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2 Lawrence buildings start falling

Convention center, paint factory demolition begin

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was a bad day for Pittsburgh buildings named Lawrence.

Demolition began yesterday on the original David L. Lawrence Convention Center -- a youngster only 20 years old -- as it was slammed by a machine called a Komatsu Excavator nicknamed "Bad Boy."

Workers begin to demolish the 99-year-old Lawrence Paint Co. building yesterday on the south side of the Ohio River. Demolition is expected to take 60 to 90 days. The building had been closed for more than 30 years. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

Most of that building at Penn Avenue and 10th Street will be demolished by conventional methods, although a small implosion will be used this summer to take down a section of the roof.

The building, which opened in 1981, had only 131,000 square feet of exhibit space, which is considered tiny by today's convention center standards. Demolition is to be completed by mid-August so that phase two of construction of the new convention center can proceed. The first phase of the new building is well under way on the western side of 10th Street.

Tom Kennedy, project manager for the Sports & Exhibition Authority, said the old convention center had to be razed "because the design wasn't compatible" with the new $328 million center, which was designed by architect Rafael Vinoly of New York City.

Six events planned for the latter half of 2001 had to be moved to other venues in the area or rescheduled because the old convention center is being demolished. The first phase of the new, larger building will open in January in time for public events such as the annual boat and auto shows.

While the convention center was being razed Downtown, demolition cranes were also whacking into a brick wall at the 99-year-old Lawrence Paint Co. building on the south side of the Ohio River. It's just west of Station Square and faces the Point fountain across the river.

That industrial structure was built in 1902 and has been closed for more than 30 years. Much of the roof has withered away over the years, allowing rain and bird droppings to get inside and damage the interior. Demolition is expected to take 60 to 90 days.

Some historic preservationists had looked at the building in recent years as a possible site for high-end apartments or condominiums, but the extensive interior damage and the narrow site -- squeezed in between railroad tracks and Carson Street, a state road -- made reuse of the structure prohibitively expensive.

A master plan for the entire 50-acre Station Square site, which had been done in 1992 by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation when it owned the property, called for the preservation and renovation of Lawrence Paint.

But after the prime riverfront property was sold in 1994 to Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland and Tennessee-based Promus hotels and casinos, approval was obtained from the city to demolish the old paint building.

Forest City later bought out Promus, but Promus still holds an option on the land until 2007 in case Pennsylvania should legalize floating or land-based casinos.

At least until the option held by Promus expires, the Lawrence Paint building will be replaced by a small park with industrial artifacts.

"We regret that the master plan, which PHLF submitted to the city in 1992 and which required preservation of Lawrence Paint, is not being followed," said History & Landmarks spokeswoman Cathy McCollom.

Even after the property was sold by Landmarks in 1994, "we assumed the approved master plan would be followed," she said.

She acknowledged that Forest City, in the late 1990s, went to the city planning commission to obtain approval to demolish the building, saying it had become too damaged to be renovated.

McCollom said History & Landmarks "will work with Forest City on a commemorative industrial display" to go where the building has long stood. The display will include some artifacts from the building, she said.



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