Three properties in Pittsburgh region listed as endangered

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Time imbues buildings and locations with legacy, community heritage and historic importance. But that very passage of time also can strip them of purpose, leaving them vulnerable to decay and demolition.

That process now threatens two buildings and a historic property in southwestern Pennsylvania, placing them atop the "Pennsylvania At Risk 2013" list of historic properties in jeopardy.

Preservation Pennsylvania, the nonprofit organization focused on historic preservation, released its annual list last week that includes nine endangered properties, topped by the Coraopolis Station, the 168-acre Veterans Administration Highland Drive campus in Lincoln-Lemington and Altman's Mill in Saltsburg, Indiana County.

The group said preserving the properties "will be Preservation Pennsylvania's priorities for action in 2014" through creative partnerships, educational and advocacy programs and special projects to help communities restore facilities they want to preserve.

Community efforts already are underway to transform the dilapidated Coraopolis Station into a trail-side cafe full of historical memorabilia.

PPA says the stone building -- built in 1895 for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad on Mill Street just off Fourth Avenue -- is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance in the former steel town. Abandoned since the mid-1980s, the building now has weather-damaged roof rafters and floor joists, which will be costly to restore.

The Coraopolis Community Development Foundation acquired the property in 2007 with the goal of restoring the train station.

The $1.2 million project would occur in three phases to transform the building and its 1,700 square feet of space into a 75-seat cafe with a reading room, all decorated with memorabilia focused on borough history.

"This well-intentioned group is in a race against the clock, trying to rehabilitate Coraopolis Station before it deteriorates to a point where doing so is no longer feasible," the PPA said in a news release.

The Rev. Sam Jampetro, priest of Charis 247 Church in Coraopolis, said restoration has yet to start, although preliminary engineering, architectural and design plans are complete.

The station's historic importance includes the fact that Henry Hobson Richardson designed it. The famous American architect also designed the Allegheny County Courthouse and many other historic structures.

The station could become a visitor center along a nearby trail system being designed to connect the Montour and Ohio River trails. "So people will go right by it, stop there, learn about Coraopolis with a reading room and with things from the past as decor," Rev. Jampetro said.

Empty for 30 years, the station now provides different symbolism of abandonment and neglect in the borough, which the restoration project would transform into one of progress, he said.

Built as a neuropsychiatric hospital campus, the veterans facility was called the Leech Farm Road Hospital when dedicated in 1953, with 951 beds and additional space for research. In 1975, the hospital located just off Washington Boulevard near the Highland Park Bridge was converted into the Highland Drive Division and eventually included more than 20 buildings. PPA said the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

But VA Pittsburgh Health System announced the closing of the veterans hospital years ago and began a legal process to demolish it, while PPA and other organizations are pursuing action to ensure that the VA "acts as a responsible steward" of the historic site.

A VA Pittsburgh Health System spokesman could not respond immediately to the current status of procedure.

In recent years, key departments have been relocated to new and upgraded facilities at VA Pittsburgh's University Drive Division in Oakland and the Heinz Division in O'Hara.

Altman's Mill, built in 1912, is part of Saltsburg's historic district listed on the National Register with an intact collection of grain milling machinery with a line-drive system and many wooden elements, PPA said.

Vacated in the mid-1990s, the mill and its property were bought in 2001 with announced plans for restoration.

Time is running out on temporary fixes to help prevent damage to historic sections of the mill. PPA said the owners are willing to seek someone to take control of and restore the mill.


David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.

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