The Pittsburgh Young Preservationists Association has compiled its annual list of 10 structures it wants to focus its efforts on in 2022.
Union Station in Brownsville, the former Monessen Savings and Trust Bank building at 500 Donner Ave. in the city and the Fifth Avenue Hotel in Monessen were on the list.
The Young Preservationists Association (YPA) began in 2003 to empower young people to participate in historic preservation through education and advocacy. Since then, every year, a list of the top 10 has been unveiled in order to draw attention to the potential for reuse and development of historic sites.
“The list is determined by nominations from local community stakeholders,” said Matthew Craig, the association’s chief executive for six years. “Since 2015, we have been trying to expand our impact to be more active with the different projects in the community.”
The former Monessen Savings and Trust Bank at 500 Donner Ave., built in 1905, has been vacant for over 20 years. The Town of Monessen has already received a $199,000 grant for roof stabilization.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel in Monessen is the oldest commercial structure in town. Completed in 1900, the building has been vacant since the 1990s, although the city continues to seek a new owner.
“They are connected to our founders and the history of our city,” said Matt Shorraw, outgoing mayor of Monessen. “I’m really excited about the curators and their support for the buildings. I think they are worth saving. I think you see across the country that there are young people who like old buildings. If we want to attract younger families to move here, we have to preserve these buildings, especially if you have people who are willing to invest their own money in them.
Shorraw also has a personal connection to the Donner Avenue building. His grandmother worked there when it was an A&P grocery store in the 1940s.
Craig said Shorraw had nominated these buildings for inclusion in the list.
“He is a strong champion of historic preservation in Monessen,” Craig said. “It was something we wanted to support. It reaches a point where you say, ‘We’re running out of time.’ These two buildings are on our list, because we are running out of time. They could be important anchor points for this business district. They must be worked in tandem.
Craig pointed out that the $199,000 grant already received for the Donner Avenue building was a positive step towards preserving the old bank building.
“It takes a bit of resources that can serve as the foundation for everything else,” he said. “We would just like to be able to work with the new mayor and continue our relationship with Monessen and be of service in any way we can. We hope this will be part of the long-term plan for the Monessen business district.
However, new Mayor Ron Moser said restoring these buildings may not be the way to go.
“For 30 years, these buildings have been neglected. They came down. These are totally dangerous buildings. Moser said. “I firmly believe it’s time for Monessen to move on. There are many opportunities for this block. This is prime real estate in downtown Monessen. They must be deleted. You can’t even walk on the sidewalk with them. They represent a serious danger.
Shorraw said the city doesn’t have the money to demolish the buildings.
“It’s a waste of money when you have people who are interested in acquiring them,” he said. “They will never see the money and the investment it would take to tear them down. I think it’s really important for the preservation community to want to see (buildings) preserved and saved.
Union Station is an abandoned train station and office building that was used by the Monongahela Railroad in downtown Brownsville. It was built in 1929 and has been vacant since the early 1990s.
“It really is a gateway into the city,” Craig said of Union Station. “We are just beginning the process of exploring potential funding resources to start cleaning it up and getting it ready for development. It’s a heavyweight. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where you’re ready to bring a developer in there, so we want to make sure all of those pieces are supported.
Brownsville Mayor Ross Swords believes Union Station’s historical significance makes it a building worth preserving.
“The Union Station building has served an important role in Brownsville,” the mayor said. “The majority of people who lived in Brownsville worked on the railroad. The building is very important and special for the community. Many people in Brownsville want to see this building renovated. I would like to see something come in there, just to open the doors again.
Students from the University of Pittsburgh found that the building remains structurally sound. When Union Station was built, it had the capacity to hold two additional floors.
Union Station is a building that is part of the Perennial Project in Brownsville, a revitalization organization that uses 3D capability to transport people to the heyday of landmarks such as Union Station.
Joe Baratovich, founder of Perennial Project, said students at Brownsville High School took photographs of Union Station in the 1940s and transposed them onto a 3D laser scanner.
“Now people can put on Oculus (headsets) and walk through the Union Station building as it looked in 1940,” Baratovich said. “It is part of the tourism that we are trying to develop. It’s the only slot we have. We have a lot of tourism in town. We’re just trying to maximize our tourism capacity. “
“We try to focus on the historic aspect of the properties (in the borough),” added Swords. “There are a lot of people involved in the commitment moving forward.”
The list also included signs at Underground Railroad sites in parts of Pittsburgh, the Century III Mall in West Mifflin, the former St. Agnes Church at Carlow University, the former State Bank of Elizabeth , the Tito-Mecca-Zizza House in Pittsburgh, Saints Peter and Paul Church. in East Liberty and Mellon Bank in East Liberty.
Craig said each site on the list can serve a function in its community.
“Each of the buildings on this list can be a great asset to their communities if restored,” Craig said. “We’re not interested in sentimental preservation, because that’s not going to work. Buildings should have a purpose and I think everyone on this list can have a renewed purpose and contribute to their communities.