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North Side and the Allegheny Valley

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Immediately opposite downtown Pittsburgh on the north bank of the Allegheny River is the district called North Side. (Local city planners are attempting to substitute the loftier “North Shore,” but to date the term has not stuck.) This was originally Allegheny City, the most ambitious settlement of the early days of western Pennsylvania. Some correspondence survives between surveyor David Redick, on the site, and Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, but why Redick based his 1788 design on a New England model is not documented. The urban grafting worked surprisingly well, however, and the basic square-doughnut shape of Redick's town can still be seen. The central square carries institutional buildings as Redick planned, among them the Children's Museum ( AL74) and a Carnegie Library ( AL75). The surrounding eastern, northern, and western strips of common grazing ground are still verdant as small parks, and the housing stock in the outlying blocks remains for the most part intact. Just the southern strip of green on the river side is lost. Its fate was sealed when the Pennsylvania Canal cut its right-of-way immediately south of Allegheny in 1832; after the canal ceased operations in 1852, the Pennsylvania Railroad laid its tracks on the same alignment.

Allegheny City provides a cautionary tale against the advancement of metropolitan government. As the settlement prospered, it annexed Manchester and other contiguous towns. Then, in 1907, the comeuppance: it was itself ensnared by Pittsburgh, and then decayed for three-quarters of a century. What saved the North Side was historic preservation of residential and commercial properties in the 1960s, especially in the dozen blocks known as the Mexican War Streets ( AL76). Along with its many handsome streets and hundreds of the best middle-class homes in Pittsburgh, the North Side is now a museum mecca. The Children's Museum ( AL74), Carnegie Science Center ( AL68), and National Aviary (1952, Lawrence Wolfe, with additions; West Park) present traditional museum fare, and the Andy Warhol Museum ( AL67) and the Mattress Factory ( AL77) exult in the contemporary and experimental. The North Shore Center and Allegheny Landing Park (1984, UDA Architects, with R. Jackson Seay Jr., landscape architect), bounded by Isabella, Federal, and Sandusky streets and the Allegheny River, combines one of the nation's first urban sculpture parks with an early attempt to exploit the recreational benefits of the city's waterfront for a commercial development. The threeacre park, containing a fountain, and sculptures by Ned Smyth, Pittsburgh's George Danhires, George Sugarman, and Isaac Witkin, lies between the riverfront office blocks and is an integral part of North Shore Center, in addition to being an important selling point to prospective tenants. A gently sloping meadow between the offices and the river also functions as an amphitheater, and overlooks the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and docks. Upriver on the Allegheny is a mixed and fascinating landscape of raw industrial satellites (Millvale and Etna), boating marinas, and the leafy suburbs of Evergreen Hamlet, Fox Chapel, and Oakmont.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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