PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A piece of local and national history is falling into disrepair, so much so it’s now on a national list of endangered historic sites.
The National Negro Opera Company House is now on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 most endangered historic sites in America.
We are working on a story about the National Negro Opera Company House historic site in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. It has fallen on a nation list of endangered historic sites. A local preservation group is working to make sure it’s not lost. pic.twitter.com/RzfpmbeLOR
— Chris Hoffman (@NewsmanChris) October 9, 2020
“It’s sort of like a jungle to get up in here,” Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh CEO Matthew Craig said.
While trekking through overgrown plants and weeds, Craig took KDKA up to the house. It has sat empty for about three decades. There are broken windows and walls are missing.
“This house has so much significance,” he said.
The house on Apple Street was built in 1894. In 1941, Madame Mary Cardwell Dawson established the opera company. It broke the color barrier for opera in the country.
If the walls could talk, they would share stories about visits from Count Basie and Duke Ellington. It became a popular hotspot for Black culture.
“It’s amazing. It’s a who’s who of African American culture at that time,” Craig said.
After the opera company left, the home housed Steelers and Pirates players, including the legendary Roberto Clemente. Craig said as the economy of the neighborhood changed, it became hard to maintain.
Then it fell into its current state where it needs to be stabilized before any work can be done.
“Just to see it be reclaimed by the jungle, it makes us all the more motivated to try and preserve this history,” Craig said.
Craig believes it will take a couple million dollars to restore the home, but wants it to become something the community can use so it doesn’t get abandoned again.
“Bring a beating heart so that there’s people coming and going everyday, just like there had been in its heyday,” Craig told KDKA.
The preservation group is using donations and grants to get the money they need. If you would like to donate, the organization can be reached here.