Year in Review: The top Chronicle stories of 2023
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
Another year has come and gone, as we say “goodbye” to 2023 and move on to 2024.
While New Years often has people looking towards the future, it is also a time to reflect and look back over the past year to measure all the changes we’ve gone through and all the accomplishments we’ve reached.
In the spirit of that concept, The Northside Chronicle is taking a look back at our most popular articles of 2023, measured by their pageviews on our website. We’ve picked out one article for each month, so enjoy this trip down the news of 2023 as we close the book on the past year.
January: Northside Chronicle announces photography contest
The past year has seen a lot of change over here at The Chronicle. We changed our front page, adjusted to a new website and more.
But perhaps one of our biggest changes was the launch of our quarterly photography contests!
These contests have proven to be very popular, especially our cutest pet contest, which garnered 40 entries and nearly 200 votes.
However, our first contest proved to be more humble than that. We started out with the theme of “Family Traditions,” and received only two entries. It was Bill and Ellen Sellner, of Deutschtown, who took the win in that contest, with a black and white photo with their grandkids.
We’re planning to keep up the photo contests as long as you keep sending them in. By the way, we just announced our latest contest in this very issue, as well as the winner of our “Spirit of the Holidays” photo contest. So be sure to find the announcement article to get the full contest rules.
February: Punxsutawney Phil visits the Northside
Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog, paid a visit to the Northside last January, making his appearance at Threadbare Cider.
The groundhog was the subject of the front page photo of the February edition, bringing with it all the views his fame demands. Despite the picture only having a small caption accompanying it, it was our most viewed feature from the February issue.
The visit wasn’t all just for fun. Threadbare had also launched a commemorative beverage to accompany the appearance. The drink’s name? Phil’s Burrow Cider.
Incidentally, Phil saw his shadow last year and predicted six more weeks of winter. Only time will tell what his prediction this year will be.
March: Town Talk: Pizza! Pizza! Not your typical pizza chains
Last year saw the launch of our new column, Town Talk, in which Anna Yoder pays a visit to local businesses and organizations to highlight their services.
Many of these columns have proven very popular, but only one was the most popular of its month. In March, Yoder visited several local pizza shops to savor their cheesy wares.
The featured businesses included Riviera Pizza & Pasta, Badamo’s Pizza and Lillen’s Pizza & Restaurant.
Yoder looked at the history of these three restaurants, how they differ from other pizza places and the character of their owners. It was perhaps this in-depth reporting which led to the column being so popular.
Or our readers just really like their pizza.
April: Max’s Allegheny Tavern used as shooting location for Freevee series ‘American Rust’
Max’s Allegheny Tavern is no stranger to showing up in television and films, and it received another opportunity to do so in 2023.
The historic Deutschtown business was used as a filming location for the Freevee series “American Rust” for the show’s second season last year. The show is a crime drama based on a book of the same name written by Philipp Meyer and airs on Showtime.
Previously the tavern appeared on the true-crime series “Manhunt” and the movies “An American Pickle” and “A Man Called Otto.”
The tavern has a long history stretching back to the 1800s. Originally the building was a grocery store, then it was turned into a hotel in 1860, renamed in 1903 and finally became the tavern it is now known as in 1977.
Tavern owners Doug and Kelly Diegelman said they enjoyed having the film crew over for the show, despite describing it as “a lot of work.” In fact, both said they would be happy to do it all again.
Maybe we’ll see Max’s Allegheny Tavern in film again in the near future.
May: City plans replacement of Chestnut Street bricks, rail removal
May’s most popular story was a rare case of one article containing both good news and bad news.
The good news was that Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) had come up with a plan to renovate Chestnut Street, one which would involve the laying of new bricks. For a road that had become uneven and a very bumpy ride, this was a welcome announcement.
The bad news was that the renovation work would have to involve the removal of the street’s historic streetcar rails, some of the last remnants of Pittsburgh’s former streetcar system.
The announcement was made at a public meeting on April 13 which many Northside residents attended. It was during this meeting that members of the audience suggested the rails be preserved in some manner, possibly as an art installation alongside the renovated road.
Work has since begun on the renovations — much of the street is currently closed for construction — but the city did listen to those suggestions to save the rails in some way, shape or form. On the project’s Engage page on the city website, DOMI announced it was partnering with Industrial Arts Workshop to “give the tracks new life in an educational and community-oriented capacity, including exploring the option of a public art installation.”
Meanwhile, the first phase of the work is expected to wrap up in early 2024. A second phase will take place sometime this year and, depending on funding, a potential third phase will occur in 2025 if needed.
June: A familiar comeback: The return of Wilson’s Bar-B-Q
Summer 2023 saw a great return for the Northside, as Wilson’s Bar-B-Q reopened in a new location after burning down in 2019.
While the restaurant’s opening didn’t take place until August, The Chronicle spoke with owner Ira Lewis and his family in June about the restaurant’s history and a look into what the new version of the restaurant would look like. One could think of it as a preview.
Wilson’s first came to the Northside in 1970, becoming a staple of the local restaurant scene, well known for its ribs and chicken.
It was in November 2019 that the fire struck, starting at the pit where all the meat was smoked and quickly consuming the restaurant, which was then located at North Taylor Avenue.
The new version of Wilson’s, at 2615 Perrysville Ave., does its grilling outside, hoping to prevent another such fire from striking.
July: Construction begins on new local grocery store in Manchester
“Manchester, and the whole Northside, is a food desert,” Lisa Freeman told The Chronicle in an interview in June.
That’s a problem Freeman is seeking to solve with a future grocery store she is opening in Manchester. The article on the upcoming store was our most popular story for July, perhaps attesting to the need for such a business.
Freeman runs Freeman Family Farm, an organization that brings Northsiders together to make local produce and raise chickens, as well as a member of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency State Committee.
Her upcoming grocery store is funded through a $175,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, specifically through the agency’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to help “bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities,” according to a press release.
The grocery store, once completed, will measure 82 square feet with outdoor seating and an outdoor garden. Freeman also told The Chronicle she plans to have online ordering as well as a potential delivery service to help customers with mobility issues.
August: The Northside: A neighborhood known for its little-known views
During 2023, The Chronicle was fortunate to work with freelance photographer Matthew Koscienski thanks to a grant the newspaper received.
Koscienski took many photos for The Chronicle, fulfilling multiple assignments from event coverage to file art usable with multiple stories.
When Koscienski’s time with the paper was coming to an end, we gave him one final assignment: a freeform column about his favorite views of the Northside. He was allowed to take pictures and write about any areas of the neighborhood he wanted.
Koscienski evidently has a good eye, as his column was our most popular article for August. His views included the Fineview Overlook, the Gerst Way walk path, the intersection of Federal Street and Lafayette Avenue, and more.
All told, he was able to produce some truly stunning photographs and perhaps give Northside residents an appreciation for some of the unique views they’re able to see from their home neighborhood.
September: Creating ‘Pictures of the Future’ at Riverview
As fall began and the new school season got underway, The Chronicle took a look at “Pictures of the Future,” a major art project at Riverview Park seeking to highlight multiple aspects of the park’s history.
The title itself is taken from a quote by Thomas M. Marshall at the inauguration of the park in 1894.
“Within its broken hills, nooks, dells, and secluded spots, the young can whisper into each other’s ears and can draw pictures of the future without either paint or brush,” Marshall said.
Perhaps appropriately, this art project largely doesn’t involve paint or brushes. Instead it involves multiple metallic disks that will be placed on heritage trees within the park, trees that have been there since the land was proclaimed a park back in 1894. As well, a fallen tree has been carved into a replica of the columns on the Allegheny Observatory façade, and saplings grown from park heritage trees will be planted in the park using dibble bars made with iron from a meteorite.
The project is headed by artist collective Sans façon and Steve Gurysh, and is scheduled for completion in spring 2024. A launch of the project is planned to coincide with Arbor Day celebrations this April.
October: Northside Pumpkinfest is back!
Following on the heels of Wilson’s reopening, 2023 saw another major comeback as Northside Pumpkinfest returned for its 29th year.
The typically annual festival was put on hiatus after its 2019 iteration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Barbara Burns, co-founder and head organizer of the festival, was unsure if it was going to return. However, members of the community kept clamoring for its return, and she agreed to put it on for at least another year.
Pumpkinfest got its start in 1991 and was formerly called Deutschtown Pumpkinfest. Burns created the event alongside Carole Annis, who ran a sister event called Brightwood Pumpkinfest. Both were school directors with Pittsburgh Public Schools and had wanted to put on a children’s festival in October which wasn’t necessarily centered around Halloween events.
While there was a bit of a rain delay — Pumpkinfest 2023 was planned for Oct. 14 but was pushed to Oct. 15 due to weather — the event’s return was a success, and Allegheny Commons Park was filled with children picking out and decorating their favorite pumpkins.
November: I’ve got the power (of attorney)
The Chronicle publishes many columns by elected officials, including Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson and state Rep. Emily Kinkead. These columns are not rare.
What is rare is that one of them proves to be our most popular article for a month. Such was the case of Magisterial District Judge Leah Duncan’s November column, which focused on non-attorney advocates or representatives, people who are not lawyers who represent another person or entity in a court case.
Judge Duncan looked at the legal backing for such representatives, some situations in which they may occur and how they are given “Power of Attorney” in these cases.
For all the apparent fans of Judge Duncan, she has another of her columns featured in today’s issue. So read on and we’ll be sure to publish more as we receive them.
December: County Executive-elect Innamorato speaks at NCDF luncheon
It was an election year in 2023, one which proved oddly contentious in Pennsylvania despite it not being a presidential election.
One of the major races was for Allegheny County Executive, which saw Democratic candidate Sara Innamorato take on Republican candidate Joe Rockey.
Innamorato would win that race in a close election.
The story of that race was not our most popular article of the December issue. Instead, it was about the Neighborhood Community Development Fund (NCDF) luncheon, at which Innamorato gave her first post-election speech.
The event, held on Nov. 17 at Rivers Casino, is an annual showcase of the work of the NCDF and the businesses it supports. Innamorato, during her speech, talked about many of her economic and social service priorities for her administration, including a desire to make a county-wide version of the OwnPGH Homeownership Program — which supports first-time homebuyers in Pittsburgh — and making it easier for homes to be built in the county.
The NCDF also reported its best year yet in terms of lending at the event, including 112 loans equating to $7.3 million in money lent.