Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Newcomer is drawn to a diverse street in Pittsburgh's East End

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Abbie Miller came to Pittsburgh last August to work as a neighborhood liaison for the Union Project, a community center in Highland Park. Among the items she brought was a box of old catalog cards from a library in Goshen, Ind.

She found a place to live a short walk from her workplace, which is located in a former church at Stanton and Negley avenues. She started exploring, looking for a street to draw. She found the right street in Euclid Avenue.

"I have drawn houses for a long time," said the 23-year-old graduate of Goshen College, where she studied art. Euclid was a manageable length to her -- 10 blocks from Penn Avenue in East Liberty to the entrance of Highland Park.

Ms. Miller has drawn every house on Euclid south of Stanton and half the houses north of Stanton. She will have completed the avenue by June 6, when she presents the drawings at the Pulse Gallery, 5151 Penn Ave. "Project PGH: The Euclid Avenue Project" will be part of the First Friday "Unblurred" monthly Penn Avenue street crawl.

In the meantime, she will deliver leaflets inviting every Euclid Avenue resident to the show, at which she plans to give them the drawings of their houses. The show runs from 6 to 9 p.m., with its first hour dedicated to Euclid Avenue residents.

"I would love for attendance to be as diverse as the street is," Ms. Miller said.

We met Monday at the corner of Stanton and Euclid, where she began drawing last fall. She pulled a little file box of library cards out of her purse, each with an exquisite line drawing. She has drawn some houses by standing in front of them, some by relying on Google maps and some from using photos.

We stopped at 725 N. Euclid, a red brick home from the early 1900s. The total value of the building and property is assessed at $38,700. By contrast, five houses directly across the street have been built within the last few years. She calls them "the Google houses," because they are selling in the high $200,000s and $300,000s and could be especially attractive to people moving from other cities for high-end jobs.

Euclid Avenue is a mix of old and new, care and careworn. Some houses are lovely with rhododendron, azaleas and decorative flags in front, and some need paint, repairs and weed-whacking.

"You get a feel for the two neighborhoods from these conditions," she said. "But the mix of architectural styles and layers of history [are the same]. The thing I like about the drawings is that they don't show whose house or sidewalk is in bad shape or which buildings are empty."

The drawings honor the lines of the structure and that's all. They bring out the equality of a place and a sense of timelessness; someone had built each house and at one point each house was at its best.

I'm reminded of conversations I've had with people about blight and whether a house is beautiful. It could have all its lights knocked out and be reeling from multiple blows, but these are mere insults. The oriel window, the deep porch and the molding and corbels get to tell part of the story.

An Iowa native, Ms. Miller began drawing houses in Goshen, choosing Eighth Street there before finding Eighth streets in other cities to do the same. She used Google maps to draw Eighth Street in New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Newport, Tenn., and an Arizona town whose name she forgets.

"I'd never been to any of them, but I had an experience where I drew an entire street in London using Google maps and then I went to the street. I was overcome. It was like when you have a dream about someone and then see them the next day."

In both her work and her spare time, she is doing community outreach. Her one-year contract through the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience has been extended for a second year at the Union Project.

"I get the feeling the Euclid Avenue project is just the start of something, too, because I've been blown away by the reactions."

Ms. Miller created a Facebook page for the project and has gotten an early Pittsburgh education thanks to people who know people who know people.

"I haven't even been here a year and I already feel so connected," she said. "I was told that if you want to do something in Pittsburgh you can just make it happen, and it's true. It's like a rabbit hole. I've fallen in love with the neighborhood."

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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