Troy Hill Firehouse
Photo courtesy of the URA

Imagine the historic Troy Hill Firehouse not as a garage for Pittsburgh police but as an essential part of the neighborhood’s commercial corridor, with a retail outlet, café or restaurant and bar.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is seeking proposals to restore the Beaux Arts building on Ley Street to a possible mixed-use development while preserving the building’s character.

URA Executive Director Greg Flisram calls the firehouse “a historic gem and the type of building that makes each of our Pittsburgh neighborhoods so unique.”

“We are excited to find a development proposal that respects its history and keeps this building a part of Troy Hill’s future for the next 120 years,” Flisram says.

Troy Hill Firehouse
Troy Hill Firehouse

The neighborhood, which once had its own trolley run and inclined plane, today is home to about 1,400 Pittsburghers and 35 businesses, but Lowrie Street needs more community-serving businesses, according to the URA.

Repurposing the Engine #39 firehouse could be an important part of growing the Lowrie Street business district, says Councilman Bobby Wilson.

“I strongly encourage creative and motivated entrepreneurs to submit a proposal,” Wilson says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what the community chooses to fill this unique space.”

City officials will work with the Troy Hill community to explore options for the site.

The URA opened the building to developers, architects and engineers for a tour this month and will accept proposals until Dec. 6.

The building, designed by the architect Joseph Stillburg, has two stories and a basement. Its minimum sale price is $353,700.

Built in 1901, the firehouse was the city’s oldest when it closed in 2005. It was the last station to use horse-drawn fire carriages, which its firemen reached by shimmying down a pole. They dubbed the old-time fire bell “Die Glocke Sarah.” Reported strange happenings gave the firehouse a reputation of being haunted, according to a post on Pennsylvania Haunts & History.

Preservation Pittsburgh nominated the firehouse for city historic designation, based on its distinctive design and exemplification of the German immigrant communities of the North Side and hilltop neighborhoods. It’s one of six historic structures in Troy Hill but in recent years has been used as a commercial vehicle enforcement office for the police department.

Arched windows and garage doors, painted red, complement the white-yellow brick façade. The building has a stone foundation and flat parapet roof of black asphalt. Its original terracotta plaque spells out in decorative typeface “ENGINE CO. No. 11, ERECTED A.D. 1901.” The central tower is adorned with traditional Classical-style pilasters. The rear of the building is clad in red brick and has no ornamentation.

Troy Hill is one of Pittsburgh’s smallest and most isolated neighborhoods, about 2 miles long and a little more than a half-mile wide. Its steep roadways and original frame houses, initially heated with wood and coal stoves explains why “Troy Hill citizens placed high priority on
establishing a fire department within their community as it started to develop,” according to the historic nomination.

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation placed a plaque on the building in 2001.

Among other historic sites within walking distance of the firehouse are the Troy Hill Incline, the 31st Street Bridge, the Thomas Carlin’s Sons Foundry property, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, and St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Croatian Church on the North Side.

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.