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

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

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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,

Katie

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.

Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: Mexican War Streets August 25, 2009

Posted by krbradford in Neighborhoods.
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Mexican War StreetsI just visited the Mexican War Streets this weekend by accident on a trip to The Mattress Factory. What a gem of a neighborhood! These lovely Victorian-era homes represent every popular style of Victorian architecture, including Italianate, Gothic Revival, Richardson Romanesque, Empire and Queen Anne. Beautiful flowering trees line the sidewalks, and homes are accented with vibrantly-painted doors, wrought iron railings, and pretty flower boxes and planters. As it turns out, this neighborhood has a fascinating history and was saved from demolition only a few decades ago.

In 1848, General William Robinson, Jr. returned to Pittsburgh triumphant from the Mexican-American War, which annexed Texas and California to the United States. Awash with patriotism, Gen. Robinson set to work plotting the streets in this Victorian-era neighborhood, and consequently, the names are all related to the Mexican-American War. Buena Vista, Resaca, Monterey, and Palo Alto refer to important battles during the war; Sherman, Taylor, and Jackson were the names of military leaders. The land was originally obtained as payment to General Robinson’s father for serving in the Revolutionary War.

Located in the heart of what used to be Allegheny City, the area that became the Mexican War StreetsMexican War Streets House & Garden Tour 2009 was originally used as an area to stable horses and raise pigs, chickens, and cows. The first houses in the neighborhood were tenant homes for people who maintained the livestock. Growth slowed during the Civil War, but quickly resumed after the war ended, and by the late 1800s, the Mexican War Streets looked pretty much as they do today. Because the neighborhood existed before the advent of cars or refrigeration, all the necessary amenities were located right in the neighborhood – groceries, pharmacies, a doctor, firehouse, and police station. But with the coming of the automobile and the national trend of moving out to the suburbs, many of the single family homes were divided into rooming houses and apartments, and the neighborhood fell into disrepair.

By the late 1960s, the area was in such terrible condition that the city made plans to demolish the whole neighborhood. An uproar ensued: individual residents and organizations such as the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Association and the Mexican War Streets Society campaigned to save the neighborhood. The city eventually abandoned their plans to raze the neighborhood, and over time the beautiful Victorian homes have been renovated and the streets beautified. Now it is one of Pittsburgh’s most elite neighborhoods. On September 13, the Mexican War Streets Society is hosting a House & Garden Tour from 11am to 5pm, tickets are $18 in advance. Visit the link for more information about the tour and the Preservation Ball.