Walkabout: Main Street tours give different glimpse of Pittsburgh neighborhoods

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With 90 neighborhoods, Pittsburgh can be a challenging jigsaw puzzle for all but the most adventurous denizens to know thoroughly. Lifelong residents have asked me, "Where's Beltzhoover?" or "Where's Marshall-Shadeland?"

Everyone knows where Mount Washington is, perched above Downtown with its million-dollar view. But there's a large neighborhood behind the view where even its commercial heart, Shiloh Street, is underknown.

Four years ago, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation added a walking tour in collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, a "City Main Streets and More" schedule of walks along retail corridors that are designated as Main Streets for state funding.

This year's schedule includes six neighborhood tours. Friday's tour of Shiloh Street was the third, with about 30 people participating.

Luring people from Grandview Avenue onto Shiloh has been a longtime goal of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. The URA has delivered small business loans of almost $30,000 and almost $37,000 in storefront and facade improvements to Shiloh Street businesses in recent years, and the payoff shows.

The foundation's partnership with the URA for these tours "seemed like a perfect way to link the past and present together," said Karen Cahall, educational coordinator at the foundation. "I love it because it's not just about the architecture but how historic buildings continue to be vital and provide character to neighborhoods. These tours focus on the heart of a community."

Shiloh, which used to disappoint me, today makes me hanker to take visitors and locals to the new-and-improved Redbeard's, the Shiloh Grill, Packs & Dogs and the Micro Diner, which is open until 4 a.m. Saturday and Sunday nights.

"Shiloh, like many Main Streets in the city, has struggled over the years," said James Eash, the community development authority's director of economic development. "We have seen a resurgence in the last five years. Right now, there is no vacancy on Shiloh Street."

The first stop, the Grandview Bakery, will celebrate its second year at 225 Shiloh this Friday. Owner Vickie Pisowicz said she received help from the community development corporation in locating, and the URA arranged a storefront improvement grant and financing.

An added prize on the tour was a stop at the former Prospect School. A.M. Rodriguez Associates is transforming the 82-year-old art deco landmark into 67 apartments as The Lofts of Mount Washington. Rodriguez had previously redeveloped the former South Hills High School in Mount Washington into 106 apartments, 84 of them for low-income residents.

The Lofts of Mount Washington is on schedule to be completed next year.

Prospect School closed in 2006. Designed by architect Marion Markle Steen for his father, architect James T. Steen, it was built in 1931. A gymnasium and auditorium were added in 1936.

The landmarks foundation's nomination of the school for the National Register of Historic Places described the auditorium as "one of Pittsburgh's most fully realized" art deco interiors in which the original builders spared no expense on ornamental copper, black glass and white metal panels of stylized fish, birds and butterflies.

The developers are incorporating the school's marble walls, medallions, relief work and sculpture into their renovation. Even more mundane features will be reused, including the old school's interior doors and lockers, which will be put to use in the new fitness center.

That the school, which is not on Shiloh, was included in the tour is the "more" referred to in the designation "City Main Streets and More."

The landmarks foundation and the URA have forged a good partnership to explain the work of both organizations to more people. The foundation was born almost 50 years ago in the effort to save our urban fabric, and the URA has come a long way since the days when the "R" signified removal.

The remaining three tours are this Friday, Brookline Boulevard in Brookline; Oct. 18, California Avenue in Brighton Heights; and Oct. 25, Federal Street in the Central Northside. All are free. To make reservations call 412-471-5808 ext. 527.

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM


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