1997 – John DeSantis

John has been a resident of Allegheny West for over 20 years. In the late 70’s, 1970’s that is, he became what was then called an urban pioneer, moving into Allegheny West and participating with others in an effort to halt, then reverse decay – turning this neighborhood into a desirable living environment. As a member of the Allegheny West Civic Council, he worked to obtain Federal funding for historic street lighting and to put on house tours and spring festivals. He also convinced Beech Avenue residents that moving paving bricks from Herr’s island and installing them as replacements for broken sidewalks would be a “breeze”. He may not deserve full credit for the project, but he certainly got the full blame for what was to become the longest two weeks in recorded time. John told them the project would be completed by the end of month. (He neglected to say which month.)

John purchased an old Funeral Home on Brighton Road. Its restoration gave back to us Holmes Hall. Or we should say, its ongoing restoration, – for this work never really stops. He has graciously encouraged tours of this most amazing mansion. Guests with open mouths and upturned necks stroll through the parlor, hall, dining room, and ballroom – with tour guides trying to tell them that “Yes, people really do live here”.

John significantly expanded his sphere of influence when he was appointed Chairman of the Historic Review Commission for the City of Pittsburgh. There he gives out encouragement, advice, and an occasional slap on the wrist for development projects throughout the city. He has gained a reputation for demonstrating that historic preservation is an economic boost to an area. More importantly, that historic character is a attribute that once lost cannot be replaced, at any price.

It is perhaps ironic that by receiving this award, John himself becomes an historical figure within the City of Pittsburgh and thus is required by the Historic Review Ordinance to be preserved. I’ve examined the text of the ordinance, but have not been able to find the paragraph that specifies the exact process to be followed in preserving a human being. But it is clear that looking at John, whose appearance hasn’t changed a bit in the seventeen years that I’ve known him, that the process has already been applied. I’m sure that if we closely examined John’s neck that, on his back, just below his collar, we’d find a small plaque certifying to the historic character of this historic character. [Is it just a coincidence then, that in Holmes Hall hangs a painting of a gnarled, wrinkled, decrepit old man – an old man who seems to be getting older and older each passing year, hm-mm-m.]