One of Wilkinsburg’s greatest assets is the housing stock. Wilkinsburg has affordable housing options more commonly associated with suburban neighborhoods, at a fraction of the cost and commute time.
There are housing options for families in the low to moderate income range, and also for those with higher incomes. However, like older inner city neighborhoods across the country, the core of Wilkinsburg housing stock is in need revitalization. Local initiatives have been developed in partnership with county and state agencies to rehabilitate structures and provide home ownership opportunities.
The Borough is making an effort to catalogue all of the vacant structures in order to get further funding for improvement efforts. Primary goals include the demolition of abandoned buildings that have become a safety hazard, and stabilization of homes that can be renovated now or in the future. The Borough also has a tax committee that is focused on finding ways to make it easier to purchase abandoned homes for renovation. Possible programs might include residential tax incentives that will make it easier to afford to renovate these properties.
Collaboration with PHLF
Over the past decade, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) has been active in the Wilkinsburg community, providing over $400,000 in low-interest loans to non-profit organizations and over $30,000 in grants to religious organizations for the restoration of their historic religious building. As a result of the PHLF-led Wilkinsburg Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, a program that incorporated neighborhood residents in establishing restoration priorities, PHLF has begun restoring many architecturally significant homes in the historic Hamnett Place corridor of Wilkinsburg in an effort to spur additional private investment and development in the area. Vital to the success of these redevelopment projects are the Sarah Scaife and Allegheny Foundations and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, which have provided capital money for these significant restoration efforts. PHLF is also engaged in numerous commercial redevelopment projects which include the Crescent/Wilson apartments and the Packard Building.
While PHLF’s involvement in Wilkinsburg centers around the historic restoration of architecturally significant buildings, its work also impacts overall community revitalization efforts. In December 2007, PHLF worked with students from the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management to research and provide recommendations for reducing Wilkinsburg’s high tax rate. The study also outlined numerous ideas for “green” initiatives for the Borough. The results of this study are currently under review and consideration by Wilkinsburg’s Borough Council, and are part of PHLF’s plans for furthering its work in the community.
In addition, PHLF’s new subsidiary, Landmarks Community Capital Corporation (LCCC), which was formed in October 2007 with the mission of providing capital, development expertise, and pre- and post- technical assistance to low- and moderate-income communities, expands upon the historic preservation mission of PHLF by serving as a catalyst for economic development and community revitalization.
Wilkinsburg Architectural Styles
The majority of the buildings in Wilkinsburg’s potential historic district are single-family dwellings, some of which have been converted into multiple-dwellings. The houses are typically vernacular, with little high-style elaboration. Dwellings are mostly 2- or 2 1/2-stories in height and have simple footprints and massing. Both brick and wood frame construction are common, although most of the wood frame houses have been sheathed in aluminum or vinyl siding. Foundations are mostly of stone, and roofs, primarily of asphalt shingles, were originally slate. The houses in the potential historic district, as in other areas of Wilkinsburg, are generally set very close together on small urban lots, with small front yards.
Stylistically, the potential historic district is dominated by Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style buildings, with some Prairie, Craftsman, and other late nineteenth and early twentieth century styles scattered throughout. Common features of the houses in the area are large front porches, turned porch posts or classical columns, art glass windows, patterned shingles in the gable ends, patterned masonry, and bay windows.
Another predominant home style in Wilkinsburg is the American Foursquare. This style was popular from the mid-1890s to the late 1930s. It is said to be a reaction to the ornate elements of the Victorian and other Revival styles popular throughout the last half of the 19th century.
There are a number of sets of Row Houses (or attached houses) in the potential historic district. The houses on Elvia Way, Hulem Way, and at 1148-1156 1/2 South Ave., all appear to have been built by the same developer. All are multiple brick units with flat roofs, variously colored bricks, front porches and decorative art glass transoms. Another interesting set of attached houses are located at 1107-1129 Rebecca Ave. This row was built around 1910, and although it has been sheathed in insulbrick, it still exhibits the characteristic tapered square porch posts and simple massing of the Prairie style.