Churches, train stations, and breweries: Historic buildings rehabilitated with the help of state tax credit

 Article by Boyce Buchanan – Featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 26, 2021 

Imagine living in an apartment in an old church that houses a chandelier and pipe organ donated by Andrew Carnegie, eating at a restaurant in the lobby of a 105-year-old train station decorated with marble from Italy, or drinking beer made inside a brewery that was raided by the feds during Prohibition.

In the next few years, those could all be possibilities.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has recently announced tax credits for the 2020-2021 fiscal year for the owners of 27 historic buildings that are actively being restored and rehabilitated. Six of the buildings that will receive the credits are in Allegheny County. All of them are unique structures and their owners have some interesting plans for their futures.

The Historic Preservation Tax Credit program, which started in 2013, is administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 


A train station finally getting repaired

Another building that is undergoing an unusual transformation with the help of the Historic Preservation Tax Credits is Wilkinsburg’s Pennsylvania Railroad Station. The tax credit allocation is $300,000, according to a news release.

Vacant since 1965, the building has been in a “critical state of disrepair” for the past 20 years, according to Tracey Evans, the executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, which is helping to rehabilitate the space.

The completion of the station in 1916 prompted three days of celebration, with 100,000 people joining in on the festivities, according to information on the corporation’s website. However, 100 years later, the building lay abandoned with very little roof and the terrazzo and mosaic tile floors damaged by water, leaves and snow, according to Ms. Evans.

“The Wilkinsburg train station has always been a project that the community has looked at and hoped to have restored [and] rehabilitated for decades and decades,” Ms. Evans said.

The organization began to do just that when construction started in 2017.

Marble that had been held up by corroded copper wire fell to the ground over time and fractured, Ms. Evans said. She added that to repair this the group ordered replacement marble from the same quarry in Italy where the original marble came from back in 1916.

Among other aspects of the restoration process, the organization had paint chips analyzed so that the building  could be repainted using its original colors. Replicas of original light fixtures were also ordered.

“Everything is as close as possible to the original building,” Ms. Evans said. “It’s a symbol of what was … and it is a symbol of revitalization for the community.”

Currently, the group is finishing up its historic retouchings, and Ms. Evans said the group wants to have a ribbon-cutting at the end of September.

Ms. Evans hopes that the stately building will host a destination restaurant in the main lobby. She added that the organization has been reaching out to maker-space groups to see if they would be interested in renting out space in the lower level.

“[It will] bring people in to see the building who then might visit at other locations and shops in the business district,” Ms. Evans said. “[We could] have a place [where] people in Wilkinsburg can walk to, to go eat and gather, which we don’t [currently]… . It would really add to the variety of options in the business district.”