If you've closely followed local news of the past few years, you'd never know that Baldwin Borough's Leland Point Apartments complex was once one of the most desirable places to live in Pittsburgh's South Hills suburbs.
Not for everybody, mind you, but for retirees and young college graduates especially, the giant complex was ideal for low-income and up-and-coming people who wanted safety, cleanliness and easy access to their daily activities.
Sprawling across 55 acres, the multi-unit, two- and three-floor buildings were well spaced amid generous lawns. There was an ease and quiet about the place. The big factories where many tenants worked each day were far away enough that the air was good—more South Park than South Side.
Nobody would have mistaken it for Ligonier, certainly, but even the humblest wage-earners could find comfort at the complex and enjoy their children playing on lawns and around well-kept buildings.
The history of the place is lost in the mists of time and recent bad memories, but the bulk of the complex is known to have been built in the 1940s and to have contained upwards of 1,100 rental units.
In the best of times, Leland Point was known as “Baldwin Court Apartments.” In the 1960s and '70s, it drew hundreds of residents to the South Hills who, otherwise, might never have considered living there.
Many of the people who started their adult and professional lives in attractive, affordable Baldwin Court rental units went on to buy houses in Baldwin, Whitehall, Pleasant Hills, Brentwood and Bethel Park—helping to build the South Hills solidly out to the Washington County line.
Often, it was young, out-of-town engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University who availed themselves of Baldwin Court's value and settled there as they started good-paying jobs at U.S. Steel, Westinghouse-Bettis and Fisher Body.
Other young people who grew up further south heard about the place from their friends. Retired folks, perhaps having raised their kids and sold the old family house, found a good, safe, simple place to live at Baldwin Court.
It wasn't just the jobs of engineers, managers and line workers that were affected. In those years, big industrial companies had hundreds of good-paying, respectable jobs. Secretaries, receptionists, mail room employees and many other support workers made a decent living within a few miles of Baldwin Court.
When those jobs went away, so did the rental pool for the complex. Slowly but steadily, sponsored and subsidized rental arrangements began to supplant traditional tenants. Ownership changed. The name changed from Baldwin Court to, eventually, Leland Point. It ceased to be described as a “rental community” and came to be known for a generation as a “housing project.”
Crime festered to the point that Baldwin Borough officials needed to establish a police department sub-station in the very space that previously housed the complex's management office in better times—not at all a good sign for retirees or those with young children.
Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott has said that more than half of all reported crime in the borough occurs at Leland Point, which is estimated to be home to about 10 percent of the municipality's entire population.
Things deteriorated at Leland Point in a straight line until it all crashed in 2010 when Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. took the extraordinary step of weighing in against the operators and taking them to court on nuisance charges. That bold move forced the owners to sell the complex, which was then acquired by a well-regarded firm known as Apollo Property Management, LLC.
The district attorney's office and Baldwin Borough Manager John M. Barrett both have confirmed that the legal issues are now settled and that Leland Point is operating fully in the private sector under Apollo Property Management.
Apollo could not be reached for comment about the firm's plans for management going forward or about any anticipated changes in facilities, pricing or amenities. Stephanie Sturzinger, marketing manager for Apollo, sent an initial email to this writer offering to provide information about the apartment complex but did not follow up with subsequent emails or phone calls.
However, local sources estimate that the complex currently is about two-thirds occupied.
Can Leland Point make it back to safety, comfort and respectability? Sure—if tenant selection is managed diligently, the 60-plus-year-old buildings are maintained competently and the police presence continues.
Situations like the Leland Point of 2009 and 2010 are a municipal nightmare because many of the tenants living there under sponsored or subsidized rental arrangements didn't work—or didn't admit to working—and, thus, paid no earned income tax. Hundreds of police and fire calls each year became very expensive for Baldwin, especially when those calls originated in what had come to be seen by many as a deadbeat neighborhood.
But that's changing. The community is coming back. Most everything that ever was good about Leland Point still is in place:
- The apartments are well-built and sensibly designed.
- The open spaces are lush and green.
- Parking is ample, with most of it tucked away behind buildings.
- Leland Point Community Center is right in its backyard at the intersection of Knoedler Road and Wolfe Drive.
Apollo, reportedly, is upgrading most of the complex's units. All of its apartments are air-conditioned, and heat and water are included in the rental price, making the residences very affordable.
According to Apollo's website, studio apartments at Leland Point rent for $439 per month. The most expensive units are three-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom, two-story townhomes at about $800 per month.
Other factors—outside of the control and interest of Apollo Property Management or the district attorney—also contribute to the character of the community and count as pluses for the neighborhood.
For example, Uni-Mart is still there in the heart of the community at the intersection of Knoedler and Keeport Drive.
Brownsville Plaza, at the corner of Knoedler and Brownsville Road, is coming back to viability as a walkable shopping option with several small businesses and services there, including a new Bottom Dollar Food market scheduled to complete construction early next year.
Curry Hollow Shopping Centre, also walkable at the intersection of Curry Hollow Road and Keeport on the border of Baldwin and Pleasant Hills boroughs, has a Foodland, GNC, Lifeforce Fitness Center, Bob Moore's Certified Tire & Auto, Pat Catan's, Subway, Family Dollar, new Dunkin' Donuts and other small enterprises. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, there are several vacant storefronts in the center, which was built in 1973 and is managed by Grubb & Ellis Company, including the 96,000-square-foot anchor tenant spot previously occupied by Value City.
Do you agree? Is Leland Point making a comeback? Give us your opinion(s) in the comments section below.