Giving a safe place to exiled writers to write as part of a community has changed the lives of the writers we protect.
But the presence of these unique and heroic figures in our Northside community also led to unexpected exchanges in the community, enriching our own lives and transforming our city. These “living treasures” have inspired us to create a broad range of cultural programming in a community setting–often outdoors, on closed streets and in vacant lots, and now in City of Asylum @ Alphabet City.
Our paramount goal in creating Alphabet City is to build human connections. By giving voice to local, national, and international artists, we hope to strengthen community and effect cultural exchange among diverse individuals—bringing the world to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh to the world.
The Alphabet City project began in 2006, when neighbors asked City of Asylum to purchase and close a nuisance bar on Monterey Street. In 2008 the deal was finalized with the former owner, and we began surveying neighbors for ideas, conducting focus groups, and raising money.
Now the site of our Alphabet Reading Garden, this site on Monterey Street was where we had intended to create City of Asylum @ Alphabet City. However, after we received the go-ahead from our community organization and the zoning board approved our plans, the Mattress Factory and several neighbors reversed their original testimony in favor of the project and two of the neighbors appealed the zoning approval. Judge James of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the appellants. As a result, we faced potential years of delay in court, so in 2012 we relocated the project to the Masonic Building.
Originally we were to be tenants on the first floor and basement level of the Masonic Building. However, after two years of trying, the developer was unable to put together financing, and his option to redevelop the Masonic Building was terminated in August 2014.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority then gave City of Asylum the option to purchase the entire building and become the developer. Thanks to the generosity of many, we were able to assemble the financing and the building was purchased in late September 2015, with construction beginning soon after. One year later, on September 10, 2016, we opened City of Asylum @ Alphabet City with a lecture by Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Laureate in Literature and herself a former exiled writer-in-residence in Gothenberg’s City of Refuge.
The Masonic Building redevelopment was rated by the legal and financing team as “a unicorn project,” among the very most complex they had ever encountered. It took the patient cooperation of many to make the project successful. Thank you to them all for an extraordinary effort on City of Asylum’s behalf.
And thank you to the City of Asylum board, which met eight times in 2015 alone on matters related to the project, to do due diligence.
Funding provided by:
Financial Assistance provided by:
Dunham reGroup – Owner’s Representative
Franjo Construction – Construction Manager
Indovina Associates Architects – Masonic Building and Apartment Architect
Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects – Alphabet City Architect
City of Asylum Board 2012-15:
Agnes Dodds Kinard
Anne Billliet Lackner
James P. McDonald
Charles O’Hanlon III
Juliet Lea Simonds
Special Thanks to:
Senator Wayne Fontana
Senator Jim Ferlo
Charles O’Hanlon III
Representative Jake Wheatley