Sunday, October 30, 2011

The "Reinvention" of Pittsburgh is Nothing New

Proof that the stories about Pittsburgh "reinventing" itself are nothing new -- here is a page from a 1950s book called "Great Cities of the World." All of this talk of a "renaissance" came before Pittsburgh lost half its peak population.

Pittsburgh, the iron and steel colossus of the world, stands astride three great rivers-- the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela. Coal and this mighty water transportation system were responsible for the growth and the far-reaching influence of Pittsburgh's vast industrial domain. Scarcely a decade ago they were also responsible for devastating floods that periodically spilled their unleashed fury on the city, and for the sooty smoke that continually shrouded the area in a dense black pall. Today, as Pittsburgh nears its 200th anniversary, the city is still a Titan of industry, but it has undergone a remarkable transformation. With smoke-filtering devices, the innovation of smokeless fuels and stringent laws controlling smoke density, the sun again shines on Pittsburgh. Floods, one of the city's greatest obstacles to progress, are now regulated by a mammoth network of dams and reservoirs. Its decaying physical structure of dingy outmoded commercial buildings, its tangle of inadequate streets and highways, its seedy and deteriorating Lower Hill tenements have experienced an extravagant renaissance. A shining and refurbished Pittsburgh points with pride to the tall clean lines of its stainless steel and aluminum skyscrapers, its broad sweep of superhighways and expressways and its many sociological, civic and economic improvements. A beautiful park, with the 36-acre Gateway Center as a backdrop, now fills the apex of the Golden Triangle. Here Fort Pitt, the tiny nucleus of the modern city, withstood Indian attacks during the Pontiac War. A small brick blockhouse, the only remnant of prerevolutionary times, is preserved within the park. Along Bigelow Boulevard and in the area of Schenley Park are found many of the city's renowned cultural and educational institutions including the University of Pittsburgh with its 42-story Cathedral of Learning, Carnegie Institute and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Abandoned: Jefferson School in Wheeling, WV

Jefferson School, at 1401 McColloch Street, is visible from the highway as you enter the once proud city of Wheeling. It is a haunted relic from the Victorian age, with all the faded grandeur and lost prominence of the city around it. Like Norma Desmond, it does not seem to be aware that it is forgotten. For more information about the disinvested East Wheeling neighborhood, click here.

UPDATE:  The Jefferson School documented in photographs below has been demolished by the City of Wheeling.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I came across a fascinating article that details the history of McKeesport. As I'm sure many of you know, McKeesport used to be a vibrant, bustling blue collar city, and the heart of the Mon Valley. This article details the factors that led to McKeesport's decline -- the opening of Eastland Mall in the 1960s, a massive fire that destroyed several downtown blocks and historic landmarks in 1976, and finally the loss of steel industry jobs in the 1980s. McKeesport wasn't able to recover from these blows. As late as 1976, McKeesport still had major retail and department stores, movie palaces, and daytime shoppers and office crowds, much like downtown Pittsburgh today.

You can read the article here: "Remembering the Tube City"

Here you can read about the famous fire that gutted downtown McKeesport in 1976 (and was a major event in the city's decline): "The Famous Fire"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gothic Pittsburgh -- Halloween Photo Tour

Here are some of my favorite photographs. I've collected those which capture the dark side of Pittsburgh, and its gothic atmosphere. I've presented them in black and white for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

The communities represented in the tour include: The Bluff, East Liberty, Brownsville, Natrona, West End, Manchester, Braddock, Beltzhoover, Homestead, Spring Garden, McKees Rocks, and Chateau.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Demolished: 121 University Place, Oakland

Demolished: 121 University Place, Oakland, Pittsburgh
121 University Place, an early 20th century mid-rise, beaux arts style building was recently demolished. In spite of the fact that the building was located in a city historic district, the City of Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission decided to allow its demolition for new student housing.

Another piece of Oakland's history and urban fabric falls to the wrecking ball, due to an incompetent Historic Review Commission.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Homestead is a gritty old steel town on the Monongahela River. Located adjacent to the Waterfront shopping district, a modern big box store and strip mall development, money and revitalization haven't spilled over into the old town. Homestead still looks as bombed-out as it must have been in the 1980s, when the steel industry collapsed. A lack of jobs isn't the problem now -- with Pittsburgh's unemployment lower than most places these days -- but nobody seems to want to live here (or Braddock, McKees Rocks, etc.). With so many affordable urban options in Pittsburgh, even urban pioneers tend to look elsewhere. But Homestead has a largely intact (if dilapidated) business district, a once-elegant residential section, and nice parks. There are a few signs of life -- cafes and vintage furniture shops have opened.

This photo tour only captures a few of the buildings. Homestead has many more, and is full of history and character.

Beautifully preserved home on West Street.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Abandoned & Endangered: St. Peter and Paul School (East Liberty) & The Lamar Building (Oakland)

Saint Peter and Paul School.
Location: Enright Court, East Liberty.

Lamar Building
Location: Near Fifth Ave. and Maurice St., Oakland.

Both buildings are abandoned, but beautiful, and located in trendy neighborhoods where apartment/loft conversions of historic buildings are commanding high rents.