Old is new again: Two more Downtown facades are set for a makeover

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Pittsburgh has always been architecturally diverse. A casual stroll Downtown provides plenty of evidence of the city’s dynamism. Old buildings, some built early in the last century, squat in the shadow of modern high-rises that have yet to hit the 25-year mark.

Few appreciate the interplay of old and new more than Mayor Bill Peduto. Last week, he announced that the city and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation would team up to restore the facades of the so-called “Skinny Building” at Forbes Avenue and Wood Street and its next-door neighbor, the John M. Roberts & Son building, which holds a 7-Eleven. Funds for the restorations will come from a $4 million state grant.

At 5-feet-2-inches wide and 80 feet long, the three-story Skinny Building is one of Pittsburgh’s oddest structures and possibly the thinnest building in the world. Although its upper floors are empty, the ground-level space is used by a T-shirt, cap and purse vendor. The open-air market portion of the building will remain.

Using historic preservation to advance economic development is nothing new. It’s an approach that has worked in Europe and in America’s most historic cities. Changes like these in Pittsburgh provide a model for how older industrial cities can reinvent themselves.

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