Above: St. Nicholas’ dramatic presence along Route 28 will soon be gone. (Photo by Blaine Zehmisch).
Trucks and construction equipment placed along Route. 28 in Troy Hill are the first signs that the historic St. Nicholas Church building’s fate is sealed, and the historic church will be gone by next week.
The demolition comes after a long and hard-fought debate between the Pittsburgh Catholic Dioceses who hoped to tear the vacant building down, and Northside community groups and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation who wanted to preserve the church, which they believe may have been the first Croatian parish in America.
The diocese turned down two offers made ont he property this year in favor of demolition.
The diocese currently has no plan for the land, but hopes to sell it, possibly to The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation who plans to widen that stretch of Route 28 in the spring of 2014.
PennDOT did not comment on whether or not they were interested in purchasing the property.
On July 19, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Colville ordered the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission to issue to the parish a Certificate of Economic Hardship that allowed the parish to obtain the demolition permit that was previously denied.
“With the demolition, the parish will be able to move forward and a dangerous threat to traffic on Route 28 will be removed,” said a statement released by the dioceses, which noted that the foundation of the property presented a threat to Route 28 drivers.
In 2009, St. Nicholas tried to sell the building to Lamar Advertising who planned to use the land for billboards, but the sales agreement fell through.
The old church was once the center of Pittsburgh’s Croatian community on the Northside. It became an historic landmark at the request of several parishioners in 2001, but was vacated in 2004, when the church moved to Millvale due to dwindling size of the parish.
Father Dan Whalen, of St. Nicholas Church, said the parish wanted the building torn down because maintaining it cost the 225 member parish about $1,800 a month and was pushing them into financial hardship.
When St. Nicholas applied for the permit in 2011, it was denied because the building was on the list of historic landmarks. The church also filed a petition for economic hardship later that year, which was denied before it was overturned by Judge Colville at the end of 2012.
The Northside Leadership Conference and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation were interested in purchasing the church and turning it into a Croatian immigrant museum and made an offer of $1 to purchase and restore the church, which suffered structural problems.
This month the Urban Redevelopment Authority made an offer of $300,000 for the building plus any addition costs necessary to cancel the demolition.
“More important than the amount that was offered was that we would have been willing to work with them to save the church,” said Yarone Zober, chairman of the URA.