Tending to Arsenal Park's Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Fountain

 "Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Fountain in Arsenal Park",  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , May 29, 1909

"Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Fountain in Arsenal Park", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 29, 1909

109 years ago today, President Taft joined local officials to dedicate Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Fountain in Arsenal Park (as featured above).  The fountain was funded by the Dolly Madison Chapter of the Daughters of the War of 1812 and placed in the newly (1907) formed Arsenal Park to commemorate the fallen and help convey the history of the park, made from land that comprised part of the Allegheny Arsenal.

 "Arsenal Park" (detail), Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, January 10, 1910.

"Arsenal Park" (detail), Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, January 10, 1910.

The fountain is an exceptional piece of Pittsburgh's history (has anything else in the city been dedicated by a sitting president?), but its had a complicated past that's left it in fairly rough shape.  Despite being welcomed into the park by throngs of people, by all accounts it led a rather solitary existence for the first few decades of its existence.  The 1910 photograph of Arsenal Park depicts the fountain in its original location in the southwestern portion of the park near where the tennis courts now stands.  Its proximity to the nearby hospital provided patients with access to fresh water (remember, this was the height of the era of natural springs in Pittsburgh) and an opportunity for a bit of ambulation and fresh air.

 "Arsenal Park" (detail), Pittsburgh City Photographer, September, 21, 1937.

"Arsenal Park" (detail), Pittsburgh City Photographer, September, 21, 1937.

As time progressed, natural springs fell victim to an intentional push by officials to have more people drink increasingly safe tap water.  And although we don't know exactly when the spring was decommissioned, by 1937 the entire fountain had been removed from its based and relocated across the park.  Its new location, in at the crux of the former magazine building, it still continued to serve its original function, a drinking fountain.

 Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, Personal Collection of Matthew Falcone, 2018.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, Personal Collection of Matthew Falcone, 2018.

The fountain was moved again during the renovation of the magazine and as a result lost its base and its free-standing independence.  In 1941, the fountain suffered the last indignity.  In a letter to City Council, the Dolly Madison Chapter of the Daughters of the War of 1812 demanded to know why the fountain had been shut off and insisted on its restoration.  But to no avail.  The fountain's distinctive basin was removed and the semi-circular opening was filled in, obscuring the monument's history, origin, and function for decades.

The fountain's had a hard life but we're happy to report that its future is looking a bit brighter.  As part of the 106 process for the Arsenal 201 development we asked Milhaus Ventures to commit funds towards the fountain's restoration.  They've done just that and the City's Department of Public Works is currently assessing the feasibility of conservation work on the memorial with the hope that the character-defining basin be recreated.

 "Arsenal Park Master Plan", Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

"Arsenal Park Master Plan", Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

But the story may not end there.  Several years ago the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy completed a Master Plan for Arsenal Park, which called for the full restoration of the fountain (plumbing included).  As part of this plan, there is a possibility to reexamine the location of the fountain with a bit more discussion with community stakeholders.  Here at Preservation Pittsburgh, we're hoping to see it make a round trip and end back from where it once belonged.

There's more conversations to have but we're thrilled that this important piece of Pittsburgh's past is on the path to a brighter future.  On that, stay tuned...

 "President at Arsenal Park Makes an Eloquent Plea for Children of the Poor",  The Pittsburgh Press , May 30th, 1909.

"President at Arsenal Park Makes an Eloquent Plea for Children of the Poor", The Pittsburgh Press, May 30th, 1909.

An Unneccessary Loss on Penn Ave.

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Put your device down for a moment and take a walk down the street with us.  Look around, and pick out some details that your eyes are drawn to.  Maybe you see some buildings that have porches, arches, cornices, pillars, stained glass, maybe even a pediment. You don’t have to be a master of architectural terms to pick out what makes a building special.  There’s something about rich design elements that beg for you to notice them.  What makes a block special?  Each and every building that comes together to form the landscape, and we may get used to seeing them there all the time.

But what happens if someone comes along and takes one away? Possibly it gets rebuilt in a new style, or possibly paradise gets paved with a parking lot. What happens to our aesthetic?  Do we notice, do we care?  What happens if more and more of them start to disappear all over the city?

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We were disheartened to learn of the “Intent to Demolish” notice posted on 1231 Penn Ave. in the Strip District on February 23. We found out how the rear wall has collapsed inward and is affecting the floors and integrity of the overall structure.  At first glance, this may seem like a logical reason to tear a building down.  However, there are many instances, if the parties are willing, in which these types of structural issues have been overcome.  If you ask for an orange, do you get an apple? “What will it take to tear this building down?” elicits a very different answer from “What can we do to save this building?”

1231 Penn Avenue is not protected by a local historic designation, nor is it in a National Historic District. However, with its fine detailing and ornate elements, the building contributes to the character of that section of Penn Avenue and to the overall architectural heritage of the city.  Pittsburgh, compared to other cities, has a very low number of buildings on its city historic landmark list and does not have the most stringent protections against development.   Some of our most iconic buildings, like the Block House and Union Trust Building, are not designated landmarks and have no protection if ever faced with demolition or insensitive exterior renovation. Preservation Pittsburgh has been taking steps to actively nominate various buildings as local landmarks – but it is a slow process.

As preservationists concerned with Pittsburgh’s architectural and historical heritage, we often hear the same rationale for demolition (not every building can be saved, an engineer’s report states that a building is not structurally sound). The main argument for demolition is often that an existing building inconveniences one’s larger development plan. Additionally, we see many buildings demolished without a clear plan in place for a new building. 

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And it is the Heinz History Center who will demolish this significant building of stature and history.  They would like to use the space for loading objects in the short term and plan a possible expansion in the long term.  We know there are often options other than demolition through which an organization’s goals can be accomplished. It takes some openness and creativity. Indeed, while we support the History Center’s overall mission, we believe there are other possible workable options to consider for the property besides demolition. 

We are sympathetic to costs, especially for a non-profit organization such as the History Center, who was able to purchase the building recently for $585,000 according to the County records and surely realize there will be significant demolition costs.  There are funding sources such as PHMC’s Keystone grants for historic preservation as well as our local funding community that could help with stabilization and rehabilitation of the building.

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Due to development pressures, church closings, and organizations’ continual needs for expansion, pieces of Pittsburgh are being chipped away left and right.  Taken all together it adds up to a significant erosion of our shared heritage.  We have seen far too many buildings demolished, some with no certain plan in place, and the time to consider alternative solutions is before the wrecking ball swings. By taking the most expedient route or not exploring other options, far too many are ignoring the "specialness" that makes Pittsburgh such a wonderful place to live and to visit.

Please join us in our efforts to save what’s left of our city.  We aren’t looking for people to chain themselves to buildings, just residents willing to send a message to these owners that THIS PLACE MATTERS TO ME!

Celebrate Carol, Landmark Her Home

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There are so many ways we all have recognized Carol Peterson's life, work, and contributions to Pittsburgh.  Her friends (who were family) threw one of the most memorable services recently.  Over a dozen private organizations bestowed prestigious awards for her advocacy and research over the years.  And City Council will today issue a proclamation in her honor, the second such proclamation recognizing Carol's accomplishments and what they mean to so many Pittsburghers.

But there's one more way to celebrate Carol as she wanted; let's landmark her long-time Lawrenceville home (featured above).

There are several ways that something can be considered historic (the City identifies ten such criteria) and it was Carol's wish the argument be made that the house is representative of the people who lived and worked in Lawrenceville at the turn of the 20th century.  It's an argument very much of the lens through which Carol viewed Pittsburgh.

But Carol and I didn't always agree (the Clash, Carol!) and I think the strongest argument for landmarking her house is one she would never have made herself; that it is a landmark because of:

Its identification with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the cultural, historic, architectural, archaeological, or related aspects of the development of the City of Pittsburgh

Simply put, Carol's house should be considered a landmark because of its association with her.

It was in that house that she wrote a majority of her nearly 2,000 celebrated house histories (recently donated to be accessible to other researchers), contributed to Lawrenceville's National Register District, and tirelessly advocated for Pittsburgh's built environment.  It is there that she continually reminded us of the beauty that exists in the humble architecture of Pittsburgh's working-class past through her work.

Yesterday, I submitted the nomination for the house (which maybe viewed here) to the Historic Review Commission, on which Carol served, for consideration.  While I submitted it independently, it's in good company with a petition of over one hundred names, letters from a number of neighborhood, historical, and preservation organizations, and the support of Councilwoman Gross.

If you too would like to lend your support, please email the City's historic preservation planner, Sarah Quinn at: sarah.quinn@pittsburghpa.gov and let's enshrine Carol's memory and accomplishments in a place that was the focus of so much of her time, the City's Register of Historic Places.

Preserving a world made of steel, made of stone,

Matthew W.C. Falcone

Advocating for the Integrity of Penn-Liberty's Historic District

 819 & 821 Penn Ave.

819 & 821 Penn Ave.

As you may know, a large new development is in the works in partnership with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Parking Authority, and The Davis Company on land that spans Penn Avenue to Ft. Duquesne Blvd. (between 8th and 9th Streets).  Much of the land is surface parking/parking garage. However, the new development includes the corner of Penn & 9th Street in the City designated Penn-Liberty Historic District and thus the partners are seeking permission from the Historic Review Commission (HRC) to demolish three buildings in the Historic District (819, 821 Penn Ave are  circa 1910 buildings contributing to the District while the third building, 823 Penn Avenue, does not contribute). The proposed demolition was discussed at the November HRC meeting and may be voted on this week at the Wednesday, December 6th HRC meeting. The link to December’s HRC meeting agenda and applicants’ materials is here.

Also, here is a link to a Post-Gazette article from this summer.

Preservation Pittsburgh believes that it is the HRC’s role to protect buildings that have gone through the long and thorough process to become city landmarks. The two contributing buildings with historic character could be incorporated into the new development. Preservation Pittsburgh has made contact with the partners and has attended a meeting with The Davis Company.  We will also attend this week’s HRC meeting.  

It’s important to note that just a few blocks down at the corner of Penn Avenue and 7th Street a different approach is being taken.  Rather than demolition, two existing buildings at 711 and 713 Penn Avenue (McNally and Bonn Buildings) -- previously owned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust -- will be incorporated into Trek Development's new residential and retail development. http://trekdevelopment.com/whats-new/

The HRC’s December 6th monthly meeting begins at 1 pm, but the demolition approval request falls later on the agenda (probably around 2:45 pm).  Public comment will be heard and public support is taken into consideration (comments are limited to 3 minutes).  Also at the very end of the HRC agenda will be the discussion of Roslyn Place Historic District and Sheridan Homestead that Preservation Pittsburgh recently nominated in partnership with property their respective owners.

 Note: if you are not able to attend the HRC meeting but wish to make a comment, you may send a letter or email to the HRC (Attn: Sarah Quinn) with your public comment: 200 Ross Street, Third Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 or email sarah.quinn@pittsburghpa.gov

Given the pace of development in our city, some of which impacts our historic resources, it’s important that the public has a say in how our communities grow and develop. One way to have a say is through the protection of our historic structures that had a vibrant past with potential for an equally vibrant future.

Scheibler, Scheibler everywhere...

 Old Heidelberg Apartments - Pittsburgh's only designated Scheibler Landmark

Old Heidelberg Apartments - Pittsburgh's only designated Scheibler Landmark

Following Martin Aurand's widely successful lecture on Scheibler hosted by the East Liberty Valley Historical Society, we're left wondering... why aren't more of the architect's work designated as City of Pittsburgh Historic Landmarks?

Frederick Scheibler was born in Pittsburgh and spent the majority of his life working in and around (particularly in Wilkinsburg and Swissvale) the city.  While he spent his career close to home, his work was influenced by international styles like the Successionist movement, the Arts & Crafts movement, and the Chicago and Prairie styles.  Scheibler's work has again and again and again been recognized as some of Pittsburgh's finest and most unique but only his Old Heidelberg Apartments in Point Breeze are recognized as a City Historic Landmark.  So, what gives?

It's complicated.  To be a Pittsburgh historic landmark, the building has to be inside City limits, so Scheibler's work in Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, and other place aren't eligible.  Many of his buildings are now condos or owned by multiple owners, which would require partnering with several people in order landmark.  And the vast majority Scheibler designed are residential, so having a connection to an owner can be harder to navigate than, say, a building owned by a business or governmental agency.

Still, it's past time we tried.  Old Heidelberg was designated by the City on March 15, 1974 - over 43 years ago.  Before a half-century passes us by, let's see if we can honor Scheibler's work and recognize a few more examples as City Historic Landmarks.  After all, exquisite examples of his work are all around us.