Point Park may preserve facades in plan for Pittsburgh Playhouse

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Point Park University may preserve at least parts of three building facades on Forbes Avenue as part of its plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has been talking to the college for some time about its interest in preserving the facades of the university-owned structures at 320, 322 and 330 Forbes, president Arthur Ziegler said Monday.

Mr. Ziegler said the last plan that the foundation saw indicated Point Park intended to save the facade of the former Honus Wagner sporting goods store at 320 Forbes. He added he believes the university is trying to save at least pieces of all three facades.

However, he cautioned that he had not seen the college's latest plans for the buildings and did not know if there had been any changes. Mr. Ziegler said the foundation wants to support the relocation and see the playhouse moved to Downtown but at the same time is interested in seeing "as much of the terra-cotta facades saved as possible."

Point Park will brief the city planning commission on its plans for buildings at a meeting today. Its application for the deconstruction says the intent is to "deconstruct/recycle the three existing buildings to provide space for construction" of the playhouse.

So far, the university has been coy about its plans, declining to provide any detailed information until it had talked to the planning commission.

But Mariann Geyer, Point Park's vice president of external affairs, said Monday, "At the end of the day, the university wants to continue to be good stewards of all the wonderful turn-of-the-century properties it is fortunate enough" to own Downtown.

She would not discuss specific details until today's briefing.

All three buildings became part of the Fourth Avenue National Register Historic District when it was expanded earlier this year. That does not prevent a private property owner from demolishing the buildings. If federal funds are involved, a review process must take place.

The Honus Wagner building was acquired by Point Park in 2011 for $1 million after the sporting goods store closed.

According to the history and landmarks foundation, the two-story Beaux Arts building was built around 1910 and features layers of classical ornament, including scrolled brackets, swags and wreaths. It at one time housed a restaurant, The Royal, whose name is still set in the facade.

Next to it sits the second structure to be deconstructed, a two-story classical revival building with lots of glass and intricate architectural detail near the top and around the windows.

The third property is a three-story Beaux Arts building with colossal fluted Corinthian pilasters and round arch openings, capped by a projecting cornice with urn finials, according to the landmarks foundation.

Point Park estimates the cost of the deconstruction or demolition at $700,000.

Earlier this year, the university made the relocation of the playhouse the priority of the next phase of its $244 million academic village initiative Downtown.

While the college has set no timetable for the playhouse's relocation, other sources, from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to the university's student newspaper, have indicated that construction could start next year with completion in 2016.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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