The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

new paradigm

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, after dealing with an all day drive in one horrific rain storm on November 30th, we had finally made it out of NYC. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself had now “officially” picked up stakes, and moved westwards some 400 miles to the pretty City of Pittsburgh. On our first night in the new climes, we decided to head out for a fancy pants celebratory dinner. Pictured above is the Smithfield Street Bridge along the Monongahela River, which I spotted while heading out for the meal.

First up in 2023, let me explain a thing or two – for the last 13 years, whenever I was assigning a title to a post here at Newtown Pentacle (and a lot of people have asked about this over the years, which I’d usually refuse to answer) I’d flip open a book of HP Lovecraft’s short stories and find some random two word phrase on the page and use that for a title. The titles were thereby absolutely random and had zero to do with the rest of the post. As of 2023, that conceit is done, and going forward the titles of the postings here will be representive of what’s going on in the post, and act as an actual “title.” Second thing is that since I no longer have a deep background understanding of what I’m looking at, or writing about, as I did in NYC, you’re invited to come along with me as I discover the wonders of this new place.

Odds are I’m going to get stuff wrong (particularly at the start), or misinterpret something I’m hurriedly researching. If that’s the case, and you know better, I’m begging you to share your knowledge in the comments or by email, and educate not just a humble narrator but everybody else reading this publication.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fancy pants restaurant we ate at is found in the old “P&LERR” or Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Rail Road building found nearby the Smithfield Street Bridge. This structure is an anchor for a post industrial redevelopment operation they’ve got going on there which is dubbed “Station Square.” The restaurant we ate at was called the “Grand Concourse” and it was a pretty great dinner. The building, and in particular, the restaurant space we were in, has been restored beautifully to its 19th century glory, and is ultra well maintained. A “cathedral of capitalism” indeed.

That’s another thing that’s going to be a bit different moving forward which I’d like to mention. When Newtown Pentacle first appeared, I made sure that links to sources and “primaries” were included in the narrative. Over the years, as I ended up becoming more and more the de facto “authority” on the subject of Newtown Creek (in particular), these posts became a lot more conversational and colloquial and I would just throw down a statement without any backup or external link. There came a point, somewhere around 2015 or 2016 that I just decided you could “take my word for this.” Also, particularly over the last couple of COVID years the posts here have transformed into a sort of journal for whatever I was up to, where I was going, or to explore whatever governmental hi-jinx I was privy to and able to discuss publicly. That’s also over, as far as this being a “journal” type site. I’ve got too much to learn here.

The way I learn things involves photographing, researching, and writing about them. Pittsburgh is largely a mystery to me, and you’re invited along on the journey as I try to figure it out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ve moved into the Borough of Dormont in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. I truly wish I could explain the complicated governance structure they’ve got here, but I find it truly bewildering at this moment. The “City of Pittsburgh” versus all of the annexed or incorporated municipal entities which are part of it but have their own separate governments, and elected officials, is something I still haven’t wrapped my head around. A good way to understand any municipality, I think, is to look at how they organize their Cops and Fire Departments.

On a related side note to that statement, we got to Dormont just as the Fire Dept.’s of Dormont and its surrounding communities were staging a holiday parade which – of course – I had to go photograph. As you’ll see, there’s lots of local Fire Departments.

Last time I was in town, I started a conversation with a couple of Pennsylvania State Troopers and asked how “Cop things” worked here. I explained to the officers that my lifetime experience was with NYPD, wherein 38,000 Police Officers work under a common command structure, rules, and academy training. The PA cops – after asking me to confirm again that NYPD’s active duty force numbers 38,000 (to which their jaws dropped open) – said that there are several local colleges which offer a curriculum in Law Enforcement. Upon graduation, you’re either recruited by or apply to one of the many City Police, State Police, or Sheriff departments in the area. What’s confusing to me is that whereas there are similarities in uniforms, equipment, and vehicles, I’ve noticed the different flavors of Cop hereabouts do things very differently from each other – operationally speaking. It’s all very confusing, really.

Pictured above is one of the features that made Dormont attractive to us, which is a street car line called the “T.” The vast majority of “getting around” here revolves around automobiles, but the T is fairly well used. I like the concept of not having to drive when I don’t want to.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the view from the backyard deck of our new digs in Dormont, where it is quiet and dark at night. The first night we were in the new house – which hosts not just a dishwasher but a washer and drier AND one of those refrigerators you see on TV that does cold water and crushed ice, with a driveway and garage which are all mine – a deer walked into our yard and gave us a once over look before huffing it’s nose and wandering away into the darkness. This is what 4.3 miles from the titular center of the City, and four blocks from that street car line, look likes here.

Our Lady of the Pentacle was anxious to take part in an event going on in that downtown city center mentioned above a couple of days after we arrived, and we packed into the car. I had zero interest in this event, so I dropped her off at the Convention Center where it was being held, and then I headed eastwards along the Allegheny River or “North Side” to explore a bit on my own.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Freight rail regularly transits through Pittsburgh, and by Springtime I plan on having a mental map of where these tracks are, and what travels on them and when. I also have to figure out a “system” as far as shooting photos with a car involved. This is a whole new world for me, not sweating how I’m going to shave a half pound out of my camera bag because I’ll have to carry it on my back for eight miles of walking.

My explorations have been both limited and enhanced by the amount of “have-to’s” involved with setting up housekeeping here. Pittsburgh is full of surprises, and it pays to lift the occasional stone to see what’s crawling around underneath it. While seeking out a Walmart to buy groceries and a few things we needed for the house from, I inadvertently found myself atop “Brown’s Dump” in the community of West Mifflin about 20 minutes from Dormont. Wow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting thing I’ve noticed in this post industrial City is that it has a lot of available land. That land might be historically poisonous due to the heaviest industrial footprints you can think of – steel mills, petrochemical and gas manufacturing, all of that – but there’s a lot of it. What that abundance of land means is that there’s virtually no financial imperative to build “up” as you would in the NYC area, and thereby businesses tend to build out horizontally. The Walmart SuperCenter in West Mifflin mentioned above, for instance, could easily house both Kings Plaza and the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst within its walls. That’s one store, mind you, in a complex of similarly airplane hangar sized buildings purposed towards big box stores, such as the aforementioned Walmart SuperCenter or Sam’s Club and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I spent the late afternoon trawling about Pittsburgh, looking at stuff, making notes to return to certain locations, and causing concern for various security guards about the weird guy in a filthy black raincoat waving a camera around, while Our Lady did her thing.

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 2, 2023 at 11:00 am

Posted in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh

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3 Responses

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  1. So if I had to guess, the confusion about the Borough of Dormont and City of Pittsburgh mainly comes from two things: First, as you mentioned, would be the 130 municipalities within Allegheny County, and the overlapping services and responsibilities between the city, the boroughs, and the county. (For example, the fact that the City of Pittsburgh provides residents of the Borough of Wilkinsburg with fire response and schooling comes up frequently in conversations about annexation.)

    Second is my hunch that your mailing address is “Pittsburgh,” even though you live in a borough that is not in fact Pittsburgh. WESA had a good piece about this a few months ago So if you are writing Pittsburgh on your envelopes, that’s probably the most Pittsburgh-y thing about your current residence. Most everything else should be Dormont-y, I think.


    Jon Hanrahan 815.307.6462

    Jon Hanrahan

    January 2, 2023 at 12:13 pm

  2. […] new paradigm […]

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