RESIDENTS RALLY—Led by Ronell Guy, center, North Side residents and stakeholders rally and march to protest expansion of the Mexican War Streets Historic District into their neighborhood. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)


Living in a historic district can be beautiful, but maintaining a home in such a district—matching as closely as possible exterior finishes and materials—can be very expensive. And residents on Pittsburgh’s North Side, who could face such expenses, say city plans to expand the Mexican War Streets Historic District is moving forward without them having a chance to object.

On June 17, they held a rally and march from the Mattress Factory, on Sampsonia Way, to a public hearing at Northside Institutional COGIC, on West North Avenue, to voice their objections.

The main complaint was that the historic designation would force out moderate- and low-income residents because they cannot afford the kind of upkeep the designation would require.

Were the expansion approved by city council, the Historic Review Commission would have to sign off on any exterior building changes.

“I don’t think anyone should be able to dictate about (building changes) inside or outside,” said Alton Powe, who lives in the proposed expansion area.

The original Mexican War Streets Historic District was designated in 1972 and covers an area encompassed by West North Avenue, Drovers Way, Sampsonia Way and Sherman Avenue.

The expansion, proposed jointly by Central Northside Neighborhood Council president Chris D’Dario and Mexican War Streets Society President Paul Johnson in February 2010, would match the area designated by the National Register of Historic Places.

The new borders would extend two blocks east on West North Avenue, a block further west to Brighton Road at Sampsonia and north to Rednap Street, Jefferson Street and Carrington Street. Nearly all the properties along both sides of Jacksonia Street would be included in the expanded historic district.

During the march, Mattress Factory board President Barb Luderowski, noted some of the unique artistic accents—colorful murals and fence rails—residents have made to their properties that would not be allowed if the historic designation were approved.


HAVING HER SAY—As Northside residents and stakeholders look on, Ronell Guy tells Pittsburgh council that she objects to an expanded Mexican War Streets historic district. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Ronell Guy, executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, owns about 10 percent of the properties in the proposed expansion. After leading the march, she was among several speakers asking council to deny the designation.

She said the lack of communication has been a problem and has left residents nervous because they don’t know what the guidelines are for living in a historic district.

“An explanation of the financial burdens this could place on the diverse residents in the area has been vague at best,” she said.

Those who favor the designation say it would prevent developers from destroying historic properties, and that current homes and conditions are grandfathered in and would not require period restorations.

Council could vote on the expanded designation by the end of the month.

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