Doors Open Pittsburgh
First Presbyterian Church. Photo courtesy of Doors Open Pittsburgh.

Some of the most beautiful buildings in Western Pennsylvania are churches and religious structures. They’re also some of the hardest buildings to repair and maintain.

This challenge got a little easier for 11 Allegheny County congregations, thanks to the Historic Religious Properties Grant Program of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF).

About $94,000 in matching grants were awarded to the congregations, which will leverage more than $1.5 million for restoration and renovations of the historic structures, PHLF officials say.

The work ranges from slate roof repairs to stained-glass window restoration and masonry repointing.

For example, Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill was awarded $7,950 for stained-glass restoration and Clark Memorial Baptist Church in Homestead is receiving $9,000 to have its entry columns repaired and for pointing work.

“They do represent some of the most significant architecture in the region,” says David Farkas, director of real estate development for PHLF. “They represent a variety of styles and ages of buildings. So they’re very important from an architectural standpoint, to the way the city looks.”

A worker reinstalls stained-glass windows at Church of the Redeemer. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

They’re so much more than just beautiful buildings, though.

“They are really de facto social service and community centers in their neighborhoods,” says Farkas. “They are doing very important work, and serving as community hubs beyond worship services on Sunday.”

There’s not a lot of funds available for these types of fixes, for the most part. “They are not eligible generally for public grants that are available for brick-and-mortar restoration work that non-religious groups are eligible for,” says Farkas. “That’s why we created the program over two decades ago, to address those needs.”

The program is open only to congregations in Allegheny County. The maximum grant is $10,000 for each church and congregations are required to raise their own funds to match it. The application window is from the beginning of September to the beginning of December.

If your congregation doesn’t know where to start, they can help with that, too.

“We make our director of construction, Tom Keffer, available to those congregations to work through any questions or issues they might have related to their building,” explains Farkas. “Then, frequently we see those congregations apply on a subsequent year for a monetary grant to implement a number of the changes or recommendations that we developed with them.”

The Historic Religious Properties Grant Program fits in neatly with the mission of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

“We are a private nonprofit organization that is primarily involved in historic preservation as a means of revitalizing communities,” says Karamagi Rujumba, director of development and communications for PHLF. “That can be in the city, outside the city. Historic buildings can be individual single houses, to commercial buildings, to entire neighborhoods.”

Here are the other 2020 grant recipients:

Church of the Ascension, Shadyside, $10,000 for masonry repairs and pointing

Eastminster Presbyterian, East Liberty, $10,000 to restore one porch stained-glass window

First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, Oakland, $10,000 for slate roof repairs and a downspout replacement

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Downtown, $3,150 for stained-glass window repairs

St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Shadyside, $10,000 to repaint exterior wood trim

St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, South Side, $10,000 to install a handicap ramp

Third Presbyterian Church, Shadyside, $7, 483 to restore main entry doors

Tree of Life Open Bible Church, Brookline, $5,234, to install historically appropriate wood-clad windows

Union Project, East Liberty, $10,000 to restore original stone entry stairs

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.