Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
If you talk to someone who lived in Allegheny West forty years ago, you’re likely to hear that the neighborhood we have today is much like what was hoped for in 1980. A few years earlier Allegheny West Civic Council established a committee, Friends of Allegheny West, for the stated purpose of “developing and furthering human services and physical resources of the community with the goal of combatting community deterioration and revitalizing the area”.
What signs did the neighborhood see at the time that gave such hope? And what signs can we point to today to give us confidence that we’re being the best possible stewards of our neighborhood?
I’d like to offer three signs for your consideration.
First is the Allegheny City Stables Lofts project at 836 W North Avenue. AWCC worked for years to preserve and then to influence the development of the former municipal building. In the next few months we’ll have upwards of 50 new neighbors living in a building that was designed with input from Allegheny West Civic Council as well as the Local Historic Review Committee.
Second, as I’ve mentioned in this column before, the number of neighbors attending General Membership meetings (2nd Tuesday of each month, 7:30 pm, Emmanuel Episcopal Church) is awesome. Allegheny West Civic Council decides when and how to take a stand on an issue, when to spend money, who will be the officers and how the council operates only through voting at General Membership meetings. The way to have a voice is to be a member, attend meetings and vote.
Third, on a cold and rainy January evening a couple weeks ago, over 40 neighbors put on their coats, grabbed a beverage and attended an AWCC Mixer at Giorgio’s Pizza. The food was great, the beverages were shared and the noise level was quite high. It was a wonderful gathering of neighbors, a warm and happy winter evening in Allegheny West. (Thanks to Tim Zinn, Membership Committee Chair for planning this Mixer and those to come!)
In 1980, John Canning, then Chairman of the Friends of Allegheny West Committee, wrote, “I am convinced that the three greatest assets of Allegheny West are: the sense of community of the residents, the integrity of the AWCC and the historical significance of our neighborhood.”
Forty years later John’s assessment still rings true. We might not always share the same vision for the future of Allegheny West, but by participating and working with our neighbors we can continue to read the signs and move in the right direction.
Happy New Year 2020!
20/20: denoting vision of normal sharpness
20/20 Hindsight: the full knowledge and complete understanding that one has about an event only after it has happened
Congratulations and thank you to everyone who contributed to a successful Christmas House Tour and, like always, it seems like everyone contributed. A special thank you to Annette Trunzo and Carol Gomrick they both worked very hard to manage all the pieces of the tour puzzle. They assembled a great team. If you volunteered or went on the tour, you saw the results of everyone’s hard work. We’ll get a breakdown of the financial results of the tour at the membership meeting this month.
Another item on the agenda at this month’s membership meeting is a presentation from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy on the Allegheny Commons North Promenade Project. PPC will be asking for a Letter of Support for the Historic Review Commission, which will require membership approval.
Andrew Reichert will also be attending the membership meeting to provide an update on the Stables Building development project.
It is heartening to see that the number of people attending the General Membership meetings increased month-to-month last year, particularly in December. In 2019 we had a surge of new members, also mostly occurring towards the end of the year. An interesting and positive twist – many new members are neighborhood businesses.
It will be challenging to keep the enthusiasm level as high as it was at the end of last year but I’m hopeful we can. I look forward to seeing new members and members who started attending meetings again continue to stay involved this year. There is a lot going on in our officially smallest neighborhood in Pittsburgh.
AWCC currently has 4 standing and 2 ad hoc committees, listed with their chairs below:
- Property: Michael Shealey
- Housing & Planning: Robin Zoufalik
- Ways & Means: John DeSantis
- Friends of Allegheny West: Diane Caruso
- By-Laws (ad hoc): Bob Malakoff
- WANID (ad hoc): Ann Gilligan
The Committee Chairs will be writing brief columns to appear in this and subsequent Gazettes to describe what they are doing, who they’d like to have on their committees and how to join. I encourage all members, long-time and newly joined, to volunteer on one of these committees.
Do you see a need for neighborhood volunteer work that doesn’t fit one of the current committees? Let me know how you want to contribute and I promise I’ll do whatever I can to help make it happen!
Wishing everyone health, peace and prosperity in the New Year.
November and December traditionally are busy months in Allegheny West, and this year is no exception. There are a lot of opportunities to get involved and also to enjoy the holiday season with your friends and neighbors without leaving the neighborhood!
Some noteworthy upcoming events:
Tuesday, November 12:
General Membership Meeting & Election of Officers
The AWCC November meeting is the Annual Meeting of the Council. Included on the agenda are elections for Officers and Committee Chairs, election of Nominating Committee members and a vote to determine dues for the following year.
It’s also a regular Civic Council meeting and in addition to elections there is a full agenda. The Friends Committee will update us on the neighborhood signage they chose (using Block Grant Funds). There will also be updates from the By-Laws Committee, the Christmas Tour organizers and Housing & Planning Committee.
Tuesday, November 19:
Housing and Planning Meeting
There are a few hot topics on the agenda for H&P, including WANID update, GrayBar noise issues, CCAC Workforce building, Aviary events space and Hipwell update. The committee meets at 7:30 pm at the Go Realty Office at 848 W North Avenue. All are welcome.
Thursday, November 28:
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates. For those who struggle with this day, may it land gently. To everyone, be safe.
Saturday, November 30:
Small Business Saturday
We are very lucky to have a business district that is thriving and expanding. Small Business Saturday is another chance to support the businesses that make our neighborhood more livable. From food and drinks to books to haircuts to bikes to clean teeth to stretched muscles to soothed muscles and more, there is at least one business here to serve you. Let’s all make an effort to stop in and spend some money in one or more Allegheny West small business on the 30th and throughout the holiday season.
Friday, December 13 & Saturday, December 14:
Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour
The Christmas House Tour is the highlight of the Allegheny West tours. It’s a beautiful event and our largest fundraiser of the year.
Everyone who has volunteered in the past knows how much effort is required to put on the house tour and is asked to volunteer again this year if at all possible. For newcomers or volunteer novices – there are volunteer opportunities large and small, and the tour committee with work with you to match your skills to the perfect role. Many neighbors, myself included, will say that volunteering for the Christmas Tour (and, more specifically, attending the volunteer party) really cemented our feeling of belonging to this community. A small commitment of time can pay dividends.
A quid pro quo of the good kind.
Fall has arrived and there are some important civic events to add to your already busy calendars:
On Wednesday, October 16th, a Pennsylvania Historical Marker will be dedicated to honor Dorothy Mae Richardson who was a lifelong resident of the Northside. In the mid-1960s, Richardson and her neighbors enlisted city bankers and government officials to help improve their neighborhood. Together, they convinced 16 financial institutions to give out conventional loans to the community, which were used to finance the rehabilitation of dilapidated homes. This effort laid the groundwork for the new field of community-based development and led to the founding of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Pittsburgh in 1968.
One of the projects made possible by NHS was the rehabilitation of a row of dilapidated houses on Western Avenue in Allegheny West known now as McIntosh Row. Allegheny West Civic Council still owns and has its office at 806 Western, in McIntosh Row.
The dedication will take place at 4:00 pm on the 16th at 1419 Arch Street and a reception will be held afterwards at The Mattress Factory. Everyone is invited to attend. It would be great to see an Allegheny West contingent joining the celebration of such an impressive woman whose work many years ago helped make our neighborhood what it is today.
Tuesday, November 5th is Election Day. Among the items we’ll see on our ballots is an amendment to the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter to establish a dedicated Parks Trust Fund:
Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended to establish a dedicated Parks Trust Fund beginning in 2020 to: improve, maintain, create and operate public parks; improve park safety; equitably fund parks in underserved neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh; be funded with an additional 0.5 mill levy ($50 on each $100,000 of assessed real estate value); secure matching funds and services from a charitable city parks conservancy; and assure citizen participation and full public disclosure of spending?”
AWCC allocates time on every membership meeting agenda to discuss what’s happening in our park, Allegheny Commons. Please take some time to research the pros and cons of this ballot measure and make sure to vote on the 5th.
AWCC Membership will vote to approve the slate of officer nominations at the General Membership meeting on Tuesday, November 12th. The slate of nominations will be presented at the October 8th meeting.
As summer comes to an end the days might be getting shorter but the Allegheny West Civic Council agenda is getting longer. Below is a summary of some of the items on the agenda for the September 10th Membership meeting:
- The National Aviary is planning to convert their current tent to a permanent structure to hold events. The architects and project team representatives will be joining us to share plans and hear feedback.
- City of Play is planning the inaugural Pittsburgh FireWalk – a series of two Saturday evening, public celebrations in Allegheny Commons. An array of fires will be carefully tended with talented performers, local storytellers, and street vendors of food, drink, and art.
- A $13,000 Block Grant was recently awarded to Allegheny West. Diane Caruso, Friends of Allegheny West Committee Chair, is coordinating the effort to identify projects to fund through this grant.
- Victorian Christmas Tour Planning is underway. The tour will be held December 13th and 14th. Volunteer opportunities are numerous and varied.
- The Western Avenue Neighborhood Improvement District project has been on-going for over 10 years and we have not seen significant progress in some time. A revised plan to run electrical lines behind the properties in the 800 block of Western Avenue has been drafted and property owners are being contacted to approve the new plan. An update on the status and next steps will be provided.
- Historic District Expansion discussions have been occurring at the Housing and Planning Committee meetings and an informational meeting is being organized for neighbors affected by the proposed expansion.
- An Allegheny West Civic Council By-Laws Committee is being formed to review and offer revisions to the current by laws.
As you can see from this list there is a lot of activity for our small neighborhood. All are welcome and encouraged to attend the General Membership meetings as well as the committee meetings taking place throughout each month.
“All you need in the world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs.
To have love in one hand and laughter in the other.” ― August Wilson
Allegheny West Civic Council business typically slows down dramatically during July and August, with the Council often not holding General Membership meetings during these high summer months. Because we do have to vote on the budget, we will hold the July meeting as scheduled on Tuesday, July 9th. However, our regular meeting space at Calvary Methodist is not available so we will relocate the meeting for July. The alternate location is not yet confirmed, information will be provided via email blast so please be on the lookout for that update. The July meeting will also be somewhat abbreviated as we’ll have time constraints – the Treasurer’s report and budget will have top billing, followed by Ways and Means and Housing and Planning updates.
We head into the slower summer months on the heels of a very busy spring. There are some people who deserve a special mention for their efforts on recent neighborhood events:
Carol Gomrick – Chair of the Tour and Tasting event which was a big success in large part due to Carol’s hard work. So many people volunteered their gardens, time, talents, etc. and Carol coordinated all that work! It was an impressive team effort and we’re lucky to have Carol leading the way!
Greg Coll – and his team pulled off a lovely Memorial Day picnic even going so far as to arranging perfect weather.
Diane Caruso and Trish Burton – are responsible for the new brick pathway and beautiful look of the parklet at Western Avenue and Brighton Road. They corralled resources to finish this garden upgrade before the tour and it looks great.
Of course there are many others volunteering their time towards Allegheny West projects and events, we are very lucky to have many neighbors who give their time so generously.
And speaking of August Wilson, the cast and crew of the movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be around the neighborhood, particularly on the 800 block of W North Avenue filming in the next couple of weeks. Look for flyers with details on road closings and contact info to be distributed to affected homes.
The July 4th neighborhood picnic will highlight love, laughter and a rib cook off. Hope to see you there!
Every year the Northside Leadership Conference hosts a Scholarship and Awards Dinner to celebrate students, neighborhoods and lifetime volunteers. Each Northside neighborhood selects a “Neighbor of the Year” and this year’s Allegheny West Neighbor of the Year is Holly Pultz. There is an article in this issue of the Gazette that highlights the many reasons Holly is receiving the award and when you read it, I think you’ll agree that it is much deserved.
Holly joins an impressive group of Allegheny West Neighbors of the Year, many who continue to contribute their time and talents. Last years honorees, Greg Coll and Doris Short, had a busy May with the opening of the Allegheny West Historic Timeline Exhibition, as well as Greg’s efforts as the Membership Committee Chairperson in pulling off another stellar Memorial Day Picnic. Dr. Daniel Strinkowski, 2017 Neighbor of the Year, still works relentlessly to keep litter off the streets of Allegheny West. Another Neighbor of the Year alum, Trish Burton, serves as Communications Chairperson and volunteers her time to make sure we’re all informed of community activities and announcements.
The journey to becoming a future Neighbor of the Year starts with a single step. I encourage everyone reading this to join one of the committees that do the legwork for Allegheny West Civic Council business. Below are some very active committees always looking for new members. Chairperson contact information is included. If you need some help finding the right volunteer opportunity, please reach out to me at President@AlleghenyWest.org.
- Housing and Planning Committee works on matters related to the physical planning and housing conditions in Allegheny West. Some topics on the H&P agenda are: Western Avenue Neighborhood Improvement District, Allegheny West Historic District expansion, Norfolk Southern Railroad double stacked train project and Code Enforcement concerns. The committee meets every 3rd Tuesday, 7:30 pm at 806 Western Avenue. All are welcome to attend.
Chairperson: Ashley Webb (email@example.com)
- Ways and Means Committee is responsible for all fundraising activities of the Council. Upcoming tours are Wine and Garden Tour (June 21st-22nd), Alleys, Axles and Ales (Date TBD) and the Victorian Christmas Tour (December 6th-7th).
Chairperson: Annette Trunzo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Finance Committee works with the Treasurer to manage the Allegheny West Civic Council Budget – including managing assets, liabilities, revenues, and debts. The Finance Committee is looking for new members with accounting and/or financial management experience.
Treasurer: Cathy Serventi (email@example.com)
Spring is a wonderful time in Allegheny West, with the bright greens and colorful blooms popping up everywhere. It’s also a time for renewal, which fits perfectly with May as National Preservation Month. The Presidential Proclamation of May 1973 establishing National Preservation Week read in part:
“As the pace of change accelerates in the world around us, Americans more than ever need a lively awareness of our roots and origins in the past on which to base our sense of identity in the present and our directions for the future.”
In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration to the entire month of May and we here in Allegheny West have a number of ways to celebrate our historic past.
As is tradition, the Local Historic Review Committee (LHRC) will present Allegheny West Preservation awards at the membership meeting on Tuesday, May 14th. The LHRC recognizes neighborhood property owners who have “rehabilitated, preserved, and continued use of old buildings consistent with the intent of the Secretary of the Interior’s ‘Standard for Rehabilitation’.”
On Friday, May 17th, 5:00 – 8:00 pm, Allegheny West Civic Council is hosting an opening reception for the Allegheny West Historic Timeline Exhibition, in collaboration with Community College of Allegheny County. The exhibition will be at the Gallery at West Hall at CCAC and will run through June 9th. Curators Doris Short and Greg Coll describe it as a “celebration of over five decades of rebuilding the smallest neighborhood in Pittsburgh.” The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in Allegheny West owe a debt of gratitude to the early pioneers who built the homes in the neighborhood and the more recent pioneers with the foresight to stop the destruction and focus on preserving and renewing what was here. I recently received an email from John Canning, noted historian and former AW resident, who saw the blooms on the beautiful pink dogwood in the 800 block of Western Avenue and forwarded an article he wrote about one of those later pioneers, Jane Johnson. (That article is reprinted with John’s permission in this issue of the Gazette.) It serves as a reminder of the beauty of spring and renewal and the power of an individual to make a lasting impact.
There is a lot of Allegheny West business on the agenda for the May membership meeting and I hope you’ll make an effort to attend, hear about these important subjects and vote on motions offered at the meeting. Like you’ll be hearing at every turn from now until November 2020, Make Your Voice Heard: Vote! (Your membership dues should be paid to Cathy Serventi, AWCC Treasurer, to be eligible to vote. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.)
Historic Preservation is always a topic of discussion in Allegheny West and for good reason.
The Allegheny West Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Allegheny West is one of twelve city historic districts in Pittsburgh. Each historic district has published guidelines that are designed to “help individual property owners formulate plans for the rehabilitation, preservation, and continued use of old buildings consistent with the intent of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standard for Rehabilitation.” These Guidelines for Historic Districts are available on the City of Pittsburgh website at pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/historic. Historic District maps are also available at this website, showing detailed boundaries of each district.
Because Allegheny West is a city historic district, all exterior work that is visible from a right of way, a street or an alley, needs a Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA), and, depending on the type of project, possibly a building permit. The Local Historic Review Commission (LHRC) and the Historic Review Commission (HRC) use the guidelines when reviewing appropriateness of proposed exterior alterations in designated historic districts.
Recent agendas for both the AWCC Membership and Housing and Planning meetings have included topics related to LHRC and HRC. Two notable items are a proposed expansion of the current Allegheny West historic district boundary and the Stables Building project on W North Avenue.
Because of these topics, because we have quite a few new neighbors and because we could all use a refresher on the special rules that come with living in a designated historic district, we have invited Sarah Quinn, Planner with the City of Pittsburgh, to join us at the April Membership meeting and review the Historic Review Commission objectives and process.
Topics to be covered include:
- HRC applications for proposed work – how to submit them and fees involved
- HRC versus LHRC
- Allegheny West neighborhood guidelines and where to access them
- Historic district affect on property values
- Differences between property use and historic value – i.e. a structure can be any “use” (residential, commercial, industrial, mixed, etc.) and can be deemed historic
Sarah’s presentation will be an hour in length and will be the first item on the agenda. Please plan to attend!
Results of an informal survey conducted over the past week show that by a margin of 3:1 local residents believe spring will arrive at some point in 2019. Let’s hope it’s soon and sustained, springtime in Allegheny West is so beautiful we quickly forget these cold, snowy days.
Last month’s hot topics were railroads and parks and they will continue to be high priority topics in our membership meetings. There was some recent news regarding the proposed double-stacked trains running through the Northside when the City of Pittsburgh officially joined us in the fight. The City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure filed legal paperwork to participate in the state Public Utility Commission’s review of Norfolk Southern’s plans. The challenge from the city will likely delay Norfolk Southern’s planned bridge work, slated to start later this year. This is certainly good news but does not put the issue to bed. We need to remain vigilant and continue to let our elected officials know our concerns. I’ve heard from a few neighbors who have contacted their state and local legislators – that’s awesome and hopefully inspiration to the rest of us!
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Listening Tour made a stop at the AWCC Membership Meeting in February. They shared a lot of information about the process the Conservancy will follow to allocate funds to improve city parks. As part of the process they requested residents complete a survey to weigh in on what we love about our parks. If you haven’t yet taken the survey you can find it on their website: pittsburghparks.org
Specifically related to our park, the Park Conservancy folks agreed to join us at another membership meeting to talk about plans for Allegheny Commons and feedback from Allegheny West. Details will be communicated when the schedule is confirmed. (One sign of the Conservancy’s commitment to Allegheny Commons Park – this year’s Spring Hat Luncheon will be held there this May 4th.)
I mentioned previously in this column that one of the priorities of the Housing and Planning Committee, under the direction of Chairman Ashley Webb, is a renewed focus on neighborhood rejuvenation. In 2015-2016, AWCC received a grant and engaged a landscape architecture firm to conduct a study, based on input from neighbors, on areas of improvement that should be addressed in Allegheny West. There were a lot of meetings and discussions at the time and ultimately the Civic Council membership decided to focus on four areas of improvement: street trees and sidewalks, lighting, traffic calming on W North Avenue and Brighton Road and the Mary Cassatt Garden (the garden area in the on-ramp to the Fort Duquesne Bridge). We have a lot of work to do on this initiative, and the first step is getting everyone who wants to participate engaged. Neighborhood Rejuvenation will be on the March 12th AWCC Membership meeting agenda and more information will available over the next few weeks. If you’re ready to sign up now to help, contact me at email@example.com and/or Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy these waning days of winter and I look forward to seeing everyone emerge from hibernation!