Preservationist group lists 10 places to save

Mount Washington sign is No. 1 choice


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The 75-year-old "Pittsburgh" sign on Mount Washington was the leading choice for the Young Preservationists Association's 2012 "top 10" list, unveiled at its 10th anniversary celebration Saturday at the Union Project in Highland Park.

YPA, whose mission is to attract young people to preservation, targets endangered properties for its annual list. One criterion is feasibility of reuse, "because we want these to become success stories," said Dan Holland, CEO and founder of the YPA.

The 226-by-30-foot sign on Mount Washington is a mosaic that spells the city's name. When lighted, it has borne the Bayer Corp.'s logo since 1995.

"There is a debate around the billboard issue, and we have plenty of them," he said, "but let's take a look at this iconic and historic one and work with it."

Pittsburgh City Council's fight against billboards has been cited as stalling upgrades of the sign, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently reported that Lamar Advertising is considering improvements.

The rest of the Top 10 has the historic district of New Castle, Lawrence County; Mayview State Hospital, South Fayette; Greensboro Public School, Greene County; Beltzhoover School; Race Street in Homewood; Greenfield Bridge in Schenley Park; Turner Cemetery, Squirrel Hill; Canonsburg Armory; and the Bigelow Boulevard retaining wall, Hill District.

In New Castle, the 2-year-old Historical Architectural Review Board is promoting compliance with an ordinance that board chair Audrey Przybylski said "doesn't have a lot of teeth." The board had a groundswell of support from the public when the city tried to eliminate it, she said. "We have asked the city to put information out there to get people more knowledgeable."

Making the Top 10 list is "exciting, a thrill," she said. "We realize we have so much great architecture for a city this size, and this [selection] will educate people that it is something of value."

In the case of Mayview, Mr. Holland said it may not be practical to save it in total "but we thought the buildings that are architecturally valuable should be saved. It has potential as a New Urbanist, pedestrian-friendly community, like the one that is on the site of the former Stapleton Airport in Denver -- a great example of reuse."

This year's list is particularly eclectic for including part of a small city, a street, a sign and a piece of infrastructure -- the Bigelow Boulevard retaining wall. A modernist construction during the 1950s, "it appears to be crumbling in places," according to the nomination report. "In addition, it remains a bland statement for a city that is anything but."

"The YPA sees a real opportunity there for a great art project," Mr. Holland said.

Race Street's five blocks represent what is left of Homewood's strong housing stock.

Clarence Swindle, a retired firefighter, moved there in 1973 and has been picking up litter and mowing vacant lots ever since. He said having his street's profile elevated by the Top 10 list "will help a lot. Maybe it will give people an opportunity to preserve their houses."

YPA counts in its 10-year milestone more than 5,500 people who have been involved and 100 places recommended for preservation. Among them were the Union Project, a community center that was once a derelict, vacant church, the Armstrong Cork Factory in the Strip, the Paramount Pictures Film Exchange, Uptown, and the Garden Theater in the Central North Side. All have undergone or are undergoing renovation and reuse.

"Our organization was one of the first in the country aimed at attracting young people, and everyone is still trying to figure out how to get young people involved," Mr. Holland said. "It is starting to happen," as other cities and colleges form preservation groups.

"Pittsburgh itself is now more youth-oriented, and people who come here are looking for authentic historic communities."

In addition to the Top 10, YPA chose Mike Stanton of the Open Hand Ministries as its Michael Eversmeyer Promise Award winner for his work preserving homes and providing support networks for their low-income owners. The late Mr. Eversmeyer was an architect, preservationist and long-time chair of the city's Historic Review Commission.

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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