By Mike PanzittaYoung Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh

Though we don’t have the same urgency of potential threats to our local historic districts and landmarks as seen recently in Michigan and Wisconsin, Pittsburgh residents have to navigate through some legal hurdles to push for preservation in our neighborhoods. Whether it’s the City Code, zoning restrictions, or other obstructions, sometimes YPA has a great plan to save a site, only to be stymied by legal issues.

An interesting example of such legal issues is the Albright United Methodist Church. Some of you came by to snap a photo the Sunday of the RBCoYP Pittsburgh Summit…ugh, Ok, let me figure out how to embed Instagram photos…Ok, here it is:

The Albright Church and its congregation has a rich history that is inextricably tied with Pittsburgh’s own  – a great summary can be found here. The congregation formed in 1843 and is one of the oldest continuously worshiping religious groups in the city, having moved from the heart of Downtown during the early 20th century to the then-developing East End as the city expanded. The congregation worshiped in the building at Centre and South Graham for over one hundred years.

Sadly, a mold issue in 2013 forced the Albright Community to stop using the structure, and a developer has struck a deal with the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference to demolish the historic church and construct a suburban-style, single-story commercial building with parking lot and drive-through in its place. When we heard about this story and plan, YPA decided to work with the nonprofit Friends of Albright to save the building from threat of immediate demolition by supporting a city historic designation.

The only wrench in the works is – and I’m gonna get a little into potential “boring” territory here – City of Pittsburgh Code, Section 1101.03, which says that religious structures must be nominated for historic designation by their owners. Friends of Albright has used the fact that the Western PA Methodist Conference has been on record that the structure, as it is no longer used for religious worship, isn’t a religious structure, and the statute doesn’t apply. Regardless, after the city Historic Review Commission recommended it for Historic Designation, the Methodist Conference decided to sue the city, Friends of Albright, and a few local residents.

albright
Albright United Methodist – A beautiful church on a beautiful day. Photo credit: Adam Sellers

 

Nevertheless, the push for historic designation moved ahead, and yesterday (May 3) afternoon, the City Planning Commission voted unanimously to back the designation. The next step, then, is City Council, and if they have no objections, Albright will be a city Historic Structure (yay!). Aaaaaaand then the lawsuit will likely commence (boo!).

So we at YPA don’t know what will come of the suit or the city code that impedes citizens from nominating religious structures to historic designation. But we plan to back the Congregation and Friends of Albright through the mess and prevent this gorgeous and historic structure from being replaced with drive-through, suburban-style “development.” I hope you all are interested in following the push for historic designation! We’ll be posting about it on the RBCoYP Facebook page, and follow Friends of Albright on their website.

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