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Swissvale Business District Streetscape Blossoming Soon

Washington Avenue again is the focus of Swissvale’s business community as a streetscape program to add essentially decorative touches along most of Washington.

Did you know that until a century ago there were two Swissvales?

The western portion, centered on Monongahela Avenue, and the eastern section, based on Noble Street, were separated by the railroad tracks.

You could get from one side to the other all right, by walking, giddying-upping your horse or driving your motorcar across the grading that crossed the tracks, but it was a risky business. In those days, there were a lot of trains.

Then, in 1907, a two-lane bridge was built to extend Washington Avenue above the tracks to join Monongahela and Noble, and a cohesive “downtown Swissvale” was created.

It’s not much of a bridge, even by 1907 standards, only about 100 feet long and built with simple beam construction. Still, it’s done the job of linking the two halves of Swissvale for more than a century.

There are attractive touches of fine, old Mon Valley workmanship evident in the shaping and riveting of the superstructure of the bridge. Even more impressive are the massive cyclopean masonry walls under the bridge that basically hold up a good portion of the borough’s downtown area.

Now, Washington Avenue again is the focus of Swissvale’s business community as a revitalization—a so-called “streetscape”—program prepares to get under way.

Developed under the direction of the borough’s Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC), the streetscape will add essentially decorative touches along most of Washington. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Washington Avenue today, it’s just that it's drab and uninviting for new business prospects and their potential customers.

The only bright spot is the Thomas L. Nied Funeral Home at mid-block, where the Nied family continually has beautifully maintained and landscaped its complex. Indeed, it’s an indictment of Washington Avenue that its cheeriest-looking establishment is a funeral home.

Everything else along the block is plain and spare, with the exception of the Filmet Building, at the western terminus of the bridge. Filmet is a decrepit, dangerous-looking hodge-podge of broken masonry and plywood.

Sadly, the industrial half of the Filmet structure covers up a handsome adjoining two-story mixed-use building that could become be an attractive residential-commercial space if the borough ever succeeds in its long-time campaign to tear down the industrial half.

The streetscape will do nothing about that visual blight, but will seek to make the most of the well-fixed intact buildings along the block that begins at Monongahela.

The Swissvale EDAC’s design firm of choice for the streetscape is the renowned Klavon Design Associates.

"We picked out an elegant lamp style, simple garbage cans and small, flowering trees” for the streetscape treatment," Klavon Design’s Maria Riley said. “The actual length and scope of the project might change, but right now it looks like it will stop at the bridge."

Currently, Klavon’s work is being reviewed by Swissvale Borough Engineer Robert Zischkau of Glenn Engineering, who reports that the plan is getting some engineering refinements and is expected to be put out for construction bids in October, with actual construction possible later this year or early in 2013.

Bidding will be handled by the Turtle Creek Valley Council of Goverments, a nonprofit that facilitates multi-municipal projects. The organization’s members include Braddock, Chalfant, Churchill, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, route: {:controller=>"listings", :action=>"show", :id=>"edgewood-borough"} -->,

Todd Anderson September 21, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I can't wait to see how this turns out, as I believe that the Swissvale Business District has quite a bit of potential (albeit years away for realizing it's full potential). I agree with councilmen Rapp, that the business district could (and likely will someday) evolve into a pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining area. I would like to see the streetscaping project extended to include the Washington St. bridge. The bridge isn't the most attractive design, as it's pretty much just large girders stretched across the span. It would be nice to see period correct lamp posts on the four corners of the bridge, to add a vertical element to it. Planters on the bridge could also add some visual interest.
William McCloskey September 24, 2012 at 12:37 PM
... the appearance of the bridge is odd and it's not even obvious that it IS a bridge when viewed from the surface. Todd Anderson is correct that some vertical element would better define and adorn the bridge, and distract from the horrendous Filmet building, that is the very definition of visual blight right there at the highest, most visible point of Washington.

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