This Queen Anne house in McKeesport is probably doomed as soon as the city has the budget to demolish it. Something could be made of it, but it would take a complete reconstruction of the interior, and in a city where the median property value is about $20,000 that is not likely to happen. In Shadyside, it could be profitably restored, but not in McKeesport.
Google Street View shows this house in the same condition as far back as 2007, the first year of Street View. Until recently, another equally decrepit and equally splendid Queen Anne house sat right next to this one, but it was demolished some time after Google Street View pictured it in 2019, possibly because someone was fixing up the baroque mansion on the other side.
In some cities, when spring rolls around, people start to think about their gardens. In McKeesport, the headline is “Spring Demolition Projects Underway.” The story comes from the Tube City Almanac, one of the best local-news sites old Pa Pitt has ever seen, and a worthy successor to the lamented Daily News.
The old Theatre Bar, with its splendid Art Deco ground floor and its eclectic museum of brickwork above, is not on the list to be demolished, but Mikell’s Barber Shop is. “Contrary to rumors, the building did not collapse, but it is being demolished by hand, slowly, to avoid damage to neighboring structures,” the Almanac reports, citing “A.J. Tedesco, city community development director.” If you ever wanted to know what “community development” looks like, here is a picture. The work is being done very slowly: the Almanac article was dated June 5, and this picture was taken three weeks later, but they show the building in the same state, including that pile of bricks coming through the window, which were, we presume, each carefully laid in place by hand, slowly, to avoid damaging neighboring structures.
For many years, old Pa Pitt has admired the front of the Theatre Bar, but each time he was whizzing by on Walnut Street and did not stop to take a picture. This time, with the golden afternoon sun at the right angle, and the half-destroyed state of the building next door making him wonder how many more opportunities there might be before the bar was replaced by a vacant lot, he stopped.
This will not be the last time Father Pitt praises the Tube City Almanac. It has been going for many years now, even longer than Father Pitt’s own site, beginning as a cheeky blog that covered the news the Daily News ignored, and gradually growing to a journalistic institution that employs real reporters and covers the news better than most local papers. It really is “Worthy of All Yohogania,” in the words of its longtime motto—a parody of the Tribune-Review’s “Worthy of Western Pennsylvania.” Its other motto, “More Than a Website—It’s a Community Instigation,” pays tribute to the Daily News, and we’ll talk about the Daily News soon.
Like many ethnic churches, St. Michael’s, a German Catholic church on the South Side Slopes, was the center of a whole village of ethnic institutions. This was a German girls’ school. The building will eventually disappear, but it has sat in this decrepit state for many years now. You can find photographs on line of the wreckage of the once-magnificent interior; old Pa Pitt is not enough of an urban adventurer to risk trespassing charges and serious injury to bring you such pictures himself.
Perhaps in an expensive neighborhood this building would find a use, but this neighborhood is not likely to become expensive enough to repay the several million dollars it would probably cost to rescue a school of this size.
Curiously, the girl’s school was much larger and more magnificent than the boys’ school. That building, next door, was clumsily and unsympathetically converted to apartments some years ago; the conversion itself is already showing its age.
Unlike its neighbor, the Knoxville Presbyterian Church, this little Gothic church has no one to cut down the weeds and the Pittsburgh palms. It is already half-swallowed by jungle, and it may soon be nothing more than a roughly cube-shaped lump of vegetation. Wouldn’t it make a fine studio for some ambitious artist?
At the back of the South Side, where the Flats meet the Slopes, two railroads once ran above the level of the streets. One is still one of the busiest rail lines in the city. The other has been abandoned, leaving rusty skeletons like this. In dreamy moods, old Pa Pitt likes to imagine how this right-of-way—only three short blocks from Carson Street—could be repurposed for a South Side El that would connect to the subway at Station Square.
Emerald View Park is a catch-all name for a string of parks ringing Mount Washington. In the section off Greenleaf Street are many remnants of at least one old house and some other constructions. Since old plat maps show nothing precisely here, this may have been dumped debris from a demolition nearby. Now the forest is taking over, but sections of brick wall and tile floor make surreal additions to the woodland scene.
The Tom the Tinker Trail runs beside a gurgling stream through a narrow valley in the Kane Woods Nature Area. The trail is named for a fictional character in the Whiskey Rebellion: farmers who paid the whiskey tax would receive threatening notes signed “Tom the Tinker.”
Yes, there is a manhole cover in the middle of this idyllic scene. A sewer line runs down the hill through the stream valley.
All through the woods we can see evidence that there was once a little community tucked into this narrow valley. Above, a ruined foundation clings to the side of the gorge.
Mysteries abound in a city when it’s had two and a half centuries to accumulate them. This old foundation in West End Park has obviously been here for a while. How old is it? The land for the park was bought in 1875; was this a little farmhouse from before that time? Father Pitt would be happy to hear from anyone who knows more about the history of this structure.