806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

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…


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: 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

Letter from the President – June 2015

I thought I understood what kind of work went into putting on one of our house tours. After all, I had been working on the tickets sales for something like 5 years; sat in on countless committee meetings; set up a couple of spreadsheets for managing volunteers; even lead a tour or two (it’s probably best for everyone if that doesn’t happen again). Once, I even dressed up in 40lbs of velvet in August (and showed up at the wrong house with a group of 20 people – seriously, I’m not guide material).

Yeah, I had no idea.

No idea just how many people have to come together and contribute time and talent to pull off one of these tours until I added the perspective of the home-owner. And it’s the spring tour (which is basically the starter tour) – and it’s just our garden not the house so we’re not quite all in. Even still, there are a crazy number of people helping me and Gene at our house, just to make sure visitors get in and out of the garden with a glass of wine and an appetizer for 3 sets of tours. And there are 7 (7!) other houses. And 2 tours a year. And the neighborhood has been putting these tours on for over 30 (30!) years. I can’t even fathom just the raw number of volunteer hours those pretty little tour booklets represent.

By the way, if you’re feeling stalled on a home improvement project I would definitely recommend putting your house on tour. I think we’ve finished more projects (yay, no more chain link) in the last 3 months than we have managed to finish in the last 2 years. But as much as our new gate makes me smile, what I appreciate even more is that every time I think I can’t be surprised by our neighborhood, that I’ve lived here long enough to really understand how lucky we are to live here, I am yet again amazed by what our neighbors have managed to accomplish and sustain over decades of dedication.

Lots of other stuff is going on too! Please join us at the Tuesday membership meeting for an update on what’s going on with Lake Elizabeth and other updates for the Commons, a new One Northside project to catalog neighborhood resources and, fingers-crossed, a proposal for the Stables building that looks very promising.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – May 2015

I think I’m going to get a t-shirt made that says “I go to meetings, so you don’t have too.” – (maybe all the Board officers need a tag line?). And every time I go to a meeting that I think turns out to be a waste of time, I get to meet someone doing something really cool. At a GTECH meeting about neighborhood grants that I attended to see if our neighborhood would qualify for something, I found that Bridget Little from Manchester is picking up where Dr. Jean left off: continuing her work to make that area safer and prettier for all the folks coming off the train and into the Northside neighborhoods. I’m hoping she can make it to one of our neighborhood meetings to talk about the project some more. In the meantime, for the folks who were encouraging us to add the Cassatt Garden to our monthly clean ups, Bridget has a website set-up where you can volunteer to help: We’ll keep the monthly clean-ups focused on areas actually in Allegheny West for now, although we’re happy to support efforts all over the Northside.

Speaking of efforts all over the Northside. At the most recent Buhl Foundation meeting, I ran into Annette Trunzo, who – it turns out – is the leader of the northside-wide group that is tackling litter. She’s done an incredible amount of research already on all sorts of urban design questions around which signage and receptacles are the most successful. Considering that Allegheny West just got a huge grant ($13,000) from Councilwoman Harris, at least part of which is intended for new trash cans of our very own, it was really serendipitous timing. If you’re interested in helping Annette out, let me know and I’ll put you in touch. The committee is putting together a plan to request funding from the Buhl Foundation.

Finally, while I’m in general happy to “spare” folks from meetings, we still need to have a quorum at the Membership Meetings to make decisions and get things done! This month, the committee chairs will be handing out a budget proposal to be voted on next week. Think of it as “shopping”, not budgeting. My personal feeling is that a budget is one of the most public signals of what an organization values and what they want to accomplish for the year. The more people that have input into the process the stronger the organization will be!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – April 2015

So I go to a lot of meetings (A LOT!). And, not that I would admit this out loud, but I kind of like them; it turns out that they’re a pretty good stand in for a social life1. Obviously the folks in the neighborhood are cool to hang out with – frankly you all make me laugh – and it’s a bonus that the meetings often end up being at some nifty local restaurant like Carmi’s or the Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe or sometimes lemon loaves or chocolate mousse just appear (seriously, you guys should be coming to these meetings: I’m not telling you which ones, you’ll just have to try for yourselves). It also turns out that there’s a ton of really interesting ideas that get talked about in these meetings: the Candidates Night on April 14th; potentially developing the Stables into swanky condos; mulch (so complicated!); train trips to West Virginia, etc…

One meeting really stood out this month, though. I went to a talk at the Allegheny YMCA given by Diana Brucco of the Buhl Foundation. Honestly it was mostly to see if I could get some tips on for resubmitting the Sprout Fund grant that had been rejected. (Turns out 2nd time was the charm and we can now put our knowledge of mulch to good use on Tree Well day, April 11th). I was stunned to discover that the survey, that I had sort of half-heartedly filled out last summer had, turned into a $60 million commitment over 10 years to all the neighborhoods on the Northside. Even us!

My own assumption before attending this talk was that programs from these grants weren’t really intended for “affluent Allegheny West2”. But the focus of Buhl Foundation’s work around education, quality of place and employment apply just as much to the folks in our little corner of the Northside as anywhere else. Frankly, if nothing else the folks in our neighborhood have a lot of expertise to offer to folks in other neighborhoods who are embarking on work similar to what was started here 20 years ago. But what really impressed me was the fundamentally practical way the Buhl folks have approached setting priorities and implementing solutions: ask me about the work they’re doing around food programs in schools – it’s super cool but too complicated for a newsletter article. They are definitely interested in hearing what we have to say. I left that talk not wanting to be left out of plans that have such an incredible amount of potential. And so of course, I’m doing what we always do when we’re excited about something: I’m setting up (yet) another meeting – this time with Buhl Foundation. Expect to hear a lot more about this!

  1. Feel free to remind me that I said I liked meetings when I’m getting grumpy two hours into any random meeting. I’ll probably roll my eyes at you (such a bad habit!) but you’ll know it’s just because it’s probably the 3rd night that week that I’m at a meeting – getting inspired all the time is exhausting!
  2. From this article. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that characterization. even if the stats say our average income is higher. It’s way more complicated than that.

Letter from the President – March 2015

I just got back from a really fascinating Bylaw Committee meeting and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!  (No wait…come back…hmm maybe this is why people avoid me at parties…?)

Seriously though, I realize that bylaws are pretty much something only a process nerd could love so I won’t go into too much detail.  First I want to say, I really appreciate all the time that Jim and Gloria and Bob have been putting in to modernize these; you have to be pretty darn dedicated to take on this type of task.  To make the bylaws seem less annoying, I try and think of them as a roadmap for how we, as a community, make decisions.  In my mind good bylaws keep people from getting lost when they are trying to make things happen. If we set them up right, they will make it easier to get things done in a transparent and efficient way and at the same time make it clear who is accountable for the actions we take. I’m happy to report, that I can safely say now that we’ve actually went through the bylaws line by line tonight, that we’re actually in pretty good shape.

But there are a few things that we think could be clearer such as:  how we determine who is eligible to vote; how money is spent; and how the committees are set up.  We think these area could be clearer or reflect better how we get things done now as opposed when the Bylaws were last amended back in 2004. If I’ve succeeded in getting you excited about the bylaws (ha, ever the optimist) you can see the current bylaws at: We hope to have a draft with the changes we’ve been talking about for several months at the April meeting if we can hammer out the wording to our satisfaction, but May at the latest. And I really am happy to talk to you about this (preferably with a glass of wine in my hand..or yours).

A few more selected updates:  We’re still waiting to hear back about the grants that were submitted for the tree well projects. Trish, Holly and Mary did an such a great  job on the flower baskets that we’re up to 18 baskets at this point, 10 more than the 8 that we had been hoping for. We’ll publish a complete list of sponsors next month, but in the meantime you can see the current list at It’s not too late to sponsor a basket!  Planning is underway for an Allegheny West Candidates night, tentatively scheduled for 4/14 (if we can convince anyone to show up). The Membership Committee has an incredibly ambitious set of events planned for this year that you’ll be hearing about (and man, that meeting has the best snacks ever, just saying, you know…in case you choose your committees to volunteer with based on the food.)  We have the Wine Tour down to a science – tickets are on sale at You heard it here first!  I could keep going…

Honestly,  I figured as Treasurer that I had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the neighborhood, since I figured most things would need a check. Wow, two months in and my eyes have been opened!  I’m truly amazed, especially for such a small neighborhood, by the number of people who are off just doing their part to make our neighborhood a better place.

I trust everyone will keep surprising me… 🙂

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – February 2015

So I have this idea….actually I have a lot of them, all of which came from talking to other folks about ideas they are excited about for the neighborhood. Thanks to everyone who responded to my last President’s message as well (although now I’m slightly intimidated that people are actually reading these.)

Here’s a few things folks were interested in:

  1. Parking (but I think I’m going to have to start with something easier, like world peace, but I promise we’ll get back to that.)
  2. Helping new folks feel welcome, and making it easy for them to get involved with the neighborhood.
  3. Projects to make the neighborhood even more gorgeous, like spiffing up the alleys and helping everyone maintaining their tree wells.

As you can tell from the breadth of our membership meeting agendas, folks have already hard at work on some of these projects. Just one example, some of our neighbors on Tuesday will be presenting a proposal for hanging flower baskets on Western that they’re hoping for neighborhood support for, so please come and express your opinion (in a friendly, good humored way, of course.)

Another idea we will be discussing, is an application for some funding to purchase mulch and potentially even flowers and fencing and having an “Allegheny West Tree Well Day” as one of monthly clean up events sponsored by the Friends of Allegheny. From my perspective there’s an incredible wealth of gardening knowledge in our neighborhood that I’d like to take advantage of. I’d be more than happy to wheel a barrow full of mulch up the street for a neighbor, especially one who is new in town and hasn’t had a chance to figure out where to even get mulch. And, of course, there will be a potluck. As a bonus, I swear I will stop showing up to social events with paperwork for people to fill out after I file for the grant.

Some of those same gardeners have suggested that the April clean up would be the ideal month, and we’ll hear about the results of the grant application in late February so we’ll have lots of time to plan a blow out of a clean up.  By the way, these Buhl Fundation funds are open to anyone on the Northside, so if you have another idea you think could benefit from $1000 I’m happy to help you out with the application (but you have to take the petitions to the mixer.)

Hope to see everyone at the Membership meeting next Tuesday, with more ideas they’d like help making happen.

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

P.S. Carol R., I have ordered the tiara, you have to come to the meeting now.

Letter from the President – January 2015

I have to admit, I’ve been really nervous about my first President’s message (which is why this is so late, sorry Fran!). I have some big shoes to fill. Bob Griewahn has done an inspiring job as President the last couple of years, so I hope folks understand while I get up to speed. The rest of the Board, as you might expect since they’re Allegheny West neighbors, has also been wonderfully supportive and generous with their time – patiently bringing me up to speed on where we are on all our ongoing projects.

As one those people who make’s New Year’s resolutions (and even keeps some of them!), I’ve been talking to lots of folks in the neighborhood about what our resolutions for the neighborhood should be. But I’ve only just started figuring out what would get folks get really excited. Based on the conversations so far, here are some of the the things we’re working on for this year.

  • Encourage more folks to come to the meetings and take a leadership role for neighborhood activities. One idea was to have more external speakers come to the meeting, and so have folks lined up for the meeting in January (PennEnvironment) and February (Sarah Quinn from the City Historic Preservation Office). Please share any ideas for speakers or even just what might make you want to come to the meeting.
  • Put the finishing touches on Western Avenue and identify what our next big project is. The Buhl Foundation has made a huge financial commitment to the North Side, on the order of $40 million dollars over the next 4-6 years. I want to be sure we participate.   What are the things in the neighborhood that you think that Civic Council could have the most impact on that would personally make your life better?
  • Modernize our bylaws, so that folks with good ideas see the Civic Council as a place to get support to put great ideas into action. Good bylaws should make it clear how how we can work together to make things happen and not stand in the way. Gloria, Bob, and Jim have been working through them, and we hope to have a draft available to comment on by the March membership meeting. If you have specific concerns that you want to be sure are addressed don’t hesitate to ask me. (That was my best attempt at making bylaws exciting.)

We’re still looking for feedback about how we should be spending our time and resources to improve the quality life in the neighborhood.  Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, there are ton of other things on the Council’s plate as well. If there’s something not mentioned here that you think should be a top priority please let me know.

I have a confession – I’m a bit of an introvert. At the same time I know it’s really important for me to get to know folks in the neighborhood.   I’m going to work on coming out from behind my computer screen and starting conversations with folks, but it would help me if the extroverts among us could help me get to know folks as well.

Here’s how to get a hold of me if you have any ideas that you would like the Civic Council to support  or are not sure who to contact on the Board with a specific question. It’s easiest to get a hold of me by email (seriously, introvert): If you prefer the phone, you’re more likely to catch me in the evenings between 7:00 pm and 10:30 pm or on weekends: 412-418-2027. I’m in meetings a lot during work so I often can’t answer the phone during the day. I’m both excited and nervous about this year – let’s have some fun!

Catherine Serventi
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – December 2014

 Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. 

– William Wordsworth

This is my final President’s Message to you, as my term ends this month. The Allegheny West Civic Council has accomplished a great deal in the last two years, largely due to the folks who sit on its executive committee. Among other things, we’ve completed the sale of the McIntosh Row properties, fought a few battles in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, helped beautify the neighborhood, and provided several social activities for our members. I want to thank everyone who has lent a hand during the past two years, from those who volunteer on the house tours to those who bring potluck dishes to the summer block parties. But, my special thanks go to the people who have stepped up to the plate and helped out on AWCC committee work. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

I now leave you in the very capable hands of Cathy Serventi. Cathy has already done a great deal for the Civic Council, from her hard work modernizing the production of both the Christmas and summer house tours, to serving as AWCC treasurer for the past two years. She brings intelligence, humor, energy, and a fresh perspective to the position, and the neighborhood will be all the better for it. Good luck, Cathy!

I’ll see you all around the neighborhood. Have a great holiday season, everyone.

Bob Griewahn
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – November 2014

When earth repays with golden sheaves
The labours of the plough,
And ripening fruits and forest leaves
All brighten on the bough;
What pensive beauty autumn shows,
Before she hears the sound
Of winter rushing in, to close
The emblematic round!

– William Wordsworth, Thought on the Seasons

I hope you had a great October, and that November is shaping up for you nicely, as well. We have a few important news items in Allegheny West. To wit:

  • The Allegheny West Civic Council has acquired 928 and 930 Western Avenue. This is the large duplex that had fallen into disrepair over the last several years. AWCC’s plan is to sell these properties for use as single-family homes. The interiors still have a great amount of original architectural detail, and each unit is quite spacious. Please spread the word that we are looking people interested in living here in Allegheny West.
  • AWCC elections will be on Tuesday, November 11, during the regular membership meeting at Calvary United Methodist Church on Beech Street. We have a very good slate of dedicated people, but are still looking to fill one of the slots. I realize that Tuesday night is half-priced wine night at Benjamin’s, but I would ask folks to please attend Tuesday’s meeting to help select next year’s officers and chairpersons. After that, drink up!

Lastly, I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Bob Griewahn
President, AWCC

Letter from the President – October 2014

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

– Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat

If you’re like me, you are still getting over the drubbing that the Pirates took at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. The only solace I can offer is that at least it wasn’t the Atlanta Braves this time. That, and I suppose the Steelers may still eke out a good season. Well, maybe.

On to more pleasant matters, then. The AWCC Nominating Committee is about to put together a slate of officers for 2015. I encourage anyone who is interested in serving to call John DeSantis or me. We spent 2014 with one vacancy on the Executive Committee, and I don’t want that to happen again in 2015. Rest assured, if you decide to chair one of our committees, you will receive help from the other committee chairs. No one has to go it alone.

Even if an Executive Committee position is not right for you, you can still help by serving on one of our committees. You can help with Membership (event planning), Ways & Means (tours), Finance, Green Space, Property, and Housing & Planning. It’s an easy way to help make your home a better place.

Speaking of events, bowling is set to resume in January, but several of your neighbors are having regular pre-season bowling sessions on Wednesday nights at the Elks Lodge. Come on down and bowl, or just have a drink with your neighbors.

Lastly, before I sign off, the annual Victorian Christmas House Tour preparations are now in full swing. I know that the planners are looking for a few more houses for the tour, so please consider taking a turn this year. There are also plenty of other ways to help out, too. If you’d like to get involved (and I hope you will), please contact any of the Executive Committee members, including myself.

Have a great October, folks.

Bob Griewahn
President, AWCC