Workshop to handle rise of ideas for 'Bakery Row'

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Walnut Capital's plan for Bakery Square at Eastside in East Liberty/Shadyside would combine retail, office, hotel and residential space.

By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Board of Education won't decide whether to sell the Reizenstein Middle School building for at least two years, but that isn't stopping developers from eyeing the site -- and it isn't stopping community planners from thinking about what would be best for the neighborhood.

Make that neighborhoods. The Reizenstein site touches Shadyside and East Liberty, and it's a stone's throw from Point Breeze.

The 2004 East Liberty master plan established a vision and strategy based in part on what already was happening, as Home Depot, Whole Foods Market and the rest of the Eastside development moved in: Strengthen the edges of the business district and work toward and within the center, bringing Penn Avenue back as a regional Main Street with offices and apartments above first-floor shops and restaurants. The plan, detailed in my Aug. 24, 2004, story, also spells out the roles of East Liberty's other primary streets and reinforces connections to its adjacent communities.

"East Liberty is starting to pick up some steam, and I believe in large part because we have a community-supported master plan that provides developers an opportunity to plug into it," said Rob Stephany, director of commercial development for the nonprofit East Liberty Development Inc.

But the plan stops short of that stretch of Penn Avenue.

"We never thought it would be on the market," Stephany said.

Now that it might be, ELDI plans to host a community design workshop for an area it's calling Bakery Row, named for the Nabisco buildings and the long-lost Baur Bros. Co. bakery, built in the 1890s on part of the Reizenstein site. Co-sponsored by Shadyside Action Coalition, the workshop will focus on Penn Avenue from the East Liberty commercial core to Fifth Avenue. It'll be held from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow in Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Ave., Shadyside.

Old maps show that part of Penn Avenue, then still known as the Greensburg Pike, was a mix of residential and commercial buildings. In 1872, houses sat where Reizenstein is, opposite the Eastern Exchange Hotel, the back of which overlooked stockyards and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. In the triangle at the juncture of Fifth and Penn avenues sat the Point Breeze Hotel. By 1904, there were brick and frame houses on both sides of Penn, but the Point Breeze Hotel had vanished. In the 1920s and '30s, the street became more commercial following construction of the first Nabisco building in 1917, but as late as 1939, and likely later, there were still clusters of houses.

Behind Penn Avenue, on land now occupied by Reizenstein's parking lot and the adjacent Village of Shadyside, there was an ethnically diverse neighborhood of small-scale streets, historic houses and businesses, all swept away in the late 1960s to create a Great High School that was never built.

"To a certain extent the neighborhood has come to realize that urban renewal is not a good thing, that rebuilding some fabric is a good thing, but they are specific about what the quality level of that development should be," Stephany said.

Restoring the old street pattern and creating a new residential and commercial neighborhood could be desirable, he said, and that's what some neighbors have expressed -- if the restored streets connect to a development that enhances the neighborhood.

But with a dozen or more flat acres close to affluent neighborhoods, the Reizenstein site also would be appealing to big-box retailers.

Across the street, Walnut Capital Partners has designs on -- and designs for -- turning the former Nabisco plant on Penn into the anchor of a six-acre, mixed-use development called Bakery Square at Eastside, with retail and office space, a 1,200-car parking garage, a hotel, 38 residential units and a fitness center. It's considering a bid on the Reizenstein site, when and if it becomes available.

Also up in the air is Giant Eagle's plan to add a GetGo gas station and perhaps a corner coffee shop on Shady Avenue near Penn.

"We're still looking at that strategic opportunity," said Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts.

The plan met with vocal opposition when it was unveiled at a community meeting in July 2005.

"Shady Avenue is such a grand place until it gets to that Giant Eagle area," Stephany said. "I'd like to figure out how it can maintain dignity through that zone."

At tomorrow's meeting, architect Rob Pfaffmann, ELDI's urban design consultant for Bakery Row, will present a brief overview of the neighborhood, which will be followed by small-group breakout discussion sessions.

Residents, property owners, business people, institutional leaders and developers are invited to attend the workshop, the beginning of a community design process that should lead to a community vision for what might be the juiciest piece of East End real estate to come down the pike in a long time.

Polymath Park progresses

In a clearing in a Westmoreland County woodland, the resurrection of Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House is well under way. The precast foundation, with materials and an installation crew donated by Superior Walls, was completed in August, and now the 1957 Usonian house is going up.

  

Artist rendering from Polymath Park shows the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Duncan House.

Built in a Chicago suburb for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan and carefully deconstructed in 2004, it's being rebuilt as a guest house in what will be known as Polymath Park Resort, a 125-acre private development near Acme.

Polymath Park and its two houses were designed in the 1960s by Peter Berndtson, one of Wright's disciples, for Pittsburghers Harry Blum and James Balter. Berndtson's 1962 master plan for the site called for 24 houses in circular clearings, but only two were built -- the Balter house in 1964 and the Blum house in 1965. Those houses, which had been rented in recent years, also will become guest houses and are expected to open by November.

The Duncan House should open for guests before the end of the year.

"It is hard to say exactly when, as there is no way of predicting the way the reconstruction will go," said spokeswoman Laura Nesmith. "So far, it is coming together very smoothly. We are planning the grand opening for the spring, once we are fully operational."

Das Kinderhaus

Old Economy Village's recent acquisition of an original Harmony Society house will allow it to initiate new children's programming, reports site director Mary Ann Landis.

The circa 1826 building, across from the state historic site and next to the Harmonists' church, will be a children's education center called das Kinderhaus. Part of the planning for its use includes furnishing it with child-size reproduction Harmonist items.

"The site has struggled to find ways to allow visiting children the opportunity to experience, in a hands-on environment, daily life in a Harmonist household," Landis said. "The other exhibit buildings on site contain original artifacts, which are 'don't touch' objects. Das Kinderhaus will give children the chance to not only touch, but to 'use' the objects as they would have been [used] almost 200 years ago."

The building was purchased by the Harmonie Associates Inc., the village's nonprofit support group, almost 20 years ago and has been used as a visitors center. Thanks to a $5,000 state grant and private funding, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was able to accept the building as a donation. For now, it's in limited use as an activities center, but should be furnished and interpreted as a Harmonist household next year.


Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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