Historic houses on Murray Hill Avenue.
Squirrel Hill’s Murray Hill Avenue was designated as a historic district by the city in 2000 but inadvertently Colonial Revival the legislation left out 1163 and 1165 Murray Hill Ave. Photo by Ann Belser.

In 2000, Squirrel Hill’s Murray Hill Avenue — with its Belgian block roadway and Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and shingle-style houses — was designated as a historic district by the city. Twenty-two years later, it remains the neighborhood’s only historic district.

But city planners have found a problem with the original historic district legislation that was adopted by the city council in 2000: Two of the homes on the street are missing.

In reality, the Colonial Revival-style homes are there and the properties are included on the map of the historic district, but the legislation left out 1163 and 1165 Murray Hill Ave., which are located next to the parking lots behind Chatham University’s Jennie King Mellon Library.

“Even though these two properties are included within the boundaries of all of our Murray Hill maps and a public process was conducted on these properties right around the year 2000 when everything was listed, for whatever reason, these two properties were left off the legislation for city council,” Sarah Quinn, senior planner for the city of Pittsburgh, said during a briefing with members of the Planning Commission.

The spark that created the historic district happened in 1970 when 10 homes along the street were demolished for Chatham’s Library over the objections of neighbors.

“We find ourselves trying to find some way to put it across as to why we find ourselves fighting this revered institution,” John Duff Sr., who lived up the street from the proposed library, testified to the city council as he tried to stop the demolition of the homes.

“I have to say we are like the members of a well-to-do, upper-class family, living in comfortable circumstances without too many problems and all of a sudden our elegant, white-haired, well-groomed old mother is starting to come home every night, stinking
drunk. We hate alcoholism, but how can you fight Motherhood?”

Included in the current nomination is an email from Angela Welch Lenz and William E. Lenz, owners of 1165 Murray Ave., one of the affected homes, supporting the nomination. The other homeowner is Chatham University, which did not comment on the nomination.

The expansion of the historic district was recommended by the city’s Historic Review Commission on June 1. The Planning Commission added its recommendation at its meeting on July 26, which awaits final council approval.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.