When officials threaten demolition, these people step in to preserve the Pittsburgh region’s historic homes


Editor's note: This is the second installment of PublicSource’s series examining approaches to treat symptoms of blight in Allegheny County. Read the first story on vacant lots here, and stay tuned for our third and final piece on Thursday.

Through the dated kitchen and a hallway with a gaping hole, past the stacks of dusty Bibles and art history books, a grand staircase snakes through the old mansion. Cracked vases are strewn at the foot of the landing — at one time, the homeowner was a collector.

Now, this home on Millionaire’s Row in McKeesport smells of mildew and you can’t stay inside for too long without getting lightheaded. But the crown molding still wraps the perimeter of each bedroom. You can imagine its Victorian glory through the rubble.

“Every house has a story,” says Maryann Huk, director of the McKeesport Preservation Society [MPS].

And every house has its own remnants of life. Sometimes dishes are left on the table. Food in the refrigerator. And the owners long gone. It’s like an image taken straight from the aftermath of the Great Depression, Huk says.

In Allegheny County, there’s roughly a dozen preservation groups, and most are nonprofits, according to Preservation Pittsburgh.