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Sale of Paramount Pictures building slated for today

Jason Cato
| Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Efforts to save part of Pittsburgh's cinematic past could end this week, with or without protections wielded through a special historic designation.

City Council is scheduled to address the issue as it applies to the former Paramount Pictures Film Exchange building along the Boulevard of the Allies, Uptown. A local developer and screenwriter is scheduled to purchase the 84-year-old building today.

Although Rick Schweikert plans to preserve the building's roots as part of the film industry's early distribution process, he isn't thrilled by the possibility of owning what might become the city's latest historically protected location — and the construction constraints that it could bring.

"On one hand, it would help me if (the historic designation) didn't pass," said Schweikert, 46, of the South Side Slopes, who has refurbished city buildings into living and work space for artists. "On the other hand, I like that people care so much about the building."

In May, Squirrel Hill native Drew Levinson teamed with the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh to apply for a city historic designation for the red-brick building at 1727 Boulevard of the Allies. They feared it would be demolished by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which acquired the property when it took over Mercy Hospital in 2008.

Schweikert declined to say how much he's spending for the building, which county real estate records value at nearly $148,000.

UPMC officials did not respond to requests for comment. UPMC has opposed the historic designation.

While he still hopes city council grants the designation, 21-year-old Levinson said he is excited about Schweikert's plans to renovate the building into offices and art studio space while preserving some of its past — including the old film vault, screening room and exterior, which still includes Paramount's "Majestic Mountain" logo.

"This building is going to be around for future generations of Pittsburghers to see and experience a physical structure, not just a picture in a museum display or an indistinguishable plaque," said Levinson, a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. "I take pride in knowing that this city is one of the most important for film exhibition and distribution in the world, and I hope historic designation will encourage people to investigate our film history."

Paramount moved its original Downtown offices to The Bluff in 1926, helping to create what was known as "Film Row" — where major motion-picture companies screened films for theater owners. Pittsburgh was one of the country's first movie distribution hubs.

Schweikert hopes to attract a tenant that is involved in the film industry and has discussed with Pittsburgh Filmmakers the possibility of using the space for special screenings.

"I think Rick quite rightly believes to have a sort of respect for the history of the building, there should be some film presence," said Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers. "Rick has a track record of honoring the art DNA of a particular space."

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