Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green: Mar. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction

After introducing my series of Keeping an Eye on Uptown, the CAP, and the Lower Hill, I remembered that Hazelwood is another neighborhood expected to experience changes over the next several years. Between Hazelwood’s main street (2nd Avenue) and the Monongahela River is a 178-acre site of the former Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. Most of the structures from the mill have been demolished, leaving a large brownfield. In 2002, the site was purchased for redevelopment by Almono LP (at the time, an entity made up of four Pittsburgh foundations). After years of planning and a rebranding of the site as Hazelwood Green, a series of public streets and the first building opened for use in 2019. Construction is underway for more buildings and a public plaza.

During the planning and preparation stages, a question arose as to the effects of this redevelopment on the surrounding neighborhood. Hazelwood is one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that has experienced high vacancy rates and subsequent demolition in its residential and business districts. While the building stock of the neighborhood has experienced a long downward trend, the community of people is strong. Only time will tell if the redevelopment of Hazelwood Green will connect with this community or if Hazelwood Green will become and isolated spot of prosperity for others.

Through two more photographic series, Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Green and Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood, I will periodically document the physical changes to the former steel mill site and to the surrounding neighborhood.

Ringing the Bells

A deep, full-bodied gong expanded through the small basement of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, PA, after the docent tapped the clapper against the replica Liberty Bell. Depending on the source, the US government commissioned 53 or 57 replica Liberty Bells from a French company in the 1950s. One was kept in France and the rest were distributed to each of the US states and territories. Most were put on display somewhere in the State Capitals. Pennsylvania was one of the exceptions.

During the Revolutionary War, the Liberty Bell and other bells from Philadelphia were hidden in the Zion Reformed Church’s basement in Allentown to protect them from the British troops. Now the basement is a museum to the Liberty Bell, featuring Pennsylvania’s replica bell along with artifacts from the Revolutionary War. The replica bell is whole with the famous crack depicted by a line drawn with a Sharpie marker. As a result, there isn’t the concern that ringing the bell will worsen the crack and perhaps split the bell in two as there is with the original. Still the docent must tap the bell very gently in demonstrations as it was designed to be heard 20 miles away. In the small basement, the full sound could cause auditory damage.

Most days in Pittsburgh, I can hear the neighborhood Catholic church bell chime the hours. Under the right weather conditions, I can hear a church bell from another neighborhood. The Catholic church is within a mile of my house. The other church is up to 2 miles away. Though I don’t subscribe to any organized religion, hearing these bells gives me a feeling that I am part of a community. The bells of the Allegheny County Courthouse downtown inspire a similar feeling of belonging when they ring at noon and 5:00 pm. These sounds create a shared experience between me and all the other people within earshot of the ringing bell.

The difference in capacity of the Liberty Bell and the bell of the local Catholic church reflects the style of living at the time they were established. In the days of the Liberty Bell, most of the country was agrarian with people spread out on farms often at least 20 miles away from the nearest town or hamlet. Fast forward to the 1910s, when the local Catholic church was established in a growing, dense urban environment. Most parishioners lived in the same neighborhood as their church, not more than a mile or two away. Today, in post-suburbanization US, people live in different neighborhoods or even towns from where they worship or work. In such a world, there isn’t one civic or religious institution that everyone within earshot subscribes to. I am glad to live in a neighborhood where there still is a bell to remind us every so often to look up from our digital devices to see and hear the world immediately in front of us.