Historic Pittsburgh factory being leveled after wall collapse
March 17, 2015 11:06 PM
The factory located at 2016 Perrysville Ave., Perry Hilltop, was built in the 1880s for the self-made Pittsburgh astronomer who was the world’s leading manufacturer of precision optical and scientific instruments.
Part of the building located at 2016 Perrysville Ave., collasped Monday night and a neighboring apartment building was evacuated.
The exterior of the John A. Brashear Factory located at 2016 Perrysville Ave.
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Demolition of a historic North Side factory began Tuesday morning after a wall partially collapsed onto an occupied apartment building the night before, a city director said.
The John A. Brashear Factory located at 2016 Perrysville Ave., Perry Hilltop, was built in the 1880s for the self-made Pittsburgh astronomer who was the world’s leading manufacturer of precision optical and scientific instruments.
Around 10:20 Monday night, one of its walls came down on an adjacent apartment building, displacing residents, said Maura Kennedy, director of the city's Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections.
“Unfortunately, it’s so far collapsed that there is no way to preserve it,” she said.
The factory, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been owned by the city since January 2012, she said, and was condemned in May of that year. Noted deficiencies included facade and structural damage, including holes in the roof.
Two companies submitted bids for the demolition contract, which was awarded to Jadell Minniefield Construction Services, Inc. for $235,000, Ms. Kennedy said.
Jadell Minniefield operated an excavator at the site Tuesday afternoon. The structure, which sits above Perrysville Ave., was barely recognizable, reduced to a heap of bricks, beams and boards. A mattress jutted out of the debris.
Mr. Minniefield said the collapse occurred in a corner facing Perrysville and was likely exacerbated by a rotted roof and the freezes and thaws of spring.
“It was just a matter of time before it collapsed,” he said. The site will be cleared in about a week.
The factory and a nearby mansion were built for Brashear, who died in 1920, and later produced Norden bombsights during World War II.
“This was important. This should have been attended to by the city and historical groups and development groups,” said Lisa Miles, a Perry Hilltop resident and author of “Resurrecting Allegheny City.”
Some residents and preservationists say the city failed the factory.
“We need to be better stewards of our historic environment,” said Carol Peterson of Lawrenceville, a preservationist in Pittsburgh for more than 25 years. “We’ve lost too many important properties to public and private demolition.”
Janet Gunter, a board member of both the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council and Allegheny City Society, said “The city should be embarrassed to let this happen.”
The city’s Historic Review Commission, which protects and maintains historically and architecturally significant buildings and neighborhoods, according to its website, declined comment, mayoral spokesman Timothy McNulty said.
“We do need to preserve public safety and act immediately to remove the risk,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Normal procedures governing historic buildings were not followed in this case.”
Cory Bonnet, a board member of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh, said he recognizes the challenges facing a fiscally strapped city transitioning between mayoral administrations.
That group recognized the factory last year as one of its “Top Ten Best Preservation Opportunities,” or historic sites threatened by development or neglect.
“[Brashear] didn’t have money to buy a telescope, so he made his own. That to me is a real Pittsburgh thing,” said Mr. Bonnet, 38, of Ohio Township. “That building could have helped keep that story fresh and alive for future generations.”
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