Oakland Bridges: Blvd of the Allies

The Blvd of the Allies was one of Pittsburgh’s grand public works projects from the 1920s. It rises from downtown, passing along the backside of Uptown and cutting through South Oakland before wrapping up in Schenley Park.

Four bridges enable the Blvd to make its mark on Oakland. Under normal conditions, only one of these bridges is pedestrian usable.

The road makes a flying leap into Oakland on the Boulevard of the Allies Bridge. On the South Oakland side, the Blvd enters a commercial corridor that begrudgingly gives pedestrians a place on a narrow sidewalk that abruptly begins (or ends) at the edge of the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, the Blvd is a mess of highway interchanges, so pedestrians are not welcome to utilize this bridge to go anywhere.

At the other end of the commercial corridor, pedestrians are invited to cross the Charles Anderson Bridge over Junction Hollow and into Schenley Park. (This bridge is also featured in Oakland Bridges – The Hollows.) However, once in the park, pedestrians are pushed away from the Blvd as it changes names and before it cruises through the Park.

The next two bridges are related as one is over the pedestrian route and one over the vehicular route to the recreational facilities of Schenley Park. These facilities include a pool, ice skating rink, disc golf course, tennis courts, and a track. The bridge over the pedestrian route is a small affair to cross over the pedestrian tunnel. The other is a slightly longer overpass over the two-lane segment connecting Panther Hollow Road and Overlook Drive. Neither the tunnel-bridge nor the overpass are open to pedestrians – except during the annual Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, which I once took advantage of for some photographs.

Oakland Bridges: The Hollows

Oakland is a cluster of Pittsburgh neighborhoods east of downtown. It has the highest concentration of institutions and cultural amenities in the city. It is home to Carlow College, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), multiple UPMC hospitals, the Phipps Conservatory (Phipps), Schenley Park (the second largest city park), and the Carnegie Institute complex (housing the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the main Carnegie Library, and the Carnegie Music Hall). Most of these as well as much of the commercial and residential parts of Oakland were built on a shelf. The hospitals, part of Pitt, and some houses climb the slope toward the Hill District. Some houses also spill over the edge of the shelf, down into the hollows.

Several bridges span the Junction and Panther hollows in Oakland. The Forbes Avenue bridge connects CMU to the Carnegie Institute complex and one of the commercial districts. The Schenley Bridge connects Pitt and the Carnegie Institute complex to the Phipps and Schenley Park. The Panther Hollow Bridge spans a second hollow to connect the Phipps with the rest of Schenley Park. The Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge carries the Blvd of the Allies over Junction Hollow. A fifth bridge without pedestrian access carries 376 over the hollow. This bridge can be partially glimpsed from the Anderson Bridge, but its presence can be clearly marked by the traffic’s rushing whoosh that carries up the hollow.

By the Forbes Ave and Schenley bridges, Junction Hollow has an industrial feel. The railroad is mostly exposed at these points (further down it is surrounded by trees, shrubs, and other overgrowth). There are also several parking lots and CMU houses some of its facilities functions along the hollow. By the Schenley Bridge, a massive electrical substation was recently constructed across from the historic (and active) steam factory.

The Panther Hollow Bridge provides a completely different feel as its hollow is 100% park. It is the only one of these bridges that does not cross over the railroad and is therefore the only one without a cage. A small lake with walking trail is visible on one side (with the railroad beyond a row of weeds). The other side overlooks a forested hillside and valley floor. Hawks and/or falcons can often be seen gliding over this hollow.

The Anderson Bridge overlooks Junction Hollow at its most parklike point, but it has a less peaceful feel than the Panther Bridge. A combination of the almost-highway Blvd of the Allies, the bridge’s height above the hollow, and its pedestrian fence make the bridge feel isolated from nature when walking across.

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Inspired by my post from this summer, I decided to start a photographic series of Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. This neighborhood is a hodgepodge of abandoned and renovated townhomes, parking lots, car-oriented businesses, corner stores, industrial uses, and new construction residential buildings. It is predicted to be on a tipping point from being mostly ignored to experiencing intense growth fueled by activities in and around the neighborhood. These activities include:

  • UPMC Mercy hospital is currently building a 410,000 sq ft vision and rehabilitation center in the middle of Uptown.
  • The Penguins hockey team is supposed to be finally getting off the ground with their redevelopment of the Lower Hill neighborhood, which is adjacent to Uptown.
  • June 2019 saw the groundbreaking for the CAP project to reconnect the Lower Hill to Downtown over the freeway that bisected the two in the 1960s.
  • The Bus Rapid Transit system currently in the planning stage will one day connect Downtown and Oakland through Uptown.

As these projects move forward, there will likely be more investment and changes to Uptown. This photographic series is intended to capture these changes by revisiting the same sites at regular intervals over the next several years.

In the coming months, I intend to release two related series to record the progress of the CAP and the Lower Hill redevelopment.

Moral Economics

The strongest impression from my last trip to Cardiff was the feeling that it is morally wrong to invest heavily in touristy neighborhoods while skipping the neighborhoods of the residents. Tourists may provide a bigger return per touch point, but residents have many more touch points (including voting). Perhaps I have become jaded since that trip, but I now accept that economics and morals rarely work together.

Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood is trying a different approach to see if economic investment can be leveraged for the greater good. Uptown experienced disinvestment and decay for decades, despite being located between and within walking distance of Oakland and downtown, two of the largest economic engines in the state. Not to mention the main roads connecting these prosperous and growing areas run directly through Uptown. Zipping down Fifth Avenue from Oakland to downtown, it is easy to overlook or ignore the ruined home foundations turning back to forest, the wide-spread vacant lots and parking lots, and the intricate architectural details on the remaining old structures.

Former Rialto Theatre

The bland brick and glass facade on Fifth Avenue identifies this building as another mid-century warehouse. Turning the corner, the decorative parapet wall and bricked over arched opening tell the story of an older, more interesting building.

One such structure was one of the many movie theaters dotting the city in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the adjacent buildings were demolished, and an addition was added to the theater to turn it into a storeroom. After a time as a plasma center in the 1980s and 1990s, the building sat vacant and dusty for many years. Now, it is undergoing renovations for its next life. This is just one of the many signs that investment is coming to Uptown.

The community of Uptown that held on through the economically rough times prepared for this moment. In collaboration with many partners, including local institutions such as Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy as well as the City of Pittsburgh, the community created a new neighborhood plan. This designated Uptown and West Oakland as an EcoInnovation District. One of the first actions from this plan developed a new zoning district, the first progressive zoning district in Pittsburgh. The goal of the plan and the zoning district is to leverage the coming economic investment to create an inclusive and environmentally sustainable neighborhood.

It will be interesting to watch this neighborhood over the next few years to see if the plans are successful at introducing some moral components to the economic investment.