An Unneccessary Loss on Penn Ave.


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?


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. 


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.


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


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: 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.

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

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.

Rub-a-dub-dub... Where are all of Pittsburgh's Tubs?

 Soho Baths & Settlement House, Fifth Ave.

Soho Baths & Settlement House, Fifth Ave.

 Phipps Public Baths & Gymnasium, North Side.

Phipps Public Baths & Gymnasium, North Side.

With a positive recommendation from the City's Historic Review Commission yesterday, the Oliver Bath House nomination now heads to the Planning Commission for consideration.  While it's the only remaining bath house in Pittsburgh still serving its original function, it was one of more than a half dozen public baths throughout the City.  And each served the workers from nearly every industry, every day.

 Public Bath House, Hill District.

Public Bath House, Hill District.

These bath houses incorporated different functions and services to the communities but they all had baths and showers that were either free to the public or accessible for a nominal fee.  In an era when plumbing was not a staple in every home (and baths even rarer) these spaces provided an opportunity for men and woman alike to not only clean themselves but also do household laundry.  The driving force behind their creation was to help improve sanitary conditions throughout the City and the lives of the workers.  Several noted philanthropists (like Oliver and Phipps) as well as the Allegheny Civic Club greatly advanced the cause.

 People's Baths, Strip District

People's Baths, Strip District

In 1897 the first of these bath houses was constructed by Mary Sibbet Copley in memory of her deceased husband, William Thaw at 16th & Penn Ave. in the Strip District (now demolished).  It was so popular that the Civic Club (who took over operational management) soon made plans for a new bath house at 20th & Penn Ave. (featured on right).  The Civic Club also paid for the creation of one of the most monumental bath houses in the City, the Soho Baths & Settlement House (featured at top).

 Public Bath House and Wash Association, Lawrenceville.

Public Bath House and Wash Association, Lawrenceville.

As plumbing became more ubiquitous and social mores changed, the bath houses began to loose their relevancy and popularity.  Several of Pittsburgh's bath houses were lost to urban re-development and highways in the 1960s.  Pittsburgh's only bath house for African-Americans was demolished with the majority of the lower Hill and the Phipps Baths were similarly lost to the failed urban renewal scheme that destroyed much of the North Side's historic fabric.

Despite this, we're fortunately to have many still with us today.  The Public Bath House and Wash Association in Lawrenceville has been converted to office space, the People's Bath in the Strip is now a Thai restaurant and general merchandise outlet, and Soho Baths in Soho is owned by Allegheny County and provides support services for offenders.  They're all important parts of our history and we're working to see if they too can be landmarked.

And, of course, thanks to efforts of the Department of CitiParks and the City of Pittsburgh, 102 years later the Oliver Bath House is still... a bath house.

 "Waiting for their Turn at the People's Baths"

"Waiting for their Turn at the People's Baths"

New Landmarking Fund - Request for Donations

Dear Friend of Pittsburgh’s Architecture & Heritage,

At Preservation Pittsburgh, we love our City Historic Landmarks.  So much so that we’re focusing on growing Pittsburgh’s list to landmark the places that capture the story of who we are.  And never has there been a greater need to follow the example set by other cities to help ensure the places that matter to us most will be protected for the future.

Cleveland has 356 individual City Historic Landmarks; Baltimore has 388; Chicago, 369; Washington, D.C. has over 650; and New York has a formidable 1,355.

Today, Pittsburgh has 89.

In 2016 we partnered with neighbors and community groups to grow our City’s Landmark list.  The former Albright Church, former St. George Church, Howe Spring, Voegtly Spring, Snyder/Catahecassa Spring, and Roslyn Place will elevate the list to 94.  In 2017 we plan to nominate more than a dozen places to finally bring Pittsburgh’s landmark list to over 100.

To continue to expand the program, we need your help.  On behalf of Preservation Pittsburgh, I write asking you to consider making a contribution to our new Landmarking Fund.  With your contribution we can continue to hire researchers to conduct original research on buildings and sites and to use that research to nominate landmarks important to us all.

To make a tax-deductible donation online, go to:

or send a check made payable to “Preservation Pittsburgh” to Preservation Pittsburgh, 1501 Reedsdale St., Suite 5003, Pittsburgh, Pa.15233 (please note “Landmarking Fund” on the check).  

With your donation of $100 or more, membership in Preservation Pittsburgh will be included.  If you are already a member, we appreciate your donation to the fund in addition to your annual membership.  Should you have any questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.  Thank you for your support of our efforts and for your consideration of this request to help us landmark Pittsburgh’s historic buildings, sites, & structures!

Best Wishes for the New Year,

Matthew W.C. Falcone

President of the Board

A Street by Any Other Name.

 Pittsburgh's North Side, 1910.

Pittsburgh's North Side, 1910.

Several weeks ago the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that plans are in the works to change the traffic pattern around the former Allegheny Center.  Gone will be the unneeded four lane highways in the middle of the City's oldest neighborhoods and in return we'll have more sensible, livable streets with two-way traffic, a bike lane, and something a bit more hospitable for pedestrians.

But we shouldn't stop there.  John Redick's 1788 street plan may be irrevocably altered but the current four-lane highways slated for a road diet occupy the same space as four streets of Allegheny City's original grid.  These streets (and the street names they replaced) are:

  • N Commons = Erie St.
  • S Commons = Stockton Ave.
  • E Commons = Sandusky St.
  • W Commons = Arch St.

When Allegheny Center was created out of the razed buildings of Allegheny City in the 1960s, the focus was on creating a new center of gravity, independent from the historic neighborhoods across the park.  And this meant that old street names had to go, replaced by new ones that emphasized the surrounding park and severed the connection to the surrounding communities.  But it is in those communities that fragments of the original street plan, and the historic street names, remain. 

Part of Stockton Ave. exists in the southern lead up to Deutschtown.  Sandusky St. leads to the 7th St. Bridge.  Arch St. runs the length of the Mexican War Streets.

The proposed changes to make the current streets friendlier and more livable is wonderful and long overdue.  And as we did with the former Penn Circle, let's use this opportunity to bring back the historic street names and take a small step to knitting the North Side back together.

Springs, Springs, all Types of Springs...

 Fountain of Youth, Archeological Park.

Fountain of Youth, Archeological Park.

Last week the City's Historic Review Commission found that Howe, Snyder, and Voegtly Springs meet several historic criteria, qualifying them to become City Landmarks.  If landmarked they would join an interesting, if not incredibly diverse, list of natural springs that are recognized for their historic importance around the country. 

 Poland Spring, Spring House

Poland Spring, Spring House

The company of Poland Spring was founded in 1845 in the town of Alfred, Me. and quickly became a popular tourist destination.  The construction of a luxury inn (lost to a fire in the mid 20th century), helped fuel the spring water's popularity as people traveled from all over the nation to "take in the waters".  It was during the 1880s that an ornate spring house (featured at right) was constructed over the "source" of Poland Spring and other amenities were added to the resort.  The successor of this resort is still active on the site today, although the spring water that is bottled comes from a number of different sites across Maine.  Rich with history and architecture, the Poland Spring Preservation Society maintains stewardship over several notable structures.

 Deer Park Inn

Deer Park Inn

Much closer to home, Deer Park Spring Water has a very similar origin as Poland Springs.  In 1873 the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) founded a resort in the Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland to attract visitors from the East Coast.  As its popularity grew, so too did the attraction of the nearby natural spring water from "boiling spring".  The historic inn was razed in 1942 but the site on which it stood is recognized as an historic site by the State of Maryland.

Though Poland Spring and Deer Park have a similar history and continue to be part of our everyday lives, it is the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Fl. that is, perhaps, America's most unique historic spring.  Recognized as a landmark by the State of Florida, the park was founded in 1904 by Luella Day McConnell as a tourist attraction to draw visitors to northern Florida.  While there were several different iterations of the Fountain of Youth, the one constructed at the park was paid for by a gift from Spain and does originate from a natural spring.  A remarkable story, it's the history of this site as the location of the first Spanish mission in mainland North America, though, which lends itself to its designation by the state.  As far as St. Augustine is from Pittsburgh though, it's nice to know that we have our own Fountain of Youth nearby in Allison Park.

With all of these historic springs though, Pittsburgh's stand apart because of their history, location, and their prospective designations.  None of the springs above are located in a large metropolitan center as Howe, Snyder, and Voegtly are and none are designated - or protected - as local historic landmarks.  Should Pittsburgh's HRC, Planning Commission, and City Council choose to designate Pittsburgh's springs, they will be the first locally designated springs in the country and we will be the first City to recognize the historic importance that springs had in its development.

So what should we take away from all of this?  Among other things, its a point of city pride.  America may be filled with notable natural springs but only Pittsburgh can truly claim to be the 'City of Springs'.

For Pittsburgh's Artwork of Historic Importance, Designation is the Answer

The recent sale of George Rickey's sculpture, "L's -- One Up One Down Excentric" outside the National Steel Center on Stanwix Street downtown caused a great deal of concern about the fate of remaining pieces of privately-owned artwork on public display throughout Pittsburgh.  Rightfully so as time and time again across the country, art in public places are sold and moved to private locations far away from the originally intended site.  The concern about the future of public art in Pittsburgh is so great that according to Next City Mayor Peduto is investigating how to safeguard public art by creating an inventory and reaching out to the owners for more permanent assurances that everything will remain in place.

This is a fantastic step towards protecting the cultural expression so integrated into our urban fabric and closely parallels how our City's preservation ordinance works.  When a building (or more aptly in this case, an object) is designated it enjoys a degree of protection in that proposed changes would need to be first considered by the Historic Review Commission through a public forum.  This includes reviewing potential moves.

And this process can - and has - been applied to pieces of publicly-accessible art.  Moretti's Horse Tammer Sculptures and Welcome Sculptures both enjoy protection as designated historic objects.  Earlier this year a nomination was also submitted for the stained glass windows in former St. George Church as they are in danger of being removed from the former church and shipped outside of Pittsburgh.  Other pieces of art like the USS Maine Memorial, Civil War Memorial, and Hamilton Battery Memorial also enjoy protection through Allegheny Commons' designation as a City Historic Site.

With a system already in place to safeguard public-facing art, it makes sense to expand upon it and protect pieces of art that are privately owned but publicly visible and have historical significance.  The example that comes immediately to mind is the (former) Kaufmann's clock (featured above).  Originally designed to rest atop a pole, it was later incorporated into the facade of Kaufmanns' in 1913 and remains one of the most recognized pieces of private art on public display in the City.  The Clock has always been privately owned (from Kaufmann to Macy's to, now, Core Development) but was always intended for public display and to shape the street corner below.  It is an iconic piece of history that helps define what makes Pittsburgh, "Pittsburgh".  Similarly, Max Kohler's Lions (1871) that adorn the Dollar Savings Bank at Fourth & Smithfield have played such an important role in identifying that space they were recently replaced with near-identical replicas.  Both have remained part of our city scape through the good hospices of the owners but a historic designation would ensure they will remain so for generations to come.

Later this summer Preservation Pittsburgh hopes to add to the list of historically-designated pieces of art in the City by nominating the Catahecassa Monument in Schenley Park as part of our initiative to recognize the systems of springs around Pittsburgh.  We hope that Mayor Peduto will give serious consideration to help expand the number of historically-designated art objects in the City through his safeguarding efforts over the next few months.

The Sandwich Summit & Preservation Happenstance in Spring Garden

The much covered meeting of Mayor Peduto and Councilwoman Harris at the recent "Sandwich Summit" on the North Side had perhaps one of the best preservation outcomes we can think of - an historic building headed for a date with the wrecking ball is on its way to being saved.

Earlier this year the featured three-story brick Victorian in Spring Garden on Voskamp Street was condemned by the Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections.  Condemnation doesn't necessarily mean the building will be demolished, but rather it identifies what work must be completed by the owner in order to bring it up to code.  However, this rare gem in Spring Garden though, was placed on the city's demolition list. 

Fortunately a concerned neighbor noticed and contacted Councilwoman Harris and as Diana Nelson-Jones mentions, quickly became a topic of conversation between the Mayor and the Councilwoman.  After the Sandwich Summit, it was reported that the Mayor and Councilwoman did visit the house and discussed how to ensure that it has another chance.  We're informed that this endangered house on Voskamp now has an interested buyer and - perhaps - another chance to be part of Pittsburgh's urban fabric for another century.

So what's to make of all of this?  It seems that this unlikely preservation story would not have been possibly just a few short years ago.  That two pillars of Pittsburgh politics, who don't always see eye-to-eye, can come together and collaboratively take action to try to save an endangered part of Pittsburgh is wonderful news and, we're hoping, part of a new dawn for preservation in Pittsburgh. 

Time will tell but in the meantime, thank you to Mayor Peduto, Councilwoman Harris, and the concerned neighbor that raised the issue, Pittsburgh's history Spring Garden's uniqueness is better off today than yesterday because of you.