night. The sunroom at the entry is wrapped with windows providing framed views in three directions.
The interior details feature a living room anchored by a large floor to ceiling ashlar cut stone fireplace, which echos the exterior. The living room is open to the dining room but the two spaces are given definition by the presence of two double-sided low glass-front cabinets that are capped off with truncated Tuscan columns and a sweeping wood archway.
The floor plan of both models of the cottage offers two bedrooms and a bath on the first floor that is ideal for aging in place. The extended model provides a larger kitchen and living room than the basic model but the circulation pattern is similar in both versions. The hipped roof extends over the integral front porch, which is also embraced by the stone facade affording the residents a shady summertime view of the neighborhood.
The half-story low gabled second floor was typically laid out for two bedrooms without a bath. However even the smaller basic model has adequate space to add a full bath. The walls consist of textured plaster that adds to the rustic craftsman charm of the structure.
The McCann Cottage has an unassuming charm that is immediately inviting and continues to reveal a depth of character over time.
Bill Bates, a Pittsburgh architect, has a long history of international development experience in corporate real estate and construction. A longtime member of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, he has served as the president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) national, AIA Pennsylvania, and AIA Pittsburgh. He has also served as chair of our real estate development board and as chair of the boards of the Community Design Center and the Green Building Alliance.
By Michael Sriprasert
Under his leadership, PHLF has become one of the leading preservation organizations in the country, with the broadest array of preservation programming ranging from high impact education initiatives in our schools and for the public, to neighborhood and urban real estate revitalization programs that have improved the quality of life for all.
Arthur has created a tremendous platform from which to build upon for generations to come.
I have been extremely fortunate to have been immersed in the culture of PHLF over the past 14 years, working as partners with Arthur over the past nine years as president of two of our subsidiaries. Through our work, I have learned firsthand how preservation impacts our lives, how it provides hope and pride in our communities, and how it fosters economic development opportunities in our neighborhoods and in our Downtown.
I have also learned how preservation can be an anchor in our communities during times of uncertainty. I believe, like our friend Anthony Wood, founder and chair of the New York Preservation Archive Project, that, “in times of great upheaval, solace can come from those things and places that provide stability and continuity.”
The role of our work in the communities we serve has never been more important. As we move forward, we will maintain our grassroots approach, listening to community needs and advocating for our historic buildings in city neighborhoods, Downtown, Main Streets, and in towns and historic rural communities of our region.
In our rapidly changing world, we will continue to evolve how we work, integrating more technology and data into our programs and initiatives. I am excited about the tremendous opportunity that lies ahead, and to continuing our work with our various Boards of Trustees, our staff, and all the individuals and organizations that support us.
I am very pleased to announce that Michael Sriprasert, our vice-president, who also heads two of our subsidiaries—Landmarks Community Capital and Landmarks Development Corporations— will become president of this organization on August 10. I will then assume a new role as President Emeritus.
This is the culmination of a process and discussion about the future of our organization that our Boards of Trustees started in 2011. The leadership of our organization felt then—and we still do— that we had an excellent and enterprising staff member in Michael, who not only understood preservation real estate, but also how it influences and impacts our ability to achieve great results in historic preservation as a tool of community development.
Since then, Michael has led our lending subsidiary, transforming it into a Community Development Financial Institution, which has raised significant funds to help organizations, individuals, and businesses, finance extensive historic restoration and preservation projects in the region.
Michael later took on the leadership of the Landmarks Development Corporation, our for-profit real estate development subsidiary, which is the vehicle through which we undertake significant historic preservation and adaptive reuse initiatives everywhere we are engaged.
He has gained indelible experience on almost all fronts of our organization’s work in neighborhoods, Main Street communities, cities, and towns in our region. Among Michael’s early and biggest accomplishments was his ability to advocate for and secure funding for preservation projects through utilization of historic rehabilitation and low-income housing tax credits.
To that end, Michael led our comprehensive preservation and community development initiative in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, where we have created 67 units of affordable and subsidized housing in beautifully restored buildings for people of low- and moderate- income. Our work in Wilkinsburg showcases what we believe should be the challenge of a modern historic preservation organization— to help improve the quality of lives of people through preservation.
Indeed, we not only restored historic buildings in Wilkinsburg, but acquired and cleaned up blighted vacant lots, created community gardens, established an educational center, provided loans to small businesses and non-profits, and grants to historic churches, expanded social service outreach for our tenants in subsidized housing, and created two National Register Historic Districts, to help incentivize others to redevelop historic buildings. This represents more than $25 million invested in the community, establishing a beachhead for renewal.
Michael has led our efforts in lending, preservation real estate development, and advocacy in Downtown Pittsburgh, in the historic North Side, Hill District, South Side, and Hilltop neighborhoods in the city.
A native of Maryland, Michael grew up near Washington D.C., and came to Pittsburgh in 2002 to pursue a Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. He is a graduate of Kenyon College and holds two Masters degrees— one in Public Policy and Management from the Heinz College and a Master of Business Administration from the Tepper School of Business—from Carnegie Mellon University. He joined the staff of our organization in 2006.
We are ready and have long prepared for this transition. We have hired new and younger staff members over the years as some of our most dedicated long-term staffers have retired or partially retired, but we retain a lot of our institutional memory. It is therefore appropriate that we look to the future with a young leader who has been immersed in the culture and principles that guide our organization.
I am especially proud that we have had a diverse organization not just in ethnic composition but in various life experiences. This has been reflected in our staff, our board members, and community partners, since the creation of this organization in 1964.
With Michael at the helm, we will continue to reflect leadership with the integration of diverse voices in our organization. I will remain active, and I will be available to Michael and our various Boards of Trustees as an advisor. I will have certain duties to perform, but Michael will be our leader.
Our Trustees, our staff members, and the wider community have enabled us to build one of the finest preservation organizations in the United States. I want to thank you all for your support of our organization and for me through the years.
By Larry Glasco
Both individually and collectively, the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh constitute some of the most dramatic and beautiful examples of interior architecture in the city. Indeed, one might say in the world, for there is nothing like them anyplace else.
The Nationality Rooms program began in the late 1920s as part of an effort to enlist Pittsburgh’s nationality groups in support of the newly constructed Cathedral of Learning. The University stipulated that the rooms must be authentic representations of a national culture, must be cultural rather than political in design, and must represent a time before 1787, the year of the University’s founding.
Today, some 31 rooms grace the first and third floors of the Cathedral of Learning. They attract some 100,000 visitors annually, and serve as classrooms, regularly exposing students to a variety of world cultures.
In addition to their beauty, what most attracted me to the rooms is that they are designed by the nationality groups, not by the University. This makes them an expression of how the groups think of themselves and want to be perceived by others. The trade-off is that each group has to pay for its room, with the University agreeing to provide subsequent upkeep.
As professor of African-American history at the University of Pittsburgh, I was excited to serve as chair of the Design Committee for the African Heritage Room. The most immediate problem we faced was that Africa is a continent, not a nationality. How to create a room that reflects that fact? The answer: designate the room as the African Heritage Room, meant to reflect the identity and cultural heritage—or at least the African cultural heritage—of black Americans.
That identity is Pan-African, not based on any one African tribe or nationality, which allowed us to create a room that is both a blend of many cultural elements and an example of a specific African culture. We chose a courtyard as the room’s unifying concept, a place of gathering for friends and family. The courtyard is a feature of home life throughout the continent–the counterpart of the American front porch, backyard, and family room all rolled into one.
The African Heritage room is also a specific example of African architecture – that of the Asante, or Ashanti, people of Ghana. Finally, the room features (in subtle bas relief) examples of African written languages, musical instruments, art, science and mathematics.
One of my greatest pleasures was documenting the authenticity of everything in the room. To examine African artifacts, I visited the British Museum in London, the Museum of Mankind in Paris, and the Museum of Ethnology in Munich. I also traveled to Ghana, where I observed and photographed traditional temples and shrines in the countryside.
The room benefited from contributions by many individuals. African students at Pitt advised us about the importance of the courtyard. Lamidi Fakeye, a renowned traditional woodcarver from Nigeria, created the door, chalkboard, and lectern. Kweku Andrews, a Ghanaian professor of art, made the roof, stools and plasterwork.
Pittsburgh-based architect William Bates (also a member of PHLF) turned ideas, photographs and documentation into a beautiful reality. Maxine Bruhns, the long-time director of the Nationality Rooms program, supported us every step of the way. Committee members, drawn from Pittsburgh’s black community, kept the faith and, under the leadership of Nancy Lee, raised over $150,000.
Today, the room’s current chair, Donna Alexander, leads the African Heritage Classroom Committee in advancing appreciation for Africa and African culture. Since the opening in 1989, it has been a joy to hear tour guides relate how the African Room remains one of the most popular and admired of all the many beautiful rooms.
The African Room’s current focus is providing scholarships for students to study and/or work in Africa. In addition, at Christmas time, the African room – like all the other rooms –is decorated, in our case with a Kwanzaa motif. In these, and in many other ways, the Nationality Rooms Program brings people together in a collective, mutually supportive way to celebrate their nationality alongside that of others. It promotes the sort of interracial and inter-ethnic atmosphere that is worthy of being cherished and cultivated.
Editor’s Note: We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Maxine Bruhns, the former longtime director of the Nationality Rooms Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She was a great friend of our organization, and we worked together for many years on a number of advocacy issues, including our support for the Nationality Rooms, which our organization awarded a historic landmark plaque. Read her obituary featured in the Post-Gazette here.
Larry Glasco is Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. Since coming to the University of Pittsburgh’s History Department in 1969, he has focused on African-American history, both locally and globally. He is a longtime member and Board Member of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. He is a co-author of August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays, which was published by PHLF.
More than 50 attendees welcomed the newest Landmarks Scholarship and honorable mention recipients during PHLF’s 22nd annual scholarship reception, which was held by videoconference on July 9.
This online gathering of previous recipients, new winners, their families, committee members, and PHLF staff, congratulated the current cohort of nineteen high-achieving, community-minded young people on receiving their awards.
“We have developed many customs over the years within the Landmarks Scholarship Program; one that we cherish is our celebration. […] This year, for the first time ever, we are not gathering together in person. Like much in our lives, we are resorting to an online gathering,” said David Brashear, chair of the committee and founder of PHLF’s Scholarship program.
“We will miss our opportunities to talk one on one – and to get to know each other – but hopefully, next year, many of you will come back to attend our 2021 Celebration,” he added.
Thanks to the generosity of committee members and to the continuing support of the Brashear Family Fund, the McSwigan Family Foundation Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Landmarks Scholarship Fund, the committee was able to award 3 new scholarships, each with a maximum value of $6,000 payable over a four-year period. The committee also awarded 16 honorable mention awards, a one-time award of $250. This year had the biggest number of honorable mention recipients the committee has ever awarded in any one year.
“Thank you for the [virtual] celebration!” said Emily Petrina, who received a scholarship from PHLF in 1999. “It was great to see everyone on the PHLF team, as well as all of the past and present award winners. It was more heartwarming than I expected to hear from all of these people with whom I have a shared history. Get-togethers like this seem to mean more these days in such an uncertain world.”
Sam Zlotnikov, a 2020 Scholarship recipient added, “Thank you so very much for today’s meeting. Although it would have been splendid to meet everyone in person, it was great to hear from previous winners!”
Since the program’s inception in 1999, PHLF has awarded 79 scholarships and 30 honorable mentions, thereby connecting with 109 young people who care deeply about the Pittsburgh region. This is a fantastic achievement that brings new life, commitment, and energy to our organization.
“We welcome contributions from members and friends in this, our 22nd anniversary year, to support our very successful program that has a profound and lasting impact on the students it has served and on PHLF,” said Mr. Brashear.
Please click here to contribute and direct your gift to “Scholarship Programs.”
If you are a PHLF member with elementary-school-age children or grandchildren, you may request a free copy of Neighborhood Stories, Including Mine. The 42-page book contains stories about Squirrel Hill and Brookline by fourth-grade students from Pittsburgh Colfax, as well as tips and worksheets that any child can use with an adult this summer to explore his or her neighborhood. Most importantly, there is room in the book for a child to add his or her neighborhood story, drawing, or photograph––thereby completing Neighborhood Stories, Including Mine.
Please contact Frank Stroker (412-471-5808, ext. 525) if you would like him to mail you one or more books. Frank will mail books to everyone who requests them during the week of July 20. Neighborhood Stories, Including Mine helps young people notice and appreciate the strengths of their neighborhoods and think about ways to improve their neighborhoods. When a family member completes a neighborhood story, please photograph or scan it and email it to Sarah Greenwald, PHLF’s co-director of education, who will save it in our Neighborhood Stories Archive.
“We hope to receive at least one story for every Pittsburgh neighborhood, along with stories about neighborhoods throughout Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania,” said Louise Sturgess, education advisor at PHLF. Five fourth-grade students from Pittsburgh Roosevelt, who participated in PHLF’s “Building Pride/Building Character” Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, mailed their stories to PHLF at the end of the school year.
Mt. Oliver, A Borough Completely Surrounded by Pittsburgh, by Avery
Mt. Oliver is a small borough that is about .34 square miles in total and was founded in 1769 by Captain John Ormsby. It sits completely surrounded by 6 neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh. In 1927, the City of Pittsburgh tried to force Mt. Oliver Borough to become a part of the City. After many legal battles, it was declared that Pittsburgh had no rights to Mt. Oliver, and it has since remained its own borough. Because of its small size, Mt. Oliver does pay taxes to the City of Pittsburgh to use their school system, and that’s why I am here writing my story today!
On a fall day here in Mt. Oliver, you will see the usual fallen leaves and people bustling about; and you will hear the loud noises of cars and buses. Mt. Oliver has a nice mix of houses, apartment buildings, and businesses. The business district of Mt. Oliver boasts a borough building, a police department, a volunteer fire station, post office, florist, bakery, barbershop, and many other stores. One notable landmark you won’t miss while driving or walking through Mt. Oliver is the big clock tower that sits at the intersection of Brownsville Road and Hayes Avenue.
While taking a walk to the business district, we stopped at the barbershop so my older brother could get a haircut. Since we were there, I thought I’d ask the barber a couple of questions about the business and the neighborhood.
Question: “Do you like being a barber?”
Answer: “Love it. I love seeing all of my regular clients and sometimes new faces.”
Question: “Do you like the location of your barber shop?”
Answer: “Very much. I like to watch all of the people pass by while out shopping.
In conclusion, living in Mt. Oliver doesn’t seem any different than living in the City since no matter which direction I go in, there is a City neighborhood surrounding me. I do, however, like being tucked away in my own little borough.
Carrick, by Nyla
I live in Carrick. My neighborhood is very calm. When I step outside, I see the colorful leaves falling off the trees. I interviewed my Mom and she said that the neighbors participate in holidays. For example, people pass out lots of candy and dress up on Halloween. A lot of people are friendly, and traveling to Downtown is easy. She enjoys her job as a case worker which allows her to help people get food and other resources within the community.
Is your neighborhood like mine? Or is it different?
My Beautiful Neighborhood, by Mi’Kiyah
Hello, my name is Mi’Kiyah. I am going to tell you about my community and neighborhood.
To me, community means a whole bunch of people, plants, and streets.
This is what I treasure and care about most. I want to protect plants because they give us oxygen. There is a beautiful garden and there are beautiful plants in my neighborhood, and I often get flowers for my Mom and family.
Thank you for listening to my story.
How I Got to Go to Anthony’s Pizza for Softball, by Kaylee
When I played softball in Carrick, we had to make a banner and walk in a parade. We put softballs on the banner with our names on them. The winning team got to eat at Anthony’s Pizza. We were very excited when we heard we won.
When I got to Anthony’s Pizza, my team was just playing tag outside. I was sitting at the table with my friends. We were just talking until the pizza arrived. When we got the pizza, we were happy to eat the pizza. Then we got our photograph taken at Anthony’s, and it was hung on the wall.
When we were done eating, we just hung out for awhile outside, and then we all left and went home.
About My Community, by Nya
Hi, my name is Nya and I live in the neighborhood of Mt. Oliver. I’m going to share with you about my community.
To me, my community means to share common habits and interests with others around me.
This is what I treasure about my community. I care about my family, population, and litter. I want to protect animals, people, and my family.
To help care for my community I can help on Earth Day. I can use bottles that can be used again, and I can support others by saying nice words: “Awesome,” “You did great,” and “Nice job.”
To help take care of myself, I can get more sleep, study, and practice my clarinet more often. That’s what I need to do more.
Thanks for listening.
Fifty-one gifted sixth-graders at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in the Pine-Richland School District learned much about resilience and perseverance in completing their work for PHLF’s Fifth Annual Sustainable Design Challenge this spring. The Design Challenge is a collaboration of PHLF and Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus, where the curriculum and daily life revolve around environmental sustainability. It was supported this year by the McSwigan Family Foundation Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
The subject of this year’s Design Challenge was the Morledge House Garage, a wood-frame, Dutch gambrel-roofed building of about 550 square feet located on the Eden Hall Campus, not far from the elementary school. After a tour of the Eden Hall campus and an opportunity to examine and document the Garage last October, the students were given their task: to convert it into a place for the community to gather and learn about the Campus’s mission and activities. Working in 12 teams, the students were encouraged to “think big,” pursue ideas that excite and inspire them, and transform those ideas into building uses that are meaningful to them. Their final designs were to be captured in architectural models they would present to a panel of jurors for review and critique at the beginning of May.
Projects were well underway when COVID-19 slammed the brakes on life as we know it. Having left their drawings and other working materials behind when the school closed on March 20, the students were forced to reconstruct their projects from memory. The teams continued to work on-line from home; without their models and drawings, however, they had to convey their ideas through slide presentations, using only words and allusive pictures.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the students produced a wonderfully rich stew of imaginative ideas for transforming the Morledge House Garage. Among the new functions they envisioned:
- a place for re-selling used clothing and books, and an organic community garden;
- a center for teaching marketable skills like sewing, auto repair, and cooking, together with an art studio and garden;
- a survival camp where hands-on activities teach participants how sustainability connects to nature;
- a “Healthy Hearts Community Center,” with library, yoga studio, maker space, and bike rental and repair shop;
- a building with indoor and outdoor zones for a variety of activities designed to help people with disabilities; and
- a center for the study of butterflies, color, and air quality, with a café selling seasonal fruits.
The students’ extensive research was evident in the numerous sustainable materials and other elements their projects incorporated. Cork flooring, aluminum interior walls, solar exterior paint, roof gardens, bicycle-generated electricity, book cases constructed from dead trees found on the site, a chair re-purposed from a grocery cart, and natural illumination were among the strategies the students employed to maximize their projects’ sustainability. And as several teams pointed out, the most sustainable aspect of their work was re-using the historic building.
“I’m always amazed at how quickly students in our design programs ramp up to an understanding of architectural ideas. We kind of throw them in the deep end and say, ‘OK, kids, here’s your assignment. Have at it!’ What they produced was thoughtful and sophisticated,” said Tracy Myers, co-director of education. The jury, comprised of architects, specialists in sustainability, and PHLF staff, agreed, noting that they had previously been unaware of some of the materials the students proposed.
Jennifer Kopach and Joanna Sovek, teachers at Eden Hall Upper Elementary who have been involved with the Design Challenge since its first year at the school, said, “We are incredibly proud of our 6th-grade students. We talk about resiliency all the time. These students showed resiliency and perseverance. Their positivity and success provided closure and a sense of accomplishment. We are so happy their hard work paid off and excited for them as they begin their next adventure.”
A lesson for all of us as we continue to adapt to uncertainty and changing circumstances. Well done, kids!
PHLF Provides Educational Resources to Pittsburgh Public School Teachers Through Its “Building Pride/Building Character” EITC Program
Thanks so much for calling in to our meeting this morning and sharing your knowledge of Pittsburgh with our students! … As you know, today would have been our Pittsburgh tour. The “Building Pride/Building Character” trolley tour is one of the experiences in third grade that is most impactful for our students. We’ve been doing our best to give them a “virtual Pittsburgh” experience, but having your passion with us today was exactly what we needed!
––Third-grade teachers, Pittsburgh Dilworth, May 14, 2020
Louise Sturgess, PHLF’s education advisor, participated in an on-line classroom discussion with third-grade students from Pittsburgh Dilworth on May 14. The teachers were leading a virtual tour of Pittsburgh on the date that PHLF originally had scheduled for the student’s “Building Pride/Building Character” trolley tour.
“Our education staff is eager to stay in touch with all the teachers and students who usually participate with us in exploring the Pittsburgh region,” said Louise, “so it was a wonderful opportunity to meet virtually with Pittsburgh Dilworth’s third-grade students.”
Please contact Sarah Greenwald, PHLF’s co-director of education, to receive the play, “How Pittsburgh Came to Be,” or educational resources about the Strip District, or about famous Pittsburghers for whom some notable local places are named: H. J. Heinz and Henry J. Heinz II; David L. Lawrence; Rachel Carson; Andy Warhol; Roberto Clemente; August Wilson; and Franco Harris.
“Since PHLF is not able to offer its trolley tours and walking tours at this time, our staff is making these educational resources available to teachers to use with students in their on-line classrooms,” said Sarah.
We thank the McSwigan Family Foundation Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation and corporate donors for generously contributing to our educational programs so they are affordable––or provided at no cost to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, thanks to the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program.