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Rebuilding Wilkinsburg

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Justin Vellucci
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deanna Steele looks at Jeanette Street’s boarded-up rowhouses — their lawns choked by shoulder-high weeds — and remembers children playing on the brick-lined Wilkinsburg street when she lived there 20 years ago, long before she settled in Murrysville.
Mary Cathcart wanders through an abandoned, five-bedroom house around the corner and sees, instead, the foundation of a future community — a neighborhood built on the potential of four soon to be refurbished historic homes.

“I love old houses, and it overjoys me that, instead of knocking something down, they’re rebuilding it,” said Cathcart, 49, of Wilkinsburg, as she descended a dusty staircase in a home under renovation Wednesday evening.

“They’re beautiful. And they have such good bones. They don’t build things like this anymore.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is working to ensure they’re not demolished, either. So, it secured two $500,000 grants from the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development to acquire and restore the four roughly century-old structures.

Once the work is done in June or July, each will be sold for $75,000 to $95,000.

Yesterday, most neighbors who flocked to a block party to walk through the homes were less excited about mortgage discounts for prospective buyers than what the investment means to the revitalization of their community.

Sherman Moye lives around the corner from the cluster of homes developers call Hamnett Place. He sees that investment every day when he drives to work.

“I’m glad somebody’s fixing it,” said Moye, 54, of Wilkinsburg. “I know it’s going to be nice.”

Michelle Malito, a Shadyside resident thinking about buying one of the four homes, was impressed by the architectural details the developer is preserving.

Jack Schmitt, who owns a massage therapy business in Squirrel Hill, liked the idea of linking the preserved homes together as part of a sustainable neighborhood.

“I have a business in Pittsburgh, but I want to have a community,” said Schmitt, 38. “I see the vision for the future. I see an eco-village (and) a group of like-minded people.”

Others see the project as a way to improve a residential neighborhood while triggering revitalization elsewhere.

“You work incrementally, and you work your way in,” said Michael Gleba, executive vice president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which has funded historic redevelopment in the South Side and in the Mexican War Streets on the North Side. “You have an opportunity.”

Some see Wilkinsburg’s past in the historic homes, while others see its future. Michael Sriprasert, of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, simply sees the houses themselves.

“I see the houses as they fit into the context of what’s here,” said Sriprasert, as he strolled down the stone alleyway that runs next to one of the restored homes.

“There’s a perception of what Wilkinsburg is. People don’t realize it’s something more,” he said. “That’s what is going on here. … That’s why we’re saving these buildings.”

Justin Vellucci can be reached at or 412-320-7847.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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