City of Asylum's literary center to open on North Side

Shifting from previous site on Monterey, Alphabet City will anchor the Garden Theater Block development

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A nonprofit that houses and supports writers who are persecuted in their native countries plans to open a literary center in three storefronts in the former Masonic Temple on North Avenue.

City of Asylum Pittsburgh has an agreement with Allegheny City Development Group LLC to rent the storefronts to house Alphabet City, a literary center that will include a restaurant/cafe and bookstore, as the anchor of the Federal North development that includes the former Garden Theater.

The anticipated opening is spring 2014, said Henry Reese, co-founder and president of City of Asylum Pittsburgh.

Alphabet City was first proposed as a neighborhood cultural center on a triple lot on Monterey Street between Sampsonia Way and Jacksonia Street in the Central North Side. Mr. Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, have been holding crowded readings in their home on Sampsonia, the street where the writers-in-residence live in renovated buildings.

The plan by Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects won the approval of the zoning board of adjustment in late 2011 but was challenged in court over its size and parking provisions and lost in November.

Mr. Reese said the space in the former Masonic temple is similar to the space on Monterey -- about 5,000 square feet. Alphabet City will provide space for 150 in people a salonlike atmosphere for readings and performances, workshops and classes. The performance space will include recording and broadcasting facilities.

"In addition to presenting our own programs, which have an international focus, we plan for Alphabet City to be a hub for Pittsburgh authors, musicians and community groups," Mr. Reese said.

The space previously interested Nakama for a second local Japanese restaurant. The other is on the South Side. Neither spokesmen for Nakama nor developer Wayne Zukin could be reached on whether Nakama is out of the picture.

Mr. Reese said he learned the Masonic building storefronts had become available when he was preparing to resubmit his plans for the Monterey location to the zoning board.

"This is a chance to become part of the most important project in our community and a great space," he said.

Alphabet City will have a liquor license, he said.

"We will use our arts programming to lead in the economic resurgence of our community," he said. "We will be able to serve more people with our programs and also create more jobs."

"It's particularly gratifying to be able to give pride of place, as it were, in our Garden Theater block to this newest and most exciting initiative of City of Asylum/Pittsburgh," said Barbara Talerico, president of the Allegheny City Central Association. "The organization has been a standard-bearer for arts-based community development for almost a decade."

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Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at


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