It's the Pitts

Pittsburgh’s City Council votes against saving historic Venturi Scott Brown–designed home

Architecture East News Preservation
The front entrance to the Abrams House resembles the rising sun, or waves crashing on the shore. (Courtesy VSBA)
The front entrance to the Abrams House resembles the rising sun, or waves crashing on the shore. (Courtesy VSBA)

In a preliminary vote held on March 12, Pittsburgh’s City Council voted against designating the Venturi Scott Brown–designed Abrams House as a historic landmark according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While the official vote on the house’s fate will be held this coming Tuesday, the six-to-one mock vote (two members abstained) doesn’t bode well for the house’s future.

As AN first reported in August of last year, the home, commissioned by Irving and Betty Abrams and finished in 1979, had been purchased by neighbors William and Patricia Snyder. It was at first thought that the Snyders, owners of the adjacent Giovannitti House designed by Richard Meier, might act to preserve the Venturi Scott Brown-designed home, but instead began preparing the building for demolition in secret.

The demolition of the Abrams house was part and parcel with the exterior renovation of the Giovannitti House, as the owners want to turn the lot into a landscape complementing Meier’s building.

The two-bed, two-and-a-half bath had already been partially gutted before the nonprofit Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation mounted a campaign to recognize the building as a protected landmark. As the Post-Gazette notes, the City Council’s vote is in contrast to the recommendations of both the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission and the city’s Planning Commission.

Photo of the Abrams House interior with furniture

The ceiling in the “swoop” is 20 feet tall. The furniture and Roy Lichtenstein painting have all been removed at this point. (Courtesy realtor.com)

The council cited the house’s state of disrepair, the hurdles in accessing the building, and the wishes of the owners as reasons they voted against the request.

“There is black mold in the walls,” said Erika Strassburger, the councilwoman who represents the district where the Abrams House is located. “There is a risk for persistent water damage. No one has actually come forward to put up the money to restore the house. It is a house that needs an infusion of significant financial resources to restore it to a livable condition.”

Other than the deteriorating physical conditions, the house is located on Woodland Road, a private street, and visitors would need to cross the Snyders’ driveway, meaning the Abrams House is only (legally) visible from the street.

Without the possibility of another buyer stepping in—the Snyders picked up the house for $1.1 million when it went to market last year—it seems likely that the City Council will vote against landmark designation next week. If no action is taken, it looks like this rare example of Postmodernism in Pittsburgh could soon be razed.

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