The facades of three turn-of-the-century buildings will get new life -- and a new context -- as part of plans to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown.
Point Park University officials said Tuesday that they plan to incorporate the facades of the buildings at 320, 322 and 330 Forbes Ave. into the design of the $53 million playhouse complex and public courtyards that will be part of it.
"As much as we can save, we're going to try to save," Point Park architect Elmer B. Burger II said.
But rather than build the playhouse around the facades, the university plans to remove them from the existing structures and use them in other places within the new complex.
For instance, Mr. Burger confirmed Point Park will use the Beaux Arts facade of the former Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store, with its scrolled brackets, swags and wreaths, in a courtyard to be built on Forbes. Parts of the facades also may be used in the design of a new grand staircase or in other elements within the playhouse itself.
The school detailed its plans for the facades during a briefing before the city planning commission. It is seeking the commission's approval to deconstruct the three Downtown buildings to clear the way for the playhouse's construction.
Just how much of the three facades will be saved depends on their condition, Mr. Burger said. The school also plans to restore and reuse the vacant early 20th-century Stock Exchange Building on Fourth Avenue as part of the playhouse complex.
It also intends to restore the facade and make interior renovations to University Center, the former Colonial Trust Co. building, with entrances on Forbes, Fourth and Wood Street as part of the playhouse work. Point Park will use part of the center, which is adjacent to the former Honus Wagner store, as lobby space for the playhouse.
The playhouse itself will feature a 500- to 520-seat main theater; two black box theaters, one with 250 seats and one with 100; a sound stage; scene, paint and prop shops; and a performance classroom.
While the school intends to preserve the facades as much as possible, Mr. Burger said the three buildings themselves were not in good enough condition to be reused in the playhouse design. The new building will be crafted to match the "history and the rhythm of the street," said Mariann Geyer, Point Park vice president, external affairs.
University officials hope to begin construction in late 2014 or 2015. The deconstruction could start late this year with planning commission approval.
Based on an initial review, Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, said the proposed plans for the facades "look good."
Michael Shealey, a member of the board of directors for Preservation Pittsburgh, attended Tuesday's briefing and said afterward the group will meet today to discuss Point Park's plans. It has yet to take a position on the deconstruction.
Also Tuesday, commission members approved plans to convert floors 11 to 23 of the Clark Building on Liberty Avenue into 144 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The developer, PMC Property Group, also has an application pending for a variance before the city's zoning board of adjustment to convert floors 5 to 11 into roughly 72 apartments.
The commission also gave the go-ahead for the construction of a 24-by-74-foot addition to Four Gateway Center to accommodate the new Eddie Merlot's steakhouse. The addition will cut into a pedestrian walkway that snakes through the portion of Gateway Center between Boulevard of the Allies and Liberty Avenue.
Commission member John Valentine bemoaned the loss of the open space. "I'm going to vote in favor but I'm going to hold my nose," he said. "It just breaks my heart that this corporation comes in and takes some of our green space away."
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.