info@alleghenywest.org
806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

The House History Project

There are many reasons why people come to love old houses.  These include the decorative features and layouts unavailable in the modern age, the solidity with which they are built, and the grand room sizes. One of the most interesting advantages of an older home is that it has a history. The world was different when it was built, and has changed dramatically over the years as the house has aged. Many families and people have lived in the house, and their stories are part of the fabric of American history. To live in an old house is to be a part of a much larger and longer story. What we today call Allegheny West is blessed by having a great many grand, unique and interesting houses. As a neighborhood, it has had a leading role in the history of both Pittsburgh and the country. As people move here, or come to walk our streets and see the architecture, they are curious about the people and the stories which animate the history of these houses.

Many of us have had house histories done by Carole Peterson. With Carole’s gracious permission, Allegheny West has undertaken to collect copies of those histories and publish them to our website. This will help tell the story of our neighborhood. We are hoping to build out a really robust house histories and Before & After section of the Allegheny West website as materials arrive. We’re also exploring the possibility of putting together a walking tour that could include an interactive, mobile device-driven component, allowing visitors (and residents!) to dig deeper into the homes around them and their long, glamorous pasts and the hard work that went into – and goes into – keeping them beautiful.

To do this, we need your cooperation.  

If you have a house history, please share it with us and allow us to add it to the neighborhood website. We are also looking for old photos of the neighborhood, and before and after pictures of the houses, to help flesh out the story. If you have those, please send them along as well!  Digital or scanned copies can be emailed to Cathy Serventi and to Nick Smerker, both reachable at webmaster@alleghenywest.org. Hard copies can be dropped off at the Allegheny West office (806 Western Avenue). You can drop them through the office door, addressed to the House History Project. Please make sure they’re in a protective envelope. After you drop them off, please email webmaster@alleghenywest.org so we know that there’s a history for us to pick up. Also, please provide a phone number for us to call to make arrangements to return the materials to you. By dropping off items for scanning, you’re giving us permission to post the photos or histories on the website. You can also drop materials off during the AWCC Membership meetings. Please don’t leave house histories at Calvary during other times. If you have other questions you can call (412) 323-8884.

Thank you,

Jim Wallace and Nick Smerker

Above & Beyond

This week I’d like to call out all the folks who have been working so hard to make the Stables project work. The developer, Andrew, and his team have been to well over a half dozen meetings, taking feedback from the neighborhood and incorporating it into the designs. That also means that various combinations of neighbors have been attending these meetings, pouring through plans and financials, asking important questions and making suggestions. Michael and Tim have also been working for literally years on the submissions for various historic designations. And Jon (the NSLC Conference) and Christa (our realtor) have been holding our hands the entire way. Maintaining and developing a historic property is amazingly complicated and much like the tour it would take an entire newsletter to list everyone (especially since I’ve only be heavily involved for 5 years and this project has a lonngggg history in the neighborhood).

MWSS House & Garden Tour Call for Volunteers

Mexican War Streets House & Garden Tour
The Mexican War Streets House and Garden tour is upon us this Sunday. This is the 46th annual tour and it will bring nearly 2,000 people to our neighborhood. This is the best opportunity to showcase our wonderful neighborhood. Volunteers are still needed for both the day before, and the day of the tour.

On Saturday, September 12th, the Mexican War Streets Society has organized two separate clean up efforts. Volunteers are needed to weed Mechanics Retreat Garden at 9:00 am, and volunteers are also needed at 9:00 am to walk the neighborhood to pick up trash and weed. Supplies will be provided. Contact John Augustine to volunteer.

On Sunday, September 13th, volunteers are still needed to help homeowners welcome and guide guests through their houses during the tour. The available volunteer shifts are from 1 to 3 pm, and 3 to 5 pm. As a thank you for volunteering you will receive free admission to the House Tour, a catered lunch at the Hospitality House, and will be able to attend the After-Tour party. Contact Cindy Nichols to volunteer.

Allegheny City Central Association will have a table on Monterey Street during the tour to sell merchandise, sign up members, and provide information. Volunteers are needed for all portions of the day to help tend the table. Contact info@accapgh.org to volunteer.

Questions?  Contact Allegheny City Central Association

Letter from the President – July 2015

So I get to talk to a lot of interesting people since I finally managed to figure out the phone system enough to get the AWCC office number forwarded to my cell phone. One of the most common types of calls we get is from neighbors who have questions about complying with the historic guidelines for renovations. Well, aside from the electric company scammers trying to get me to tell then our account number so they can process our “rebate”: seriously, guys, if you were Duquesne Light you would KNOW our account number ALREADY. Anyway. Those calls from neighbors – coupled with the fact that I seem to have spent more than the normal amount of time this month in meetings that have “Enforcement” as an agenda item – means that I have been doing a lot of thinking about why it’s so important, as a property owner in the neighborhood, to continue to follow the historic district guidelines. So, even though it was, frankly, really frustrating that, in order to replace the person-door on our garage (of which approximately one square foot of was actually visible from the street) we ended up paying more in permit fees than the door itself cost AND we missed the deadline for the May Historic Review Committee agenda so we didn’t actually manage to get the approval in time to get the door replaced for the wine tour which was the entire point of replacing the door in the first place…

Anyway.

My point is that it can sometimes be challenging to explain to new neighbors, or even neighbors who have been here a while, WHY those rules are so important to follow even though they can be inconvenient and expensive. There’s some really interesting (well at least to me, but I’m kind of an archaeology nerd) work being done looking at the positive effect that enforcing historic preservation guidelines have on local property values. If you’re the kind of person that finds abstract evidence based arguments compelling a quick Google search on “historic preservation property values” should keep you happy for a good long while. Honestly, though, I’d really like some help making a more visceral case to folks about why the guidelines are important whether it’s a new neighbor or our new building inspector from BBI. I think, for the neighbors who have spent the last 30+ years watching their hard work come to fruition, the need to enforce the historic guidelines is obvious. But when we moved in even 7 years ago, Allegheny West was already gorgeous; our street was described as “the most beautiful street in Pittsburgh”. Our house was (and still is – we appreciate your patience!) one of the few houses not completely restored on Beech.

I realized this month though that the only photos I’ve seen of Allegheny West are either from the very early days of the neighborhood, 1870-1910 – before urban “renewal” (ha!) and the collapse of the steel industry wreaked havoc – or more recent photos meant to showcase the neighborhood for tours or the website. What I haven’t seen and what I’m hoping neighbors (you!) can provide are essentially the “before” pictures from the time period when the historic preservation guidelines went into effect. Before AWCC spent 50 years putting on tours and buying and stabilizing properties with the proceeds. Before neighbors got together on Saturdays to literally hand build brick sidewalks. Before folks wrote grants and property owners paid assessments to completely redo Western Avenue’s infrastructure. As part of the lead up to the 50th Anniversary of AWCC we’d like to share some of those “before” pictures. If you have photos of your house, interior or exterior, or even better, of the street, from “before” it was renovated please send them to: president@alleghenywest.org. We’d like to start a section in the newsletter and on the website of “Then and Now” so that we have something concrete to point to about what can happen to our neighborhood without the protection of the Historic District guidelines.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

2015 Historic Preservation Awards

The Allegheny West Civic Council along with the Allegheny West Local Review Committee announces the 7th Annual Neighborhood Preservation Awards. These awards are presented to property owners in Allegheny West who have done projects over the past year, used elements of historic preservation and adhered to the neighborhood guidelines to renovate their buildings. These property owners researched their projects and went through the Historic Review process to achieve their success.

The 2015 Awards Recipients

825 Western Avenue

Neighbor: Nick Mastros

This building was the local VFW for many years and stood vacant for the last 3. The project included repointing and cleaning the brick; repairing/replacing and repainting all wood trim; painting the decorative metals at the cornice spires; replacing the roof, downspouts and gutters; installing new wood double hung windows on the 2nd and 3rd floors; and restoring the original front doors and installing them in their openings with the original jambs and trim.

857 Western Avenue

Neighbor: John DeSantis

This building was originally a 1905 industrial building, the Pioneer Paint Co. and later, in the mid-Twentieth century, became a gas station. The property underwent a complete rehab to an office building and garden space. The concrete building walls were exposed and polished. A historic cornice was added around the structure. The garage doors were replaced with faux carriage house style doors. Brick sills and headers were added. A brick retaining wall and wrought iron fence were added around the property and plantings were installed.



These projects greatly add to the historic ambience of the Western Avenue streetface, contribute to the economic development of our neighborhood and enhance the quality of life in Allegheny West.  To celebrate Preservation Month, the awards will be presented at the Membership Meeting of the Allegheny West Civic Council on Tuesday, May 12th at 7:30pm at Calvary United Methodist Church, corner of Beech and Allegheny Avenues.

Deck Construction (Part II): Decking and Handrails

Thursday, April 30, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Decking and Handrails are the visible parts of a deck that make the deck beautiful.  In this second part of the Deck Construction workshop, students will learn about types of decking, tools for installation, and how to build handrails and stairs.

About the presenter: Michael R. Wetmiller is a Pennsylvania-Registered Home Improvement Contractor specializing in interior renovation.  He grew up in a family of tradesmen and attended a four-year carpenter’s apprenticeship training program.  He became a Journeyman Carpenter in 1999.  Michael has worked in both commercial and residential construction in all phases from foundations to finish carpentry.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This workshop is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

Deck Construction (Part I): Framing

Tuesday, April 28, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Decks provide outdoor living spaces that are great for barbecues, gatherings, or some quiet book reading in the fresh air.  It is essential that best practices in construction are used to build a safe deck.  In this workshop, students will learn the procedures to build a deck that meets building code regulations and provides a safe outdoor space.  Students will learn about deck layout, footers, setting posts and girders, and framing the deck.

About the presenter: Michael R. Wetmiller is a Pennsylvania-Registered Home Improvement Contractor specializing in interior renovation.  He grew up in a family of tradesmen and attended a four-year carpenter’s apprenticeship training program.  He became a Journeyman Carpenter in 1999.  Michael has worked in both commercial and residential construction in all phases from foundations to finish carpentry.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This workshop is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

DIY Workshop: Wood Flooring Essentials

Thursday, April 23, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Natural wood adds beauty to a home that laminates cannot match.  Solid wood and engineered wood flooring are available in many varieties and are prefinished, making their installation doable for the DIYer.  In this workshop, students will learn about the materials of solid wood and engineered wood flooring, how to estimate material, tools for installation, and how to install wood flooring.

About the presenter: Michael R. Wetmiller is a Pennsylvania-Registered Home Improvement Contractor specializing in interior renovation.  He grew up in a family of tradesmen and attended a four-year carpenter’s apprenticeship training program.  He became a Journeyman Carpenter in 1999.  Michael has worked in both commercial and residential construction in all phases from foundations to finish carpentry.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This workshop is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527 

DIY Workshop: Laminate Flooring Essentials

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
6:00 pm — 7:30 pm

Laminate flooring products are designed for the DIYer.  But with so many products on the market, it is critical to have a clear understanding of the types of laminate flooring available today.  Students will learn how to estimate material, tools for laminate floors, layout techniques, and how to install laminate flooring.

About the presenter: Michael R. Wetmiller is a Pennsylvania-Registered Home Improvement Contractor specializing in interior renovation.  He grew up in a family of tradesmen and attended a four-year carpenter’s apprenticeship training program.  He became a Journeyman Carpenter in 1999.  Michael has worked in both commercial and residential construction in all phases from foundations to finish carpentry.

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center
744 Rebecca Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

This workshop is free to PHLF Members. Click here for more information about PHLF membership and please join! Non-members: $5

RSVPs are appreciated. Contact:

Mary Lu Denny – (412) 471-5808 x 527