The Tenuous Fate of a Fruit Terminal
This is The Pennsylvania Fruit Auction & Sales Building, or as it is known, the “Produce Terminal Building” on Smallman St. in the Strip District. Before I start, please pause for a moment and consider the vast size of this structure.
It’s a big one, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, since those days in 1926 when it was built, the rails that that efficiently pulled trains up along its quarter mile expanse have been replaced by more efficient paved roads and tractor trailers. The Terminal could not compete against the sprawling suburban development of the 20th Century, and the building eventually eroded into bankruptcy and blight. Elements– Meteorological and Economical–had not been kind either to this, albeit impressive, specimen of a building. From 1981 to 1983, the Urban Redevelopment Authority acquired the property, and dedicated $2.5 million to develop the northern (furthest from town) side. I remember as a kid, strolling the maze-like expanse with my Dad, through palates and cases filled with discounted cereals, supplies, and canned goods…I remember it well and fondly. It was the precursor to what we now call Big Box Retail and Discount Outlets, but much, much cooler.
Fast forward to today. The Urban Redevelopment Authority still owns the building, but The Buncher Co. now owns much of the riverfront land behind it, and is in the works to purchase the entire structure from the city for $1.8 million. They have generously agreed to reconstruct the northern 2/3 of the building, but plan to demolish a third of the structure, the 535 feet of it that sits next to the bridge, due to structural deficiencies and to provide accessibility routes to the future development. This past Spring, Buncher posted a “Notice of Demolition” on the doors, slated for April 29th, 2013. Issues arose when folks realized Buncher planned the demolition date before they were to purchase the property. It wasn’t yet theirs to tear down.
Councilmen Bill Peduto and Councilman Patrick Dowd, who have both been very active and vocal about the Strip District’s Riverfront Development, spoke out against the plan to demolish before the sale. “I don’t see how they possibly could consider it,” (Dowd) said of the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection. “If I’m the proper owner and apply, that’s one thing. If I’m not the property owner, I don’t believe I would have that right.” (source: Pgh Post Gazette)
Sarah Kroloff, a member of the local historic society, “Preservation Pittsburgh”, filed an official Historic Property nomination form, effectively halting the demolition over the Summer until a decision is reached. The Preservation Pittsburgh Society claims that the structure exemplifies innovation in style and design, is distinguished by its uniqueness, and is a well-known and defining feature of the City of Pittsburgh. For these reasons, Kroloff and her supporters feel the 87-year-old building should be maintained in its entirety. It is the very length of the building that defines it, and the lenght must be preserved. No official date has been set for the hearing, but as always, I’ll keep yinz posted.
It’s an interesting debate, one that I particularly don’t know quite where to stand. I have been skeptical of The Buncher Co. and their concept of “urban design”. I love the Strip for its rawness–its genuine Rust Belt personality– many of the new, extremely high rent properties being built have the feel of a ritzy suburban mall plaza to me, and nobody got time for that. This is the Strip District; anyone who goes in and tries to change its unique character and its openness to ALL Pittsburghers will end up just making a mess and losing a lot of their money in the end. Many Pittsburghers (myself included) feel that Architects and Designers need a more “organic” approach to redeveloping the Strip. You can’t just pave what is there and start over with buildings that don’t fit.
Still, structural costs cannot be just ignored for sake of nostalgia, and few would argue that re-engineering the dangerous parking and pedestrian situation on Smallman is vital and long overdue. I’d love to hear what yinz think. Is the building enough of a Pittsburgh icon to make it worth keeping in its entirety, or should Buncher be able to do what they want with it?