Home of genius: The August Wilson house deserves a resurrection

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The late playwright August Wilson grew up on the hard-scrabble streets of the Hill District. The seeds for "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "The Piano Lesson," "Fences" and the seven other plays that constitute his famed "Pittsburgh Cycle" were nurtured in the heart of a community that has always had a strong sense of place.

August Wilson, who was born Frederick August Kittel in 1945, lived with his mother and siblings in a nondescript brick house at 1727 Bedford Ave. For the boy who would grow up to become America's most celebrated black playwright, the house, though comfortable, was just a place to sleep.

Because the future Pulitzer Prize winner was a high school dropout who spent much of his day reading stacks of books at the Carnegie Library in Oakland instead of going to school, he was anything but a homebody. In fact, when he wasn't at the library, he wandered the neighborhood soaking up overheard conversations he would reference in his plays decades later.

But even a young man as precocious as August Wilson needed a place to dream. Consequently, he did much of that in the house on Bedford Avenue. That's why it's appropriate that the National Park Service has placed his now dilapidated childhood home on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house, which dates to the 1840s, is owned by the Daisy Wilson Artist Community, a nonprofit that took Mr. Wilson's mother's name. It wants to make the house a multiuse site for community arts and education programming. Two weeks ago, the organization was awarded a $23,000 Keystone Historic Preservation grant to fix the exterior of the building. Altogether, the Daisy Wilson Artist Community has raised $130,000 to stabilize the structure. A capital campaign to restore the house and the properties on both sides could begin later this year.

August Wilson loved his community and drew inspiration from it. The house in which he grew up helped shape his imagination. That home, in turn, has become a symbol of hope and possibility to many of its neighbors. Its historic designation confirms what Pittsburghers already understand.

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