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806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Letter from the President – July 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?

See suggestions below.

In both July and August there will be no AWCC Membership Meeting on the second Tuesday of the month. Attendance always drops off because of vacations in these months, and everyone deserves a little break anyway. The monthly Membership Meetings will resume on Tuesday, September 12, and each second Tuesday in the months that follow.

During this summer hiatus, the Civic Council’s committees will continue to meet on their regularly scheduled days. And during this time, if you have an issue that requires action please feel free to let us know by emailing president@alleghenywest.org.

Now back to that question about Tuesday evening: If you’re in town on the second Tuesday of July or August and find yourself longing for the excitement, friendly faces, fun, and refreshments of your regularly scheduled Civic Council meeting, don’t despair. Here are a few suggestions to get you through the night:

  1. Grab a cool refreshing beverage and sit out on the front steps. In no time at all, you’ll have an impromptu block party underway.
  2. Stroll to the Allegheny Commons for an iceball from Gus & Yia Yia’s. Have a seat on a park bench, and in no time at all you’ll have an impromptu picnic underway.
  3. Head to the corner of Western and Galveston and order a cool refreshing beverage while seated at an outdoor café table. In no time at all…
  4. Call a friend who has the misfortune of not living in Allegheny West. Invite them to visit you. Then do #1, #2, or #3. Try really hard to be kind and understanding when they keep telling you that there’s nothing like this where they live.

 
The Summer of 1962 was cause for ongoing concern in the community that would one day be called “Allegheny West.” The almost daily front page headlines touting the “urban redevelopment” of the entire lower Northside brought new – and dismaying – details with every edition. The familiar amenities and landmarks that this generation had known all their lives were being added to the growing list of sites that would “makeway for the new Northside.”
 
Far beyond the initial pronouncements of some new shopping, office, and housing structures, as the specifics began to arrive it was clear that the entire of Allegheny’s central business district was to be leveled. More than 300 buildings in total would be razed. The project was so Herculean that at the outset it was viewed as pie-in-the-sky.
 
But ridicule turned to shock as the “take zone” expanded to include churches, schools, theaters, houses, stores, hotels, the railroad station, Boggs & Buhl Department Store, and the revered Allegheny Market House.
 
All of these were fully functioning every day destinations, where thousands of residents lived, worked, played and did their weekly shopping.
 
But an equally horrific scourge had also arrived: real estate speculators. In the free-for-all of redevelopment, outside money began to pour in, acquiring whatever was available in the hope of being bought out at an inflated price by government acquisition. Across the lower Northside – and especially in the neighborhoods abutting the Commons – properties were being snapped up by owners who had no interest in maintaining or improving. Some, in fact, found it more cost effective to empty and board a building rather than deal with day-to-day operation. And they competed for properties against those who would locate their business or residence there. Prices were going up, and both the appearance and the viability of neighborhoods was going down.
 
Of course, for neighboring owners who lived or operated businesses in the vicinity this was disastrous. Everyone could only guess at which rumors were or weren’t true, and worry about whether the next sale would hit even closer to home. Along Ridge Avenue, the acquisitions by Allegheny County for a proposed college had begun. Had the neighbors been privy to the original site plans, they’d have had even more to be concerned about: an extended buildout across 20 years that would take the campus north to Western Avenue and east and west to Brighton Road and Allegheny Avenue.
 
On the 800 block of Brighton Road and the 900 block of North Lincoln Avenue, entire block faces of houses had already fallen to the wrecking ball – intended for “future developments” that were never to come.
 
Just as the neighborhood was beginning to organize itself, the immensity of the task actually was expanding dramatically. And while some were resigned to their fate, others were convinced that by banding together there was a different outcome available – although imagining what that outcome might be was becoming increasingly difficult.
 
John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – June 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening? Our May Civic Council membership meeting saw plenty of both new and old (only in terms of regular attendance) faces — all gathering to get the latest scoop on the many new projects about to get underway in our community. We will all be getting together again on June 13th at 7:30 pm to find out what’s going on. This is where you get the straight story and ask questions, where you can bring your local issues or problems, and most importantly where you and your neighbors decide what we’re going to do about them.

Of course, praise for work well done — and ideas for the future—are always welcome too. At our June meeting we’ll be saying “THANK YOU” to the great many homeowners, tour guides, organizers and volunteers — and, of course, chairperson Carol Gomrick — who made our annual Wine & Garden Tour last weekend a rousing success!

This monthly meeting is where and when we make decisions about our neighborhood — decisions that, in ways both small and large, will affect you. And we always have a good time socializing and enjoying refreshments while we’re at it.

Everyone is welcome – second Tuesday of each month, 7:30 pm, in the Calvary Church social hall, corner of Beech and Allegheny (use the Beech Avenue entrance). The meeting’s usually over by 9:00. It’s also a great way for newer folks to meet your neighbors and get involved! We hope to see you on Tuesday evening.


 
On June 25th of 1962, the second organizing meeting was held for the group that would become the Allegheny West Civic Council. Held in the social room of Calvary United Methodist Church — where the AWCC has met ever since — this session focused on identifying what types of civic action were possible, and how best to be effective as an agent for positive change in a world that seemed hellbent on eradicating the tiny community.
 
Problems with liquor licenses in the neighborhood were a major concern, as was a perception that a large
number of properties generally appeared to be rundown. While those attending the meeting were largely neighborhood residents and local businesspeople, many of those whose properties were problematic were absentee owners without a direct local presence — some just waiting to be bought out for “redevelopment.”
 
Of particular note was a discussion regarding “state of mind,” in which it was agreed that there was a distinct difference between those who “cared” about the community — now and in the future — and those who simply used it without regard, often causing damage in the process.
 
Concluding that the solution to this was two fold — educate those who are willing to learn, regulate those who aren’t — a twin path was adopted. The new organization and its members would take “…an objective look at the neighborhood and your own property. Assess assets and liabilities. What are available resources?” At the same time, they would initiate contact with the City Planning Department and local officials to solicit assistance in changing the direction.
 
Already by this second meeting, there were names in attendance that will be familiar to long-time Allegheny West residents: Shelton, Pusateri, Porter, Smith, Floyd, Davin, Gallagher, Gilbert, Dickenson, Watson, Wirth, Bianconi, Vonfeld, Hite, Johnson, Collins. At this earliest stage, it would have been impossible for these folks to imagine that for some of them the battle that they were undertaking would last thirty or forty years — literally the rest of their lives.
 
John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – May 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?

The May meeting of the Allegheny West Civic Council (Tuesday, May 9th at 7:30 pm, in the Calvary Church) is packed with exciting new developments for our community — including FIVE new proposals for businesses and residences on Western Avenue!

There is great serendipity in the timing of these new developments for the center of our neighborhood — coming as they do exactly 55 years (to the month) after the founding of the Allegheny West Civic Council in May 1962. All five of these new plans come to our May Membership meeting with a positive endorsement from the AW Housing & Planning Committee. They include the dramatic transformation of a former problem bar, the rehabilitation of a property neglected for decades and our first new construction of single family houses in more than a quarter century. And those new houses will rise from currently vacant lots, in an attempt to replicate the appearance of the original houses on that site — demolished more than forty years ago!

This flurry of great new vitality for our neighborhood would undoubtedly have been beyond dreaming to the dozen long-ago residents who gathered on May 24, 1962 in the Community House of Calvary Church. Their goal was to find a way to shape and direct the fate of their tiny community, faced with grand plans by powerful outsiders for transforming all of the “lower Northside” into a cloned suburban utopia. The plan that was formed that night in 1962 was recorded as a single sentence: “Don’t sit back and complain — joint collective action gets results.”

Across the many years since that proclamation, those folks — and the hundreds who have succeeded them — have taken that mantra to heart. The people of Allegheny West have worked long and hard together to determine what we want for our part of Pittsburgh, as well as what we don’t want. We have articulated that vision to others persuasively, ceaselessly laboring to attract new companions who would embrace the challenge and become part of its realization. We have aggressively (and successfully) supported those new recruits in their efforts, even as we have aggressively (and successfully) opposed those whose efforts were contrary to our cause.

It is true that Allegheny West has a reputation for being tough. That attitude was born in 1955, when a handful of our predecessors resolved to protect and forge their own community in the face of overwhelming odds. That couldn’t happen without a willingness to take a responsible position and then stand your ground. Even more fundamental was their core belief that this neighborhood already is a great place to live and work and play. And for those who would diminish or jeopardize this place, they learned how to say “NO” — to government officials, institutions, developers, speculators and all manner of interlopers. The fruits of this unwavering conviction, and the courage to defend it, could not be more clearly visible than in these new development proposals being unveiled at our May 2017 Membership meeting this Tuesday.

Why would we spend endless energy and dollars fighting the abuses of a problem bar? The answer is on Tuesday night’s agenda. Why would we buy and hold vacant land for forty years, rejecting proposals for gravel parking lots and storage yards? The answer is on Tuesday night’s agenda. Why would we spend many millions of dollars and many years of volunteer lives saving and restoring derelict and burned-out buildings, again and again? Well you get the idea…

Please join us on Tuesday May 9 at 7:30. It isn’t often that you get to witness a victory 55 years in the making.

John DeSantis
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – April 2017

So what are you doing on Tuesday evening?

Your neighbors will be gathering at 7:30 to find out what’s going on. They’ll also be making decisions about your neighborhood, and the larger community around us…decisions that affect you.

And – oh by the way – they’ll be having a good time: socializing and chatting and being, well, just neighborly! (And free refreshments help.)

You’re always welcome. It’s the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 pm, in the Calvary Church social hall, on the corner of Beech and Allegheny (use the Beech Avenue entrance). The meeting’s usually over by 9:00 pm.

Don’t know most of your neighbors yet? All the more reason! Hope to see you Tuesday evening.

In April of 1962, the residents and business people of our community – not yet called “Allegheny West” – were surrounded on every side by an uncertain future. That a few of them were considering banding together for the general good was very bold indeed.

The “powers that be” in the city, county and state were basking in the glow of international media – hailed for “The Great Pittsburgh Renaissance”. The first of its kind in America, this unprecedented vision was even then transforming an industrial slum at the Point into a new state park and the gleaming silver office towers of Gateway Center. At the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill District, a “residential slum” was giving way to a new entertainment acropolis – anchored by the newly opened Civic Arena, and soon to add concert halls and museums.

A new phrase had been coined right here: “Urban Renewal”. And already announced were the next two planned blockbusters: the extreme makeover of the East Liberty shopping district and the complete demolition and replacement of the former City of Allegheny town center. In each of these projects, hundreds of substantial buildings would be demolished to make room for an entire new city – formed in the image and likeness of the American suburb.

This new city rising on the Northside wasn’t limited to the former center of Allegheny. There were several big satellite projects that would extend this grand vision across all of the lower Northside. This new “suburb in the city” would have its very own interstate highway slicing east to west. The neighborhoods of Chateau on the west and Deutschtown to the east, along with the length of the Allegheny Commons park, would provide the highway’s route and right-of-way.

The neighborhood north of the Allegheny Commons park would be leveled and replaced with a vast complex of garden apartments. An immense public housing development would level and replace much of the Manchester neighborhood. And the land immediately to the west of the park would be divided between an industrial park along the highway and a county college campus.

Citywide, there were thousands of businesses and residents being displaced by eminent domain takings of entire neighborhoods. And nationwide the broadest public sentiment was enormously supportive of this concept. If the Smoky City could do it, anything was possible.

“Out with the old, in with the new.” And Pittsburgh was finally at the forefront of an important new urban movement.

But buried deep in those Master Planning blueprints were a handful of tiny streets. And on those streets, a few ordinary people had started looking for a way to be heard.

John DeSantis
President, AWCC

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:

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!

(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