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.


masonicsaxOur 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.







20161209_215742The 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.


Project Team

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:  

Allegheny Foundation


Benter Foundation

Buhl Foundation

Eden Hall Foundation

Fine Foundation

Heinz Endowments

Hillman Foundation

Pittsburgh Day of Giving Individuals

Pittsburgh Foundation

Richard King Mellon Foundation

City of Asylum Board

Financial Assistance provided by:

City of Pittsburgh, William Peduto, Mayor

Urban Redevelopment of Authority of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Urban Initiatives

City of Pittsburgh Public Board of Education

Allegheny County, Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive

Allegheny Regional Asset District

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf Governor

Tax Credit Investor PNC Bank

Bridge Financing provided by Bridgeway Capital

The Reinvestment Fund


Project Team

Dunham reGroup – Owner’s Representative

Franjo Construction – Construction Manager

Indovina Associates Architects – Masonic Building and Apartment Architect

K & L Gates

Klein Hornig LLP

Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects – Alphabet City Architect

Novogradac & Company LLC



City of Asylum Board :

Carol Brown

Anne Billliet Lackner

Michael McLean

Gwendolyn Moorer

Charles O’Hanlon III

Henry Reese

Audrey Russo

Diane Samuels

Akhil Sharma

Eric Shiner

Juliet Lea Simonds

Barbara Talerico


Founding North American Board:

Russell Banks

Dionne Brand

Carolyn Forche

Michael Ondaatje

Caryl Phillips

Salman Rushdie

Wole Soyinka

Derek Walcott


Advisory Board:

Mia Alvar

Jill Bialosky

Angie Cruz

Craig Dunham

Amy Finnerty

Michael Formanek

John Freeman

Tomas Fujiwara

Mary Halvorson

Chuck Kinder

Oliver Lake

Claire Messud

Marc Nieson

George Packer

Laura Secor

James Wood


Special Thanks to:

Craig Dunham

Senator Wayne Fontana

Senator Jim Ferlo

Dan Kolodner

Michael McLean

Charles O’Hanlon III

Representative Jake Wheatley

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