Diana Nelson Jones' "Walkabout": A fresh perspective is sprucing up the view of East Ohio Street

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The re­tail cor­ri­dor that runs through the North Side’s his­toric Deutsch­town dis­trict abuts Al­le­gheny Com­mons Park and is loaded with hand­some Vic­to­rian struc­tures, many ap­peal­ing busi­nesses and, more than any­thing, po­ten­tial.

East Ohio Street has been loaded with po­ten­tial for a while now, but some­thing bet­ter seems im­mi­nent.

The neigh­bor­hood is un­der­go­ing a youth move­ment with new home own­er­ship and at­trac­tions that in­clude this Satur­day’‍s Deutsch­town Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, now in its sec­ond year.

In the spring, a lit­tle band of stake­hold­ers came up with a quick and in­ex­pen­sive im­prove­ment for about a dozen care­worn, empty store­fronts — 60 his­toric pho­to­graphs on 4-by-8-foot pan­els that have trans­formed the street into a cu­ri­ous art gal­lery.

“Our in­ten­tion was to get peo­ple to start look­ing at the street,” said Bruce Klein, founder of the Photo An­tiq­ui­ties Mu­seum, on East Ohio.

He sup­plied many of the pan­els. Pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dents at the Manchester Crafts­men’s Guild and graphic art­ist Robert Sands pro­vided the rest.

The pan­els in­clude an ae­rial view of the city in­clud­ing the Civic Arena and Three Rivers Sta­dium, the Ed­gar Thom­son Works in Brad­dock and a con­ven­tion of mis­sion­ar­ies at Car­ne­gie Hall in Oak­land. Most, though, are not lo­cal.

The in­tent was to show a broader, more worldly vi­sion.

“We wanted to show ev­ery cul­ture we could,” Mr. Klein said.

Among the im­ages are peo­ple in tra­di­tional Asian and Na­tive Amer­i­can garb. One panel is of a sol­dier from a Penn­syl­va­nia reg­i­ment; a few are of chil­dren. Another is among the last por­traits taken of Abra­ham Lin­coln. Sev­eral pan­els wrap around the side of a build­ing like wall­pa­per.

The East Al­le­gheny Com­mu­nity Coun­cil, North Side-North Shore Cham­ber of Com­merce mem­bers and sev­eral neigh­bor­hood busi­nesses com­bined to pay a few thou­sand dol­lars for the dis­play.

“We started with blighted and boarded-up win­dows, with the per­mis­sion of seven build­ing own­ers,” said Randy Stroth­man, a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant who lives in Deutsch­town.

The Rev. Ken Turn­bull, a pas­tor at the Al­le­gheny Center Al­liance Church, and Nate Wig­field, the di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment at Bis­tro to Go, or­ga­nized crews that in­stalled the pan­els. The own­ers of five busi­nesses also agreed to have vol­un­teer crews paint their store­fronts.

Alex Alex­ia­des owns sev­eral build­ings on East Ohio and said he be­lieves the ef­fort will con­trib­ute to the street’‍s come­back.

“I’ve been here a long time, since the ’‍60s, and I’ve watched the area change, from good to bad. It’s on its way back up,” he said.

The Al­liance Church bought the nui­sance bar Reb­els to close it five years ago, with plans to ren­o­vate it and find a good busi­ness re­use, said Rev. Turn­bull. It also bought a va­cant lot be­side that from the Ur­ban Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity and a con­demned house be­hind it from a pri­vate owner. The site be­side Reb­els now is a large gar­den, a po­ten­tial site for pur­pose­ful pub­lic con­gre­ga­tion.

For de­cades, the five re­tail blocks from Cedar Avenue to East Street held three or four pawn shops, a cou­ple of nui­sance bars, con­ve­nience stores and of­fices with se­cu­rity buzz­ers. A sprin­kling of at­trac­tive newer busi­nesses of­fer a sense of the po­ten­tial.

“We need more di­ver­sity of re­tail,” Mr. Klein said. “We don’t need more nail places and rent-a-cen­ters.”

In the mean­time, Rev. Turn­bull said, “We want to in­crease the curb ap­peal as a com­mu­nity, through art, say­ing to shop own­ers, ‘‍Help us work along­side you.’ The North­side Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence helped us nav­i­gate the pro­cess with some busi­ness own­ers, but there has been no push­back. Ev­ery­one seems to be de­lighted.”

Mr. Stroth­man said the street gal­lery is also a mes­sage to art­ists to look in Deutsch­town for a home or stu­dio, but the ul­ti­mate goal “is to fill all these store­fronts with good busi­nesses and ser­vices.”

Di­ana Nel­son Jones: djones@post-ga­zette.com or 412-263-1626.

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