By Deborah Monti

 

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Facade of the Verizon Building- Photo by Meghan Poisson-DeWitt

Originally built in 1926, the Verizon switch station on the corner of Forward and Murray was once a bustling office building. As the center for all phone calls that pass through the Squirrel Hill area, it was filled with telephone operators connecting calls with switchboards and repairmen who actually made house calls. But as technology became advanced enough to fill those jobs with computers, and the number of floors in use began to decrease, the building never took in new occupants.

 

The corner building, now practically derelict and housing computer operated switching gear, essentially runs itself. Though two-thirds of the building is vacant and the exterior needs to be cleaned, painted and landscaped, it still appears to have a lot of potential for rehabilitation and new productive uses.  Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition (SHUC) board members have been trying to talk to senior Verizon officers about its lack of maintenance and potential reuse and have been writing to Verizon headquarters in an effort to get them to pay attention to this property.

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Photo by Meghan Poisson-DeWitt

While Verizon seems unresponsive to ideas about sharing the space, partially and fully repurposing Verizon buildings is not a novel idea—many of the company’s buildings in New York and elsewhere are already slimming down and starting to share space with residential condominiums and apartments.

 

“We think Verizon isn’t focused on renovating the building because although only about a third of the building is being used, the use is critically important and as a public utility, it is real estate tax exempt, so there’s no financial pressure to add to or change its use.  In truth, because of its history, this significant building would probably qualify for federal income tax credits as a historic renovation as apartments or offices that would benefit Verizon and Squirrel Hill,” says Ray Baum, SHUC president. “There is a great opportunity for that building.” Attempts were made to contact Verizon for comment but no responses were received.

 

FM Pic Room for People

Bus Stop Redesign- Sketch by CMU Students

Students in Carnegie Mellon University’s Masters of Urban Design program have also noticed the potential of the building, and in a December report titled Envisioning the Forward-Murray Gateway, suggested storefront lighting to “enrich the look and the feel of an otherwise dull and lifeless structure” and building steps on the grass to “create a much comfortable and safe environment for the commuters” who use the bus stop adjacent to the building. (Read the feature from our 2015 issue about this project HERE)

 

While there are still issues to be resolved in regards to collocating the building, such as how to protect the security of the telephone calls and data that pass through there (the building also serves calls and transmissions going through the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University’s software engineering institute, which works on highly confidential projects), there is still hope for a changing façade and perhaps a new use of the building.

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