City of Asylum Pittsburgh’s plan to restore and link two blighted properties in the Central North Side went before the Zoning Board of Appeals yesterday.
The organization, which provides homes and care for writers in exile, proposes to create a cultural destination with three properties anchored by 1406 Monterey St.
Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh City of Asylum, said the nearly 4,000 square feet would comprise a bookstore, a cafe, a public gathering space for readings, performances and other events and apartments on the upper floors.
The parcel between the buildings is now a lot that would become a glassed-in courtyard.
Nine residents from the neighborhood turned out to show their support of the plan, including two who live across the street. One of the properties in the plan is a former bar to which many neighbors attributed noise, criminal mischief and shootings.
“I saw first-hand the problems that preceded Mr. Reese’s efforts,” said Robert Havrilla, a resident of more than 10 years. Parking, which figures in three of the five petitions for zoning exceptions, is not an issue, he said. “When the Mattress Factory has events are the only times I ever see all the streets filled.”
Attorney Joel Aaronson said his client is “asking for relief from off-street parking requirements” because a study, done by Trans Associates, an engineering firm, showed that within a 650-foot radius of the site, more than 200 parking spaces are empty. The study included checks at various times of day, evenings and weekends, he said, adding that a 650-foot radius would lasso two-and-a-half blocks in all directions.
“We have wanted to have other cultural entities [nearby] to create a synergy among them,” said Barbara Luderowski, co-director of the factory-turned-museum. “I couldn’t be more thrilled.” (This is the Post-Gazette’s print version ended.)
“I am so happy to begin to form a density of arts organziations in the community. My gallery will profit from the traffic; people will have two destinations instead of one... and if another coffee shop comes in, even if it competes with ours” — the Mattress Factory operates a cafe — that’s fine because we have needed these kinds of things.”
“Henry’s done an amazing job; the alley [Sampsonia] is a destination” for regular events and tourists who seek out the house on which Chinese poet Huang Xiang wrote poetry in Chinese when he was the City of Asylum’s first writer in exile in 2004.
“We have wanted to have other cultural entities [nearby] to create a synergy among them,” said Barbara Luderowski, co-director of the factory-turned-museum. “Henry’s done an amazing job; the alley [Sampsonia] is a destination” for regular events and tourists who seek out the house on which Chinese poet Huang Xiang wrote poetry in Chinese when he was the City of Asylum’s first writer in exile in 2004.
Mr. Reese said the City of Asylum programming has been done in people’s homes because the neighborhood had no public space. City of Asylum is based on Sampsonia Way, behind the Mattress Factory, whose principals were on hand to support the new cultural center.
Mr. Reese’s first presentation to memebrship of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council last year got mixed reviews. Architect John Radelet’s gorgeous design, with an etched-glass facade, was to have replaced two of the buildings.. Many residents ooh-aahed the proposed building; others said it flew in the face of the neighborhood’s Victorian look.
Mr. Radelet said the etched glass was Diane Samuels’ idea. She is an artist, Henry Reese’s wife and co-founder of Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum. But because many in the neighborhood nixed the dramatic departure of the design, even while some thought it magnificent and spine-tingling, Mr. Radelet went back to the drawing boards and proposed a design to restore the two buildings and link them via a glass cafe in the middle.
“Our residents are happy that this rendering keeps the buildings” in place, said Greg Spicer, vice-president fo the Central Northside Neighborhood Council.