Wrecking ball ends quest to preserve historic house – Fast-food restaurant slated for construction on site
By Daniel Reynolds TRIBUNE-REVIEW
The Wilkinsburg house where one of the pioneers of commercial radio did his earliest work was demolished Thursday, despite efforts by preservationists to save the structure.
“I feel like we failed,” said Rick Harris, treasurer of the National Museum of Broadcasting, a Forest Hills group that tried for years to convince government officials and foundations to give them the money to save the building.
Harris and his group are still trying to establish a museum commemorating Frank Conrad, the Westinghouse engineer and former Wilkinsburg resident whose engineering team sent the first shortwave radio broadcasts around the world.
But yesterday, Harris said he could only stand, watch, and snap a few photos as the house Conrad did some of his early work in was demolished.
“I think years from now people will look back and say ‘It’s just a shame that they couldn’t save it. What was wrong with people back then in the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000 that they couldn’t have gotten a few hundred thousand together to buy it and restore it?'” Harris said.
Cathy McCollom, director of operations for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, has said her organization spent significant amounts of time working with Harris’ organization.
She said the group never could find a way to preserve the house Conrad rented in a way that would be financially feasible.
Contractors for the Wendy’s Corp. began tearing down the house at 577 Penn Ave. down yesterday afternoon.
The house that Conrad rented from approximately the mid-1910s to the early 1930s was sold to Wendy’s in August by Elks Lodge No. 577, which has since moved to Wilkins Township.
Wendy’s plans to build a new restaurant on the site. Harris said the restaurant chain has given him permission to gather remnants of the brick structure after demolition to include in a museum or some other fitting display.
Harris said the beginnings of commercial radio took place in the house’s garage and music room, where Conrad assembled groups of musicians and narrators for early radio broadcasts throughout the Pittsburgh area.
Conrad’s experiments evolved into local broadcasting stalwart KDKA, the first commercial radio station in the world.
Later on, Conrad led a Westinghouse team that broadcast the first world-wide short wave radio broadcasts from a lab in Forest Hills.
Forest Hills officials are negotiating with Harris’ group to determine whether a museum can be established in Forest Hills dedicated to Conrad’s work.
The National Museum of Broadcasting was able to salvage the Wilkinsburg garage of the home that Conrad rented. The bricks from that garage are stored on pallets in a warehouse owned by the Thomas Rigging Co. at Keystone Commons in Turtle Creek.
Harris’ group hopes to rebuild the garage as part of the museum, but Forest Hills officials have not yet announced where in the borough that might be able to occur.
In January, the Forest Hills site of Conrad’s early work was designated as historically significant by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. © Tribune Review