The National Negro Opera House in Homewood will be getting a major facelift.
Officials on Tuesday held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site on Apple Street to mark the beginning of a multimillion dollar restoration project at the historic landmark.
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’re finally here today to make it a reality,” she said. “This house is a testament of how great Pittsburgh is.”
The National Black Opera Company was founded in 1941 by Mary Cardwell Dawson, according to a historic placard on the property. The company performed for 21 years in Pittsburgh, Washington, New York City 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 the most endangered historic places, he said, and the restoration effort has received a grant from their initiative — as well as several other foundations and organizations. The fund has also supported efforts to revitalize the August Wilson House and New Granada Theater, both historic landmarks showcasing Black history in Pittsburgh.
Preservation efforts have sometimes been unequitable, Leggs said, and ignored sites that are of historical importance to minority communities.
“Too often the historic imprint of Black people has been rendered invisible,” Leggs said, calling revitalizing the National Negro Opera House “an act of racial justice.”
Pieces of the building’s facade appear to be crumbling, and a porch on the side of the structure has collapsed.
Pittsburgh-based Russell Construction is the contractor for the project.
“She’s not much to look at 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 vocal teacher can trace back a lineage of vocal instructors directly to the National Negro Opera House.
“This house is much more than just a monument,” she said. “It’s my lineage.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey called in local foundations and companies to continue investing in revitalization efforts that preserve “the history that makes this city great.”
“This is really what diversity looks like when we talk about history,” Gainey said.
Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, email@example.com or via Twitter .