Parishioners unite to thwart century-old Shadyside church’s demise
Abass Kamara was baptized at Albright United Methodist Church in Shadyside, and he was confirmed there. The crenellated stone edifice on Graham Street was the location of his parents’ wedding and his mother’s funeral.
Now with the church’s future uncertain, Kamara, 38, a devout Christian, has joined other members of the congregation to oppose plans to demolish the 109-year-old structure to make room for commercial development.
“We care deeply about the building,” Kamara said. “Whatever happens in the process, we are going to stay engaged in order to protect the building.”
Pittsburgh-based real estate firm Ross Development Co. plans to use the 21,750-square-foot lot where the church sits to build a one-story retail facility with 27 parking spaces. The project’s estimated cost is $1.8 million, according to the development review application. Ross is known for building stores for companies including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Gap Inc.
Ross has an agreement with the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of United Methodist Churches — Albright’s parent organization — to purchase the building. The Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment will decide whether the firm’s request meets the provisions of the Pittsburgh Zoning Ordinance.
Members of the congregation and community will be allowed to voice their grievances at a public hearing Thursday morning.
“We’re not necessarily anti-development,” Kamara said. “All options are on the table as long as they protect the building.”
In November 2013, the congregation stopped using the building as a place of worship, said David Barton, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference’s attorney.
Because of water damage to the church’s sanctuary, the congregation had to move from the building. Barton said the congregation could not afford to maintain the church’s condition.
Because the congregation stopped using the building, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference was permitted to claim ownership after recognizing its abandonment in January.
Barton said this is a recurring situation within communities of faith.
“Often it’s the case that iconic neighborhood churches are determined as not needed to fulfill the religious mission,” he said. “The concept of neighborhood church that people walk to is becoming less and less viable.”
Since the end of July, the congregation has been holding services on the church’s lawn in an effort to raise awareness about its fate. In addition, they have been working with nonprofit advocacy organization Preservation Pittsburgh to uncover more about the building’s history.
Most notably, the church’s congregation predates the building, which was built in 1906, said president of Preservation Pittsburgh, Matthew Falcone. When the congregation decided to move from its previous location Downtown, they took pieces of the old building and integrated them into Albright’s design.
“It’s really interesting going through all of the records,” Falcone said. “The church embodies the overall history of Pittsburgh.”
Katishi Maake is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7841 or email@example.com.