Squirrel Hill Theater

After the slow-motion collapse of the steel industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Pittsburghers got used to the presence of empty buildings. But today, with the city growing and thriving in so many ways, it’s worth asking: Why are there still so many empty and seemingly abandoned eyesores in prominent places? 

Our curiosity here is about the individual buildings that have inexplicably stayed vacant for a long time in busy areas. Here are nine we wish would get rehabbed and reopened very soon. 

Empty building on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. Photo by Mike Machosky.

2223 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill

Squirrel Hill’s long, lively Murray Avenue doesn’t have many missing teeth — except this building here. On a street within one of the great urban neighborhoods in America, this structure has been empty for nearly two decades. It was once Greenberg’s Kosher Poultry, according to the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, who otherwise declined to comment. It’s not an especially attractive building, but surely there has to be a way to bring it back to life. Or knock it down and build something useful? 

Squirrel Hill Theater, Forward Avenue, Squirrel Hill 

The long-vacant Squirrel Hill Theater further down on Forward Avenue is also definitely an eyesore. There are plans to do something with this space, though they’ve been slow-moving. An empty movie theater may not be as easy to adapt and reuse as, say, a storefront. But still, it’s been empty for nine years now, which shouldn’t happen in a neighborhood as vibrant as Squirrel Hill. 

The former Anthon’s in East Liberty. Photo by Mike Machosky.
The former Anthon’s in East Liberty. Photo by Mike Machosky.

Anthon’s, Penn Avenue, East Liberty 

Here’s an odd case of a storefront that actually looks great, in an amazing location — but nobody seems to want it. The classic art deco facade touts “Anthon’s: Bakery, Restaurant, Deli,” which are some of my favorite words. Unfortunately, what’s delivered is only dust and fading memories of what once was. Like prehistoric artifacts from a bygone age, we’re left to ponder questions like these: Was this really a bakery and a deli?” Did the waitresses say things like, “J’eet jet?” Most importantly: Can it ever be anything again? An exterior this cool is begging to be used. A report in 2017 indicated that an Italian restaurant was coming here, but it’s either moving very slowly, or not at all. 

Empty buildings at Doughboy Square in Lawrenceville. Photo by Mike Machosky.

3404 Penn Ave. at Doughboy Square, Lawrenceville 

Lawrenceville is bursting with new restaurants, music venues and boutiques. Every week, it seems something new opens. Yet at Doughboy Square, which could serve as a fairly grand entrance to the neighborhood, there are two boarded-up buildings sitting like sentinels from the neighborhood’s long-gone days of neglect. Adding to the mystery, Pac-Man and two ghosts peek out from second-story windows. To be fair, this spot is a bit removed from the heart of the neighborhood. And it connects with a rather forlorn stretch of the Strip, known mainly for the scrapyard with the massive Magneto mural. Still, these buildings stick out in a bad way. It’s puzzling that they haven’t been given a new life yet. Update: ACTION-Housing told us that the building on the right “will be torn down next month to make way for a 35-unit building and one commercial space.” ACTION-Housing is a nonprofit that provides affordable housing. The building on the left–the more architecturally-significant one–is not part of this project.

Empty Strip District condos. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Penn Avenue at 24th St., Strip District

The Strip District isn’t necessarily easy on the eyes, but it’s always been a neighborhood that works. The odd mix of industrial and wholesale, along with nightlife and food shopping, buzzes with foot traffic (and, now, with robot car traffic). But even here, there’s been a set of quirky cement condos empty for years.  They’re just a short walk from the Strip’s main shopping district, but they feel to me like remnants from some lost civilization. Recently, a “for sale” sign has appeared. Here’s the good news: These properties are going to be torn down and replaced with an eight-story, 21-unit condo building, with prices ranging from $461,000-$2.9 million. Read more about the project here in NEXTpittsburgh.

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.