National Negro Opera House restoration project underway in Homewood

The National Negro Opera House in Homewood will be getting a makeover.

Officials held a dedication ceremony at the Apple Street site on Tuesday to mark the start of a multimillion-dollar restoration project at the historic site.

Jonnet Solomon, director of the Steel City Arts Initiative, said she and other community leaders have been pushing for 22 years to have the building restored.

“We are finally here today to make it a reality,” she said. “This house is a testament to the grandeur of Pittsburgh.”

The National Black Opera Company was founded in 1941 by Mary Cardwell Dawson, according to a historic sign on the property. The company performed for 21 years in Pittsburgh, Washington, New York and elsewhere.

“This house is the birthplace of black opera in the United States,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Fund.

The building was included on their list of most endangered historic places, he said, and the restoration effort received a grant from their initiative – as well as several other foundations and organizations. The fund also supported efforts to revitalize the August Wilson House and the New Granada Theater, two historic landmarks illustrating black history in Pittsburgh.

Preservation efforts have at times been inequitable, Leggs said, and ignored sites of historical significance to minority communities.

“Too often, the historical footprint of black people has been rendered invisible,” Leggs said, calling the revitalization of the National Negro Opera House “an act of racial justice.”

Pieces of the building’s facade appear to be collapsing, and a porch on the side of the structure has collapsed.

Pittsburgh-based Russell Construction is the contractor for the project.

“She doesn’t have much to see now, but we’re going to get her there,” said Alexis Russell, who co-owns the construction company with her husband.

Candace Burgess, a local opera singer, said her singing teacher could trace a line of vocal instructors directly to the National Negro Opera House.

“This house is so much more than just a monument,” she said. “It’s my line.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey called on local foundations and businesses to continue investing in revitalization efforts that preserve “the history that makes this city great.”

“That’s really what diversity looks like when we’re talking about history,” Gainey said.

Julia Felton is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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