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It’s been awhile! June 24, 2010

Posted by krbradford in Uncategorized.
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Named for the Homestead Grays Negro League baseball team (1910-1950)

I have to admit, life has gotten in the way of this blog. For that, I must sincerely apologize. But I am committed to Pittsburgh, and in my absence, I have only learned more and come to love this city even more! So I am back and ready to start posting again. Within the next day or so, I will complete my Frick Park series with Frick Park Part 3: The Woodland, and then I’ll be writing about my next Pittsburgh historic site: the Homestead Grays Bridge. It’s great to be back!


Frick Park Part 2: Clayton and the Frick Estate October 1, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Other sights.
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ClaytonBehold Clayton. Originally situated on 1.43 acres of land, it now rests on the 5 acre estate of the Frick Art & Historical Center, which consists of the restored Frick mansion, the Frick Art Museum, the Car and Carriage Museum, the Frick children’s playhouse, and the greenhouse, which grows much of the fresh produce for the cafe which is also on site. This mansion was originally an 11-room Italianate home that the Frick family purchased for $25,000 in 1883. As the family grew, the house grew to the full 23 rooms that visitors see today.

The Frick family left the house for New York in 1905, but Helen ClayHelen's bedroom at Clayton Frick owned the house until she died in 1984. At that time it was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1990. Amazingly, 93% of the artifacts in the house are original, including fine details like the bed linens and all the mirrors, which have never been re-silvered.

We toured the house on Tuesday, and though it’s not the biggest house, the opulence is truly breathtaking. Most of the rooms are decorated en suite, so that all the woodwork, fabrics, paint, and decor are perfectly matched and in harmony with one another. The house is full of priceless artwork, beautiful carpets, ornate friezes and wood carving, high-quality furniture, gorgeous china sets… and anything else ornate and opulent you can think of. It’s really fortunate that Helen Frick left all this wealth and beauty for people to enjoy.

The Frick parlorClayton is also home to one of the few remaining orchestrions in the world. An orchestrion resembles a pipe organ, but it is designed to replicate the sound of an entire orchestra playing right in your own home. Apparently the Frick orchestrion was a favorite among Henry Clay Frick’s possessions, and he loved to play it for his dinner guests.

Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to photograph the interior of the Frick mansion, so I’ve included a few of the photos I’ve been able to find on the internet. You may also enjoy visiting the 360 panorama of the library and sitting room on the second floor of the house.

Look for my upcoming post on Frick Park, the wilderness in the middle of the city.

Frick Park Part 1: The beautiful benefactress. September 29, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Other sights.
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Portrait of Helen Clay Frick

Part 1 in a series about Frick Park, past and present

I don’t know why history textbooks don’t talk more about the Frick family and their role in American history. The names Andrew Mellon and Andrew Carnegie, who also called Pittsburgh home around the turn of the 20th century, are covered in almost every history of American big business, but the Frick family often is not, despite their important role. Henry Clay Frick, the patron of this important family, was involved in coke (a fuel produced from coal) and steel production. Pittsburgh being the US hub of coal and steel output at that time, Frick and his family settled on Millionaire’s Row in Pittsburgh (present-day Penn Avenue in Point Breeze). H.C. Frick married Adelaide Childs, and together they had four children: Childs, Martha, Helen, and H.C. Jr. Martha died as a young girl, and Childs and H.C. Jr. went on to lead relatively normal lives. Helen, who is represented in the painting above, lived an extraordinary life as a single woman, philanthropist, and eventual Pittsburgh hero.

After the Frick family had firmly established its fortune, they relocated to New York City. By this time, Helen was 17 and firmly rooted in Pittsburgh. She would come back to Pittsburgh for her society debut, always maintained a permanent address in Pittsburgh, and came back to Pittsburgh for the last four years of her life. She loved Pittsburgh and never stopped considering it her home.

It was no secret that Helen was her father’s favorite, and when he died in 1919 wheHelen & Adelaide Frickn she was 31, Helen inherited $38 million, making her the richest single woman in the US. Helen, who was beautiful but well-known for having a feisty temperament, chose to remain unmarried. Instead, she became Western Pennsylvania’s leading benefactress. She was passionate about art and an avid collector of artwork, so she established the University of Pittsburgh Fine Arts Department, two art history libraries, and acquired numerous major works of art which now comprise the Frick Collection in New York and the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh. Her other contributions include: a vacation home for young female textile workers, two wildlife preserves, a public wilderness park in Pittsburgh called Frick Park, and Clayton, the Frick family home in Pittsburgh which now serves as a Victorian-era house museum (which I just toured today…details forthcoming). If you follow my blog, you’ll also be interested to learn that she was instrumental in the donation of land for the Cathedral of Learning.

Frick Park MapPittsburghers love Helen Clay Frick, and it’s not hard to see why. Given the choice between Pittsburgh and glamorous New York City, she always clearly preferred Pittsburgh. She donated much of her time, money, and influence to better the city, and nowadays when people visit Frick Park, the second-largest urban park in America, to escape to the dense green wildness and tree-lined pathways, they can thank Helen.

Helen died in 1984 at the age of 96. At the time of her death, she donated nearly all of her property to posterity, including her family’s Pittsburgh home and furnishings, as well as a priceless art collection. After a multi-million dollar renovation and years of hard work, Clayton has been restored to its original splendor and can be enjoyed by the public. I went on the tour today and look forward to sharing my experience with you in tomorrow’s post. After that, you can look forward to sharing some of my Frick Park experiences.

The G-20 comes to Pittsburgh this week. Look here for real-time updates on protests, performances, and more. September 22, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Other sights, Public art.
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G-20... a good idea?I plan to update this post with information regarding the activities centered around the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh this week. Check back here as I add links, videos, and photos about the noteworthy things going on in Pittsburgh as the week progresses.

The Guardian’s live updates on what’s happening on the ground in Pittsburgh for the G-20

BBC World News America: Video on Pittsburgh’s G20

Dramatic photos of a Greenpeace banner hung from the West End bridge

Time Magazine: Why Pittsburgh?

One.org – see the mural they are painting downtown to draw attention to the need for African aid


Bomb squad called about suspicious item in Shadyside

WDUQ documents G20 on Flickr

G20Buzz.com keeps up to date on tweets and Flickr photos about the G20

Point Park University students give flash mob dance performances downtown

Reuters G20 coverage

Radio France International covers the G20 in Pittsburgh

Protests slideshow

List of Pittsburgh closures for G20 (it’ll blow your mind)

Approved G-20 demonstrations

Remember my post  on 109-115 Wood Street? Check out their G20 protest preparations:

115 Wood Street boards up for G20

Allegheny Cemetery: Think of it as a historic park. September 17, 2009

Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places.
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Rolling hills of Allegheny CemeteryI think some people find it macabre to visit a cemetery to sightsee, but I think it is one of a city’s most fascinating and telling sites. I’ve heard it said that you can learn a lot about a group of people by how they bury their dead, and I think it’s true. Pittsburgh has a number of beautiful cemeteries, and stunning grave memorials and mausoleums comemmorating important people in history that maybe only Pittsburghers know about. But it’s clear that locals respect the history of this town, its people and and its places. Allegheny Cemetery is located on a picturesque expanse of rolling hills looking out across the Allegheny River. It’s filled with old trees that provide shade and shelter. In my time there, I saw that it was also a haven for wildlife in an otherwise cement-heavy city – I saw a beautiful white-tailed deer, a great blue heron, groundhogs, and a whole flock of migrating Canada geese.

Beautiful statues, wrought iron, and stained glass adorned many of the memorials. People clearly tended many of the graves; even on some of the older sites I found freshMemorial statue flowers, even some planted flowers as well as shrubbery and some Japanese maple trees. And while I was there, I saw people strolling through it like a park – couples, a jogger, a woman with a baby carriage. I was there with a toddler, who delighted in climbing up the stairs of the mausoleums and pointing at and touching the gravestones. I think these people, long dead, would smile to know that their gravesites still had visitors. Truly, it was more a park than a cemetery. There was none of that sense of sadness or eeriness that often pervades a graveyard; instead, I was pleased to enjoy a lovely stretch of green space in the middle of a big city, surrounded by the people who struggled to make Pittsburgh what it is today.

There is a reclining deer in this photo. See her?

There is a reclining deer in this photo. See her?

Allegheny Cemetery, located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is sited on the north-facing slope above the Allegheny River. It was opened in 1845, and is the sixth oldest rural cemetery in America (I’m not sure what that means, but I think the site where it’s located was rural at the time it was built). It is now 300 acres and memorializes over 100,000 people. Some of the oldest gravesites are of soldiers who fought in the French and Indian War, and many important people in Pittsburgh are buried here.

Have you ever visited Find-A-Grave.com? At this cool site, you can search to find where a famous person is buried, or you can search by cemetery or region to see which famous people are buried in your area. It’s a neat place, and if you visit you can see some of the important people buried at Allegheny Cemetery. All in all, Allegheny Cemetery has been the best surprise of my SiteSee experience so far. I had no idea such a treasure was right in my city. I can’t wait to go back with my boyfriend and stroll around some more. Enjoy the slideshow of photos I took while I was there.

A visit on my home turf: Park Place landmarks. September 9, 2009

Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places, Neighborhoods.

Park Place SchoolLast weekend, I thought it would be nice to enjoy the beautiful weather and walk the streets of my neighborhood with a camera, taking photos of interesting things for all of you in the blogosphere. I live in the itty bitty neighborhood of Park Place, which is not actually big enough to be its own official neighborhood, or even to have its own article on Wikipedia. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to find anything about the history of Park Place on the internet at all. There are rumors – supposedly Gene Kelly, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, lived here in Park Place.* And once upon a time, this whole area used to be Peebles Farm. As one of the flattest neighborhoods in the city, I can see how it would have made nice farmland. Anyway, it’s all hearsay.

Park Place homesBut I think maybe Park Place has remained such a gem of a neighborhood because no one really knows about it. Technically part of Point Breeze, Park Place is separated from the rest of the borough by Frick Park, the second-largest urban park in the US. Because of this separation, it’s actually more convenient to Regent Square than to Point Breeze, and it’s also adjacent to Wilkinsburg, which is probably why the property values remain fairly low. Unfortunately, Wilkinsburg has a lot of crime and poverty, although we rarely see it here in our neighborhood. (Except for the guy who got shot a block away from our house earlier this summer. But that was a fluke.)

Despite being small, Park Place has a very active neighborhood association, which advocates for positive change in the neighborhood. A recent example is the street trees program, which was a grant that allowed us to receive over 40 trees to plant along the street to beautify the neighborhood. One went in front of our house.

Old Heidelberg, 2009Park Place also has two sites with listings on the Register of Historic Places. The first is the Park Place SchoolOld Heidelberg, 1911, which was initially a public elementary school, but has since been converted into attractive apartments. My boyfriend’s older brother went to school there before it closed. The other site is the Old Heidelberg Apartments, designed by architect Frederick G. Schiebler in 1908. On the left you can see what they look like now, and on the right is an old postcard I found on the Web that shows what they looked like in 1911.

So, take a look at the photo slideshow I put together of the walk around my neighborhood. Park Place is a special little spot with lots of Pittsburgh charm.

*9/28/09: My amazing boyfriend did some research and confirmed this rumor. Gene Kelly and his family lived on Kensington Street, part of the Park Place neighborhood directly adjacent to Frick Park.

Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: Panther Hollow September 4, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Neighborhoods.
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Panther Hollow, ~1910

Dear Reader,

Most Pittsburghers, when they talk about Oakland, think of universities – University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon. They think of hospitals and students living in shabby houses with couches on the front porch. But in the heart of Central Oakland, in a small part of the borough that is rarely visited by students, exists a close-knit community of people apart from the chaos swirling around them. And it’s been that way since Italian families settled there in the late 19th century.

Panther Hollow Lake, c. 1930My guess is that most people only know Panther Hollow as the valley they drive over when they pass from Oakland into Schenley Park on the Panther Hollow Bridge (you know, that bridge you cross if you veer right after Phipps Conservatory?) The valley is significantly lower than the land around it – trust me, I know. I went down about 1200 stairs to reach the bottom. But did you know there was a neighborhood down there? And a pond where people used to go ice skating? The pond is still there, and it’s beautiful – there are steps to sit on at its edge; big, beautiful oak trees to sit under; ducks to feed – we even saw a great blue heron while we were there. We visited on a truly remarkable day, with puffy clouds and cerulean sky and warm sun, and yet there were only a handful of people there. It’s a perfect example of how Pittsburgh’s geography really affects where people travel – no one thinks to go down into the valley, or they don’t think they can. Click here to see where there are stairs down into the valley (Also – click on the “terrain” button in the upper right corner of the map to see just how steep the valley is.)

Panther Hollow LakeThe Panther Hollow neighborhood was settled in the late 19th century by a group of 95 families, most arriving from Pizzoferrato and Gamberale, Italy. In the heart of busy Oakland, somehow this neighborhood on Boundary Street stays quiet and community-oriented. I am particularly fond of their green, white, and red striped park benches that indicate their intimacy with their Italian heritage.  In a documentary recorded by one of Pittsburgh’s public radio/television stations, WQED, interviewed residents repeatedly mention the closeness of the community, how everyone knew and looked out for each other, and what a wonderful place it was to grow up. The documentary is about 13 minutes long, but really interesting, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen to it here.

So, next time you’re in Oakland, make the trek down the 1200 stairs to this beautiful little spot and enjoy a unique and relatively unknown piece of Pittsburgh history. It’ll be our little secret.

With love,


PS – The city of Pittsburgh has been less-than-enthusiastic about the maintenance of this pretty spot. I encourage you to contact city government about improving the care of the pond for residents’ use.

A visit to the Cathedral of Learning. September 3, 2009

Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places.

Cathedral of Learning

Dear Reader,

I had intended to visit all the historic sites on my list in alphabetical order, but my boyfriend and I found ourselves looking for something to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon last weekend.  High on our list of sightseeing tasks in Pittsburgh was a tour of the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning – and seeing as how the Cathedral is on my list anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go a little out of order. 🙂

I’ve been to the Cathedral, as it’s known here in Pittsburgh, countless times, as I have taken university courses here on several different occasions. It’s part of the University of Pittsburgh campus, and it’s famous for being the second-tallest university building in the world (42 stories, or 535 feet tall). It was started in 1926 and finally completed in 1937, and local lore states that the beautiful Gothic-style Commons Room on the ground floor was the last area of the building to be completed. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of that info, but this photo seems to show it might be true.

Truthfully, when I moved to Pittsburgh, I found the Cathedral to be an eyesore. It’s much taller than the buildings around it, and I’m still not sure that such a tall, lean building lends itself to Gothic-style architecture. The building was created to form a happy marriage between beautiful Gothic architecture and the modern skyscraper. Whether it has done that successfully or no, I can’t say, but you can’t deny it’s an impressive building.

Ukrainian Heritage RoomYou certainly can’t deny the coolness of  the Nationality Rooms, either. There are currently 27 rooms, with 8 proposed additional rooms. They are museum-quality representations of the typical architecture, furnishings, and decor of the nation they represent. Each room took anywhere from 3 to 10 years to complete, were created by a colloboration of skilled artisans and architects from their respective nations, and many of the materials came from the native area – in some cases, the entire room was built overseas and shipped in pieces to Pittsburgh.

Even cooler still, 25 of the 27 rooms are functional classrooms, used every day by professors and students for university courses. As a student, you can often stroll down the hallway and peek into a room and see the beautiful decor of Norway or Japan. Anyone can tour the rooms every day for only 3 dollars, which I think is amazing, since each room cost about 300,000 of today’s dollars during the height of the Great Depression. They are rife with beauty, quality, and history, and I think the tour is a real gem in Pittsburgh that is often overlooked.Greek Heritage Room

If you’re far away from Pittsburgh, you can take a virtual tour here, complete with 360 panorama views, audiorecordings and representative music – but it doesn’t beat a real visit, where you can linger and admire details for only 3 dollars.

You can also enjoy a slideshow of the 211 (!!!!) photos I took during my visit to the Cathedral, the Nationality Rooms, and Panther Hollow Lake – which I’ll talk to you about tomorrow. Be sure to click “Show Info” to read detailed captions about many of the photos.

Flickr Slideshow Tour of the Nationality Rooms

With love,


109-115 Wood Street, downtown Pixberg. August 27, 2009

Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places.

109-115 Wood StreetDear Reader,

Today I visited my first site on the National Register of Historic Places. The photo on the left shows a building on the corner of Wood Street and Boulevard of the Allies that is now part of the Point Park University campus. I did a little bit of nosing around on the internet before I went to visit, took a peek on Google Street View… so I was actually pretty surprised when I arrived and saw just how darn pretty these buildings were (building? technically, I’m not sure whether this is one building or multiple).

This structure was built in 1897, designed by architect Charles Bickel, and was owned by the Hartje Brothers Paper Manufacturing Company. My understanding is that this company moved its headquarters to Steubenville, Ohio, and the building experienced periods of vacancy over the years… during the dotcom boom it was home to companies named ComputerM and Inrange Technologies (who occupied it at the time it became a historic landmark), but it again fell vacant. In 2006 the space was purchased by Point Park University, which has been quickly expanding in downtown Pittsburgh, fixed it up, and it now houses dorms and classrooms. I just happened to arrive on move-in day, which made parking super fun.

109-115 Wood Street PlacardPoint Park has done a very nice job of cleaning up these buildings. They’re very attractive and they really have some particularly lovely architectural details. I did not go inside, however, because there were students with sweatpants and stressed out parents crawling all over the place.

I was immediately struck by the incredible amount of construction going on downtown. Market Square – the entire square – is completely fenced off and ripped apart. The reason for all this construction is, of course, the upcoming G20 Summit in September, during which pretty much every important leader in the entire world is going to be in Pittsburgh, judging us. I’m just curious how on earth they’re going to finish all these construction projects in less than a month. I mean, there was construction everywhere.

109-115 Wood Street Architectural DetailSo, what does this building tell me about Pittsburgh? Well… it became a national historic place in 1979, during a tumultuous time in Pittsburgh’s history. The steel industry was collapsing, and the entire backbone of the local economy was disintegrating. The city government established a second “Renaissance” program (the first being after WWII) to help improve and beautify the city, and improve the economy by drawing business from new sectors. Many of Pittsburgh’s historic sites were registered in the late 70s and early 80s, and I think that was in an effort to revitalize the city after the economy began to fail. Pittsburgh really struggled for a while, but it managed to attract a lot of business, and now has a relatively strong economy – Pittsburgh has not lost jobs but actually gained them during the recent worldwide recession. Finance, healthcare, robotics, biotechnology, and tourism are big business in Pittsburgh. Point Park University lives in this building now… and has helped to make it the beautiful place it is today. The universities in Pittsburgh are crucial, adding a lot to the culture and also to the economy. In the city limits, there are ten colleges and universities that I’m aware of.

Check out the rest of the photos from my visit in my slideshow. Be sure to click on “Show Info” at the top right to read the captions.

Site #1: Success!

Pittsburgh public art: murals and more. August 26, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Public art.
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Lawrenceville (Penn Avenue) MuralDear Reader,

My boyfriend says I need to stop sounding so much like an encyclopedia and more like a human, so here’s my effort at doing that.

One of the things I love MOST about Pittsburgh is its public art… I keep saying things to my endlessly patient boyfriend about how I would love to go around photographing all the murals in Pittsburgh and publish a book with the photos, but with a photography skill level of zero, that isn’t really feasible. Now that I have this new venue, I’m excited to scope out, photograph, and share all the great public art in Pittsburgh. All told, I’m betting there’s well over 100 murals around Pittsburgh, maybe a lot more. So while I’m out and about, checking out Pittsburgh’s 205 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, I hope to place special focus on the public art in the areas I’m exploring.

The Two Andys

Since 2003, the Sprout Fund has sponsored 45 public art projects in communities all over the city, and my understanding is that there were more completed this summer that are ready to be unveiled. I cannot stress enough how amazing these Sprout Fund-sponsored murals are – they beautify and revive depressed neighborhoods, and they add brightness and levity to stable neighborhoods. You can see a map showing locations of murals completed from 2003 to 2006 by clicking here. Any time I happen across a mural I haven’t seen before, it always excites me. I’ve scattered pictures of a few of those murals throughout this post, but you can see a lot more photos, including before-and-after shots, by visiting the Sprout Fund Public Art website. And, I kid you not, as I was sitting here writing this post, an advertisement came on the radio announcing the Sprout Fund’s Annual Benefit South Side MuralParty at Bakery Square, chock full of food from delicious local restaurants, local beer and wine, great local music, and tons of other really awesome stuff that you can read about right here. It sounds really fun (flamenco dancing! local honey tasting! Dozen cupcakes! Penn Brewery!) and I really wish it didn’t cost 50 bucks a person, but truly, it goes to a good cause – the Sprout Fund not only sponsors public art, but lots of other great grassroots community projects.

Look out for my focus on Pittsburgh’s murals in my future posts – I intend to pay them special attention as I travel about, pondering Pittsburgh’s historic sites. And in case you’re wondering, my travels begin tomorrow, and they lead me to downtown Pittsburgh. Ciao!

With love,