25th Anniversary Issue: The Northside’s cultural landmarks


Allegheny Library

Although the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh may be the “main” branch, the Allegheny Library opened five years earlier in its former building in Allegheny Center on Feb. 20, 1890.

“In many ways the library is the heart of the community,” said Director Barbara Mistick. “It brings a greater sense of community. You have a better sense of knowing your neighbors.”

In April 2006, the original Allegheny Library was struck by lightning, leaving it with millions of dollars in damage. At the same time, the Woods Run branch in Brightwood was undergoing renovations, leaving the Northside without a library.

Luckily, Mistick said, other branches were able to pick up the slack, and the nearby Downtown branch experienced a rise in patrons until the Woods Run branch reopened in August 2006.

Because of the high cost of repairs and the inflexibility of the original library building, CLP decided to build a new library on Federal Street, which opened in August 2009.

Although Mistick didn’t yet have circulation figures for the new Allegheny Library, she said the first month it opened exceeded both visitors and circulation of the old library.

“That serves as a great testament to the anticipation” for the library to re-open, she said.

Allegheny Observatory

The University of Pittsburgh-owned Allegheny Observatory has a rich and storied history that current Director David Turnshek hopes to preserve. Although the observatory currently holds an open house each year in the fall, as well as a free Friday-night lecture series during the winter, Turnshek would like to find funding to offer more community programs.

Because of the observatory’s — and its telescopes’ — age, Turnshek said that most of the University of Pittsburgh faculty are more interested in state of the art technology like the Hubble Space Telescope and larger refractor telescopes in newer observatories.

But that doesn’t mean the observatory that used to keep accurate time for the entire U.S. railroad network is obsolete.

“We’re interested in using modern equipment,” he said, “but at the same time the history of the Allegheny Observatory is so powerful.”

Turnshek said the Astronomy Department is working on projects that they could do with the almost 100-year-old telescopes they have, and that he would love to start an after-school program, money permitting.

“We’re operating on a shoe-string budget,” he said, but hopes that between student use and community programs, the Allegheny Observatory can continue making contributions to science.

The Andy Warhol Museum

Open since 1994, the Warhol is more than an art museum. Director Tom Sokolowski said in addition to art exhibitions, the Warhol hosts bands, a happy hour and other events, and provides a “cultural experience” to locals and out-of-towners.

The museum has partnered with the Children’s Museum and the Charm Bracelet Project on community projects such as Allegheny Voices, an audio history project completed by an eighth-grade class from Manchester Academic Charter School in 2009.

“What I find interesting about the Northside,” Sokolowski said, “is that it’s a place that one cannot easily give a demographic for.”

In other words, it’s impossible to define a Northside neighborhood by one word, like “rich,” “artsy” or “run-down.”

“That makes it a sort of interesting place, and that’s what the museum’s about,” he said.

One of the Warhol’s goals is to welcome many different groups and people into their “family,” and Sokolowski thinks that the Northside is a great place to do that, especially because of the strong cultural backgrounds of each individual neighborhood.

Carnegie Science Center

As the largest museum on the Northside, the Carnegie Science Center brings in 500,000 visitors per year. Co-Director Ron Baillie said that the Science Center, which grew out of the old Buhl Planetarium and Science Center, was meant to be a symbol of Pittsburgh’s future as a center of technological innovation.

The museum’s new Highmark SportsWorks center opened in December, and Baillie said the old Zeiss Mark II projector from the Buhl Planetarium, most likely the only left of its kind, will go on display in July. The Zeiss has been a point of contention, both when the Science Center decided to close the Buhl Planetarium and when the Children’s Museum incorporated the building into its 2004 expansion project.         

The Science Center, built in 1991 before most other North Shore developments, works closely with area schools and kids, and in 2003 was the first Pittsburgh museum to win the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor an institution of that kind can win.

“We work closely with [schools] to build programs that will be supporting what they do in the classroom,” Baillie said.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

As the winner of a 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, and with over 220,000 visitors per year, the Children’s Museums is an important community anchor for the Northside.

The museum took up residence in the old Allegheny Post Office building in 1983, and expanded in 2004. The expansion connected the old post office to the Buhl Planetarium, which closed in 1992, with a new, Silver LEED-certified glass building.

Aside from somewhere to take the kids on a day off, the museum actively interacts with the community through various programs, including the Charm Bracelet Project, a summer concert series, afterschool programs and by sharing space with other important organizations like the Saturday Light Brigade – a family radio show.

“The Children’s Museum is part of this community, so we need to make sure we do our fair share,” Executive Director Jane Werner said.

City of Asylum

The ex-patriot, exiled and persecuted international writers that take up residency at City of Asylum don’t only accept the organization’s charity — they become a part of the community and engage with it in significant ways. An example of this is the “house publication” project on Sampsonia Way, which involves renovating houses with creative, literary facades.

City of Asylum has hosted 70 visiting artists and writers since its inception in late 2004, as well as the wildly successful Jazz Poetry Concert.

“This provides a really ongoing and articulate thinking relationship,” founder Henry Reese said about the writers and their adopted Northside neighborhood. “The community is really part and parcel of what we do.”

Reese said he wants City of Asylum to be a “bridge” between the Northside and the international community, and that it serves the important function of making people think about and value their freedoms.

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

Through its Youth and Arts and Jazz programs, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild gives community members a way to connect to their neighbors through art and music.

Bill Strickland founded the Guild in the 1960s while he was still in college, and in 1972 when he took over operations at the Bidwell Training Center, made the Guild a part of the Center. The current facilities opened in 1987, the same year the Jazz program began.

“The guild provides sort of an alternate social network for teens,” said Joshua Green, vice president of operations for the Youth and Arts program.

The Guild’s afterschool programs give teens and youth a chance to explore their creativity in an environment in which they are respected and can guide their own educational path, Green said. “This sense of self-worth translates into other aspects of their life.”

Similarly, the Jazz program, which hosts about 50 concerts per year, has served as a community focal point, as well as a platform to promote good things going on in Pittsburgh’s Jazz scene. Executive Producer Marty Ashby said music recorded at MCG has won four Grammy Awards.

The Jazz program also hosts 3,000 third-graders from the Pittsburgh Public School system each year in one of its educational programs.

“I think the concerts over the 24 years have really served as a gathering point,” Ashby said.

The Mattress Factory

Because of the Mattress Factory’s unique campus-like set up — it has a main gallery, an annex gallery in a different building, artist residencies and an office building with educational facilities — visitors are forced to interact with the Northside in a way visitors to other museums are not, said spokesperson Jeffrey Inscho.

“It’s not like they get out of their car, go look at the art and leave,” he said. “They’re walking around the streets.”

The first exhibition in the old mattress warehouse on Sampsonia Way opened in 1982. Now, the museum also holds a Community Art Lab, where Northsiders can learn how to make different types of art from professional artists, and has run an artist-school partnership with local elementary schools. The artist residency program has supported over 300 artists, many of whom have lived and worked onsite.

“The Northside really makes the Mattress Factory what it is,” Inscho said.

The National Aviary

Aviary Director of Animal Programs Steven Sarro summed up the bird zoo’s purpose nicely: “We provide a wonderful opportunity for local visitors as well as national and international visitors to interact with birds.”

After nonprofit Save the Aviary, Inc. took over operations from the city in 1992, U.S. Congress conferred honorary national status on the Aviary. It expanded in 1996, and is currently working on a new, three-phase expansion. The first phase, Penguin Point, opened to the public in May 2009, and phase two’s indoor theater will allow for bird shows year round when completed.

Each year, the Aviary attracts over 100,000 visitors, and Sarro said that its history and position in Allegheny Commons made it a cornerstone of the Northside.

New Hazlett Theater

In November 1999, the Pittsburgh Public Theater picked up and moved Downtown, leaving a performing arts void on the Northside.

“Because the community had had a performing arts space all through half the ‘70s, all through the ‘80s, all through the ‘90s, it was part of the fabric of the community,” said New Hazlett Theater Executive Director Sarah Radelet.

Shortly after the Pittsburgh Public Theater vacated the space, the city government stepped in and took over, forming a sort of arts collective with local groups and providing funding to keep the venue open.

The Northside Leadership Conference worked to get a permanent group in the space, and in 2006, after $2 million and six years of renovation, the venue opened permanently as the New Hazlett Theater.

“It creates a lot of traffic and lively activity, during day-time hours and evening hours,” Radelet said.

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