Union Project to Celebrate 20 Years

First a Presbyterian church, then a Baptist church, now an organization designed to use the arts to bridge gaps between communities, the church on the corner of N. Negley and Stanton has a rich history. Some of that history will be shared during an open house event on Sept. 21 celebrating 20 years of the Union Project, the current stewards and occupants of the church, that will include details of future building preservation projects.

Once inhabited by the Adena Tribe, the Hopewell Tribe and the Monongahela People, and later refugees from tribes including the Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois, the corner of Negley and Stanton was later the site of a red brick farmhouse built in 1808 and occupied by Jacob Negley and his wife, Anna Barbara Winebiddle. It was their daughter, Sarah Jane, who married Thomas Mellon, founder of the bank.  

The house was gone by 1889 however, and just a few years later the Second United Presbyterian Church was built, completed around 1902, and now housing the Union Project. It was one of only three churches that ultimately served Highland Park and one of only two remaining, the other being St. Andrews on Hampton.  

In 1936, Second United Presbyterian changed hands. Its congregation joined that of East Liberty Presbyterian, and East End Baptist Church moved from its location on Shady Ave. into what’s now the Union Project. East End Baptist later changed its name to Union Baptist around 1960 but by 2000 the church no longer had enough participants to support it.  

The Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation bought the building in 2002 for $145,000 and leased it to the Union Project until 2006, when the organization took over the lease.  

Jeffrey Dorsey, the executive director of the Union Project, finds that history of the building — transitioning from supporting a predominantly white congregation to a predominantly black congregation — fitting given the mission of the Union Project. “The history of the building has been half white and half black,” he said. “And the Union Project got its start with thinking of how to be a place that bridges ethnicities, races and socio economic backgrounds, and to use the arts to build more inclusive communities.”  

The story of the stained glass windows and the Union Project’s efforts to restore them is well known locally and farther afield. Through trial and error, including training young people aging out of the foster system and neighbors to repair the windows, the organization figures it saved $1.3 million by leveraging the community to bring the windows back to their current beauty. The Union Project still gets calls from organizations in Pittsburgh and beyond looking for tips on how to affordably restore stained glass windows in historic buildings.  

The Union Project’s windows, unique in their predominantly green hue, bring people together in other ways. Dorsey noticed that the building had become a popular spot for same-sex couples to get married and didn’t know why until one couple told him that they wanted to be married in a church but didn’t feel comfortable doing so in one with traditional religious iconography that implied judgement on their marriage. The Union Project windows exude beauty but no judgement.  

Admire the windows for yourself, as well as the recently built exterior kiln shelter, during the celebration from 4 – 6 on Sept. 21.

Highland Park Family Shares Glimpse into Ukrainians’ Daily Struggle

By Diane Averill

There is a quiet confidence about HP resident Daria Loshak as she calmly recounts the displacement and the injuries; the days and nights sheltering in a root cellar; the constant struggle for existence that her family members back home in Ukraine have experienced during the past five months of Russian military aggression.  

She last saw her family when she visited in January.  

“We did not believe it would happen,” Daria said of the invasion that came with the dawn of Feb. 24, 2022.  

At the time, Daria’s father, Yuriy Loshak, a general in the Ukrainian navy, was stationed in Crimea, where the family had lived for 20 years.  While he evacuated aboard a ship going north to Mariupol across the Sea of Asov, Daria’s mother made her escape westward over land, having had just four hours to assemble the few belongings that she would take with her. As Yuriy’s ship neared port, it hit a mine; his resulting injuries required 19 surgeries, after which he went right back into uniform.  

Daria, Anton and their daughter Varvara in Pittsburgh on Ukraine Independence Day.

Together with Daria’s brother, a commercial seaman sidelined by the war, her parents relocated to Kyiv. There, her mother does administrative work while her brother does aid work for a volunteer organization called SUVIATO, filling the constant and too-often sudden need of medical equipment, food and supplies for defense forces and volunteer medical personnel who have no time to wait for the bureaucratic processing of large, international aid funds.  

Last March, Yuriy, dressed in civilian clothes, drove to a Kyiv suburb to retrieve a friend and his three children from an area of heavy attack. On the road, a Russian tank fired on the car. As the five occupants exited the burning vehicle, a Russian sniper opened up on them, wounding two of the children and killing their father. Once again, Daria’s father underwent surgery, this time to remove shrapnel from his eyes. After two weeks, with his vision restored but metal shards still lodged in his ears, he refused further treatment and went back to work.  

Daria’s phone is filled with photographs of devastation, including the rubble that was her alma mater, the National University in Kharkiv; but there are also plenty of smiling faces, both civilian and military, gathered around an ambulance or a site of aid being distributed. In her grandparents’ town to the northwest of Kyiv, during a period of heavy shelling, neighbors did their grocery-shopping for them for the two months that they dared not venture past their own front yard.  

“This situation shows how united people can be,” said Daria.  Daria herself shows it, too.  

Two years ago, she and her husband, Anton Ulianenkov, brought their then-four-year-old daughter, Varvara, to live in Highland Park on the second floor of a house on N. Euclid Avenue. Daria soon realized that the first floor apartment was occupied by an elderly man with no family and no visitors. She began knocking on his door with offerings of food. He was grumpy, she said, but she didn’t let it bother her. One day, he didn’t answer the door. Unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong, she called the police. The neighbor was found in critical condition, rushed to the hospital and stabilized. Not strong enough to return home on his own, he now lives in a nursing home, where Daria visits him regularly, still bringing food.  

Their green cards are good until 2027, so Daria, a pre-school teacher, and Anton, an IT program developer, have time to decide whether they will stay in the US or return to Ukraine. Whether or not they will remain in the neighborhood, as they hope to do, is a more immediate question; the house where they live will be sold and they must relocate in October. By the time she learns of an apartment for rent in Highland Park, Daria said, it’s always already taken.  

In the meantime, and as long as necessary, Daria will continue her efforts to help her countrymen by spreading awareness of SUVIATO and encouraging others to write letters of support to Ukrainian military personnel.  

Once quick to tears and worry, Daria has embraced the same determined optimism that her family has shown her, and that the Ukrainian people have shown to the world. 

“They always say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re fine,’” Daria said. They phone her every day to reassure her.  

“I have them trained,” she added with a smile.  

Daria Loshak welcomes letters to Ukrainian soldiers via her own email address, loshakdasha91@gmail.com. Contributions to SUVIATO can be made through PayPal to suviato@ukr.net. The organization has a presence on Facebook.  

In anticipation of the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Pittsburgh, local nonprofit Hello Neighbor will host a virtual community update on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 12:00-12:30 p.m. To register, visit helloneighbor.io.

Neighborhood Updates

HPCC Annual Business Meeting

The HPCC’s June Community Meeting also is its annual business meeting. This year, board members prepared a presentation recapping HPCC accomplishments and events from the past year; introducing the officers and new board members for the upcoming year; providing an update on the new Super Playground; summarizing membership activities and achievements; and outlining our finances. In short, the HPCC is doing great, keeping neighbors informed and engaged, increasing our membership, and managing our finances well. For all the details, see the presentation here

PWSA Work Soon to Begin Near Park Entrance

At our June 16 HPCC Community Meeting, PWSA provided another update on the work it will be conducting along Bunkerhill Street and Mellon Terrace as part of its Water Reliability Plan. This work is expected to begin in July and take three years to complete, so be prepared for potential delays, detours, and construction vehicles in this part of the neighborhood for quite a while. They provided details about the length of planned closures, although not their timing. Highlights about the work are below. Check out the PWSA’s presentation for more.

Rising Main Upgrades are expected to start July 2022 and be completed by Summer 2025

  • Mellon Terrace, north lane, will be closed for eight weeks during construction
    • The other lane will be a one-way toward Negley Ave.
    • Detour signs will be posted
  • Mellon Street is expected to be closed for four weeks during construction
    • Traffic will be rerouted to N. Saint Clair St.
    • Detour signs will be posted
  • Intersection of Bunkerhill Street, Mellon Street, and One Wild Place
    • The intersection will be closed one weekend only, from Friday 8 p.m. through Sunday 5 a.m.
    • Detour signs will be posted

Pump Station Replacement is expected to start Dec. 2022 and be completed by Summer 2025

  • Intersection of Bunkerhill St. and N. Highland Ave.
    • The intersection will be closed for two weeks
    • Crews will work around the clock to get the work completed as quickly as possible
    • Traffic will be rerouted to N. Euclid
    • Detour signs will be posted
  • Building construction
    • The work schedule will be Mon. – Fri., 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • No impacts to water service are expected

Bus Rapid Transit

At a special community meeting on Monday, June 20th, Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT, formerly Port Authority) provided an update on the city’s plans for the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) development. Funding and other constraints have caused them to restrict the initial project to the Downtown-Uptown-Oakland corridors. As a result, the extension running to Highland Park is no longer part of the plan. Long-term they hope to add it, but we will not see any new BRT stops or shelters in Highland Park until additional funding is obtained and public engagement is conducted. Once the Downtown-Uptown-Oakland BRT upgrades are implemented, if you catch the 71A or 71B in the neighborhood, part of the route will be in the BRT corridors, but the BRT elements won’t extend to our neighborhood. View the PRT presentation on our website.

Thanks to All Who Attended, Supported the Hullabaloo

After a two-year, Covid-induced hiatus, the HPCC was excited to bring back our neighborhood BBQ under a new name: “The Highland Park Hullabaloo.” On June 23rd, we converted the Rhododendron Shelter in the park to a community party zone! Over 400 people came to wind down after work with free hot dogs, a hot dog toppings bar, hot popcorn, Eat’n Park Smiley cookies, and beer and soda tasting – seven kinds of each! Rikki the Face Painter was there, along with the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Vinnie’s Shaved Ice. People enjoyed live music, won cool door prizes, and chilled on the grass with their friends and neighbors. A good time was had by all. Check out our Facebook page for more photos!

Thank you to everyone who made it possible, including the entire HPCC board; Janine Jelks-Seale and Leah Bhagat-Young (neighborhood volunteers on the planning committee); Elisa Lucke Jones (children’s committee); the many businesses, organizations and individuals that donated door prizes; and all of the neighborhood volunteers who helped set-up, run and clean-up after the event. Events like this are a team effort – thank you Team Hullabaloo!

Thank you donors!

  • Applewood Smoke Burger Company
  • Casa Brasil
  • Centre Ave Massage & Spa
  • East End Brewing
  • Gallery Ama
  • Highland Park Garden Club
  • Joseph Tambellini Restaurant
  • Lou Iezzi & Sons Auto
  • Jeffrey Smith Salon
  • Park Bruges
  • Smiling Banana Leaf
  • Tazza D’oro
  • Teppanyaki Kyoto Restaurant
  • Trek Shadyside
  • Pittsburgh Glass Center
  • Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium
  • Andrea Mudd
  • Leah Bhagat-Young

Thank you musicians!

  • Monkey Goddess
  • Tom Hoffman and Friends
  • Mitch Hall
  • Howling Mob

Jim Ferlo, Highland Park Neighbor and Friend

Highland Park lost a good friend and ally recently with the passing of Jim Ferlo. City Councilman for fifteen years, followed by twelve years as our State Senator, Jim was a force to be reckoned with in both settings, never one to back down from a critical issue of principle and fairness. One of many speakers at Jim’s memorial service in Allegheny Cemetery in May, who served with him in Harrisburg, referred to him as “the conscience of the Senate.” He was that and more, with longtime residents of Pittsburgh also recalling Jim leading battles with the powers that be over historic preservation, health care, workers rights, tax-exempt properties, sustainable development, billboards… the list is long.

Newcomers to the neighborhood may not be aware of Jim’s sometimes colorful but always effective methods to push both those he served, as well as those he hoped to convince, to aim higher, but we live in a neighborhood where the proof of his impact is visible every day. The Highland Park we enjoy today had a far less certain future just a short time ago. Whole blocks suffered from disinvestment and decay, Bryant Street was dysfunctional and vacant, and the park was a shadow of what it once was. In the early 90’s, at Jim’s urging, a band of determined neighbors created the Highland Park Community Development Corporation to take on the “bricks and mortar” projects necessary to begin to reverse the tide on blocks that were at the edge of no return. The work in this corner of the neighborhood continues today, but these are now safe, livable places that attract both significant investment and great neighbors.

Bryant Street always held a special attraction for Jim. It drove him crazy that this neighborhood was saddled with a commercial district of empty storefronts, eyesore buildings, irresponsible property owners, and noise and drug use when all could see that the community was hungry for a total makeover. With Jim’s urging a new vision was set, problem properties were acquired, partners and funding were secured, and restaurants and services that the neighborhood wanted and needed began to open in restored and new buildings. Such turnarounds are complicated and take time, and while Jim was not a patient person, the Bryant Street of today would never have happened without Jim’s unwavering 20+ years of dedication and support.

As you walk around Highland Park, thank Jim for being able to enjoy the walk around the Upper Reservoir, threatened in the 90’s with a cover like the one now being replaced on the Lower Reservoir. He was in the neighborhood’s corner with other key individuals and institutions in the 10-year standoff to find the eventual solution, the Microfiltration Plant, that both assured a safe drinking water supply while also respecting the unique experience at the heart of the park that makes Highland Park special.

As you leave the park and pass by the fountain and under the granite and bronze entry piers at the end of Highland Avenue, thank Jim for making sure that the city’s proceeds from the sale of the King Estate stayed in the neighborhood, funding both the restoration of the historic Moretti statues as well as the key initial design process that led to the full rejuvenation of the entry gardens in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City.

These are but a few of Jim’s contributions to the neighborhood he loved, and we will miss him greatly.

David Hance, president of the Highland Park Community Development Corporation