Hazelwood residents begin razing home for Carnegie Library branch
Wearing safety goggles and hard hats while wielding small sledgehammers, Auja Turner, 10, and her cousin Gemma Gilbert, 8, chipped away at a cement wall outside the former Hazelwood Presbyterian Church on Second Avenue.
John Terry, 14, took a few whacks at the wall, sending chunks of cement flying. So did the Rev. Tim Smith, executive director of Center of Life, an economic revitalization organization in the neighborhood.
“We are really making history today,” Smith said. “It has been such a long journey for our community.”
The demolition on Saturday of the cement wall served as a ground-breaking to start work on renovating the former church into a home for the Hazelwood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and other nonprofits. Rain moved the celebration into the basement of the building, but people braved the showers to tear down the wall.
“We have always recognized the need for knowledge,” said Homer Craig, 74, a longtime Hazelwood resident whom many refer to as the mayor of the neighborhood.
Craig noted the original Hazelwood library was the third established by Andrew Carnegie. The famed Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson likely read every book in the original library, Craig joked.
Residents fought hard to keep the library, once scheduled to close. The branch's current home, on the second floor of a Second Avenue building it shares with a laundromat and deli, is “probably best described as cozy,” said Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of the Carnegie libraries.
Cheryl Harber was glad the community found a use for the vacant church at the corner of Second Avenue and Tecumseh Street. Built in the 1950s as an American Legion, it was later the church where her mother, the Rev. Louwanda Harris, preached.
“My mother is joyous,” Harber, 56, of Hazelwood said. “We don't have to tear it down and make it something else. It's here, and we're going to be able to use it, and it's going to be awesome.”
Doneia Averett, 10, and her sister Trinity, 9, go to the current library nearly every day. They use the computers, participate in after-school programs and even met a real penguin. The library, however, is too small, the sisters said.
ACTION-Housing, a Downtown nonprofit focused on providing affordable housing, bought the church for $220,000. The nonprofit hosted community meetings to determine how to use the building.
Using money from the Heinz Endowments, a grant from PNC and loans from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the nonprofit plans to renovate the 14,000-square-foot building into a neighborhood center, with the library on the top floor and space for three nonprofits on the ground level.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.