806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Letter from the President – March 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?

You could join (and meet!) your neighbors for a brief gathering, enjoy some light refreshments, learn what’s going on in your community and help steer us on the path forward.

On the second Tuesday of each month, you have the opportunity to learn what’s happening AND to have your voice heard about what we can all be doing to make life here in Allegheny West better in every way. We’re at Calvary Church, on the corner of Beech and Allegheny, at 7:30 pm — use the Beech Avenue entrance. Hope to see you this Tuesday!

On March 31 of 1962, Jane and Ross Johnson sent a letter to a few other property owners in the area of the Northside that we now call Allegheny West. Jane had been born right here in the neighborhood, only a short time after it had ceased to be the City of Allegheny.

She and Ross lived at 934 Western Avenue, and also operated Allegheny Real Estate, on the next block. They were raising their children here, and in the decades to come would sell houses to some of our community’s early pioneer “newcomers”.

Jane especially was able to see this area not for what it was, or even for what it had once been, but for what it could become. She had a talent for imparting that vision to others — including this writer when he bought his first house from her in 1977. She would ultimately remain active in the Allegheny West Civic Council — frequently as a member of the Executive Committee — well into the late 1980s.

When Jane passed away only a few years ago, she had lived to see her neighborhood far surpass anything that she could have imagined. From the perspective of the 21st Century, it was easy to understand that she and all of those who followed had succeeded most in attracting new believers — decade after decade — who would then take up the torch and forge ahead.

But in March of 1962, Jane and Ross wrote to their neighbors:

The lower Northside in the immediate years ahead will undergo a major transformation. But what impact will these major improvements have on our particular area…?

The Lincoln-Beech-West Park section of the Northside has some unusual, if not unique, characteristics. There is its proximity to downtown; its orientation to West Park — the spacious and attractive section of the Commons. Here are some of the best residential structures built in a previous era…many of real period and architectural character.

However, Lincoln-Beech is now a 75-year-old community with some structures that are not just old, but have been neglected and abused and can be regarded as substandard. Regrettably, we have developed a reputation as being a second-rate neighborhood, perhaps a reputation we in part deserve.

Can anything be done to effect a general improvement?

Our purpose in sending this informal letter to about a half-dozen property owners is to ascertain if they would favor that we make an organized effort to improve the area and, if so, would join us and add their signatures to send a similar statement and invitation to a larger representative group pointing toward an organization meeting.

Jane and Ross mailed their letter, and waited to see if anybody would respond to the call.

John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – February 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?

Valentine’s Day

What could be more romantic than…we’ll all be enjoying a special treat – sweet and delicious – for all of those who brave the weather (and the wrath of significant others?) to join us on Tuesday February 14th at 7:30 pm at Calvary Church. Use the Beech Avenue entrance.

Bring your sweetheart, come as a single, or in a group. No reservations, no premium pricing and no check to pay. We hope that you’ll join your neighbors for a SWEET meeting!

As we celebrate the Civic Council’s 55th Anniversary this year in May, we’re looking back at how this neighborhood now called “Allegheny West” came to be – not in the 1860s and 70s, but in the 1960s and 70s and right up to today.

In February of 1962, the people who lived and worked in our community would have proudly called themselves “Northsiders”. To their east was the West Park, the downtown of the former Allegheny City called The Diamond, and beyond that Cedar Avenue marking the entrance to Deutschtown. To their west across Allegheny Avenue was Manchester, and beyond that the communities of Chateau and Woods Run. Everything else around us was “The Northside.”

Many of these people had been born here. But many more had arrived as part of the influx of workers that had begun during the Great Depression, accelerated during World War II and exploded in the housing shortages of the 1940s and 50s. It was that rapid population growth that had converted block after block of grand old residences – both rowhouses and mansions – into apartment buildings and rooming houses. The dense population made for lively streets, bustling parks, and thriving business districts.

But change was in the air.

In smoke-filled meeting rooms downtown, plans were being made to “fix” the Northside. Old buildings, narrow streets, and average people didn’t look enough like the bright airy suburban utopia that had now enthralled America. Pittsburgh was pioneering a new concept for cities: Urban Renewal. The idea was introduced to the world in the late 1940s as Gateway Center and Point Park bulldozed their way into existence.

By 1958, the North Side, Hill District and East Liberty were on the drawing boards. For the land north of the Allegheny River, a superhighway would slice east to west – utilizing the former Allegheny Commons park as an already-owned right of way for most of the journey. The highway and its ramps would obliterate the 80 acres of park – plus Deutschtown, Chateau, Woods Run and much of Manchester. The downtown of old Allegheny City would be leveled – more than 300 large buildings – to construct an enclosed shopping mall, office and apartment towers, and brand new townhouse communities.

The neighborhood to the west of the old park would become a highway interchange, supporting a college campus and an industrial park.

The demolitions had already begun here in earnest.

The 900 block of North Lincoln solved a nascent prostitution problem by taking down most of the buildings on the block. The first big warehouse distribution structure sprouted at the corner of Lincoln and Galveston – awaiting its promised highway connections. The 800 block of Brighton Road was cleared by the Italian Sons & Daughters of America to construct a National Headquarters with good sightlines to the interstate. Allegheny County created a “take zone” to acquire and level all of Ridge Avenue’s Millionaires Row in favor of a soon-to-be-built college.

And so it was that in the early months of 1962, the people of yet-to-be-named “Allegheny West” began to discuss a novel idea.

Perhaps it was time to control their own destiny.

John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – January 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday night?

There’s a meeting on the Second Tuesday of each month—7:30 P.M. —in the social hall of Calvary Church, corner of Allegheny and Beech Avenues. Your neighbors show up, and they decide the fate of your community. Really.

If there’s something that you like about Allegheny West, or that attracted you to be here in the first place, chances are highly likely that these people and their predecessors have literally called it into being. Really.

And if there’s something that you hate here, or that drives you right up the wall, chances are highly likely that these people and their predecessors have been working their butts off to do something about it. Really.

None of these folks is collecting a paycheck for any of this. Many of them put in dozens of hours a week—week after week, and year after year. Lots of them have been doing this for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years. Really. For more than half a century, your Allegheny West neighbors have been gathering to assure that our community is a place that we are all glad to call home — whether for ourselves, our family, or our business.

The community in which you reside or work wasn’t always a place that you — or those around you — would have chosen. Many hundreds of hard-working individuals across all these years have carefully crafted this neighborhood — very frequently against astonishing odds and obstacles. The results of their hard work have brought you here.

The people of Allegheny West first met to create a community organization on May 24, 1962. As the Allegheny West Civic Council celebrates its 55th birthday this year, my monthly messages in The Gazette will provide an overview of what we’ve done across all that time. As nearly all of us are more recent arrivals, it’s a good time to assure that we all have a clear understanding of just how much we’ve accomplished. It also helps — when we’re struggling with an insurmountable task, contemplating a new initiative, or dreading an unavoidable conflict — to collectively recall that this is the process that has produced Allegheny West . . . determination and hard work.

Quite simply, this neighborhood wouldn’t exist without the struggles that the Allegheny West Civic Council and its members have overcome since 1962. It actually wouldn’t physically even be here. All of this land would be an industrial park, a highway interchange and a college campus. Right where you live or work today. Really.

Over the coming months here in The Gazette, you’ll be learning about all of that. I hope that it helps you to appreciate your neighborhood—and your neighbors, past and present—in a new way. And I hope even more that it inspires you to join us in continuing to protect and grow this remarkable legacy. You will be part of an astonishing and proud story, made possible by extraordinary women and men across 55 years. And there’s still lots more work to do. I hope that you will consider actively joining us and participating in this effort. A good place to begin is at the Calvary Church on the second Tuesday of each month, 7:30 pm. Hope to see you there!

John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – December 2016

It’s hard to believe this is the last President’s message that I’ll be writing (I’m sure that newsletter editors, if no one else, are relieved since I’m notoriously late! Ed. note: Yes.). This will be short but sweet.

Congratulations to our new Board members! (We’re working on a nomination for the Ways and Means for Tuesday’s meeting so please attend so that we have quorum.) Please show them the same wonderful amount of support and engagement that made my two years as President just a pleasure and Allegheny West such an incredible place to live and work.

Cathy Serventi
President, AWCC

President: ​John DeSantis
Ways and Means Committee: Vacant
Vice President: ​Ann Gilligan
Membership Committee: ​Scott Mosser
Treasurer: ​Dan Adam
Communications Committee:​ Sara Sweeney
Recording Secretary:​ Michael Shealey
Housing and Planning Committee: ​Timothy Zinn
Sergeant-at-Arms​: Fran Barbush
Friends of Allegheny West:​ Trish Burton
Property Committee: ​Elaine Stone
Ex Officio, Past President:​ Cathy Serventi

Letter from the President – November 2016

In a happy coincidence, Allegheny West elections and US elections fall on the same day. (I guess if we’d really been coordinating I would have managed to have the AWCC officer elections on the state ballot.) Consider the following exhortations about your civic duty:

  • “this is one of the clearest avenues to influence policies”
  • “don’t complain if you don’t vote”
  • “yada yada”

Apply to both elections equally:


(Assuming you’ve properly registered and our paid your membership dues of course!)

As an added bonus we will all have a good incentive to be efficient in our decision making at the meeting so we can go home and wait for the West Coast to hurry up and finish counting.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – October 2016

Dr Martins and Howard HannaThis just make me happy! Well, finally closing on 928 Western probably helped too. While we were doing the paperwork finalize the sale, our new neighbor, Dr. Moshood Martins and I got to meet Mr. Howard Hanna the 90+ year old founder of the Howard Hanna Real Estate Company. (That’s their picture on the left.) I’d like to thank our realtor Mario Costanza, our attorney Josh Farber, and the AWDC board (Tim & Dan with Bob G. consulting) for guiding us through a complex process. Welcome Moe and Dr. James Worry (who purchased 930 Western earlier this year) when you see them around. I’m sure they’ll want the names of your contractors.

Also, just a reminder that the Nominating Committee will be presenting the slate and accepting nominations from the floor for the 2017 Board of Directors. In order to be eligible to vote your Membership dues must be paid for the current 2016 year by the end of the October Membership meeting. Dues paid after the September 2015 membership meeting count for this year. For the bargain price of $3 annual you get the privilege of formally voting for officers and motions at the monthly meetings or serving as Committee chairs (woo hoo!). If you’re not ready for that level of commitment, you are always welcome to attend meetings to participate in discussions (and block parties! And bowling & bocce! And volunteer on tours!).

Enclosed is a membership form that can be returned to the office or at the meeting with your payment or you can pay your dues online. We beg you, please (please!) don’t hand me or Bob three partially wadded up $1 bills at the Modern next week. It’s very stressful trying to remember who handed you those $3 when you find them in your pocket after you’ve run through the laundry a week later. (Ask me how I know.)

Finally, I’ll be traveling for work during next week’s membership meeting. Please be nice to Tim while he’s ably performing his duties as Vice President.

Cathy Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – September 2016

I always think of the summer time as a busy time in the neighborhood: there always so many fun and interesting things to choose from I never feel like I have enough time even with the extra daylight hours. But looking through this month’s Gazette (and the blessedly small) space left for the President’s message, I realize that there’s no such thing as quiet time around here. Not only are we in the middle of two(!) tours, but work has started on the photo/video House History project headed by Doris, Greg, Nick and Natasha; we’re moving forward on implementing the plans that came out the of the Buhl Foundation grant; lots of decisions need to be made about the parklet garden before we put it to bed for the season; and Gloria and Housing & Planning are dragging the Western Ave. project (kicking & screaming) into completion. Projects like these are opportunities for you to put your own stamp on the future direction the neighborhood; whether you’re the more social type or are happier hiding behind a keyboard (like I am right now!). We always get a better outcome when we have lots of people willing to apply their own various expertise to any given problem that we need to solve. Please (PLEASE) reach out to the various people who have stuck their neck out and taken the lead on these projects and offer your time and talent.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – July 2016

Come early to the Tuesday membership meeting if you’d like to hear more details about the final report for the Buhl Foundation. We’ve made some refinements to the report that was presented a few months ago, but to go over all of them during the regular meeting would make an already long (hot) meeting even longer. So we’re setting up some time before the meeting starts for the folks who really get into the nitty gritty details some time for discussion. We’ll be posting the (60+ page!) report online on as soon as I can figure out how to multiple sets of passwords reconfigured. (Just as an aside: was the victim of some pretty intense hacking recently and Gene and Nick spent a huge amount of time reconfiguring everything and locking stuff down. Why can’t people just be nice?)

I’ll send out an email blast this weekend with the proposed wording of the motions we’d like to make around the plans for: the Mary Cassatt garden; traffic calming on W. North and Brighton w/ additional parking; replacing lighting where need and an incredibly ambitious plan for replacing trees and sidewalks throughout the neighborhood. We’re especially interested in folks who are willing to serve on a working group to get some of these plans enacted; so if you’re interested please try and come at 7:00 pm. Some of these plans are controversial, so I want to make sure we have time to discuss them in more detail without totally overwhelming an already crowded agenda. (But ask Executive Committee how quickly we blasted through a huge agenda last Tuesday: someone’s spouse complained their partner wanted more time out of the house and was disappointed!)

We’ll also make sure there are hard copies of the report available in the office (M/F 12:00–3:00) or you can call me at (412) 418-2027 and I can arrange to get you a copy if you can’t go over to Western during office hours. I’m super excited about this: it’s the culmination of months of work and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – June 2016

WE SOLD THE STABLES! Okay, just had to tell someone that before I started talking about the budget.

Also, THE WINE TOUR WAS A GREAT SUCCESS! Special thanks to our fearless leader, Carrie: the tour’s a huge a responsibility and she managed this one with grace and humor. OK, budget.

Well, actually, before the we get to the budget, at this month’s membership meeting we’ll also have a follow up from the Light of Life about the Ridge Avenue project. They’ll be asking us to take a formal position during upcoming zoning board hearings. Nick will also be giving us all an update on what happened to all those House Histories we’ve been collecting.

OK, budget. (Ssh…don’t tell anyone, but I don’t actually dislike talking about the budget; I love getting down into the nitty gritty of the numbers, and formatting spreadsheets is the height of zen for me, but I worry that people will think that I’m a little weird.) This month we’re hoping to finalize the budget for the next fiscal year (July 16 – June 17). In order for us to have a binding vote, we really need to reach quorum, so please come, at least for a little while if you can. The Board has some recommendations beyond the initial draft budget we presented last month, such as:

  • request for a scanner/copier for the office
  • additional funds for Calvary for sidewalk repair
  • funds for board training, especially around financial planning now that we’ve sold most of our income- producing property (Have I mentioned that WE SOLD THE STABLES?)

I’m always happy to discuss specifics with folks and do my best to represent a wide range of opinions at the meeting – but I can’t stress enough – that attending the meetings and participating in the discussion and vote are really the only way to ensure that your opinions are taken into account. (If Allegheny West were a state, we would so be a caucus state – and that will be the only election humor I can trust myself with.) See you all Tuesday!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – May 2016

Welcome to the insert of the Allegheny West Gazette, home of the content for people who can’t meet perfectly reasonable Newsletter
deadlines. Just a few quick updates since even with the insert, we have so much going on it won’t fit in a regular size newsletter.

  • Thanks to everyone who participated in the session with Jim Pashek at last month’s membership meeting. He shared some great plans around the priorities that folks have put forward which include several strategies for addressing our aging tree population, unsafe sidewalks and dangerous pedestrian crossings at place like Beech Avenue & Brighton Road, North Avenue and near the T-station. We also have a complete inventory of all the trees & tree-wells in the entire neighborhood, as well as a proposal for the Mary Cassatt garden. Jim continues to meet with the City and we’ll have a final proposal to vote on at either the June or July meeting.
  • Yay! The summer picnics are starting! The first one is Memorial Day on Monday, May 30. Please come by and help set up at 3:00 pm. This month we’ll be in the 800 block of Beech. Bocce should be starting up soon on Wednesday evenings! Look for the announcements.
  • Thanks to Tim for hosting an awesome Marathon party (Maybe we should lobby to be at the end next year? Man, 6:00 am is early even with all the awesome food everyone brought!) and for all the folks who turned out to clean up the neighborhood and the parklet the Saturday before. Dr. Dan (who deserves special thanks for his tireless litter removal offorts) says that the City street sweepers have told him, that we’re the cleanest neighborhood in the City. Keep up the good work everyone!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC