Sunday, February 23, 2014

McKeesport - The Library District

"The Library District" is the neighborhood of grand residences that surrounds the 1902 McKeesport Carnegie Library, and within walking distance to downtown McKeesport. The neighborhood is also home to the McKeesport Little Theater.  Home to prominent McKeesporters and the high society of its day, in the early decades of the 20th century, it is one of several old mansion districts in the city. Other affluent neighborhoods included Shaw Avenue and the surrounding streets (Millionaire's Row in the Victorian era), Park Street (East Park neighborhood), and Myer Park.

The neighborhood has survived fairly intact, and it is the most pleasant residential neighborhood near downtown McKeesport. Few McKeesport neighborhoods were immune to the decline of the city over the past several decades, and The Library District has some abandoned buildings and signs of decay in spite of its elegant, tree-lined streets, manicured lawns, and many well-maintained older homes. There are several excellent examples of 1920s Romantic Revival architecture here.

Hopefully, this neighborhood (among others) will be re-discovered by people who seize the opportunity to live in a luxury home for the cost of a used car.

Tudor Revival is one of the prominent architectural styles in the neighborhood.

Some of the homes have stucco walls and feature a Spanish Revival influence.

Four squares are common in this early 20th century neighborhood.

Hopefully, someone will save this gem.

Another gem in need of restoration.

Vacant church across the street from the Library. Oh, the possibilities!

This gorgeous home was a foreclosure and recently sold for less than $18k.

Vacant apartment building across the street from the Library. This would make an ideal preservation project. The city should find a way to restore it as a neighborhood revitalization project.

The Carnegie Library of McKeesport - 1507 Library Avenue - built 1902. Architect: William J. East. 

First United Methodist Church

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Former Montgomery Ward Department Store - McKeesport

Downtown McKeesport once boasted several large department stores, including this former Montgomery Ward store at 539 Fifth Avenue. Notice the wonderful art deco detail on the facade. In 1937, the store was the site of a sit-down strike, in which store employees demanded higher pay and shorter work periods. Built circa 1930, it was one of several Montgomery Ward stores in the greater Pittsburgh area. Other stores were located in downtown New Kensington, Donora, and Beaver Falls. As retail trends changed over the decades, Montgomery Ward eventually vacated their downtown department stores and opened up in suburban shopping centers. Some suburban store locations included Lower Burrell and Century III Mall in West Mifflin. 

Montgomery Ward also operated a divisional center at 598 Third Street in downtown Pittsburgh, as of 1930. This location managed the various stores throughout the district. Once among the largest retailers in the United States, Montgomery Ward was founded in 1872 and was famous for its mail order catalogs. The company went out of business in December, 2000. It was, at the time, the largest retail bankruptcy liquidation in American history.

  During its heyday, McKeesport was the center of industry and commerce in the Mon Valley region, the second largest city in Allegheny County, and behind only Pittsburgh, Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown in population among western Pennsylvania cities. Some of the other major department stores in downtown McKeesport included Cox's, Immel's, and The Famous. McKeesport was also the location of the first G.C. Murphy store. Murphy lived in a mansion on Madison Avenue in McKeesport, near Millionaire's Row. The G.C. Murphy store still stands, but the mansion does not.

The Montgomery Ward store in downtown McKeesport is for sale. One would hope that it finds a buyer who will be a careful steward of the building's interesting and colorful history, from the era when downtown retail was at its peak.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Demolition in the Name of "Progress"

"The enemy of the dying city is not the abandoned building, but the circumstances that caused the building to become abandoned. Demolition is the erosion of a city, the removal of a city, the death of a city." - Jonathon Denson

2000 block of Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh.