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FYIPreservation: Saving our past for the future

The buildings in our communities are full of clues about how Pittsburghers of the past lived, worked, and played and what they thought and believed.

  1. Our architectural heritage
  2. Adaptive reuse

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Our architectural heritage

The fact that Pittsburghers have worked to maintain and continue the life of our significant structures is a testimony to community pride in our history and heritage. Many of the wonderful structures that mark our community have restored and continue to serve the functions they've been performing for decades, even centuries!

Within city limits, dedicated neighborhood associations have driven dramatic restoration efforts. One of the most impressive is in Manchester, on the North Side, which was once in danger of becoming a severely depressed urban area. Today, its residents have worked tirelessly to see homes, businesses, and cultural outlets restored, making Manchester a point of true community pride.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

Beautifully restored Liverpool Street in Manchester is a testament to what community members can do when they work together to revitalize their community.

Other neighborhoods have enjoyed similar rebirth, including Mexican War Streets and "Millionaire's Row" (Ridge Avenue and Brighton Road) in the North Side, as well as old houses in Highland Park, and the whole East Carson Street business district in the South Side.

Jim Judkis for Pittsburgh History & Landmarks

East Carson Steet, South Side, recognized as being one of the best-preserved 19th century commercial districts in the nation, is being restored by its merchants with support of its Main Street Project.

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Ridge Ave. Millionaires Row
Manchester: Historic Preservation

Dramatic community efforts also have saved a number of Pittsburgh's places of worship.

St. Boniface Church on the North Side, an elaborate and beautiful structure showing many of the features of its Byzantine influences, was also slated for demolition, in this case, to make room for a new highway. Moving the church wasn't an option, so the St. Boniface congregation petitioned state officials, and after a concerted community effort, the highway was re-routed by several hundred feet.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

St. Boniface, on the North Side, barely escaped destruction during the construction of 1-279.

Unfortunately, after a long, dramatic existence, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, which was originally constructed in downtown Pittsburgh in 1852, was not so lucky. When the construction of the Union Trust Building Downtown forced the church—which was then the Roman Catholic St. Paul's Cathedral--to move to the suburbs in 1916, builders meticulously deconstructed the it stone by stone and then re-constructed it at its new location on Forbes Avenue in Oakland! Fervently dedicated to rebuilding the church exactly as it had been, the church even offered a $1,000 reward for one misplaced stone. The stone, by the way, was eventually found, and St. Paul's was re-constructed exactly as the original downtown church and later sold to the St. Peter's Episcopal congregation. Since Holy Pittsburgh was filmed, however, due to a shrinking congregation, St. Peter's—after escaping the wrecking ball once already—has lost its battle for survival and has been torn down for new development in Oakland.

Clyde Hare for Pittsburgh History & Landmarks

St. Peter's Episcopal, which waS originally built as St. Paul's Cathedral downtown in 1852, survived being moved stone-by-stone to Oakland in 1916, but did not survive the pressures of development.

Many more churches and synagogues throughout the region – though they hold clues to the heritage of Pittsburgh's people—are in also in danger of being lost.

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Adaptive reuse

But preserving and maintaining buildings is a costly venture – and as more and more communities work to save the pieces of their past, they realize some buildings could be preserved and modified to serve a function beyond sitting as silent testimonies to the past. Many structures outlive their original functions, but are structurally sound and timelessly attractive. They are prime candidates for the latest trend in preservation: adaptive reuse.

Station Square, on the South Side, is an excellent example of a building that was modified for new uses, yet still retains the look and spirit of its original structure. Once the old P&LE Railroad station, it is now an indoor plaza – housing 134 shops, restaurants, and business offices. Certainly many people meet at Station Square for dining in the old Terminal building at the Grand Concourse or shopping and entertainment at the Freight Shops. But consider the people who may have gathered there in the days when it served as a railroad station. How many immigrants and business people entered the city through this port? How many soldiers departed from there for military assignments overseas?

Station Square has become a national model of a mixed-use adaptive reuse preservation project. The beautiful glass roof of the Passenger Terminal (now Grand Concouse) had been waterproofed with tar that had to be removed with oven cleaner!

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While the structure of Station Square remains the same, its function has changed . . . and the fortunate result is that its delightful appearance has been magnified! Like the Old Post Office on the North Side (the current home of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum) and the Oliver Bath House (now a community swimming pool) at 10th Street on the South Side, and Heinz Hall Downtown, these significant pieces of the city's past have been smoothly integrated into the fabric of our modern society.

Heinz Hall Downtown, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony, is was an early Pittsburgh example of "adaptive reuse" in 1970 when it was restored from the old Penn Theater.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
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Pittsburgh's Strip District is another area enjoying revival in recent years, providing new locations for businesses, entertainment venues, apartments, and museums – all respectfully housed in former warehouses that have been adapted for their new functions. The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Museum is one example; and the nightclub Metropol is another.

Similar examples of "reincarnated" workplaces exist on the South Side, and although the new tenants range from restaurants to artists-in-residence, many of the structures' features still echo the days of their original use. One very visible example is the old Duquesne Brewery. Sitting atop the brewery was an enormous clock, which, when first built in 1933, was the largest single-faced clock in the world! Today, the building is home to an eclectic group of artists and performers who use it for creative workspace – all co-existing happily beneath that same clock built in 1933! In tribute to the structure's past, these artists and performers even have named their organization the Brew House Association.

The bridges and buildings that make up our city – from the tallest skyscraper to the one-room storefronts to the tiniest homes – offer a glimpse into Pittsburgh's evolution. These structures –which are celebrated throughout the Pittsburgh History Series--are landmarks of the people, businesses, and celebrations that comprise our community. They speak of sturdy pioneers who built a village of log houses and protected it with a log fort; they praise the self-taught engineers who experimented ceaselessly to discover the science and math secrets that defied gravity; they tell of famous industrialists such as Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Carnegie, who helped establish the city as a center for business. . . and they pay homage to the nameless and unrecognized citizens who worked to establish Pittsburgh as their home.

These structures can unveil to students the shape of our past and present, revealing the purpose of Pittsburghers and identifying our city, and our region, unmistakably as home.

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Bridges and Buildings