More than 100 tour ever-changing Lawrenceville's past
James Wudarczyk led more than 100 people on a tour Sunday through Lawrenceville's past — a stable on Urbana Way and a private library near 40th and Butler streets where residents could rent a book for 10 cents a day.
Over the past 200 years, Lawrenceville has reinvented itself many times — from a community with an arsenal for America's military to one that later had a riverfront lined with steel mills.
The Pittsburgh neighborhood, once populated mostly by Presbyterians and Republicans, now is a mishmash of religions, ethnicities and political groups.
In the past 15 years, Lawrenceville has evolved into a trendy destination with high-tech businesses, galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
“It's good that we are bringing businesses and private homeowners back in the area,” said Wudarczyk, a researcher for the Lawrenceville Historical Society after the tour. “But the downside is the radical increase in property values is making it difficult for longtime residents to maintain their homes.”
The society organized the Ninth Ward walk, the largest of its tours since it introduced them 25 years ago.
The tour started at a pre-1850 house on 40th Street above Davison Street named for Edward Davison, a riverboat captain and construction company owner.
John Symington, commandant of the Allegheny Arsenal at the time of the 1862 explosion that killed 78 people, stayed there in November 1862 after being relieved of command because of poor health.
“This is one of the oldest standing houses in Lawrenceville,” Wudarczyk said of the Greek Revival house.
Wudarczyk led the group to an alley made of hand-cut Belgian blocks between Fisk and Main streets. In the late 19th century, he said, many Sunday school pupils who, when asked who made the world, innocently answered Booth and Flynn. The contractors paved 594 of 600 city streets.
Among the walkers on the tour were Ken Labuskes, who moved to Lawrenceville in 2005 from Swisshelm Park. He called Lawrenceville a great place to live.
“You can walk to maybe 100 great restaurants and about as many bars and great events like this,” said Labuskes, 53, pointing at the crowd gathered on the tour.
Wudarczyk stopped at the old Arsenal Bank on Butler Street, built in the 1880s for $17,000. The bank, now Tender Bar + Kitchen, once rented rooms to the YMCA, which debated whether to allow members to play checkers. Checkers was eventually crowned king.
Wudarczyk stopped on Butler Street in front a Lawrenceville landmark of personal interest to him. Originally the YMCA of Lawrenceville, the building was converted in 1928 to a Boys Club before it became a charter school.
“In 1960, dues were $1 a year. When I grew up in Lawrenceville, I don't know any boy who didn't belong to the Boys Club,” he said.
He pointed to the site of the Ewalt Bridge, a wooden structure that once crossed the Allegheny River. In 1924, the county sold it to the Diamond Match Co., and it was torn down for its lumber to make matches.
“In the end,” he said, “it went up in smoke.”