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.

Houses, History, N’at: The Negleys and other notable names of Highland Park

Houses, History, N’at is an occasional series of articles on the topics of, well, houses, history and related subjects. In this article, we’ll continue to draw from the application that resulted in Highland Park’s designation as a Residential Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. The application was meticulously researched and developed by the late Mike Eversmeyer, a Highland Park resident and architect who worked in both government as the city’s historic preservation planner as well as in private practice. See our first article based on the application which includes an overview of the styles of houses in the neighborhood.

The first 100 years of European settlement in Highland Park had relatively little development of buildings and roads in the neighborhood but the families who put down roots at the time have made a lasting impact, including in the street names we’re all familiar with as well as in some of the most well-known houses in the area. In this post, we’ll describe the history of Highland Park starting with the first European settlers in the 1770s through the 1880s.

The initial wave of home building in the Highland Park neighborhood stretched from around 1860 – 1880, but Alexander Negley became the first permanent European settler 100 years earlier when he purchased 278-acres of land north of Bryant St. His son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, the daughter of local landowners, and purchased a 443-acre farm called Heth’s Delight adjacent to his father’s. Jacob and Barbara built a brick house in 1808 at what is now the corner of Stanton and Negley Ave. and Jacob ultimately owned all of the land he bought as well as his father’s property, becoming a prominent resident and building a grist mill, starting a bank and helping to found the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. His daughter Sara married Thomas Mellon, the patriarch of the banking family.

When Jacob died, Barbara divided the land among her children, a move that formed the division between East Liberty and Highland Park. Around this time, a county surveyor, Robert Hilands, laid out the first streets of Highland Park, including Negley Ave. and what was initially called Hiland Ave. but later changed to Highland Ave. in 1890.

Monument to the Negleys in Highland Park.
The plaque on the monument.

The Negleys left their mark in Highland Park and beyond. In addition to being the namesake of Negley Ave., a monument in Highland Park, to the northwest of the super playground, pays tribute to members of the Negley family and other early European settlers who were buried at the site. Other members of the Negley family are buried in a section of nearby Allegheny Cemetery.

Sallie Negley, born in 1852 and died in 1874, was buried alongside other members of the Negley family in Allegheny Cemetery.

Plus, the farmhouse to the southeast of the reservoir that is now a parks building was once a Negley family home. (Just outside of the Highland Park neighborhood in Friendship, a Negley family home recently sold. The listing on Zillow says it was built in 1903 and the photos show that it has been beautifully maintained over the years.)

The year 1872 was a notable one in Highland Park, with the extension of horse-drawn streetcar service from Pittsburgh to East Liberty and the beginning of construction of the reservoir in the park by the city Water Commission. The land purchased for the reservoir later provided the germ of the Highland Park landscape park that was founded in 1889.

During the 1870s and 1880s, large country houses and clusters of smaller suburban dwellings popped up in the neighborhood. The largest houses on substantial lots were scattered along Highland, Stanton and Negley Avenues. While the area feels close to downtown today, at the time it represented an escape to the country by the wealthy away from the crowding and pollution of the city center.

This house is much more modest but built in the same Second Empire style as the King Estate.

The grandest and surely most famous house built during this period is commonly called the King Estate. William Negley originally built a house on the site in 1869 but it was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1880 by Alexander King, a glass manufacturer. The house has been meticulously restored by its current owners and is on the market for a mere $3m. It was featured recently by the New York Times, with additional photos included in the listing on Zillow. The King Estate is built in the Second Empire style and there are just a few others of the same style in the area.

The Italianate style was also popular during this period of home building and there are a few that retain their original appearance.

An Italianate style house in the neighborhood

Stay tuned for our next installment, which will highlight additional development in the 1880s as well as the 1890s.  

This blog post was written by Nancy Gohring, HPCC newsletter editor, and David Hance, president of the Highland Park Community Development Corp.

The Houses of Highland Park

Most Highland Park residents know that the neighborhood is designated a Residential Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places – after all, it says so right on the “Welcome to Highland Park” sign at the intersection of Stanton and Highland Ave.

What many people may not know is what the designation means and that it was awarded following a decade of work kicked off by the Highland Park Community Development Corp., including the development of a comprehensive application by Highland Park resident and architect, the late Mike Eversmeyer. Mike was an architect who worked in both government as the city’s historic preservation planner, as well as later in private practice. He loved Pittsburgh and served on the board of Preservation Pittsburgh as well as on the city’s Historical Review Commission. Thanks to Mike’s hard work, not only was Highland Park awarded this distinction in 2007, but we now have access to a detailed history of the neighborhood and its architecture. This post is the first in a series that we hope to share that draws from the application.

But first, some background. The National Register of Historic Places is a list of buildings and districts that are significant for historic and architectural reasons. In attaining this recognition by the US Department of the Interior in 2007, Highland Park stood out as a “virtually intact record of a turn-of-the-20th century residential neighborhood”.

Listing in the National Register brings with it few restrictions and a number of advantages. Private homeowners are free to renovate and build as they wish, though ideally are influenced by the character of the street they are part of to reflect that in the choices they make. Commercial properties, on the other hand, are able to reap the financial benefit of Historic Tax Credits if their project meets reasonable guidelines. And any project that uses state or federal funding is subject to review for adverse historic impacts, a protection that has proven to be especially important with new work in the park.

In the 1990’s, the HPCDC launched the effort to nominate the neighborhood for the listing. Doing so was in line with the HPCDC’s goals, which include increasing the neighborhood’s livability and rejuvenating its commercial district. The HPCDC believed that listing Highland Park on the Historic Register would help highlight that the historic character of the neighborhood made it a great place to live and invest in.

In this blog post, we’ll pull from the application to offer an overview of buildings in the neighborhood with some insight into the most common architectural styles. If you haven’t heard of some of the styles that are common in our neighborhood, you’ll start to recognize them once you see the photos below.

An example of a Colonial Revival style house

According to the application, there are 1,967 buildings in Highland Park, 93% of which are residential, 1% are commercial and less than 1% (five total) are institutional (schools and churches). The remaining “secondary” structures are buildings like garages. Thirteen percent of the buildings – 260 – were built before 1900, 78% were built between 1900 and 1930 and 9% were built after 1930. Only two buildings are taller than four stories – the tower of St. Andrew’s and the Highland House Tower.

The most popular style of house in the neighborhood, built between 1890 and 1930, is the Colonial Revival, which represents 53% of houses in the neighborhood.

The Tudor Revival, built during the same period, is the second most common style, accounting for 12% of the houses in Highland Park.

A Tudor Revival

The third most popular style of house, the Queen Anne, accounts for about 9% of houses in the neighborhood. The one below is just gorgeous!

A Queen Anne style house

The Queen Anne homes are older and along with the Italianate, French Second Empire and Richardsonian Romanesque style houses were built in the 1860s through the 1890s. This one below is an example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, with only about 1% of homes in the neighborhood built in this style.

An example of a Richardsonian Romanesque style house

Highland Park also apparently has a few buildings designed by Frederick Scheibler, described in the application as “the early 20th century progressive Pittsburgh architect.” These were built later, in the 1920s, and include the one pictured below. We stumbled on a blog created by a local fan of Scheibler and it includes photos of other buildings he designed as well as interior shots of the house pictured below.

A Scheibler house in the neighborhood.

We hope to write additional blog posts drawing on other history included in the application for the Historic Register.

This blog post was written by Nancy Gohring, HPCC newsletter editor, and David Hance, president of the HPCDC