The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 20th, 2021

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first thing I wanted to do in Pittsburgh was eat Breakfast, but I didn’t have a plan for that. My plan for the day involved the Allegheny River side of the Iron (or Golden) Triangle. “Iron Triangle” is the colloquial name I’ve inherited for the delta shaped landform shaped by the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela rivers but I’ve seen and heard Pittsburgh people say “Golden Triangle.” Pittsburgh has just over 302,000 residents within the actual city limits, but the Pittsburgh metropolitan area (Pittsburgh is the seat of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County) on the other hand boasts some 2.37 million citizens. The lay of the land here is fascinating, with the river delta providing a low point in relation to several very, very steep valleys and prominences. Individual neighborhoods in Pittsburgh can often be separated from each other by deep ravines and wooded valleys, even though they’re the equivalent of what New Yorkers would call “a couple blocks away”

That’s the Roberto Clemente Bridge above, which I crossed over to the northern shore of the Allegheny via. The bridge leads to the PNC Stadium, where the Pirates play baseball. All along the bridge, you’ll observe padlocks inscribed with names. Some of these are memorial in nature, whereas others indicate loving bonds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my targets for the Pittsburgh trip was exploring the Three Rivers Heritage trails adjoining the post industrial waterfront. When you’re talking Pittsburgh, United States Steel and the American Bridge Company need to be mentioned. My first thought after hearing “Pittsburgh” is “Andrew Carnegie” but in the case of those two companies it was NYC’s own JP Morgan who created them. Frick and the other robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century were at least partially based here, and their industrial setups persisted well into the 1950’s, even though they were diminished and impoverished due to the meddling of the Rockefeller and Morgan people back in NYC. By 1962, when Pittsburgher Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was published, it had become obvious that some other use for the abandoned industrial waterfront had to be imagined. Pittsburgh was abandoned by its largest employers, the air and water were highly polluted, and a plan was hatched to change things. It took a while, but today Pittsburgh is consistently ranked as one of the best cities to live in not just the United States but the entire world.

What we did in NYC, with faced the same situation, was simply this – nothing. We allowed our abandoned industrial waterfront to blight into areas for junkies and scalliwags to inhabit, and then we declared these areas off limits and designated them “brownfield opportunity areas” to ease the transfer of the property from well greased public to greasy private hands, while dealing out a bunch of tax breaks to smooth out the creation of luxury condominiums for the wealthy to inhabit. Like the Romans, we created a holocaust and declared peace here in NYC, and “forgot” to clean up the environmental stuff until the rich people were living on top of it. Pittsburgh followed a different path, although they have condos too, but they’re not the dystopian glass boxes that serve as dormitories for corporate staffers and european tourists which loom over Long Island City and North Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and hand jobs here in Pittsburgh. They have plenty of problems, with decaying building stock left over from their glory days as the “Steel City,” when the population was nearly double what it is now. Entire industrial sectors which once employed thousands are simply vanished, leaving pensionless workers behind. There’s environmental gunk in the ground and water, huge industrial campuses that need to be dismantled and environmentally remediated – all that. This section of the country isn’t called the “Rust Belt” for shits and giggles.

It was right across the street from this old church that I found a fantastic off the maps diner, seemingly frequented by the locals, which served me a fantastic breakfast. I don’t normally eat a heavy breakfast, but given what my plans for the day were – I figured that I’d earn the eggs, bacon, orange juice, and blueberry pancakes by the next time I’d be taking a break. After getting fed, and having drank a yard arm of coffee, the camera was fully deployed and a humble narrator got busy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Heinz factory complex was on my shot list for the day, and just happened to be a couple of blocks from that humble diner. The weather and atmospherics in Pittsburgh are exceptionally changeable. Literally every hour of the day while I was in town, the sky was dramatically different than it been an hour before or would be an hour after. As is my habit, I had watched the weather report on TV local news for a forecast, and warnings about a powerful system of thunderstorms heading for the City abounded, so an interval spanning the 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. time period seemed like an excellent time to be back in the AirBNB and sheltered. Good, a deadline.

It was a warm day, and Pittsburgh is characteristically humid to start with given its riverine valleys topography. Luckily, I had carried warm weather clothing with me as well as cold weather garments. I would end up needing both on this visit, and was particularly glad that I had an umbrella tied onto my camera bag as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Heinz factory was converted over to residential uses a few years ago, offering rental apartments and lofts. Considered to be sky high prices in the Pittsburgh rental market when it opened in 2005, the original price at opening for a 1 bedroom was $825 a month, and a 3 bedroom with a fireplace, terrace, and river views would have run you $2,725 a month. That’s turned into $1,655-$2,280 for a one bedroom in 2021, and a two bedroom will run you anywhere between $1,769 and $3,308 today. Their website doesn’t list any available 3 bedrooms. My understanding of the Pittsburgh Real Estate situation is that it’s actually a lot smarter to own than rent in this area, and that the “market” mainly involves free standing or semi attached homes rather than apartments or condos. A McMansion in a desirable suburb might cost you between $500,000 and $750,000, but the average price of a home is just under $200,000. What that means is that there aren’t that many rental units available.

Saying all that, I’m not from here and was just visiting for a couple of days. What do I know? I’m just a wandering mendicant, with a camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Herr’s Island Railroad Bridge pictured above, which is part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. The Western Pennsylvania Rail Road Company built the thing in 1890, which allowed them to cross over rail yards and properties owned by the B&O Rail Road to Herr’s Island – which I understand to have once been where you’d find animal stockyards and cold storage warehouses. The Pennsylvania Rail Road absorbed West Penn in 1903. By 1970, parts of the bridge had already started to be removed, and by post industrial 1990 it was a relic of an earlier era. In 1999, as part of the creation of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the development of Herr’s Island as a mixed use residential and business district, the Herr’s Island Railroad Bridge was pedestrianized and connected to the north side of the Allegheny River.

More tomorrow.

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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2021 at 11:00 am

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