Furthering the City of McKeesport’s vision to revitalize and repurpose the historic Penn-McKee Hotel, local volunteers had the pleasure of working alongside dozens of students from the University of Pittsburgh on October 22.
“Pitt Make a Difference Day is proud to partner with the City of McKeesport for this day of service,” PittServes director Misti McKeehen said. “Students, faculty and staff engage in over 100 projects on this day of service and each one is making a measurable impact for the organizations and communities we serve. With thousands of students serving in Southwestern PA on October 22, we couldn’t make this day happen without partners like McKeesport.”
The ninth annual Pitt Make a Difference Day (PMADD) allowed the city to clear the lower portion of Fifth Avenue of overgrowth, debris, and garbage. Community volunteers and students used pickers and brooms to clear sidewalks and alleyways. They pulled weeds by hand.
A bulk of the work was intended to beautify the exterior of the now dilapidated Penn-McKee building at 122 Fifth Avenue. Decades of neglect have caused the building to fall into disrepair; and after years of confusion and controversy, the city took control of the property in 2014.
City officials are working with local historian Jason Togyer of Tube City Online to develop a marketing packet to draw attention to the Penn-McKee’s history, as well as its potential.
Largely vacant since 1985, the Penn-McKee was designed by Benno Janssen, better known as the architect of Pittsburgh's Mellon Institute, William Penn Hotel and Washington Crossing Bridge, and Ligonier's Rolling Rock Farms.
The city was active in funding the Penn-McKee's construction. It was built by the Community Hotel Corp., which was chartered in 1924 with the help of the McKeesport Chamber of Commerce. The corporation sold 5,000 shares of stock at $100 each to local residents and business owners to raise money for the hotel's construction.
In the hotel’s heyday, there was a saying that if something noteworthy happened in McKeesport, “It happened at the Penn-McKee.”
The most famous happening occurred in April 1947, when freshmen congressmen John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon debated the Taft-Hartley Act in the hotel ballroom – the first-known public appearance together by these future political rivals.