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McCook Mansion harbors history

| Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Historic preservation is the reason Richard Pearson is moving ahead with a $5.5 million bed-and-breakfast development in Shadyside.

He, his family and a group of local investors have formed a company to restore the McCook Mansion on Fifth Avenue and an adjoining building on Amberson Avenue, which was damaged by fire, instead of demolishing them and building a 20-unit condominium on the site.

"We believe in protecting our (historic) treasures," he said. "We are currently securing financing and designing the renovation, with hopes that we could open late in the fall of 2007."

The McCook Mansion was built in 1906 as part of what was known along Fifth Avenue as Millionaire Row. Only a few of the original buildings remain.

His building is one of 130 "historic" sites and 15 neighborhoods within Pittsburgh that the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh yesterday reported are not protected by the city's landmarks ordinance.

The report, titled "Unprotected Pittsburgh: Preservation Priorities and Resources for Preserving Pittsburgh's Historic Landmarks," also lists a number of programs and organizations that can help property owners preserve historic properties, said Dan Holland, association founder and board chairman.

The next step to obtain historic designation for any of the 130 sites or 15 neighborhoods is to submit an application to the city, he said.

"It would be best that both the property owner and the individual or group making the nomination agree on the action, but the application can be filed without the owner's permission," he said.

Once an application has been submitted to the city planning commission, both the commission and the city's Historic Review Commission must hold public hearings on the request, to determine if it meets one of 10 criteria set by the city ordinance. And before it can receive the designation, city council must conduct a public hearing.

Holland supports passage of Senate Bill 1232 -- the $10 million Historic Preservation Incentive Grant Program -- currently in the Senate's Appropriations Committee, which would provide grants of up to $15,000 for residential properties and up to $500,000 for commercial buildings.

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said he is hopeful the measure can be approved before year's end.

"The leading Republican in the Senate, Sen. Jeff Picolla, R-Dauphin County, has co-sponsored the bill, and we have received bipartisan support for it," he said.

Of the 130 sites listed, Downtown has the most unprotected historic sites at 24 with the Hill District second at 23. Shadyside has 10, Oakland has eight and Lawrenceville has seven.

Holland said African-American history tops the list with 37 unprotected historic sites. Among them are the August Wilson birthplace and home, Crawford Grill No. 2, both in the Hill District; the first home of the National Negro Opera Co. and the home of Robert L. Vann, founder of the Pittsburgh Courier, both in Homewood.

Other sites listed included B'Nai Israel Synagogue in East Liberty, Kaufmann's Department Store (now Macy's), Downtown, and the Duquesne Incline, Mt. Washington, where the news conference was held.

Among the 15 historic districts are Woodland Road National Register Historic District in Squirrel Hill, Chatham Village in Mt. Washington and East Liberty Town Square.

The report is available by clicking here.

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