Beyond Murray Hill: Historic Preservation since the Murray Hill Avenue Project

October 11, 2005
Speaker: Dan Holland, Founder, Murray Hill Avenue Historic District (Squirrel Hill’s only historic district)

Video Not Available

Dan Lives on Murray Hill Avenue and led the campaign for its designation as a historic district

For detailed information on the Murray Hill Avenue Historic District, see the Young Preservationists Association (an Holland is YPA Board Chair) or view the Murray Hill Historic District Publication.

From Post-Gazette, May 6, 2000, by Dan Holland:
Last month, city Councilman Dan Cohen and I cut the ribbon to Pittsburgh’s newest historic district, the Murray Hill Avenue Historic District in Squirrel Hill. Approved unanimously by City Council and signed into law by Mayor Murphy in March, the city’s 11th historic district almost didn’t happen. If it wasn’t for a last-minute compromise proposed by Councilman Cohen and a neighborhood public education campaign, our bid to designate one of Pittsburgh’s most scenic and historic streets would have succumbed to some minor opposition.

Murray Hill is replete with outstanding history and architecture. There are more than eight historic house types, arranged in spectacular streetscapes along the quiet, tree-lined cobblestone street. Walter Kidney of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation said of Murray Hill, “for sheer picturesqueness, it is one of the most enjoyable streets in Pittsburgh.”

Actually, the battle to preserve Murray Hill Avenue started in 1969, when John Duff organized residents in an attempt to prevent 10 large Victorian homes from being torn down by Chatham College to construct a library. Duff and the residents of Murray Hill Avenue lost the battle and the homes were demolished in 1970. In their place was built a large, white modern library that even Chatham admits today it doesn’t like.

Despite the loss, however, there are two hidden blessings in Duff’s efforts. First, he raised the awareness of Murray Hill’s qualities – a special sense of place that continues. It is largely because of Duff’s efforts 30 years ago that Murray Hill remains a highly regarded and well-maintained street.

From Post-Gazette, Monday, June 14, 1999: by Patricia Lowry
Murray Hill seeking preservation!!
Residents with stately homes on Belgian block Squirrel Hill street push for historic designation!!

In the early 1980s, Dan Holland was the neighborhood paper boy on Squirrel Hill’s Murray Hill Avenue, going door to door delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the street’s big Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Shingle Style houses.

In April, Holland found himself once again going door to door, this time collecting signatures on petitions supporting the nomination of Murray Hill Avenue as the city’s 11th historic district.

If approved by City Council, it would be the first city-designated historic district in Squirrel Hill, one of Pittsburgh’s largest neighborhoods. Historic designation would mean home owners could not demolish or make exterior changes to their buildings without the approval of the city Historic Review Commission.

“I spend a lot of time helping other people save their neighborhoods,” said Holland, 30, who as loan officer for the Mon Valley Initiative lends money to small businesses in economically distressed communities. “I got to saying, ‘What about my street? What about my neighborhood?’ “

On June 4,, the city Historic Review Commission determined there was reason to believe Murray Hill Avenue will meet the criteria for designation. But at the request of Chatham College, which opposes the designation, it excised four houses in the proposed district that are owned by the college, which plans eventually to demolish them for future expansion.

The idea of legally protecting the well-preserved, distinguished homes of Murray Hill Avenue has divided some neighbors on the street. More than 50 percent of the homeowners on Murray Hill signed Holland’s nomination petition, a healthy margin above the 25 percent required by the city’s preservation ordinance.

In 1980, residents signed a petition to keep Murray Hill a Belgian block street, which the city later restored. Holland included the rough-riding but visually appealing street surface in his nomination.

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