Mt. Pleasant's Penn Theater building falls on Father's Day
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It was a building that boasted a flair for the dramatic to the very end.
In the early morning hours of Father's Day the two-story, brick structure which once housed the Penn Theater in Mt. Pleasant took its last and lowest bow.
That's when Pittsburgh-based Jadell Minniefield Construction Services Inc. demolished the building located at 100 W. Main St. in the borough's East End.
The razing represents the first step of a long-term plan between the borough and the Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority to eventually create an off-street parking lot and a small-but-scenic park on the property.
“We're starting a new history there,” said borough Manager Jeff Landy.
The fate of the vacant theater building was sealed earlier this year when the authority awarded a contract of $56,896 in federal funding to Jadell Minniefield to bring it down.
However, before the authority could legally permit Minniefield to begin demolition, it sent Hallie Chatfield, the authority's revitalization coordinator, to the site in March to take photographs of the building's interior and exterior.
Such “photographic recordation,” as it was termed by Chatfield at the time, was then turned over to the PA Historical & Museum Commission's Bureau for Historic Preservation in Harrisburg.
Some remember the theater building and the surrounding area of town as much busier.
“Years back, that used to be a very busy part of town, Cox's Restaurant used to be there before the theater was, then you had the Ross Tourist Home where Brown's Candy Kitchen is,” said Richard Snyder, chairman of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society's board of directors.
“There used to be a street car junction there for street cars coming from Connellsville to Greensburg,” he said.
However, the building — most recently occupied by a business called Wood ‘N Reflections — has stood empty the past several years. The property was eventually deeded to the borough.
Since Minniefield's contractual deadline to raze the building was Aug. 24, the fact that it's been done is “good news,” considering the future plans there, said April Kopas, the authority's executive director.
“It's a significant redevelopment project that is going to enhance Mt. Pleasant's business district,” Kopas said.
Designed to occupy roughly one quarter of the space of which was occupied by the theater building, the planned miniature park, which is tentatively named Penn Park, would serve as an outdoor, neighborhood gathering site featuring green space, benches, light posts, signs and walkways, according to project plans.
Bricks, which helped compose the building, are planned for use in constructing walls in the space.
The park will also include a coke oven donated to the borough in 2010.
“I think that's a nice gesture to make the whole area more user-friendly and people-friendly,” Snyder said.
In addition, a portion of the property will include about eight parking spaces, plans indicate.
Cherry Avenue resident Daniel J. Schmek, who could see rear of the theater building from his front porch, often struggled to find a parking space along the street.
“A lot of people park up here, and now some of them will be able to park in that lot, so that should help,” Schmek said.
The development will also be designed to allow natural water, such as rainfall, to flow to the flower beds planted there, according to the proposal.
In addition, furniture and fixtures left behind in the theater building were salvaged prior to demolition and given to nearby Shop Demo Depot for resale.
“We kind of call it ‘green deconstruction' because some of the items are sent to be recycled,” Kopas said.
Kopas praised other community members and local merchants for supporting the project, most notably Sam Miller, proprietor of Miller Refrigeration Inc.
Located at 108 W. Main St., the easternmost wall of Miller's business butted against the westernmost wall of the theater building, he said.
“We had to come to an agreement, and (the authority) didn't want to put the bearing on us since our side wall would be exposed and it's unfinished,” Miller said. “They'd granted us an easement and agreed to finish that side of our building once the other building was down.”
Miller said any additional parking on his end of town would be a welcome sight.
“We'll take anything we can get right now,” he said.
To finance the park's development, the borough has requested approximately $73,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding as part of the county's 2013 action plan.
In March, the county's board of commissioners voted to approve a resolution adopting the plan to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
The plan — which includes approximately $2.9 million in total CDBG funding requests countywide — was subsequently sent to the federal department, where it remains under review.
This week, officials of the county's department of planning and development mailed an official request for release of the funds to the federal department, according to Terry Antonacci, the department's local government coordinator.
“We will wait for HUD to give us the official word of the release of funds,” Antonacci said. “It will probably be by the end of July that we will receive a response.”
In the meantime, Antonacci said the borough is free to seek bids for completion of the park/off-street parking lot project at the theater site.
“They just can't award the bids until we have the official release of funds,” he added.
Landy said he is willing to wait to move forward with the next phase.
“We will work as fast as other people work with us,” he said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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