Loft Developers Do It Old School

By Cory Meiser

The repurposed Springfield Elementary School/Photo by OTB Staff

The repurposed Springfield Elementary
School/Photo by OTB Staff

At the far end of Smallman Street, hiding beside the 31st Street Bridge and set against smokestacks and electric lines, the old Springfield Elementary School stands as a strong reminder of times past, but also a perfect example of the continuously evolving face of the Strip District.

Constructed in 1871 as a school for children living in the flats along the Allegheny River, the building has never stopped being an important part the Strip District. When its life as a school ended in 1934, the school district used it as a warehouse.

In 1946, the Crucible Steel Company decided it would be a perfect place to house its administrative headquarters.  In 2000, the school took on yet another role as the Pittsburgh Decorative Center, which was a creative arts center for interior design. When the Decorative Center faded away, the old elementary school caught the attention of Bonn McSorley and her husband.

The owners of a small retail store on 21st Street, which is now home to Pamela’s Diner, the couple fell in love with the architecture and old world charm of the schoolhouse. They decided to bring it back to the community by renovating it into loft space.

“We wanted to provide the opportunity for all types to be involved in the city, and that is so very important,” McSorley said. “We don’t want to get rid of industry; we want to attract business to give back to the community.”

Now known as the 31st Street Lofts, the old school holds 14 loftstyle apartments. Renovating such an old building to meet the modern demands of living was no easy task, but for McSorley and her husband, it was a labor of love.

“When we remodeled we had to go along the historic preservation route,” she said.

“We couldn’t remove the smoke stack, change the stairwells, or the front porch. It was tough but ended up being worth it. It has so much personality and really is a landmark”

Once again, the Springfield Elementary School has become a focal point of the Strip District community. Now the building is symbolic of the Strip’s hip new identity. Even though it may serve a much different purpose than it did more than 100 years ago, the school remains a vivid reminder of the beautiful clash between past and present that makes the Strip truly unique.