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Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: Panther Hollow September 4, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Neighborhoods.

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.



1. Louanne LaRoche - May 5, 2010


Thought your readers would like to see this
Thank You

This painting has been in my family for many years. It has inspired me
work on my own series of paintings about this community

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