We at the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) have always known how unique Mt. Lebanon is, but the journey of nominating our historic neighborhoods for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) has shown us just how true that is. Our historic district is surprisingly large with a remarkably well-preserved stock of homes. We’ve faced challenges with such a large district, but what a great experience this has been for our community.
The course of Mt. Lebanon’s development over the early part of last century occurred along higher elevations. This meant that development in the automobile era spread from border to border in Mt. Lebanon, making creation of a district border tricky and challenging. We were lucky to have the support of a skilled contractor, Laura Ricketts of Skelly & Loy, to draw the district boundary for us. Ricketts worked closely with Michael Meseck in the municipality’s GIS office to study the development of Mt. Lebanon in the decades preceding World War II, creating a map of a large district that tells an exceptional story of a changing America. Anticipating a project of hundreds of properties, Ricketts was surprised when properties exceeded 1,000. We were all surprised when we saw the final tally: an excess of 4,000 properties that might contribute to the national historic district! This vastly increased the scope of the project, setting back our timeline and making it impossible to complete the nomination in the centennial year.
Though the setback is disappointing, it has not deterred us from getting to work! Ricketts joined members of the HPB, including: Pat Calvelo, Joel Cluskey, Joe Dimperio, Bonnie Van Kirk, Michelle Zmijanac and me at the municipal building on a Saturday morning in June to train a dedicated and motivated corps of volunteers. The group included Jen Curran, Diana DiBerardino, Bob Freeman, Debbie West, Soncerae Yeager and Mary Zavodszky. Everyone set to work that day; many continued to support the effort throughout the summer. In true Lebo fashion, the team has enthusiastically embraced the project.
Since June, Kelley Burns has joined our ranks, too. She gave me a chance to see how exciting this experience has been for our volunteers by driving me around Mt. Lebanon to look at properties. Kelley and her husband, John, recently purchased their first home in Mt. Lebanon. With her at the wheel, I had the benefit of a driver who’d just searched the streets of Mt. Lebanon for the perfect home, and she had the opportunity to learn more about the history of the place where her children will grow roots. Hopefully, we didn’t concern any of you as we crept down the roads in her sedan early one Saturday in September, looking for house numbers and remarking about the beauty of so many of the homes. We both found ourselves surprised by the large stock of old apartment buildings and duplexes in Mt. Lebanon, and appreciated the differences between our historic neighborhoods.
Burns expressed the charm of Mt. Lebanon for both of us when she said: “You can really tell that people care about and maintain their homes. This is such a special place, because it’s so clear that people take pride in and love their community.”
Burns also shared with me that she’s heard concerns that National Register of Historic Places designation might impose property restrictions upon home owners. I asked her to help me spread the word that NRHP designation places absolutely no restrictions upon home owners. Properties with NRHP designation may be renovated, sold or demolished at the sole discretion of the property owner. Only local ordinances can place such restrictions upon private home owners, and, currently, Mt. Lebanon has no such restrictions regarding historic places.
Since June, our dedicated volunteers and board have inventoried more than 3,800 properties and will assess more than 4,500 properties before completion of the nomination. Initial estimates show that a large majority of those properties will contribute to the NRHP district. In addition, much of the district has been photographed by our volunteers. We have accomplished a tremendous amount already, but we aren’t done yet! Now, you’ll see our volunteers in the streets, taking additional photographs of our historic homes and streetscapes. Soon, we will invite you to attend public meetings to learn more about the National Register of Historic Places nomination. In the meantime, please contact an HPB member or the Public Information Office with questions or to volunteer.