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Squirrel Hill Building Demolished After 4-Alarm Fire

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A contractor late Friday night was knocking down the Forward Avenue building that once housed Squirrel Hill's landmark Poli's Restaurant.

Before heavy equipment moved in, however, a workman took down the Poli's sign, which hung over the entrance. A Poli family member said he hoped to give the sign to the Heinz History Center.

City inspectors determined that the restaurant, which has been closed for a few years, had to come down.

Jim Cohen, of Squirrel Hill, watched part of the building come down. Cohen said he didn't eat the seafood, but rather, he enjoyed their steak.

"My family ate there a lot when it was open - parties, dinners, New Year's," Cohen said.

KDKA's Harold Hayes Reports:

The demolition was inevitable, but the four-alarm fire at the vacant two-story building next door sped up the process. Around 60 firefighters were on scene battling the flames Thursday night.

However, at least one firefighter had to scramble out of the way as a portion of the brick façade of the building facing Forward Avenue came crashing down.

The building has been vacant for about six or seven years. Several businesses used to be on the bottom floor. The building was demolished in the early morning hours of Friday.

So far no cause of the fire has been determined, but Mayor Bill Peduto said this about future plans for the site:

"It's a very marketable area. The goal is to have both market and affordable housing as a component in three development of it," he said. "I think having the properties now demolished -- they're soon to be demolished and having the site ready will probably speed up the process. You have a very vibrant retail area along Murray Avenue, so any of the development that's occurring on the first floor should reflect that. You should have a first floor retail presence and some office presence if available as well."

"It was slated to be demoed anyways because we have a new development going on site. Jewish Residential Services was going to have a new building there with action housing," Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor said.

KDKA's Amy Wadas Reports:

However, city officials say that new development will still continue, but it's just a matter of when.

Friday morning, crews put up fencing around the debris.

"It's a shame. It's Poli. That's the place we used to go for my birthday and I really enjoyed going there. I'm sorry to see it close," Pittsburgh Operations Director Guy Costa said.

Poli could be torn down as early as today. If not, city officials expect it to be demolished over the weekend. It was scheduled to come down in the fall.

The cause of Thursday's massive fire has not been determined. The site will be redeveloped into an area of low-income housing and housing for people with developmental disabilities.

Action Housing acquired the building housing Poli's in a sheriff's sale.

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