City of Asylum venue to anchor Garden Theatre block

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City of Asylum/Pittsburgh plans to occupy three North Side storefronts with its new Alphabet City literary center, the nonprofit literary and human-rights group announced this morning.

The building, the former Masonic Temple, will be the first to be redeveloped on the block housing the shuttered XXX-movie house on West North Avenue. The site will house a bookstore, a free book-distribution program, a performance space, room for workshops and classes, and a restaurant, the group said in a statement.

Alphabet City had been planned for a triple lot on nearby Monterey Street. But neighbors objected to the zoning board’s approval of the project, and in November a judge found that zoning exceptions granted to the project were inappropriate.

In a statement, COA co-founder and president Henry Reese said the move from the Mexican War Streets to the more commercial perimeter of the Central North Side will allow the center “to grow beyond our original plans.”

Barbara Talerico, president of the Allegheny City Central Association, praised COA/P as “a standard-bearer for arts-based community development for almost a decade. … The build-out of this block, with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh as an important component, further extends the appeal and vibrancy of our neighborhood.”

Alphabet City is planned to open in the spring of 2014 — a decade after COAP began as a refuge for writers persecuted in their home countries. (COAP is an independent affiliate of the international City of Asylum network.) The group has since expanded to include the popular annual Jazz Poetry concert, the online magazine Sampsonia Way, frequent literary readings and more. Its art houses, shelter for persecuted writers, are neighborhood landmarks.

In addition, “We plan for Alphabet City to be a hub for Pittsburgh authors, musicians and community groups,” said Reese. He said the space will have a capacity of 150 and “a living-room feel.”

Architects for the project are Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects, who designed the nearby Carnegie Library branch. The projected opening date is spring of 2014.

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