10th Street Bridge

The 10th Street Bridge (which a reader pointed out is nicknamed the Phillip Murray Bridge after the first president of the United Steelworkers of America) was the last of the bridges over the Monongahela River for me to walk.  Or so I thought.  It turns out that the Liberty Bridge also has a sidewalk despite the fact that it is a freeway bridge like the Veteran’s Bridge (see post).  So I’ll have to come back to the Liberty Bridge at some point.

I delayed my walk of the 10th Street Bridge in part because it seemed like an awkward one to get to and from.  One end is in the middle of the South Side, but the other connects to the Armstrong Tunnel, which would obviously not be pedestrian friendly.  Last week, I finally went out and walked it and as I hoped, it turns out there is a pedestrian access over the hill to the high-bus-traffic corridor of Fifth and Forbes avenues in the form of a giant staircase that I will address in another post.  This end of the 10th Street Bridge was more well-connected than I had anticipated.  Not only do the stairs provide access to the top of the hill when Duquesne University sits, but there is also access to a parking lot down by the river which also connects to the Three Rivers Trail System.  The best proof of this bridge’s connectivity is the number of other pedestrians I saw walking the bridge.  While I did not keep a count, I noticed that there was a comparatively high level of pedestrian traffic.  It certainly wasn’t as much as the Smithfield Street Bridge (see post), but it was comparable to or higher than that on the other downtown bridges.

My favorite part about this bridge was the dinosaurs painted at the top of the southern tower.  I couldn’t tell if they were official or freelance graffiti, but it seemed appropriate given that Pittsburgh is famous for dinosaurs.  Andrew Carnegie brought the first dinosaur skeletons on display anywhere in the world to his natural history museum.  I found someone else wrote a post about the dinosaurs on the bridge, which the artist apparently calls geese, which suggests that the painting may not have been officially sanctioned.

The post mentioned above about the dinosaurs also comments on the “rusty” condition of the bridge.  While I didn’t notice the rust much (it wasn’t nearly as bad as the 28th Street Bridge), I did notice the condition of the sidewalk.  I thought my theory that the top of the sidewalk had worn away to expose the metal framework supporting the structure rather farfetched, as how could the entire sidewalk (on both sides as far as I could tell) wear out so evenly.  Yet, I cannot think of any other sidewalk I’ve walked that looks like this and given the other bloggers comments on the poor physical condition of the bridge, perhaps my idea isn’t totally crazy?

Adaptively Rebuilt Church

The Spire House is perhaps my favorite of all the adaptively reused churches I found in London.  Originally built as Christ Church Lancaster Gate in the 1850s and 1860s, the building has since been adapted to housing.  As I walked around the building, I thought it might have been one of the ones damaged during the war, but according to a website about the building most of the structure was demolished in the 1970s because of decay and fungus.

The reason why I liked this building was that despite the fact that most of it was demolished, part of it was saved and the rebuilt structure recalls the former design.  I particularly liked the “flying buttresses.”

I agree that there are times when a building can no longer function well, in this case because of decay and fungus, but buildings tell a lot about a society and its history and when they are demolished something gets lost.  The Spire House found a compromise between these two and it tells a lot about the city.  From the way this building was designed, it is apparent that this society is moving forward and changing, but still respects its past and its religion.  There other signs of this throughout the city, such as the church tower in the middle of a road.

Adaptive Reuse of Churches: London

When I started planning on going to London this year, my first idea was to go for a month or so to study the adaptive reuse of churches in that city.  I thought London would be a good place to see a wide variety of adaptions as the UK has been working with the problem of redundant churches for about a hundred years.  As I was pursuing this idea I found a book from 1977 which addresses this problem across Great Britain.  (I have not come across any book publications on the adaptive reuse of church buildings in the US.)  This book “Chapels and Churches: Who Cares?” includes a discussion of what had been done up until that point in time in the adaptive reuse of church buildings.  I compiled a list of 76 different uses that these buildings have been adapted to from the book.  In my observations in the Pittsburgh area, I have seen less than ten types of new use for church buildings with housing being the most common.

There was one factor about the church buildings in London that I found fascinating, perhaps in part because it is not a factor in Pittsburgh, or any US city for that matter.  Many churches sustained damage during WWII and The Blitz.  The churches damaged during the war were demolished, rebuilt, adaptively reused, or memorialized, resulting in some unique (at least to me) situations.

I ended up not going to London to complete a research project on the adaptive reuse of church buildings, but instead went to the city for a few days and explored as much of the city as I could in that time.  This included looking for a few of the adaptively reused churches I had learned about in my preliminary research.  In the process of looking for the ones I knew about and simply walking around the city, I found some other adaptively reused churches.

Busway Bridges: 28th Street

The 28th Street Bridge is one of Polish Hill’s two points of access to the lower regions between it and the Allegheny River, the second is the Herron Street Bridge (see post).  This bridge is also the last pedestrian accessible bridge across the busway before downtown.  Several of the views from this bridge are similar to, but better than, the ones from the Herron Street Bridge.

For instance, the images of downtown from the 28th Street Bridge have fewer non-downtown buildings blocking the view than those from the Herron Street Bridge.

Also, the Children’s Hospital and Choir Loft Condominiums are visible from both bridges, but on the Herron Street Bridge only the tops of the buildings were visible while from the 28th Street Bridge most of the buildings are visible.

Across the river in Troy Hill, another site of contention within the city is visible.  The former St. Nicholas Church pictured above is the sister to the St. Nicholas Church I saw from the 40th Street Bridge (see post), has been vacant since 2004, and has been locked in a battle between preservationists and the parish for over a year.  The parish wants to demolish the building that it cannot afford to maintain and many people have called an eyesore, while the preservationists want to preserve the building.  This summer a county judge ruled in favor of the parish (see article), but the city has threatened to appeal this decision (see article).  The building is certainly architecturally interesting, however it is in a horrible location, smack up against route 28, which I believe provides the only access to the building.

Earlier this summer, when I was talking with someone about my project to walk the bridges of Pittsburgh, he asked me which bridge was my favorite so far.  I hadn’t thought about it before, but when he asked, I decided that the Heth’s Run Bridge was my favorite because its design and its existence called up many questions (see May 31 and June 9 posts).  Now I would say that the 28th Street Bridge is my favorite, despite the fact that it is rusting, the sidewalk is crumbling, and it has the cage-like fence I generally dislike.  I think the bridge is rather cute (if a bridge can be called cute)….Or perhaps I like it so much because it has a stone-lined approach.  I love stone.

Busway Bridges: Herron Avenue

Polish Hill, the neighborhood which is home to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Church I’ve pointed out in some posts (see 31st Street Bridge and A Sidewalk to Nowhere), has only two points of access to the lower ground along the Allegheny River.  These are the Herron Avenue Bridge (above) and the 28th Street Bridge (see post) which cross over the busway and parallel railroad tracks to reach Lawrenceville and The Strip District, respectively.

There are a few sites of interest from the Herron Avenue Bridge.  The first of which is the former Iron City Brewery site, which up until a few years ago was the oldest (and only remaining) brewery within the city limits.  It closed and the site has been vacant ever since.  This summer, it became a site of contention.  The property was purchased earlier in the year by a development company, who this summer demolished some of the buildings on the site.  The site is a designated historic landmark, but the company received permission to demolish one building that was structurally unsound.  As I read it in articles in the Post-Gazette and elsewhere, the company said that when this building was demolished others became unstable requiring immediate demolition.  The Lawrenceville Stakeholders Historic Preservation Committee petitioned the city to site the company for unauthorized demolitions.  At the end of August, the development company was fined $20,000 for the demolitions (see article).  Despite the argument over the demolitions, the company and the neighborhood are supposedly working together to come up with a plan to (re)develop the site.

Also visible from the bridge are two of Pittsburgh’s repurposed churches.  The one in the first picture is the Church Brew Works, the city’s most infamous adaptive reuse of a church building.  The one in the second picture is the Choir Loft Condominiums which have been visible from other bridges as well (see Bloomfield Bridge and 31st Street Bridge posts).

Other views from this bridge show downtown and the busway.

Homestead High Level Bridge

I got off the bus a stop or two before the Homestead High Level Bridge (aka Homestead Grays Bridge).  As I walked down Brown’s Hill Road, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my sidewalk turned into a drain.  From a distance it looked like the sidewalk continued all the way to the bridge as it was the same material and same width the whole way down.  However, at one point it suddenly changed from being a flat sidewalk to a v-shaped drain.  Fortunately it had not rained recently, so the drain was dry and I was able to continue on my way.  If I were a person with a mobility disability trying to get down to the bridge, this would have presented a serious problem. There was no warning for this change and the nearest traffic light was some distance back uphill (because of the traffic level this is not a road where it is wise for any person to attempt to j-walk).  I did not walk on the other side of the road, so I am only assuming that the sidewalk there would be accessible (that is, not turn into a drain).

The walk across the bridge itself was fine.  There is sidewalk on both sides and no fence to cage you in or to block the views.  It was a windy crossing, which reminded me that every time I’ve walked the Highland Park Bridge, I’ve noticed the wind.  It made me wonder if there is something special about the location of these two bridges or if it is merely coincidence that they are windy.  One factor in common between the bridges is that there are the last bridges within the city on their respective rivers when traveling away from downtown.

There are several interesting sites visible from this bridge (most of which are not within the boundaries of the city of Pittsburgh).  First is the view above of Homestead.  In this shot there are five churches visible, just outside the frame are three more to the left and one more to the right, within several additional churches just a little farther out from this core.  I find the close proximity of so many churches interesting first because it is a clear indicator of the past of this town (a major mill town with numerous immigrant groups) and second because about half of these church buildings are vacant or for sale.  It is a dream of mine to create a master plan for adapting these churches to new uses that complement each other, address some of the needs of the town and act as a productive catalyst for lifting the town out of decay.  As I still haven’t figured out what these uses would be or how to implement the adaption, it currently remains a dream.

A project that I’ve heard was supposed to lead to the revitalization of Homestead was the creation of the Waterfront Mall on the former Homestead Steel Works site (originally part of the Carnegie steel empire before being sold to US Steel).  The revitalization plan did not work out and it is popular to criticize the design of the mall and point out all the reasons for this failure.  The most glaring reason is that the roads were designed so that people coming from the city can completely avoid going into the town when going to the mall.

Another negative factor about the mall, which doesn’t necessarily have any effect on the potential to revitalize the surrounding area, is the limited walkability of the site.  It drives me nuts and definitely is a major factor curtailing my use of the mall.  Part of the mall, pictured above, is walking friendly.  However, as someone once pointed out to me, this is where all the expensive stores are and chances are that people shopping here have cars.  On the other side of the bridge and across a couple parking lots are the rest of the shops laid out in a long string of big box stores including Target and the grocery store (which as the same helpful person pointed out are frequented by people without cars).  I have nightmares of the long trek lugging my growing number of purchases all over this site as I travel between stores and then try to find a bus stop that will take me out of this barren landscape toward home (an absurdly difficult feat).

The image above shows the never-ending parking lots along the long string of stores.  From this view it looks far more green than it feels on the ground.  One other aspect of interest is the black shapes above the America flag, which are the abandoned structures of the Carrie Furnace, one of the few remnants from the Pittsburgh region’s industrial and steel past.  I say “abandoned” but this perhaps is not an accurate term as there are plans and efforts underway to use the site.  An August article in the Post-Gazette discusses the efforts of volunteers to save the site and turn it into a museum.  The first half of another article from June talks about development plans for turning the land surrounding the furnace into an office/industrial park.

A final site of interest visible from the Homestead High Level Bridge is the slag heap which is now home to the “Somerset at Frick Park” housing development.  When I get caught up with posting about the walks I’ve done since starting my blog, I’d like to write about some I took before my blog began, including the hike through Frick Park and over this slag heap.  I suppose given my interest in seeing vacant property, including brownfields, within a city reused, I should be pleased with this development.  I think I’m getting a bit hung up on the irony of the site–once a dump site for the refuse of mines and industrial sites, now the site of luxury homes and condominiums.

Roebling and the Smithfield Street Bridge

For several years, I had been under the impression that Roebling has designed/built the current Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. This summer I discovered that while he certainly designed one of the bridges at this location (as well as several others in the city including an earlier rendition of the 9th Street Bridge) he did not create the current structure–here or elsewhere in the city.  The current bridge was built in the 1880s by Gustav Lindenthal.  However, according to Wikipedia, a part of Roebling’s bridge still stands as the piers were the ones built for his bridge.

As I paused in my walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge to take photos of the views off either side, a Segway tour passed.  These seem to be an ever increasing site in downtown Pittsburgh.  While walking around downtown last week, I nearly got run over by a straggler on a Segway who had some trouble navigating the turns.

The Smithfield Street Bridge connects downtown with Station Square, which I believe was one of the earliest industrial sites turned into an entertainment complex in Pittsburgh.  (Later developments of this kind are South Side Works and the Waterfront.)  The Smithfield Street Bridge is probably the most heavily used by pedestrians of any of the bridges in the city.  This is in large part because there is a large parking lot attached to Station Square, which many people who work downtown park in.  I believe downtown workers are also attracted by the restaurants and river trail which can be reached by walking this bridge.  An additional attraction for walking across this bridge from downtown is the Monongahela Incline, the base of which is across the street from Station Square.

I feel like I also hear people talk excitedly about walking the Smithfield Street Bridge as an event in and of itself.  I assume this is in part due to the fact that the sidewalks are nice and wide and there is no mesh fence caging the pedestrians in (see my complaints in earlier posts starting with the Highland Park Bridge, but not perfected until I got to the busway bridges such as the Millvale Avenue Bridge).  A larger part of the reason for this may be the bridge’s location and uniqueness.  One factor distinguishing this bridge from others in the city is the fact that it is basically flat and at street level.  Most of the other pedestrian accessible bridges that cross the rivers have inclines/declines.  Another distinguishing factor is its blue color.  I believe it is the only bridge in the city with this particular deep blue color (the 31st Street Bridge is the only other one I can think of that is any shade of blue).  This is especially significant as the Smithfield Street Bridge is located in the heart of downtown where all vehicular river bridges, except this one, are a golden-yellow color.  The third significant factor about this bridge is its shape.  All the golden bridges are either suspension bridges (see the 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Street bridges) or semi-circular truss bridges (see Fort Pitt, Fort Duquesne, 16th Street, and West End bridges).  The Smithfield Street Bridge is shaped like two close-set, narrow eyes.

To wrap up this post, I’ll just add that I like this view of downtown.  Perhaps I like it because of the smaller scale of the buildings seen here or for the fact that it captures some of the remnants of the old downtown or simply because it makes a nice composition for a photograph.

What do you do with an Empty Pool?…

…Turn it into an art gallery, of course.

As I am preparing to shift the focus of my blog from bridges to adaptive reuse (particularly of church buildings), the timing coincides well with that of a project by an enterprising group of people in Pittsburgh.  The Leslie Pool in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is one of many city pools that were closed in recent years.  A group of people formed the LESLIE Park Collaborative (see their Facebook page) to re-imagine how the space could be used.  The current solution is an outdoor art gallery called Project: Lido.

An announcement for the opening reception on the group’s Facebook page called the event “a pool party…minus the water.”  The reception was Aug. 30, but the gallery will be open to the public on Sundays starting Sept. 16.

“What do you do with an empty pool?” is an interesting question.  It poses different and, in some respects, perhaps greater challenges than adapting a church building to a new use, particularly the fact that it is outside which means it is not easy to use in the winter time.  However, the art gallery is just one of the new uses presented for this pool.  A 2010 article discusses the first event at the Leslie Pool (an Accordion Pool Party) as well as other ideas being circulated at the time.  It will be interesting to what happens at this site next.

Glenwood Bridge

While many characteristics are shared between the Pittsburgh bridges, each has its own unique combination.  The Glenwood Bridge, built in 1966 across the Monongahela, was one of the nicer ones to walk across, but I had a hard time finding a reason for anyone to walk it.

The Glenwood Bridge perhaps has the most in common with the Highland Park Bridge.  Both bridges cross over industrial land uses.  On the north shore of the Monongahela, the Glenwood Bridge crosses over a railroad yard and on the south shore, the bridge crosses over a scrap yard.  The Highland Park Bridge also crosses a scrap yard, but while that one seems to focus on braking up the pieces of scrap metal, the one at the Glenwood Bridge seems to sort it and condense it into cubes.

While the Glenwood Bridge has some similarities with the Highland Park Bridge, there are also some significant differences.  Cars travel very fast across this bridge, but they are much more spread out than on the Highland Park Bridge.  Also, the sidewalk is very broad and clear of debris (a stark contrast to the Highland Park Bridge where the sidewalk looks similar but is narrow and collects debris).  This bridge has the mesh fence that I usually rant against as making me feel caged in, but in this case the fence does not curve inward at the top as many of the others do like the Millvale, Negley and Aiken Avenue bridges.  As a result of the straight fence and the width of the sidewalk, I did not feel caged in on this bridge.

Unfortunately the southern end of the bridge does not live up to the standard set by the rest of it.  Like the Birmingham Bridge, the sidewalk leaves the bridge before its end and goes down a stairway to ground level.  The stairs are not nearly as well-maintained as the rest of the sidewalk.  They are overgrown, broken and covered with litter.  The sidewalk at the bottom only allows one choice of direction for the pedestrian: to go left underneath the bridge.  Following this sidewalk (which is covered in mud and litter in places), the pedestrian crosses another short bridge (carrying a roadway over a roadway) and comes to another stairway in much worse condition than the one above.

This area is a labyrinth of high speed roadways.  The picture above is the second bridge taken from the top of the second stairway.  These stairs lead to a slower speed road that followed inland leads to some residences and followed toward the river leads to Sandcastle or the scrap yard the Glenwood Bridge crosses.

Given the unpleasantness of the southern end of the bridge for pedestrians and the fact that the main use of that area is an interchange for cars between various high speed roads, I could see very little incentive or reason for pedestrians to actually use the nice, broad, clear sidewalk of the Glenwood Bridge.  The only reason I could think of was perhaps if residents of the Hazelwood neighborhood wanted to walk to Sandcastle (the waterpark on the other side of the river).

This lack of purpose for the sidewalks on the Glenwood Bridge is intriguing.  The bridge has two wide sidewalks on either side, whereas the Highland Park and Birmingham bridges have sidewalks only on one side.  It doesn’t seem likely that whoever built the bridge would have wasted money on two such broad sidewalks if they didn’t expect them to be used.  Perhaps when the bridge was built in the 1960s, people still used walking as a common mode of transportation to work.  At that time period, I believe that there was much more industrial work to be found along this part of the river.  I am not as familiar with this area of the Monongahela as I am with parts farther upstream and downstream, but given that in both directions were large steel mills, this part of the river probably also had some mills or other industry.  Therefore the sidewalks might originally have been in high demand as a commuter path.