This building won’t become an art house or café, like others that art collector Evan Mirapaul owns in Troy Hill.
But Mirapaul isn’t sure what to do with 1733 Lowrie St., opposite the Old Engine House No. 11 and vacant since WesBanco moved down the street. He bought the building he’s calling “The Bank of Evan,” with its teller windows and built-in file cabinets, about a year ago to continue his mission of recruiting tenants who generate foot traffic—and, well, a little business—to Troy Hill’s business district.
“Troy Hill used to have a grocery on every corner and two movie theaters and a liquor store. It was very vibrant and active. I don’t expect it to come back to those levels, but it has possibilities. It’s near the city, has good housing stock and it’s flat,” says Mirapaul, who moved there in 2010 and began a personal effort to revive the neighborhood.
He’s hoping that someone will suggest a good use for the building believed to be a one-time station house for the short-lived Troy Hill Inclined Plane Company, which began service in 1888. Remnants of the incline’s upper station housing remain beneath one section of the building, located at the top of an overgrown hillside leading to East Ohio Street below.
Inside the former bank lobby, Mirapaul has posted a sign: “What can this building be? Have an idea?” with his name and phone number printed beneath.
“On a selfish level, I’m just trying to get the word out so that people are aware it’s an available space,” says Mirapaul. “On a slightly less selfish level, I’m trying to get people’s input on what would be the most interesting use of it.
“I’m not looking to sell it—I would rather have a tenant than a sale,” he says. “I would like to have some kind of business that brings people into Troy Hill for the workday, so it could be a co-working space, it could be an accelerator space, or it could be a consultancy firm, or somebody’s event space. It’s got a practical mix of offices with stunning views.”
The panoramic city view, in fact, could be the building’s biggest draw. “I’d hate to sort of give that away to somebody who doesn’t care,” says Mirapaul. He has done some maintenance—a new roof, cosmetic touch-ups—but won’t remodel until he secures a tenant who can help him decide how to renovate. The structure’s hillside location puts about 4,000 square feet at grade, and nearly that much below grade. Its basement has no windows but a door leads to backyard space.
“I’m intentionally doing as little as possible to the building,” Mirapaul says. Partly that’s because he harbors the fantasy that a film company might come to Pittsburgh with a need for a bank set. “It’s got a vault, it’s got teller stations, security deposit boxes and rolling money files—it’s got a lot of color right now.” He’s not holding out for that, though. “I acknowledge that’s deeply unlikely,” he says.
One record from 1925 indicates the building may have had an incarnation as a theater, says Mirapaul. He isn’t sure when the structure was built. A historic plaque on the front contains incorrect information about the incline’s designer and will be replaced, he says.