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No one injured in fire at abandoned East Liberty church

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:18 a.m.
St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church on Larimer Avenue in East Liberty Wednesday, December 5, 2012. The front doors to the abandonded historic church are wide open and the property was the site of a small fire early this morning. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church on Larimer Avenue in East Liberty Wednesday, December 5, 2012. The front door to the abandonded historic church is wide open and the property was the site of a small fire early this morning. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Squatters set an abandoned church on fire in East Liberty on Wednesday, and not for the first time, fire investigators said.

A fire reported about 7:15 a.m. was at least the third at the former St. Peter and Paul Church on Larimer Avenue near East Liberty Boulevard, fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

“(Firefighters) have been out there from time to time, from squatters living in there,” Jones said.

No one was hurt in Wednesday's fire, which burned an area about 30 feet through the floor, Pittsburgh fire Battalion Chief Robert Cox said.

“We've had multiple fires in the building,” he said. “The city does a good job of boarding it up after we leave, but people get in.”

The church, which was featured in the movie “Dogma,” has long stood vacant. Pastor Kenneth Stevenson of the Everlasting Covenant Church bought the building in 1997.

“We're in the process of trying to restore the cathedral,” Stevenson said. “We've suffered a number of different setbacks, but it hasn't stopped us from our original goal.”

Stevenson is working with East Liberty Development Inc. to begin a feasibility study on potential uses for the building, said Kendall Pelling, project manager for the developer. The study could cost between $15,000 and $20,000, he said.

“It's a challenging building, but it's a very prominent one in our community,” Pelling said. “It's a building that we don't want to take the quick, easy answer and say, ‘It's got to go, it's got to be torn down.' We want to take a thoughtful approach with him and the community and figure out what could be done with this.”

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation designated the building as one of architectural significance in 1983 and placed a commemorative plaque on the front, said Al Tannler, historical collections director for the foundation. Jones said he issued an order to firefighters to only use defensive tactics when fighting fires there, meaning they primarily work from the outside.

Bishop Loran Mann of the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, which neighbors the building, said it has been a constant problem. In addition to vagrants living there, Mann said strong winds blow tiles off the roof.

“We'd like to see it torn down rather then sit in an extended and perpetual state of disrepair,” Mann said.

East Liberty Development will ensure the building is sealed, Pelling said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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