Friday, August 18, 2017

Pittsburgh: Mexican War Streets

Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, they say, and it's true. The part of the city north of the Allegheny River was originally called Allegheny City, until it was annexed against the will of its residents in 1907. One hundred and ten years later, they still resent it, it seems, and people from the original parts of Pittsburgh (south of the Allegheny and north and south of the Monongahela) don't seem to know much about the area except that the Steelers and Pirates have their stadiums there.

Just north of the Pirates ball park is an area called the Mexican War Streets. To an outsider like me, it started out as just a colorful name, derived from its street names, which generally refer to Mexican War battles or generals. But it's also a great example of human scale and historic preservation, originally built between the mid- and late 19th century.

This poster for the area's 48th-annual home and garden tour gives a flavor of what you'd see if you walked its narrow streets:

When I say the streets are narrow, I'd guess they varied from a bit less than 30 feet wide (with parking on both sides) to what the rest of us would call an alley, maybe 12 feet wide, with no parking and steps jutting out from the the doors. These passages also had street signs and house numbers on them, and alternated with the wider streets.

The houses vary from one to three stories, with most at two stories. Brick and wood, with just a bit of stone, are the predominate building materials. I love the green shutters inside the upper windows on this house:

(Sorry for the bad light on that shot.)

There's lots of painted brick as well:

This tiny garage with apartment above is not typical, but very cute:

The few business buildings I saw had all been converted into housing, which is unfortunate:

This one contained at least three housing units, though, so at least they're making good use of the space.

As I walked the streets, I found it was common to see a single word attached to the houses, at least few times per block. Mostly they are three-dimensional and screwed into the walls:

But some were window clings:

I don't know what these are about or how this trend got started, but it was fun to see.

A few more details from the area:

Some beautiful lettering accompanying an ornate doorknob.

Stone-carved street numbers, predating the use of sand-blasting as a technique.

And finally, just a funny scene I saw: a Blue Apron food delivery box was left outside a blue door. The note in the window above the white doorknob says, "Please put packages inside door. Thank you." Oops.

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