On Tuesday, July 16, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that Lawrenceville was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.

According to a press release, the designation is meant to recognize both iconic structures like the Allegheny Cemetery, founded in 1844, and the neighborhood’s collection of working-class row houses, which date from the early 19th to mid 20th centuries.

“We are very happy the National Park Service recognizes the hard work by so many in preserving Lawrenceville’s historic buildings,” said Brian Mendelssohn, a board member of the Lawrenceville Historical Society. “We love that it encompasses both the residential parts and the business district.”

What’s the National Register of Historic Places?

Established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the register — according to the National Park Service website — “is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”

It focuses on man-made structures as opposed to natural landmarks, which have their own national list.

How many historic districts does Allegheny County have on the National Register?

There are dozens.

Just in the city of Pittsburgh alone, we can name Allegheny West and Deutschtown on the North Side, Alpha Terrace District in East Liberty, Chatham Village in Mount Washington, East Carson Street on the South Side and Fourth Avenue Downtown.

On top of that, dozens of public artworks and individual buildings are also on the list, including the Armstrong Tunnel and Taylor Allderdice High School.

What’s the big deal about being on the National Register of Historic Places?

There’s certainly pride and bragging rights but in terms of actual policy, not much.

While the designation protects the neighborhood or structure from federal development projects, it does not change what private owners can do with their property or offer any kind of financial support.

As the city’s announcement emphasizes, Lawrenceville’s new designation will in no way affect private development projects already underway.

For a historic designation with real power behind it, you need to look locally.

Such as? 

The city’s Historic Review Commission (HRC), part of the Department of City Planning, has the power to designate new historic districts and gets to approve or deny design changes to any and all structures within the area, up to and including demolitions and new construction.

So if there’s something in your neighborhood that needs to be protected, act locally and attend the HRC’s next meeting on July 19. They’d love to see you.