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Union City gateway project underway

Architectural designs that could transform the north entrance to Union City’s downtown business district are ready for public input after several months of discussion between the architect and a local committee.

The area under consideration is the intersection of Main and High streets, through which thousands of vehicles pass each day. Considered the “gateway” to Union City’s downtown, it includes the former Union City Dinor on the southwest corner, the small borough-owned “Industrial Park” on the northwest corner, and the southeast corner adjacent to Ace Hardware.

Nonprofit Union City Pride in 2019 acquired the former dinor and an adjacent building with funding from the Erie Community Foundation’s “Shaping Tomorrow” program, along with funds from the Union City Community Foundation.

Using additional Shaping Tomorrow funds, Union City Pride in February engaged the Erie architectural firm Bostwick Design Partnership to work with a local “Gateway Committee” to fashion an overall design for the intersection’s three corners.

The Gateway Committee consists of Dave Nothum of Union City Pride, Borough Secretary and Pride board member Cindy Wells, Union City Community Foundation board members Steve Jones and Jim Shreve, foundation project manager Steve Bishop, and Preservation Erie board members Melinda Meyer and Dave Skellie. Architects David Brennan and Hayden Erdman headed the project for Bostwick Design Partnership.

Meeting initially via online videoconferencing, and more recently in socially distanced in-person meetings, Brennan and the Gateway Committee have worked through a variety of issues related to the intersection design. The first of those issues was whether the iconic dinor building could be repurposed, or should be removed.

After visiting the former dinor, which is essentially an external shell with a stripped interior and rotting floors, Brennan said his professional opinion was to remove it. He said the cost of repurposing the building, taking into account accessibility issues and costs under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), makes reuse financially impractical.

“Since the building envelope has been neglected and not properly maintained, the building has become uninhabitable and unsafe mainly because of water damage to the structure,” said Brennan. “Also, there have not been updates to the mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems which makes rehabilitation very difficult if not impossible without extensive revisions and additional investment.”

Dave Nothum of Union City Pride concurred.

“Unfortunately the years of neglect have taken its toll on the building itself,” said Nothum. “It will be difficult to see that building removed. It’s been part of our lives for many years, but it is time to move on.”

Nothum added, however, that the larger transformation of the intersection into a true gateway to Union City’s downtown is exciting.

“We want to create an attractive entrance to the historic downtown area,” he said. “Several business and residential owners along Main Street and High Street have been making improvements to their buildings. We are hoping this gateway will be the ‘book cover’ that will be the draw to encourage others to ‘open the book’ and discover what Union City is all about.

“There is a tremendous amount of traffic that goes through our town,” Nothum added. “It’s important to create an image that says Union City is moving forward and a great place to live.”

Bostwick Design and the committee ultimately crafted an overall design that includes removing the dinor, and renovating the exterior of the adjacent brick building also owned by Union City Pride. The proposed design of that adjacent building, last used by the Union City Full Gospel Church, is intended to provide a “dinor feel” from the addition of a line of windows and awning-like metal roof overhang facing West High Street.

The front of the building, facing Main Street, would be restored to a more historical look based on old photographs.

The entire project, including a new stairwell and hydraulic lift behind the former dinor down to the adjacent municipal parking lot, is proposed to be undertaken in three phases, and would total between $630,000 and $700,000 according to Bostwick’s estimates.

Phase 1, totaling between $260,000 and $285,000, would include demolition of the dinor and former church building’s Main Street façade; masonry restoration of the entire church building exterior; restoration of the former church building’s Main Street façade; and infill of the former dinor.

Also included in Phase 1 are structural work for new windows and a new door toward the rear of the former church building’s High Street façade; demolition of the existing alley and stairs at the municipal parking lot level; a new retaining wall and stairs from the parking lot; and planting of grass on the former dinor site.

Phase 2, totaling between $140,000 and $160,000, would include installing a metal roof overhang on the High Street side of the former church building; a new metal roof above the stairs and alley to the parking lot; the new ADA-compliant lift from the parking lot to the High Street elevation; and alley masonry restoration.

Phase 3, totaling between $230,000 and $255,000, would include turning the grass at the former dinor site into a concrete plaza, surrounded by low brick walls and landscaping; installation of new concrete sidewalks and curbs; new iron fencing at the plaza; and new masonry walls and fence surrounding Industrial Park.

Phase 3 also includes matching towers on the southwest and southeast intersection corners to complete the feeling of entering a gateway to the downtown ; and a mural on the wall on the west end of Industrial Park.

“The design will maintain the visual look of the dinor on the corner while at the same time connecting the park across the street and the parking lot in the back,” said Nothum. “This will provide a very inviting entrance to downtown Union City.”

The public is being asked specifically to provide input about three different design options for the area toward the rear of the former dinor, where a new door to the adjacent building and improved access to the lower-level parking lot would be created. The three options have differing overhead design features for that new door and the pass-through area between High Street and the new stairs to the parking lot.

Architect Dave Brennan said the first design alternative includes a minimalistic approach to the adjacent building entrance roof and also the upper alley passage roof to the parking areas. This first option includes a flat roof and very simple support structure and materials. The intent of the design is to downplay the proposed design interventions while highlighting the existing buildings.

The second alternative includes a “hipped roof” over the adjacent building’s new entrance and the upper alley passage roof leading to the parking areas. The design also includes brick columns and an exposed steel truss roof support structure. This option directs more attention to the entry to the building and the alley, creating more architectural interest to the development.

The third alternative includes a “pitched roof” over the adjacent building’s new rear entrance and a “gable roof” on the upper alley passage roof leading to the parking areas. The design also includes brick columns and an exposed steel truss roof support structure. This option, similar in design to the second option, also directs more attention to the entrance to the building and the alley, creating more architectural interest to the development.

Brennan said the committee had many factors to consider. The biggest challenge, he said, was creating a vision for a new downtown gateway while balancing the need to address the future of the existing dinor building. Another challenge was providing design solutions that align with the community’s ability to fund the improvements.

“We were tasked to create a downtown entrance that meaningfully interrupts the ongoing traffic and pedestrian flow, defines the edge and entryways into the borough, creates a theme or signature element, and creates an environment that respects the existing downtown character and architecture,” Brennan added.

Melinda Meyer, president of the board of Preservation Erie, a nonprofit that works to retain key historical architecture in Erie County, said the design work represents a potential new chapter in Union City’s history.

“It’s exciting to see the community coming together to figure out a plan for how to move Union City forward,” Meyer added. “The north gateway project, as well as efforts happening at the south gateway, are all working toward breathing new life into the downtown.”

As for funding the project once the design phase is complete, Meyer said it will take time.

“Projects such as the gateway project don’t happen overnight,” she said. “It will take time to line up the funding needed to move ahead with the different phases of the project. What’s most important now is having the community review the proposed plans and provide comment so that the project has the support of residents going forward.”

Meyer and Brennan said the collaborative seven-month process to create the designs required the meshing of a variety of opinions among the committee.

“While the overarching goal for the project is consistent among all project partners, opinions on how this goal is achieved varied,” said Meyer. “It took several meetings with honest conversations to figure out what everyone was thinking, and the current working design draft reflects ideas from all planning partners.”

And now, the public is being asked for its feedback. Through Friday, Oct. 16, comments about the three design alternatives can be emailed to Large posters showing the overall gateway design, as well as the three design alternatives, are in the windows of the former Family Dollar store on Main Street, and in the lobby of the Union City Post Office.

In addition, a short video about the design process and the design alternatives themselves can be viewed on the borough’s website at, and on the borough’s Facebook page. The video is also available on the Union City Community Foundation’s website and Facebook page, as well as other community Facebook accounts.

“It’s always good to get a variety of thoughts and opinions on any subject,” said Union City Pride’s Nothum. “It is very possible that the input will provide some insight that we hadn’t considered. It’s important to get community support for a project of this magnitude.”

A Shared Heritage goes live

Hotel Pope, 1318 French Street, Erie

As the national reckoning with historic, systemic racism continues to unfold, a local community history project long in the making is poised to shine a light on the rich heritage of African Americans right here in our own backyard.

“African Americans in Erie: A Trail of Shared Heritage, will publicly commemorate the culturally rich, historically courageous, and socially dynamic history of African Americans in Erie County—a history deeply entwined with this region’s overall development,” said Mercyhurst University History Professor Chris Magoc, whose collaboration with community partners has brought the project to fruition.  “These are stories of daring heroism, pioneering innovation, of generational perseverance in the face of impossibly difficult odds – in short, great American stories.”

The centerpiece of A Shared Heritage is a walking and driving tour of 29 significant sites of African American history encompassing the entire county—from the Bladen Road area in Millcreek, a landscape reflecting the presence of slavery in the region, to multiple locations representing the storied history of the Underground Railroad, to sites embodying the modern era and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. 

Visitors to the project’s website ( will find the beautifully illustrated guide to the sites, along with other features: a concise narrative history and timeline of African American history in Erie, brief profiles of dozens of African American “pioneers, community builders, and freedom fighters” who have contributed to the greater Erie region, and interviews with five history-making figures of Erie’s recent past: Celestine Davis, Johnny Johnson, Gary Horton, Rubye Jenkins-Husband, and Marcus Atkinson.  Recorded through the generous support of WQLN Media, the interviews are excerpted on Shared Heritage and available in full on YouTube.  The broad geographic distribution of the 29 historic buildings and landscapes—reaching from Girard in the west through a cluster of historic buildings in Erie all the way to Wesleyville and Harborcreek—is further reflected in the support provided by Erie Yesterday, a regional consortium of museums and heritage organizations in Erie County.

A Shared Heritage is the culmination of a project that began in 2012, when the Edinboro Area Historical Society received a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to both develop an exhibit honoring the legacy of local civil rights champions Leroy and Beatrice Smith, and to begin development of a countywide tour of African American history.  Drawing on the research of African American historian and educator Johnny Johnson, as well as Journey from Jerusalem—a 1996 publication of the Erie County Historical Society authored by Sarah Thompson and Karen James—Mercyhurst public history major Adriana Houseman drafted the original tour of 22 sites, as her senior project.  “It was outstanding work by an undergraduate student,” noted Magoc, her advisor, “but it was intended essentially as a draft.”

With no funds to further develop and publish the work, the tour languished until 2017, when local historian Melinda Meyer connected Magoc with Johnny Johnson and Sarah Thompson.  Magoc then secured a $3,000 grant from Erie Arts & Culture, allowing the foursome over the past three years to fully realize the project.

Two Mercyhurst seniors in 2019-20 “really helped get this project across the finish line,” according to Magoc.  Public history and anthropology major Hannah Pfeifer conducted additional research, helped curate the interviews and photographs, and edited copy for the tour map and companion website.  Pfeifer earned the Bishop’s Award for Academic Excellence in Mercyhurst’s Class of 2020, and was the first student to earn a Roy and Rosanna Strausbaugh Fellowship, which supports student research and production of public history projects.  The Fellowship award also supported the stellar work of graphic design major Samantha Sherwood, who developed the website, making the tour and its supplemental educational resources digitally accessible. 

Following the August 17 public launch of “A Shared Heritage,”the team will begin disseminating many of the 15,000 copies of the brochure (beautifully designed and printed by Printing Concepts), while also looking to extend the educational reach of the project into the schools, community agencies, and other public venues.

The long journey to complete the project may have been fortuitous, Magoc notes. “What a moment to be bringing this history more fully into our region’s public consciousness, with interest heightened in historic racial injustice and the struggle for full citizenship for all Americans,” he said. “We’re confident A Shared Heritage will not only be well received, but help inspire ongoing research into a history still unfolding—and ideally, advance the broader goals of a more just society.”

Performing Artists Collective Alliance (PACA)

2020 Greater Erie Award for Preservation Excellence

The final 2020 Greater Erie Award being announced by Preservation Erie is a Preservation Excellence Award recognizing the Performing Artists Collective Alliance (PACA) for their ongoing transformation of the Mayer Building at 1505 State Street.

The vision of Erie native Mark Tanenbaum, PACA began in 2010 as an independent, progressively-minded theater and performing arts center. Housed in a downtown historic landmark building built in 1899, PACA seeks to help revitalize the downtown area and promote a sustainable artistic and cultural community.

Since its inception, hundreds of individual performances have been held at the venue. PACA has produced award-winning plays and hosted international classical musicians to Grammy award-winning jazz performers, local butoh dance performances, to local urban wordsmiths.

A tenant of the building for six years, PACA purchased the five-story, 70,000 square foot Mayer Building in December 2016 for $230,000 with the intent to develop it as a hub for Erie’s creative community. The building already features several first floor retail spaces with storefronts and a black box theater, art gallery, and 1,000 square foot dance studio on the second floor.

Using artist space development efforts across the country – from Pittsburgh to Detriot, and from New Orleans to Seattle – for inspiration, PACA is working towards creating a live/work environment for craftsmen and artists at 1505 State. They currently offer professional studios ranging in size from 240 to 1,600 square feet for lease at $200-$600 per month. The “live” space is still in development; however, plans are in-process for the 5th floor to become condominiums.

The fourth floor is slated to become rehearsal and storage space.

When PACA purchased the Mayer Building, many of the State Street facing windows of the upper floors were covered with plywood. As the windows are a significant feature of the building, and having them boarded up made the building look vacant and tired, they immediately went to work raising funds and making plans to replace the all of the windows on the State Street facade.

With $45,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development re-granted through the Erie Redevelopment Authority, $25,000 from the Erie Community Foundation, and $47,000 raised by PACA, they contracted with Considine Biebel & Co. in March 2019 to create and install 36 double-pane, historically accurate windows.

Just a few months later, in July 2019, PACA brought the talent of artist John Vahanian and Schutte Woodworking together to address yet another window, a 13-pane beveled leaded glass window that was discovered in a fourth floor storage room. As part of the $10,000 restoration, Vahanian replaced all of the lead framing and re-welded the metal strut supports of the window, and Schutte Woodworking built a custom mahogany frame. Together, the window and the frame weighed approximately 450 lbs., and they were installed above the State Street storefront in the south end of the building.

Since acquiring the Mayer Building, PACA has exemplified what it means to be a good steward of a historic property. They are thoughtfully making decisions about the rehabilitation of the building and taking care to restore its original character. Preservation Erie applauds PACA’s activation of this previously underused historic resource so that the building again contributes to the economic vitality of the City of Erie.

Jeff Kidder

2020 Greater Erie Award for Preservation Excellence

It would be impossible to recognize preservation in the City of Erie and not award Jeff Kidder of Kidder Architecture for the expansive restoration projects he has taken on over the past 29 years. Preservation Erie is proud to present him with an award in the category of Preservation Excellence for all of his efforts to ensure that Erie’s historic buildings are sound and beautiful for generations to come.

Jeff Kidder’s passion for preservation began when he was very young.  Growing up in Fairview, he spent a lot of time watching his father restore old cars, demonstrating a respect for the beauty of things built in the past.  He also recalls being moved by observing the nearby historic Dobler House: watching something that was once so beautiful and stately fall into such a sad, faded state. He points to this memory as a formative one as he pursued his education and eventual career in architecture and historic preservation.  

After studying at Arizona State, Jeff realized the architecture out west was not the sort that inspired him most and came back east to continue his education on the historic campus of the University of Virginia. “While every building isn’t the Thomas Jefferson, you can try to treat every building that way. It is in the balancing of reality and achievability.” And it is with this thought in mind that he returned to Erie 29 years ago to begin his career here, treating the historic buildings here with the same awe and respect that he has for the Thomas Jefferson Rotunda in Charlottesville.  

Dickson Tavern

Over the past 29 years, Kidder has restored and renovated many buildings important in the history of Erie’s built environment.  Among those, Jeff points to a few he holds closest to his heart: the Dickson Tavern, the Watson-Curtze Mansion and the Erie Club. These three not only represent three of the most important historic buildings in Erie, three that tell the story of Erie just in their existence, but also, to Kidder, they represent a personal history as well. When he first returned to Erie, the city was looking for a firm to take over the Dickson Tavern project and Jeff was a part of that firm. Later, he had the opportunity to continue the restoration and make the historic building his office. Originally constructed in 1815, the Dickson Tavern is easily one of the oldest in the city and a last remaining remnant of Erie’s very early history. Being able to work in such a historic place continues to inspire him to act as a steward of the buildings on which he works. The Erie Club and the Watson-Curtze Mansion are also significant to him in the amount of work he has completed on them over the years, and the frequency with which he visits.  

Erie Club

The Erie buildings that he has restored include: The Dickson Tavern (ca 1815), the Erie Club (ca. 1848), the Watson Curtze Mansion (ca. 1891), The Judah Colt House (ca. 1820), the Von Buseck House (ca. 1815), The Wood Morrison House (ca. 1858), The Schoolhouse and Swan Tavern (ca. 1897), The National Guard Armory (ca. 1920), The Firehouse (Engine Co. No. 1 ca. 1908), The Sigsbee Reservoir (ca. 1874), and the Presque Isle Lighthouse (ca. 1873). The list goes on and on. When one thinks about the important historic places in Erie, you can nearly guarantee that Kidder Architecture has had a hand in the restoration. This list does not include the 8-10 ongoing projects that are in progress, as Kidder Architecture works to restore the prominent homes along Millionaire’s Row on West 6th Street as well as the Sterret building on State Street. With these buildings (some being brought back from the brink of near collapse) being restored on a very important street in our city, Jeff Kidder is not only restoring their history and beauty but also ensuring that anyone who enters our city is met with a beautiful impression of our place in history.  

Congratulations to Jeff Kidder, on not only your Greater Erie Award, but on a continued “job well done” in helping our city retain its heritage and built history.  We all look forward to watching what comes next.  

(photographer credit: RJ Fiorenzo)

Grace Church

2020 Greater Erie Award for Adaptive Reuse

Preservation Erie is pleased to award Grace Church a 2020 Greater Erie Award for the Adaptive Reuse of the old Swedish Baptist Church at Holland and E. 7th Streets in Erie. This award is given to buildings, structures or spaces that are at least 50 years old and have been renovated to allow a thoughtful or community-enhancing reuse that respects the historic character of the site.


The future of the former Lake Erie Ballet building was uncertain when, in October 2017, Erie Insurance and Grace Church announced a unique partnership aimed at reactivating the space. Erie Insurance agreed to lease the property to the church, the building’s original owner, and Grace Church in turn committed to rehabilitating the property over the next year or two with the understanding that, once the exterior work was completed, Erie Insurance would gift the building to the church.

The building holds significance for Grace Church, as it was an early home to the congregation. Founded as the Swedish Baptist Church in 1895 with just 19 worshipers, Grace’s first church building was a house at 7th and Holland. This building was torn down and a new church erected for the sum of $5,650. It was dedicated March 17, 1907. After the passing of a generation or two, the congregation changed the name of the church from Swedish Baptist Church to Grace Baptist Church. Grace moved to Millcreek Township in 1959 when it outgrew its center city location.

The adaptive reuse of the old church building is part of a broader initiative of Grace to serve the greater Erie community by joining in revitalization efforts. An early success for Grace, and an example of the church’s impact in the community, is the founding of ServErie. As the neighborhood revitalization organization focusing on East 6th to East 12th and Holland Street to Wayne Street, ServErie connects people in need with resources like grant funding and government programs. It also utilizes its growing network of 70+ churches, residents, local businesses, 60+ agencies to facilitate community service projects citywide, such as the annual effort to get Erie City schools student-ready for the start of the new school year.

The building at 7th and Holland is transitioning into the Grace Leadership Institute (GLI), a world-class leadership center serving Erie’s religious community. The concept of the GLI evolved from input collected from the community and is an expansion of Grace’s existing leadership training programs.


During 2019, extensive exterior repairs were made to the leadership center, including the repointing and refitting of bricks, repair/replacement of windows, installation of a new roof, and painting. Drawings and plans for interior improvements are nearly complete, and Grace is hoping to begin these renovations in late summer. Once the space is complete, Grace Leadership Institute will offer three floors of classroom and meeting space with varying technologies.

Grace is in the process of designing and constructing classes, courses and certificates for individuals and the business community, interviewing potential bachelor and master’s degree university partners, and talking with local partner churches to develop round tables, classes, workshops and resources for ministry leaders. The plan is to pilot leadership courses in the fall of 2020, and officially launch in 2021 with university partners in place.

With this award, Preservation Erie is recognizing Grace Church’s conversion of an existing historic structure and bringing renewed vitality to the 7th and Holland neighborhood.

Church of the Nativity

2020 Greater Erie Award for Preservation Excellence

In 2019 one of the most recognizable Erie landmarks underwent restoration – the gold domes atop the Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church of the Nativity.  Preservation Erie is honoring this project for Preservation Excellence.  Although the current structure is less than fifty years old, the Russian Orthodox Old Rite parish has maintained a domed church building at 247 East Front St. in the City of Erie for over 100 years. The congregation’s continued dedication to the preservation of their built heritage through the restoration of their gilded domes and crosses is worthy of admiration. 

The parish that worships in the iconic building has a long history on Erie’s waterfront. Russian immigrants were drawn to the Erie for its supply of work along the docks. Priest-less Old Believers of Russian heritage made up the founders of the Church of the Nativity. More about the rich spiritual and cultural history of the parish can be found on the church’s website:

The Old Believers built a church in 1919 on the site of the current church, near the place where they lived and worked. Much like the current building, that structure had two domes with crosses. After suffering a fire in July 1986, the church was rebuilt on the old foundations. The parish made the conscious decision to make the new structure both beautiful and functional. Today, with gilded domes and crosses, the Church of the Nativity is a shining fixture in the skyline of the City of Erie. 

There are two domes on the church, a small dome above the narthex and a larger dome above the central nave. Each dome has a characteristic bulbous onion shape that tapers to a point and is finished with a cross. The crosses are distinctly Russian Orthodox with three horizontal crossbeams, the lowest one being slanted. Created with wood formwork by Building Systems, Inc., they were cast in fiberglass by MFG Construction and Water Products. Gold leaf was applied to the domes for the first time in 1987 by the parishioners of the Church of the Nativity. 

The domes have been gilded a total of three times since their creation. Each time, the domes and crosses are lifted from the structure and placed on the ground near the church building. At ground level, the larger dome stands a massive 23 feet tall and weighs over 7,000 pounds. Its cross weighs an additional 700 pounds. The smaller dome is about one-third of the size of the larger dome, but still weighs over 600 pounds with a 125-pound cross.

For the 100th anniversary of the parish, there was debate whether to paint the domes or to undertake the expense to gild for the third time. The decision was made to gild, principally because the domes have become such an iconic symbol of Erie and are a treasured asset to the community, including to fishermen and boaters. This time the domes and crosses were finished professionally by Unique Services and Applications, Inc. of Pittsburgh. The restoration cost over $80,000. All four pieces – two domes and two crosses – were lifted back onto the church in October 2019 by Rog’s Rigging of Erie, completing the third restoration. This truly excellent preservation project maintained not only the material integrity of the domes, but preserved a distinctive piece of the City’s cultural heritage. 

Preservation Erie would like to thank the Church of the Nativity parishioners for their devotion not only to the preservation of their heritage, but the preservation of their iconic asset for the entire community, ensuring two gold domes will rise above Erie’s East Bayfront for many years to come.

Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority

2020 Greater Erie Award for Education and Advocacy

Preservation Erie honors the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority with a 2020 Greater Erie Award for its increasing focus on preservation and design efforts throughout Erie County over the past decade. Through their provision of grant funds for communities and organizations, buildings in neighborhoods and downtowns throughout the county have been restored and preserved for future generations.

In an era when funding for historic preservation activities can be hard to come by, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority is a reliable source of local support for preservation work. Through their Community Assets, Mission Main Street, Anchor Building, and Renaissance Block Grant Programs (among others), the authority has provided 1:1 matching funds to historical societies, museums, municipalities, and neighborhood revitalization organizations for adaptive reuse projects, façade grant programs for commercial and residential property owners, streetscape initiatives, preservation planning, and more.

Passed in 2004, the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act was designed to greatly benefit Pennsylvanians by ensuring gaming jobs and gaming revenue aid local organizations and residents.

Following the opening of Presque Isle Downs and Casino, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority was established in 2008 by Erie County Council and charged with administering municipal grants and serving as Erie County’s economic development authority, according to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act.

In Erie County, a full 1% of the annual gross revenue of Presque Isle Downs and Casino returns to Erie residents. Erie County government receives the first ½% and uses it to underwrite bonds for transformational projects, such as the Erie International Airport/Tom Ridge Field runway extension and upgrades to Erie Insurance Arena. The second ½% of Erie County’s gaming revenue (approximately $5.7M per year) is entrusted to the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority to invest in projects and initiatives that invigorate the Erie County economy.

Part of ECGRA’s unique and innovative approach has been to invest in neighborhoods and communities using the analysis and recommendations of renowned economist and historic preservation proponent, Donovan Rypkema. By investing in historic preservation projects, ECGRA feels Erie County can add economic value to its built environment, generate more jobs than new construction, and protect and enhance the quality of place that makes Erie County both a destination for heritage tourism as well as a source of pride for residents.

The first competitive grant program created by ECGRA was the Community Assets Grant Program. Community Assets grants are awarded to arts, culture, heritage, entertainment, and recreation based organizations that can demonstrate how their project, programming, or event drives tourism and improves quality of place in Erie County.

With funding received through the Community Assets Grant Program, the North East Historical Society, Hornby School Restoration Society, Edinboro Area Historical Society, Fairview Area Historical Society, Harborcreek Historical Society, Elk Creek Township Historical Society, Corry Area Historical Society, Lawrence Park Historical Society, Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society, Goodell Gardens & Homestead, and Lake Shore Railway Historical Society have performed maintenance and restoration projects on their historic properties, improved storage of and public access to archival collections, and developed new programming.

As two of the nine cultural organizations identified as Lead Assets, the Erie County Historical Society and Flagship Niagara League, the “friends” group for the Erie Maritime Museum/US Brig Niagara, receive operational support on an annual basis from ECGRA.

The Mission Main Street Grant Program launched in 2013. Through this program, ECGRA targets revitalization along countywide commercial corridors that are home to small businesses, historic structures, and special events. Municipalities and nonprofit organizations with plans to renew historic commercial corridors can apply for Mission Main Street Grants. Eligible projects may include overhauled streetscapes, revamped landscapes, and restored façades.

Mission Main Street funding has supported façade grant programs and/or streetscape projects in Downtown Erie, North East Borough, Union City Borough, Downtown Corry, Girard Borough, Edinboro Borough, and Waterford Borough. Four of these downtowns include National Register listed historic districts, while two others feature districts that have been determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register.

Two years ago, ECGRA announced two new funding programs that further their commitment to historic preservation: Anchor Building and Renaissance Block grants. The Anchor Building Grant Program provides financial assistance to municipalities, municipal authorities, and non-profit organizations to rehabilitate underutilized or vacant buildings which are of historic, architectural, or cultural significance. Anchor Building funds can be used for architectural services, engineering, environmental services, construction, rehabilitation, building code compliance, and materials. The goals of the program are to assist eligible entities adaptively reuse buildings, leverage private investment, create jobs, and support small businesses.

The identification and development of financial resources for historic preservation activity has been identified as a priority in the Erie County Cultural Heritage Plan, which was adopted by Erie County Council as the part of the county’s comprehensive plan in August 2017.

The Renaissance Block Grant Program provides financial assistance to municipal governments, municipal authorities and non-profit organizations to create an incentive-based program to reverse housing blight in Erie County. The program was designed to help improve Erie County neighborhoods through a block-by-block strategy that targets aging or neglected areas where neighbors are organized and willing to work together to combat blight.

Renaissance Block funds can be used for sidewalks, walkways, driveways, landscaping, trees, porches, doors, painting, and other exterior improvements. The goals of the program are to remove housing blight and reverse deterioration, incentivize private investment, make neighborhoods more attractive, and increase the market value of homes.

Reducing blight as an economic development strategy has been identified as a priority in Emerge 2040, Erie Refocused, the Corry Neighborhood Initiative, A Citizen’s Action Guide to Blight, and the Erie County Housing Plan (a component of Erie County’s comprehensive plan).

In addition to building grant programs that support historic preservation activities, ECGRA also occasionally offers community education workshops. In October 2017, ECGRA brought together Congressman Mike Kelly (PA-3), the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC), the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC), and Preservation Erie for a discussion about financing improvements to historic properties.

ECGRA is also choosing to invest with funding partners which value historic preservation. In 2017, ECGRA invested $1M with The Progress Fund in Pittsburgh to grow businesses in Erie County. The Progress Fund is a nonprofit community development financial institution focused on new or expanding tourism businesses, such as accommodations, attractions, entertainment, farms, outdoor recreation, restaurants, retail, service business, and wine and spirits makers. They provide loans, as well as business coaching. Through their financing, The Progress Fund encourages job creation, historic preservation, diverse business ownership, local agriculture and trail-based development. To-date, The Progress Fund has provided more than $2.8M in financing to three Erie County businesses.

Most often, historic buildings located in the heart of the community are anchor buildings with intrinsic historical, architectural, and/or social qualities that make places special or unique. Similarly, these buildings can be adaptively reused due to the quality of original construction, location, and/or suitability for new uses. Unfortunately, communities sometimes find that these older buildings are difficult to reuse due to construction costs relative to new building codes, lack of financial resources, or appraisal values that do not support local lenders making an investment. ECGRA funding can serve as a vital part of the financing structure to bridge the gap, boost the real estate market, assist in developing equity, and enhance the quality of place. For this reason, Preservation Erie is recognizing the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority with a 2020 Greater Erie Award.

Mayor’s Office & Erie City Council

2020 Greater Erie Award for Education and Advocacy

Preservation Erie is pleased to present a 2020 Greater Erie Award in the category of Education and Advocacy to the Mayor’s Office and Erie City Council for the creation of the Historic Preservation Task Force. The Education and Advocacy Award acknowledges the work of local photographers, authors, community advocates, non-building related projects, and others who are helping to raise awareness of historic preservation.

The purpose of the City of Erie Historic Preservation Task Force is in accordance with Erie City Council’s Resolution Number 132-301-C, which council approved on March 20, 2019. Through this resolution, it was established that the Task Force shall work within a 24-month time frame to study, analyze, and develop a historic preservation plan for the City of Erie that will identify community supported goals for preservation, identify policy recommendations, and funding opportunities that will be presented to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation to City Council and the Mayor.

Task Force members, who were appointed by the Mayor and Erie City Council, include David Brennan (Chair), Emily Aloiz (Secretary), Melissa Hake, Elizabeth Kelly, Melinda Meyer (Vice Chair), Chuck Scalise, and Mark Steg.

The Task Force is currently 12 months into its 24-month term of crafting a holistic approach to maintaining and preserving buildings within the city that are deemed historically or architecturally significant. Members worked in partnership with Planning Director Kathy Wyrosdick to develop the following goals for the Task Force:

  • Study, analyze, and develop a historic preservation plan.
  • Identify community-supported goals for historic preservation.
  • Identify policy recommendations and funding opportunities.
  • Work with the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office to help guide our strategy.
  • Work with the City of Erie Planning Commission to review and make recommendations to Council.
  • Create a standing Historic Review Commission (HRC) which will be critical to the success of a historic preservation initiative for Erie.
  • Establish a formalized process that will help preserve the city’s historic assets, which is essential to becoming a Certified Local Government (CLG). CLG status will help bring needed resources in terms of funding and technical assistance to Erie’s historic preservation process. 

Ultimately, the intent is for the Task Force to establish policies and processes aimed at preserving the character of the historic built environment of the city. With practical and creative use of historic and cultural heritage assets, these resources can be springboards to improving the economy, the environment, and the quality of life across the city.

Based on the experiences of preservation programs undertaken in other parts of Pennsylvania and around the nation, one thing is certain. When historic preservation planning is integrated with larger community and economic development initiatives, preservation is seen as a sign of faith and confidence in a community’s future. These resources also convey a sense of longevity and permanency that new construction can fail to provide.

The time has come to make decisions about how, and if, the City of Erie’s past is important to its future; and, to determine what is important to save and what is bearable to lose. For this reason, there is great need to forge ahead with a comprehensive citywide strategy for historic preservation.

With practical and creative use of assets like the National Register listed West Park Place Historic District, historic resources can be springboards to improving the economy, environment, and quality of life across the city.

Erie Times News

Greater Erie Award for Education and Advocacy

In the words of Phil Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post, journalism is “the first rough draft of history.”

Staff members at the Erie Times-News have been writing and refining those rough drafts since April 12, 1888, when the first edition of the Erie Daily Times was published.

But reporters, editors, columnists, editorial writers and photographers at the Erie Times-News do more than cover news as it breaks. In stories about Erie’s neighborhoods, schools, businesses, governmental bodies and demographic trends, staffers provide historical context that explains how Erie’s landscape has changed and what those changes mean for today and in the future.

In recognition of in-depth coverage of topics related to Erie history, Preservation Erie awards a 2020 Greater Erie Award to the Erie Times-News in the category of Education and Advocacy.

The newspaper has reported on its own history with special editions for landmark anniversaries. In a souvenir edition for the paper’s 75th anniversary on April 12, 1963, the newspaper wrote about the group of nine printers, including John Mead, who started the paper on that date in 1888.

“Their office was a basement at Ninth and State, their press a neighborhood print shop and their reference library a city directory in the business office upstairs,” the story said. “Its bulging basement workshop at Ninth and State gave way to its completely designed offices at Tenth and Peach for many years, and finally at Twelfth and French,” the story continued.

The move to West 10th and Peach streets occurred in 1924, followed by the relocation to East 12th and French streets in 1957. A service station stands on the site of the old Times building at East 12th and French. The former Times building at 120 W. 10th Street had served as the United Way headquarters before being acquired by the Knox, McLaughlin, Gornell & Sennett law firm. Vacant since 2006, the building was torn down in July 2019.

It is fitting that Preservation Erie is bestowing this award on the newspaper as the Erie Times-News approaches another milestone in its own history. Fifty years ago, on June 6, 1970, the newspaper moved to its current location at 205 W. 12th Street.

Learning about one piece of history can lead to more historic nuggets. This Sears ad appeared in a special for the Times Publishing Co. when the newspaper moved from E. 12th and French streets to West 12th and Sassafras streets on June 6, 1970. The Times building was constructed on the site of the former Wittman-Pfeffer Coal Co. According to Old Time Erie blogger Debbi Lyon, Sears celebrated its grand opening at 134 E. 10th Street on May 13, 1948; the department store had previously been at 1018 State St. The Boston Store, Carlisle’s and Duggan Rider Co. also helped to furnish the newspaper building. Carlisle’s became Gannon University’s Palumbo Center. The Boston Store is now home to apartments, radio stations and Voodoo Brewery. Duggan Rider Co. had several locations on State Street; its ad in the 1970 newspaper section lists its address as 915 State St., which is the Palace Hardware building. Sears was torn down to make way for Erie’s baseball stadium, which opened in June 1995. Two of these structures are celebrating milestones in June: The Times building is 50 years old, while the stadium, formerly Jerry Uht Park and now known as UPMC Park, is 25 years old.

Fittingly, the special edition published in 1970 to commemorate the newspaper’s move opened with a review of Erie’s history. “At first, it was just a handful of families scratching out a survival. Then it became an idea. Erie – like every other city – opened its eyes one day and saw that it was a community. The new awareness gave it something to work for, to fight for, to hope for and to grow for,” the story said.

The award from Preservation Erie recognizes the Erie Times-News as a whole, but we also honor a number of staff members whose work exemplifies a clear understanding of history and historic preservation efforts.

These staff members include Matt Martin, executive editor, who started the “Expedition Erie” history blog; reporter Ed Palattella, who has written extensively about historic properties, including the Dobler Mansion in Girard; reporter Jim Martin, who has covered the commitment by Thomas Hagen, chairman of Erie Indemnity, to restore historic properties on Millionaire’s Row on West Sixth Street; reporter Ron Leonardi, who has written extensively about Erie’s contributions to the Civil War and Erie’s maritime heritage; reporter Dana Massing, who has shared her interest in Gettysburg and General Strong Vincent in her columns; reporter Valerie Myers, who has delved into long-forgotten historical events, including the 1918 flu pandemic, to make them relevant to readers today; reporter Madeline O’Neill, who has written about the successful effort to save an historic Erie house from demolition; reporter Kevin Flowers, who has covered proposals to enact a demolition delay ordinance in the city of Erie as well as the creation of the city’s Historic Preservation Task Force; former columnist Pat Bywater, who has advocated for attention to historic preservation and a commitment to arts and culture in the Our West Bayfront Neighborhood; Lake Erie LifeStyle and House to Home editor Pam Parker, for informative features in those two publications about the origins, styles and design details of historic properties in the Erie region; for editorial writers and columnists Pat Howard and Lisa Thompson, for ongoing analysis of the “Erie Refocused” comprehensive plan; former reporter Sarah Grabski, for her oral history projects; and photographers Chris Millette, Jack Hanrahan and Greg Wohlford, for documenting Erie’s current history with photo and video images.

The Erie Daily Times has undergone many changes since its founding in 1888. In 1957, the Times, an afternoon paper, merged with its rival, the Erie Dispatch Herald, and began to publish the Morning News. On Oct. 2, 2000, the Erie Times-News published its first morning edition after combining the Erie Daily Times and the Morning News into one paper. In December 2015, GateHouse Media purchased the Erie Times-News from the Mead family. The Erie Times-News is now a subsidiary of Gannet Co., since In GateHouse Media completed its acquisition of Gannett in late 2019.

In the news business, change is a constant. In Erie, we are fortunate to be home to journalists who continue to polish the rough drafts of history. This work about Erie’s past provides insights as we plot our future, together.

Union City Historic Preservation Plan

2020 Greater Erie Award for Planning

Preservation Erie is pleased to award a 2020 Greater Erie Award to Union City Borough in the category of Planning for the creation of the Union City Historic Preservation Plan

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.

During the last three years, Union City Borough, has emerged as an outstanding leader in the effort to preserve and revitalize the borough’s downtown commercial district.

In 2018, Union City was awarded a Keystone Historic Preservation Planning Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA), the Union City Community Foundation and Union City Borough provided additional funding. The borough and Union City Pride/Downtown Development provided oversight for the development of the plan, with Preservation Erie offering technical assistance.

Completed in late 2019, the plan includes voluntary design guidelines and façade improvement plans for 19 commercial buildings in downtown. These mixed-used structures, two- to three-stories, date to the late 19th and early 20th Century, and are located within a 0.2-mile portion of Main Street. This corridor is located within the PA US Route 6 Heritage Area and the Union City Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The borough has awarded just under $50,000 in façade grants, generating nearly $100,000 in improvements in the downtown corridor. Funding for the façade grant program is in place through 2022, so additional investments will be made over the next two years. The design guidelines and façade improvement plans in the Union City Historic Preservation Plan are tied to this funding program to act as an incentive to implement the plan.

The following projects are in-process.

City Studio, part of the consulting team hired to create the Union City Historic Preservation Plan, is currently developing structural and interior assessments for 19 historic structures in the downtown. Implementation of the recommendations outlined in the assessments will be incentivized through a new funding program, the Interior/Structural Improvement Grant Program, set to launch in 2020 following completion of all 19 assessments.

Union City Borough has received funding to create and install a mural on a prominent south-facing wall at the southern entryway into downtown Union City. The mural design will be developed with public input and celebrate the culture of Union City. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Union City Pride, a community revitalization organization with a mission to restore pride in and celebrate the heritage of the Union City, in partnership with Union City Borough, has received funding to develop a plan for a gateway at downtown’s north entrance. In February, Bostwick Design was contracted to engage the community in developing conceptual drawings and cost estimates for improvements to Union City’s Downtown Gateway, located adjacent to the intersection of North Main Street (U.S. Route 6 and Route 8) and East/West High Streets. The project site includes the triangular Industrial Park, Union City Dinor, Ohrn Building, stairway leading to a municipal parking lot, and corner sidewalk located in front of Ace Hardware. The planning project is scheduled for completion in 2020.

The borough’s efforts help to move forward recommendations from both the 2017 Erie County Cultural Heritage Plan and the PA Route 6 Alliance Historic Conservation Strategy.

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.

The strategy to focus on Union City’s historic assets actually has a long history itself. In 1990, the Union City Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district’s footprint includes the commercial district, residential neighborhoods, and institutional and manufacturing buildings. This Historic Preservation Plan focuses on the historic commercial district on Main Street and a small portion of West High Street.

The Historic Preservation Plan is a voluntary document that contains design guidelines for the district and for buildings in the district, as well as façade improvement plans for specific properties in the historic commercial district. The recommendations provide guidance for property owners, the borough, nonprofits, business owners, architects, landscape architects, planners and engineers.

The project committee and consultant team of CityStudio, T&B Planning, and architect Milton Ogot, all of Pittsburgh, received public input during three public meetings throughout the plan’s development, one-on-one consultations with property owners selected for a façade improvement plan, and a final draft review period that gathered public feedback.

The plan was completed in the fall of 2019. Union City Borough Council approved it as an official reference document on April 14, 2020. The plan identifies the architectural and environmental features that make Union City unique and describes ways to maintain its one-of-a-kind features.

Union City’s historic district contains many distinct historic buildings and some newer buildings. Most of the district’s historic buildings need standard maintenance. Some buildings have undergone structural and cosmetic alterations, and some of the more recently constructed buildings do not blend into the character of the historic district.

The Historic Preservation Plan’s goal is to help unify the district and enhance the overall character of the commercial core of Union City’s historic district. The authentic character of the historic district is a physical example of Union City’s community and developmental histories.

The plan also identifies ways to attract new businesses and visitors to the community, while improving the quality of life for current residents. The plan focuses on the downtown commercial core and addresses public open space, parking, street amenities, signage, lighting, building maintenance and new construction.   Improving the cohesiveness and maintaining the historic features ensures that future generations will visually understand and experience the story of Union City’s development and people.

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.