S

ometime around 1989 The Simplex Group made the fateful decision to surrender to the superior forces of the City of Pittsburgh and its allies: the Planning Commission, the Southside Redevelopment Corporation, and some few smaller guerrilla forces.  You can go here for a more detailed description of the battle tactics we had employed, to little effect; the forces arrayed against us were massive.  There are times however when prudence, that great savior of mankind, overcomes the natural urge to fight, even when justice itself is on your side.  Justice is an amorphous force which in certain ways resembles the Pope of Rome, of whom Stalin, getting right down to business, contemptuously asked, “How many divisions does he have?”  We had a business to run after all, and we thought we’d best be about it.

There was a man who owned a building on Carson street, the main drag through the Southside of Pittsburgh;  we would be in the thick of things here, and not hiding-out surreptitiously in the neighborhoods.  The owner had a long and difficult story to tell, yet he did not hesitate: finances, a wife, divorce and other such heartrending matters.  He fancied himself an artist and some years back he had bought this building, which had once been a barber shop, with the notion to convert it into an art gallery, with a studio and living quarters for his family as well.  He had something of an architectural bent, and he had started the remodeling of the structure with these goals in mind.  He had begun the several serious structural aspects of the project, but had been unable to complete any of them: the poverty, and perhaps the personality, of artists everywhere.  So now, at this stage of his dream, crises mounting beyond his control, he had decided that he had to sell the building, relieving some of his heartaches, forgoing some of his dreams.

He left the building a mess, yet it was one that the man from Naperville, with architectural aspirations still buried deeply within, could see the sense of, the possibilities hidden within the ticky-tacky of its deficiencies.  We bought the building.

Tricia and I searched around for someone who could finish this project for us, allowing us to regroup here with some few shreds of dignity remaining from the war that we had lost.  We found him in an alley—his shop was there.  But, he told us, he was too busy right now.  Yet he knew someone who occasionally worked for him that he thought might do the work, and well.  This man had never done a project this large before but our guy thought he could do it, and we respected his opinion: we could tell that our man was a true craftsmen and would have good judgment.

One day we met the new fellow at the building to look over the project.  He was a strange sort, slim and taciturn, but that was not surprising.  Thinking to minimize misunderstandings that seem to go naturally with projects and men of this type, I had compiled an exhaustive list of each and every thing that I thought needed to be done: here an electrical outlet, plaster and painting; there the floor to be refinished, a handrail installed; and so forth.  It had been carefully thought out, room by room and wall by wall, throughout the entire building.  We had not made drawings because we had no plans to change anything structurally; we just wanted to finish what had been started.  We went over the place together for some hours, he and I, then he took the list with him.  A week or so later he came back with an equally itemized price list; a good sign.  As I recall it totaled up to some $25,000.  We engaged him.

The following pictorial shows the results.  It was a delightful place to work in; each morning  it struck me anew when I arrived.  It’s restrained, yet beautiful style, so unlike an everyday business office, never failed to impress an indefinable tranquility upon its occupants, which were eventually to be many.