Restoration of Pittsburgh’s oldest apartment building is finished after a summer of work, despite the scaffolding still covering storefronts on Forbes Avenue in South Oakland.
Since the city issued a permit for the project in April, construction workers have been refurbishing the Iroquois Building, a building that primarily houses offices located on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Atwood Street. Though some of the scaffolding has been removed, other sections, shrouding several businesses on the first floor of the building, may remain until the end of October, according to UPMC spokesperson Gloria Kreps.
Though Allegheny County property records list Presbyterian University Health System Inc. as the owner of the building, UPMC, which occupies most of the building, oversaw and answered questions about the project.
For the last five months, Forbes Avenue and Atwood Street remained open, and retail stores from Starbucks to the Selection Boutique have been operating under the cover of tarps.
As a result, some businesses taped signs on the scaffolding to alert customers that they were still open.
David Gancy, the owner of Red Oak Cafe — which is located right in the middle of the construction — said the initial stages made the restaurant dark inside because the black tarp covered the store’s windows.
Although Gancy said he and the customers couldn’t hear the construction outside, he did notice changes in customer flow.
“It was substantial on the weekends when hospital visitors or Oakland visitors couldn’t find where we were located,” Gancy said. “But our regulars knew that we were still open.”
Designed in the early 1900s, the Iroquois Building was the city’s first apartment complex for upper-class residents.
Although UPMC oversaw renovations to the building when it first purchased it 20 years ago, the aging bricks, the roof and the bays connecting the buildings needed to be refurbished, according to Jim Johnston, a construction worker for Jonah Development who was working on the interior of the Iroquois Building to construct Piada, an Italian street food restaurant set to open later this fall.
Mosites Construction Company, which oversaw the rest of the work, fixed deficiencies in the mortar, changed the molds around the building and the ornamental molds on top of the building and painted the bricks. All defects were due largely to the building’s age. The project cost $400,000, according to the city’s April 2016 issued permits summary.
UPMC uses the building for departments such as Medical Ethics, UPMC Graduate Medical Education, Emergency Medicine, Human Resources and IT. The University of Pittsburgh of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education – also listed in property records as an owner – occupies one of the nine sections of the building.
Across Atwood Street at Dave and Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream, owner Andy Hardie said he’s watched the workers restoring the building from his front window. Hardie has owned the shop for 33 years, so he knows the importance of the antique office and business space.
“It’s a historical building. They couldn’t just tear it down and build something bigger,” Hardie said.
Although Hardie’s store was not blocked by the scaffolding, he did have to make adjustments to accommodate his building and his customers because of the construction.
“Loading times were a little difficult because everyone would park their cars on this side of the street,” Hardie said, “But it’s hard to say whether it affected business or the flow of customers. It must have affected businesses whose signs were covered.”
Natalie Condo, a senior biological sciences major and regular at Red Oak Cafe, said the construction didn’t deter her from visiting the shops along Forbes.
“If I wanted Starbucks, I could still get Starbucks,” Condo said. “And I thought it was cool to walk under those things. I thought it was kind of fun.”
After reconstruction and the removal of some of the scaffolding, Gancy said the Iroquois Building looks more modern but still maintains its classic features, like the the small clock at the top center of the building’s exterior and the intricate designs scrawled along the columns and window sills.
“Now uncovered, it was worth the work they put into it,” Gancy said. “It’s beautiful.”