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Vandergrift’s Grant Avenue dusts off charm

By Francine Garrone
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Once dotted with awnings and marquee store signs, Grant Avenue in Vandergrift proved to be the place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Today, it’s turn-of-the-20th-century charm and historic facades have fallen victim to perhaps-misguided modernization. Vacant storefronts leave many buildings vulnerable to water damage or even cave-ins.

But through the efforts of the Vandergrift Improvement Program and state grants, Grant Avenue is beginning to return to the look it had during the time of soda fountains and 75 cent movies.

VIP has applied to the state Department of Community and Economic Development for a third year of funding for its Main Street Program.

If the non-profit, grassroots organization is seeking a $45,000 state grant.

“The Main Street Program is a tremendous help and enabled the VIP to begin,” said VIP Main Street manager Shaun Yurcaba. “It has given us the foundation to start down the road to rebirth.”

In 2006, VIP received its first $5,000 from the Main Street Program.

Yurcaba said the money was used to set up an office on Grant Avenue.

Last year, VIP received another $50,000. That paid for operational expenses such as rent, insurance, utilities, and Yurcaba’s hiring. The rest went to programs such as meetings and the real estate breakfast.

“There was not much left over,” Yurcaba said.

If VIP continues to apply for funding beyond this year, it will be eligible to receive $40,000 in 2009 and $35,000 in 2010.

However, there are annual requirements that the organization has to meet in order to receive the state grants, including raising some of its own money.

In order to get the $45,000 from the state this year, VIP had to raise $15,000, she said, which it has done.

In fact, VIP has raised more than $17,000. The remaining $2,000 will go toward next year.

“We did a pledge drive initially and had commitments from the community in various pledge amounts,” she said. “The community has been really supportive in following up with pledges.”

The Main Street Program grant has pushed VIP to reach out further for additional funding in bettering the community.

VIP received a $120,000 Facade Improvement Grant that allows $30,000 in state funding over a four-year period. The grant enables business owners to make improvements to their facades by being awarded half of the cost of the improvement up to $10,000. Anything above that cost would come out of pocket.

“We want to work with them in the projects they are doing,” Yurcaba said. “The money can be used for anything dealing with preserving history to enhancing and restoring the downtown business district, which is also a historic district.”

Vandergrift is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect of New York’s Central Park and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Vandergrift was a planned community founded by George G. McMurtry, president of the Apollo Iron and Steel Co., Apollo. It was named after Capt. J.J. Vandergrift, a director of the steel mill.

At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Vandergrift won two gold medals for best town design.

Yurcaba said the Vandergrift Improvement Program has established a name that they hope will continue to provide revitalization efforts to the community.

“The goal is, through the years, to become more and more self-sustaining as an organization,” she said. “But that will only happen through public and private funding and volunteer assistance.”

Francine Garrone can be reached at or 724-226-4701.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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