The Skinny Building is three stories tall, half a block deep, and about 6 feet wide -- just enough room for Al Kovacik to walk through it on a muggy Friday afternoon, coiling electrical cords and gathering other supplies that are no longer needed at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Wood Street, Downtown.
While the first floor of the oddball structure once housed a lunch counter, and now hosts a clothing vendor, no one, it seemed, knew what to do with those upper two floors. In 2001, consultant and activist Pat Clark arranged to sublease the structure from Handee Marts/7-Eleven, which ran a store in the adjacent building. The Skinny Building's two dozen windows, most facing Forbes, soon framed a quirky series of displays that made it a public-art landmark, with everything from student photojournalism projects to an exhibit feting Myron Cope.
For several years, Clark's co-programmer was Kovacik, a tall and notably thin fellow whose new volunteer gig earned him the nickname "Skinny Al." Kovacik hasn't helped with the Skinny Building for a while, but he recently returned to clean it. A few weeks ago, without explanation, Handee Marts told Clark it won't renew the sublease, which expires Aug. 31.
Clark (who is married to CP associate editor Al Hoff) believes the nonrenewal might presage the building's demolition: While no such redevelopment plans have been announced, the Skinny Building is part of the Fifth/Forbes district city officials are keen to remake. Handee Marts, meanwhile, isn't talking. Reached by phone, company official Mike Triantafellou said he didn't know the fate of the building, which he said was owned by a company "out of Cleveland."
The Allegheny County real-estate Web site lists the building's owner as "Duffy Road Corp." Property-tax bills are sent to Handee Mart's corporate offices, in Gibsonia.
The Skinny Building's profile has included collaborations with local schools, including Carnegie Mellon and Chatham. Charlene Langer, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh instructor who organized shows for students and other artists, says that the Skinny project was a great way to reach people who'd never attend a gallery opening. "We've got to be more creative in what we think a gallery is," she says.
Langer's favorite Skinny shows included watercolors by Maura Doern-Danko -- images captured by the artist as she peered from the windows they'd be displayed in. Kovacik cites The Street Changes, a show of poster work by an international array of artists.
Kovacik praised Handee Marts' support of the project. "They actually took a chance on us," he says. He cites a May 2006 show, curated by the group LUPEC and titled The Burlesque, featuring vintage photos of mid-century exotic dancers. "There was some T &A. ... It was pushing the envelope a little," says Kovacik. Handee Marts "actually have put up with a lot."
At press time, artwork for the final Skinny Building show was being hung, with an opening/closing reception planned nearby on Thu., Aug. 30. A Low Down Dirty Shame, by local artists Mike Budai and Brian Holderman, consists of cartoonish cutout characters "marching over a pile of decapitated dog heads," says Holderman. "It sounds brutal, but it's not really like that."
A Low Down Dirty Shame Skinny Building opening/closing reception 7-9 p.m. Thu., Aug. 30. Courthouse Tavern (former site of The Chart Room), 310 Forbes Ave., Downtown. Free.