Canning: Before McDonalds and I-279, Niederst’s ruled

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Grace Period is in the building where Neiderst’s once stood. (Photo by Kaitlin Balmert)

Sometimes as Northside neighborhoods are renamed and reconfigured, it is a challenge to wrap your head around the new labels.

This came to mind recently when I read an announcement of a ceremony and program being planned in Historic Deutschtown. The event focused on plans to preserve and transform a 19th century four-story building at the corner of East and East Ohio streets.

The building was identified as the gateway to the East Ohio. Many long-time Northsiders remember this venerable building as Neiderst’s restaurant.

They might recall when that particular corner was not a gateway but the very center of the East Ohio Street business district.

For folks living in the east Northside neighborhoods (East Deutschtown, Spring Garden, Spring Hill and Troy Hill – the intersection of East and East Ohio was probably as significant as the intersection of Federal Street and North Avenue. The East Ohio Street site was once known as Niederst’s.

There are now a few well-frequented breakfast spots on East Ohio – the Victory and Lillens – but, in its day, Niederst’s ruled!

The WPA authors of the 1940 “History of Allegheny City,” gave special recognition to Niederst’s. I’d like to imagine the group of folks who produced that work spent many mornings in one of the restaurant’s booths discussing what bits of Northside history or folklore would find its way into their book and what other bits would be left for later generations to discover.

There was an almost “old world” ambiance in Niederst’s that enabled folks to have one more cup of coffee so that the conversations could go on and on.

Morning at Niederst’s was a scene of many East Ohio businessmen getting together prior to opening up their offices and shops. Groups of salesmen would begin their day over coffee before heading out to the distant northern suburbs.

Growing up in the far reaches of Brighton Heights, I recall my mother’s cousin Weezie, who taught at Schiller, telling us about a meeting a few fellow teachers from East Park School and Schiller to schmooze a bit over coffee at Niederst’s before heading off to their respective schools.

All of this, of course, was under the watchful eye of the Grand Dame of the place, Mrs. Marcella Neiderst.

This place buzzed from early morning well into the evening. Neiderst’s special sandwich menu preceded the era of McDonald’s golden arches.

Those sandwiches, the Niederst #1 and #2 along with legendary homemade pies kept the place busy until 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

Plans for the construction of I-279 brought on the rapid decline of Niederst’s. When the Niederst Building was finally sold, Mrs. Niederst, who had lived for decades on the floors above the restaurant, moved away and settled at St. Ambrose Manor in Spring Hill.

Subsequent attempts at businesses were short-lived. East Street, for the most part, became a side street to 279 and  an off ramp. The interstate itself became like a Berlin Wall       in the heart of Deutchtown.

Recent work on the Neiderst Building have uncovered a few remains of the decor of the old restaurant. It would be a great find to locate some interior photos of the place. Perhaps this project will indeed be a new gateway to a reenergized commercial core. That same energy that characterized the hustle and bustle of Niederst’s during its glory years.”

Read more about East Ohio Street improvements and the Deutschtown Gateway Project here!

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