Above: From the street, the two historic homes don’t look terribly notable, but they may be some of the the oldest homes in the Northside.
Two row houses that may be the oldest buildings Deutschtown sparked a debate last month between neighborhood residents and the buildings’ owner.
In early December, October Development and building owner Al DePasquale appeared before the Historic Review Commission asking for a demolition permit to tear down the two buildings on Foreland Street that and date back to the 1830s and suffer from mold, rot and structural problems.
Members of East Allegheny Community Council also attended the HRC meeting to oppose the demolition plans due to the historic significance of the buildings.
The two row homes are located at 406 and 408 Foreland St. and are vacant, but they may date back to before the Civil War and are a unique glimpse at what Deutschtown looked like before the Industrial Revolution.
The Allegheny County website reports that the houses were built around 1850, though local house historian Carol Peterson believes certain features of the house indicate that they were built closer to 1830, making them the oldest houses in the neighborhood.
The EACC opposes the demolition because they feel that old and historic houses are what make the neighborhood unique.
“Saving little old run-down buildings in our neighborhood is what keeps us looking good,” explained Lynn Glorieux, of the EACC. “It just looks so much better to keep something that is old.”
However despite their historic relevance, there are many challenges to restoring the Foreland homes and DePasquale believes that they are beyond repair and the better option is to tear it down.
As the owner of October Development, DePasquale had restored 17 historic homes in Deutschtown, and said he is invested in the area and wants what’s best for the neighborhood.
He bought the two homes in 2007 for $20,000 with the intention of restoring them, but has since realized that the market for small houses like these is too narrow, and he would put more money into it than he could make.
EACC members and owners of adjacent property on Cedar Avenue, Joe Ferrara and his wife entered an agreement with DePasquale to purchase the property and build a new home on the lot.
“We believe in the East Allegheny neighborhood and the dedicated efforts to uplift it and make it a more desirable place to live and raise a family and have made a substantial investment to prove it,” explained Ferrara. “Ultimately, we want to protect our investment while at the same time help the restoration of East Allegheny to move forward.”
However, the Ferraras have offered to step aside if a buyer looking to fully renovate the property comes forward.
“We understand the delicate balance between historical preservation versus modernization and fully support the efforts of the EACC to protect and preserve the character and integrity of the neighborhood through its structures,” he said.
DePasquale has turned down several offers from buyers who he believed would not preserve the homes but use them out as cheap, poorly maintained rental units.
Deutschtown resident and architect Bob Baumbach spoke in favor of tearing down the buildings at the HRC meeting, but said he is torn on the issue.
Baumbach describes himself as an urbanist who believes in preservation, but he understands that from a business perspective, it’s a tough sell.
“I’m troubled about the idea of tearing down the building,” said Baumbach. “But this house doesn’t have the features that buyers today are looking for.”
He explained that there’s a narrow market for homes in the city, and despite the growing market in the Northside, the houses have specific problems.
Each house is only 13 and a half feet wide, which constricts comfortable living, and that the houses are filled with mold and rotten wood and they lack basements and very little of the original, historic interior.
The commission tabled the demolition request for 60 days, and City Council President Darlene Harris’ office plans to organize a community meeting between the opposing parties.