Expansion of Mexican War Streets historic district approved

City historic panel approves new limits

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Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission on Wednesday approved an expansion of the Mexican War Streets' historic boundaries to reflect those designated by the National Park Service in 2008.

The change would more than double the roughly nine square blocks designated by the city in 1972 -- North Avenue, Sherman Avenue, Sampsonia Way and Drovers Way. With its approval, the commission also is recommending that the planning commission consider a smaller footprint on the eastern and northeastern quadrants. About 20 percent of the proposed district is vacant lots or hillside.

The expanded district lines would stretch north to the hillside just below O'Hern Street before heading south to include parts of Armandale, Alpine and Carrington streets. The boundary could stretch as far as Reddour Street on the east.

The matter ultimately is decided by city council.

Representatives of the Mexican War Streets Society and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council support the expansion for its potential to drive investment and the layer of protection it provides against demolition. Historic districts and individual structures cannot be demolished without the approval of the Historic Review Commission.

PG graphic: Historic boundaries expanded
(Click image for larger version)

Those in opposition voiced concern for strapped homeowners who would be included in the expanded district.

John Canning, who lives outside the current borders, said he is concerned about the demolition of buildings, "but the city itself levels a lot of buildings. There are a lot of poor people who live in the 25th Ward, and your commission has a lot of rules about what they can do to their buildings. I don't think they know that or the impact this will have on their lives."

Properties included in an expanded district would grandfather in as is, but the impact of having to submit to historic standards will depend on the construction of the building.

"There has been an amazing renaissance in the Mexican War Streets, and expansion will bring revitalization to the larger neighborhood around it," said Jim Lawrence, a member of the neighborhood council's development committee.

He said his strongest motivation is "to prevent more demolition. We have already demolished the worst buildings that couldn't be saved. We hate to see viable buildings demolished."

Historic status "has been a wonderful economic driver," said Barbara Talerico, president of the neighborhood council. "We have eliminated a lot of blight. It's made the War Streets safer. And we are working with other organizations to help people maintain their homes."

Ernie Hogan, the commission's acting chair, said a number of buildings have been demolished since the National Park Service's decision in 2008. The park service's designation does not protect buildings.

"But great investment has been made," he said, "and the quality of life is very comfortable when you walk the streets."


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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