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It’s not often that a building can inspire the kind of love that millennials usually reserve for Apple watches and small-batch spirits. But then again, there’s just something about the Lohr Building that brings out the nostalgia in everyone.

Perhaps that’s why, just before Valentine’s Day in 2017, members of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh “heart bombed” the three-story, red brick structure at Wood Street and South Avenue, plastering its exterior with Valentines expressing their love for its history and importance to Wilkinsburg.

Built in the late 19th century by Alexander Lohr, the once majestic building served as an anchor to Wilkinsburg’s thriving main street.  In more recent years it has housed a variety of different businesses, such as a law firm and a bank. Sitting vacant since 2013, the much-anticipated restoration is expected to be complete in November 2019. 

Already home to Nancy’s Revival — where you can sip locally produced KLVN coffee to go with a slice of homemade sweet potato pie — the $2.5 million renovation will convert the rest of the building into a mixed-use commercial space. Opportunity also exists to allow artists or entrepreneurs to rent larger units for a space where they can both live and work, and the nearby East Busway offers an easy commute, particularly for those tapping into Oakland’s healthcare institutions and universities.

The Young Preservationists aren’t alone in their affection for the Lohr Building. Architect Chad Chalmers, a principal with Wildman Chalmers Design, loves its classic design — the arched windows and brick detailing, as well as its prominent location. He owned it from 2009 to 2012, and has long thought about its potential as a catalyst for the renaissance of the Wilkinsburg business district. Having worked in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods that experienced a significant reinvestment, he recognized a similar opportunity in the Lohr.

So when the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation approached him about designing the Lohr renovation, he readily agreed.

“I’m thrilled to see this project through. I’ve had many ideas of what I want to do with the building,” he said. “I felt the exposure of the building for retail, the corner location, and the traffic at the corner of Wood Street and South Avenue were fairly significant.”

The building also showcases the work of local vendors, including doors from Davis-Fetch, electrical equipment from Stanton Industrial Electric Supply, cabinets and appliances from Houston Starr, and a security system from Security Systems of America.

Tracey Evans, executive director of the WCDC, views the Lohr Building — together with the Wilkinsburg Train Station — as an opportunity to create a model for renovation in the borough’s business district. She envisions several possibilities for Lohr Building tenants, such as a yoga studio, wellness center, or office space. In fact, the WCDC already plans to move in to the first floor.

“It’s a great, pedestrian-friendly corridor,” says Evans. “And it will be exciting to be among the growing new businesses.

Chalmers agrees that the location of the building, which is within walking distance of both a major transportation hub and several residences, is ideal. Within a quarter-mile radius, people can walk to their office, eat at Nancy’s, or shop; they can also hop on a bus and be in downtown Pittsburgh in less than 15 minutes. All are important features in attracting both tenants and customers.

He praised the CDC’s role in bringing the Lohr Building revitalization to fruition.

“The infrastructure is in place, and the core business district is in place. A project like this needs the CDC to bring in funds and financing that a private developer might not have,” he notes. “They’ve built awareness and community engagement, both locally and in the development and business communities. We’re excited about what’s happening in Wilkinsburg.”

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