This old house: A historic designation bid comes almost too late

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The threatened demolition of one of Pittsburgh's most venerable buildings -- the Old Stone Inn in the West End -- would come as a shock to the pride of any city. To the residents of this one, which has just celebrated its 250th anniversary, it ought to be taken as an affront.

How could a building that is more than 200 years old (its age is in dispute, but it could be older than the city itself) suddenly be posted with an intent-to-demolish sign? It seems almost unbelievable.

To his great credit, John DeSantis, a former chairman of Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission, has stepped in to nominate the building for city historic status. A preliminary hearing will be held March 4 and the threat of demolition has been stayed for the time being. Mr. DeSantis says the current and prospective owner have been understanding.

But the question still goes begging: Why did it come to this? Why didn't the Old Stone Inn get historic status long ago? Because, it seems, the process put in place to identify such buildings hasn't been followed.

According to Mr. DeSantis, about 15 years ago the commission put together a comprehensive data base of historic properties. Ideally, city staff would be helping to work through this long list to identify the best candidates for historic status, but the city's financial troubles and staffing cuts make this infeasible.

Mr. DeSantis suggests that the city's preservation groups should take it upon themselves to undertake this methodical work. Clearly, something needs to be done to avoid the problem brought to light by this shock to historic pride.

The words "last call" surely echoed many times through the Old Stone Inn -- they do again, but this time the call is for a better plan for preservation.



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