In the Beginning

The land on which Schenley farms is located was originally owned by William Penn, and then later owned by General James O’Hara, a Revolutionary War hero and industrialist who purchased the ‘Farms’ in 1802 for $2000. The land stayed in the O’Hara family until the 1905 death of his granddaughter Mary Croghan Schenley. The trustees of her estate, including Andrew Carnegie, sold the property which still bears her name for $2.5 million to the real estate developer F F. Nicola.

Franklin Felix Nicola was a dreamer and a visionary. He developed and promoted a civic center plan for Oakland which was miles from the city’s smoky congested downtown. He dreamed of an area devoted to culture, art and education. Allegedly the motto sign in his office stated “Air castles aren’t substantial dwellings but they are very good working drawings”. Nicola was a major force in the Pittsburgh participation of the “City Beautiful Movement”, a reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning that flourished in the 1890s and early 1900s. The focus was adding beautification and monumental grandeur to cities, as a way of promoting civic virtue and improved quality of life. Nicola left his imprint on many of the splendid civic buildings of Oakland. An adjacent compatible utopian residential portion was integral to his concept of a ‘model city’. This is the foundation of the Schenley Farms residential neighborhood. Nicola’s business, the Schenley Farms Company , boldly set out to create a model suburban upper middle class home development near the civic and cultural institutions of Oakland.

As a foundation, Nicola’s company invested $1.5 million in infrastructure, including underground gas and electric lines, wide sidewalks, ornamental street lights, lovely landscaping and a design for tree shade featuring London Plane trees. He built the massive retaining wall along Parkman Avenue. Most of the homes were built between 1906 and 1916. There were 124 houses in the original ‘tea kettle’ shaped property, with the lower aspect bordered by Bigelow and Parkman, and the upper aspect including the south border of Center Avenue and the uphill ledge of homes along Schenley Farms Terrace. Nicola gathered many of the city’s most renown architects who were encouraged to contribute to the wide variety of historical styles. For $20-30,000, homeowners got hardwood floors, finished basements, 13 inch thick foundations, brass pipes, hot water radiators recessed beneath windows, integral ducts for vacuum cleaning, stained glass and elegant woodwork.

Through the years, the neighborhood has faced challenges, especially related to the desire for land expansion from the nearby large educational and medical institutions of Oakland. Some elegant houses were destroyed, including those along one side of lower Bigelow in the 1960’s. Fortunately most of the residences were treasured and diligently cared for by dedicated homeowners. By the 1970’s there was a wave of renewed focus on historic preservation, both nationally and locally. In 1982, the Schenley Farms neighborhood was designated as a Pittsburgh Historic District. In 1983, the Schenley Farms neighborhood was registered with the National Register as an Historic District.

Plaques erected at the neighborhood borders state succinctly state the current status:
Schenley Farms Historic District is “a museum of early twentieth century domestic architecture”

ZONING
Schenley Farms Historic District has the following zoning designation R 1 D – VL:
detached residential, single family, very low density.

This means these homes are appropriate for either a single family residing in a home, or a group of no more three unrelated adults.

Resource:
https://library.municode.com/pa/pittsburgh/codes/code_of_ordinances

Pgh Zoning Board of Adjustment staff:
412 255 – 2214

Zoning Board meets weekly, usually on Thursday mornings.

Points of note:

  • The City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code, first written in 1958 and updated periodically, regulates land use and activities within the City boundaries. Through regulation of private land, the code seeks to promote neighborhood revitalization, encourage a mix of uses, and support increased density for transit oriented development. The City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code is maintained online by Municode.com and can be found here under Title Nine.
  • In addition to occupancy standards, the zoning code establishes other standards:
    a 30’ minimum setback from the street, maximum height of 40’ and minimum lot size of 8000’ in the neighborhood. Based on those numbers it would be impossible for someone to buy a house and subdivide the lot to create a second home. The zoning ordinances are designed to provide consistency in the neighborhood.
  • These zoning laws are enforced by the City of Pittsburgh. There may be rare exceptions to the zoning rules, for organizations which predate the laws or where special arrangements have been made with ZBA approval.
  • The Office of City Planning is interested and welcoming to community input. There is a process whereby neighborhood groups are qualified as a RCO (residential community organization) and all development plans are reviewed by community representatives before submission to either HRC or ZBA.
TREES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Many trees in Schenley Farms do not belong to the homeowner, but rather to the City of Pittsburgh. This is especially true of trees near the streets.

Pgh has a Forestry Division, which is committed to maintaining and controlling shade canopy. This arrangement is seen for many neighborhoods within Pittsburgh, but has special relevance in older historic neighborhoods where trees are very large, potentially require maintenance, and are very hard to replace.

Resource:
http://pittsburghpa.gov/dpw/forestry/

Division of Forestry Staff:
412 665 – 3625

Of some use to check about a specific tree, Burghs Eye View Trees

Points of note:

  • Homeowners do not have the legal right to remove, cut or prune any city-owned tree.
  • It is the homeowner’s responsibility to let the city forestry division know if a city-owned tree needs attention (e.g. pruning) or has other issues.

    This is done in two ways:

    • by calling 311; a work order will be generated and a tracking number provided.
    • or by calling the Division of Forestry Division above.

    It should be noted that the city forest division has limited resources and typically will respond for emergencies first, and then per waiting list.

  • A homeowner can request to arrange/pay-for a private company to prune a city-owned tree, but this requires a permit first. A permit is also needed if a homeowner wishes to plant a large tree near a public street.
  • Trees which are not owned by the city remain the responsibility of the homeowner.
  • There are major fines if a City tree is removed, pruned, or harmed in any way. In general, the homeowner will be required to replace with comparable trees, which can be very expensive.

A little Background:
While these rules may initially sound onerous, the City of Pittsburgh has a major commitment to maintaining an Urban Forest. There are enormous environmental benefits, including improving air and water quality and slowing stormwater runoff. Trees also reduce energy costs and create beauty and pride in each neighborhood. City efforts to protect trees date back to the 1930’s. The effort gained steam in the early 2000’s, when there was growing concern about the quantity and health of trees in America. It was estimated that, in the last fifteen years of the preceding century, naturally forested areas of the country east of the Mississippi River and in the Pacific Northwest had lost 25% of their canopy while impervious surfaces had increased 20%. A study at that time suggested a city like Pittsburgh with over 900 miles of streets ‘should’ have 60,000 street trees, and ‘could’ have up to 90,000 street trees.

A 2005 a comprehensive survey showed that Pittsburgh had 31,524 street trees. At that time, 30% were not optimally healthy, and 10% were recommended for removal A repeat study in 2014 showed considerable progress in the health and quantity of trees in Pittsburgh. Multiple efforts are now coordinated and consolidated under the umbrella of the non-profit entity Tree Pittsburgh.

PARKING
Schenley Farms became a permit parking only area in 2013, called FF. This means that street parking is restricted to short periods for non-residents, a process enforced by traffic police monitoring. Residents may purchase parking permits for two cars, registered by license plate, and have a mechanism to purchase a visitor pass for use. Renewals occur each February. Other visitors are not allowed to park beyond one hour during regulated time periods.

An exception to the parking restriction occurs each Friday early afternoon, to accommodate the attendees at services for the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh

Resource:
https://portal.pittsburghparking.com/rppportal/

Points of Note:

  • Traffic and parking congestion can be challenges in this area which is close to large busy hospitals, schools, cultural destinations and businesses.
  • The cost of the Residential Parking Permit as of 2019 is $20.00 per vehicle annually, with an available annual Visitor Parking Pass is $1.00 per address and is not pro-rated.
  • Since 2017, cars are not issued any sticker for the car; rather all permits are tracked by license plate number and enforced largely by license plate recognition technology.
AMENITIES OF OAKLAND
Oakland is a fabulous dynamic ethnically-diverse neighborhood, home to “the meds and the eds”, institutions which are at the center of Pittsburgh’s economy, vitality, creativity. There are numerous landmarks and cultural destinations – Carnegie museums, Carnegie Library, Phipps Botanical Garden, Soldiers and Sailors memorial and museum, University of Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning … just to name a few. There is a vibrant business district, with unique and varied restaurants, eclectic shopping, and wonderful hotels. And there are numerous other thriving and varied residential neighborhoods.

Several community-based Oakland Organizations focus on quality of life issues, and include:

Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) – hosts a variety of improvement and planning efforts for businesses and residential neighborhoods

Community of Oakland Residents (COR) – group supported thru OPDC which unites community focused advocates

Oakland Civic Center Historic District (OCCHD) – a separate protected historical district since 1992, which focuses on the older beautiful civic buildings and historic University structures

Oakland Business Improvement District – group united for effective advocacy of the multiple variously-sized unique businesses

OTHER PERKS
Too many amenities to list but a few of note…

Schenley Farms Garden Club – group of neighbors, organized since the 1950’s, with regular meetings which emphasize landscaping, gardens, sustainability and environmentally preserving actions. Also serves as a social networking group with interesting gatherings throughout the year. Membership affordable and open to any family living in Schenley Farm neighborhood.

Access to Public Transportation – multiple buses use the Fifth/Forbes corridors, heading downtown to the west and scattering to outer neighborhoods to the east. Downtown buses include 61 A, B, C, D and 71 A, B, C, D. There is also easy access to the Airport Flyer bus 28X.

Wonderful places to walk – you’ll never lack for a destination for a good stroll. The nearby and easily accessed Schenley Park provides year-round beauty and color for nature lovers. Just east lie Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, with lovely walkable streets and accessible shopping venues. A walk around the Hill District water reservoir is a surprise delight.

SCHENLEY FARMS CIVIC ASSOCIATION
The Schenley Farms Civic Association is a volunteer organization, 100 years old in 2020, which supports the concepts that this neighborhood as an ideal place for families to live while simultaneously continuing as living museum of significant architectural designs.

Citizens have played an active role in maintain and preserving this neighborhood since the early years. By 1918, most Schenley Farms Homes had been built, and the Schenley Farms Company had fulfilled all its promises and contracts. So it was time for residents to take over and the idea of a civic association was modern and useful. On July 29, 1920, a group of neighbors of Schenley Farms met to consider the renewal of the building restrictions and the needs for communal upkeep. Documents state they discussed creation of a permanent organization for the purpose of “the promotion of all matters pertaining to the general welfare and interest of the Farms”.

By December 13, 1920, the Constitution and By-Laws of the Schenley Farms Civic Association were adopted. The expressed purpose was two-fold:

  • The extension of restrictions on the use of the lands in the Schenley Farms district as established by the Schenley Farms Company
  • Care and maintenance of the district “in such a manner as to insure its continuance as a high class residence district”.

The SFCA continues as one of the oldest neighborhood organizations in Pittsburgh. Nine neighbors serve on the board for three year terms, volunteering their time to continue the tradition of enhancing and preserving the neighborhood.

By-laws of SFCA by-laws state the fundamental purposes of this century-old organization :

  1. To preserve the single-family residential character of the neighborhood
  2. To promote safety and security in the neighborhood
  3. To preserve the historic character of the neighborhood
  4. To provide for the general welfare of the neighborhood