Council OKs historic status for Wilson home

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Playwright August Wilson's boyhood home is historic and Pittsburgh Councilwoman Tonya Payne is sorry it took so long to make that official.

City Council's unanimous approval yesterday means the 15-room structure at 1727 Bedford Ave. is one more council vote -- likely to occur Tuesday -- from being an official historic structure. The final vote will occur nearly three weeks after deadlines in city code expired, thanks to procedural problems.

"It was my mistake. It was no one else's mistake," Ms. Payne said of delays in considering the house's nomination as a historic structure even after the Historic Review Commission and City Planning Commission signed off.

"I made this mistake, and you know what? I could potentially make other mistakes," she said. "I juggle millions of balls in the air at one time ... And occasionally, one of those balls slips. Would I want it to be the ball of my biggest adversaries? No!"

The house was nominated for historic status by Paul Ellis Jr., the late playwright's nephew, and brother of Kimberly Ellis, a critic of Ms. Payne.

Ms. Payne represents the Hill District, where the house sits. Her office received e-mails from the city Planning Department urging that the designation come up for a vote before the Feb. 6 deadline in the code, but she did not act. Council President Doug Shields and Councilman Ricky Burgess shepherded the nomination to a vote.

"I'm woman enough to look Mr. Ellis in the eye, and say I'm sorry for the mistake I made," Ms. Payne said, looking across Council Chamber at him.

The Pittsburgh Foundation has made a $35,300 grant to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture to study Mr. Ellis' plan to turn the 15-room structure into a writer's retreat. He has said the designation should help with fund raising to make that a reality.

Mr. Burgess has introduced legislation that would give council 120 days to consider historic designations, and deem them approved if council does not act after the two commissions have given their nods. The current law voids nominations if no council action is taken.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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