Getting nebby with Doors Open Pittsburgh

tl;dr: Scroll down for some amazing views.


For two days each fall, Pittsburghers get a chance to be a little nebby (that’s Pittsburghese for nosey) in many Downtown (and North Side) buildings.

Through the nonprofit group Doors Open Pittsburgh, dozens of buildings’ doors are opened to give people access that otherwise is off limits or rare.

I’m someone who loves learning about history (especially local history). I’m not someone who can spout off architecture or architects, though, but I can still appreciate it and understand that development threatens far too much of our city’s history.

With Doors Open Pittsburgh, participants can browse lobbies, theaters, top floors, ballrooms, boardrooms, vaults and so much more!

On the first day of Doors Open Pittsburgh 2019, I managed to get to 10 spots on the tour. (Sounds impressive, but there are something like 50-plus stops!!) I planned to get to a few more, but I got a late start and some places had closed by the time I started my trek.

Some of the spots offered are in the same building. For instance, the tour separately lists the Office of the Mayor, Council Chambers and the City-County Building. It also separately lists the Kopper Building and the Kopper Building Innovation Space.

So, I mapped out my trip for Saturday afternoon, following Fourth Avenue and Grant Street.

On Day 1, I followed Fourth Avenue and Grant Street, taking in a number of buildings along those streets.

The Bank Tower on Fourth was my first stop. I was not aware that Point Park University owned the building. And I also was not interested in walking up 16 flights only to walk back down!

Be sure to scroll through the photos to see more from The Bank Tower.

Among my stops was Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue near Smithfield Street. This building isn’t the bank’s headquarters (that’s on Liberty Avenue), but the amount of history and stunning features inside of it might make you think otherwise.

Also, be sure to check out a surprise photo of who one of the customers of Dollar Bank was! Most of you probably won’t care, but I geeked out when I saw!

I then made my way to the City-County Building. I’ve been here before, but it’s usually been for business, so no time to really enjoy the space. (Sadly, the archives room was full with some kind of apparent tour group, so I wasn’t able to peek inside.)

I also forgot to edit these photos, so they’re all a bit slanted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They all lean left, though, just like Mayor Peduto!

OK, check out this gorgeous view up from the Union Trust building.

OK, so I care about one building more than any other, and sadly, the insides were destroyed and gutted to make way for progress (insert eyeroll emoji). The shell of the building still stands as does its iconic ornate piece.

And while I’m happy to see the building standing, it’s hard to accept it as a total win when very little of the inside architecture remains.

Of course the building I’m referring to is the Kaufmann’s Department Store at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. Since Macy’s closed it in 2015, the building has been turned into a multi-use development that includes apartments, a hotel, a parking garage (that I don’t think is open yet?) and lower level retail.

On a walking group tour last year of Pittsburgh’s old department store scene, I was able to go inside the Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth apartments, which was the old Arcade level – with the Arcade Bakery, candy counter, card shop, etc. The third and fourth floors were gutted to make the lobby massive. But the row of elevators that existed in the department store remain.

On Day 1 of the 2019 Doors Open Pittsburgh event, I noted Kaufmann’s in a few different ways.

First, Kaufmann’s Department Store was a customer of Dollar Bank back in the day.

The bank even had old bank forms from the department store.

At the 2018 Doors Open Pittsburgh, I made a surprise discovery on the 25th floor of the Embassy Suites – you could look at the Kaufmann’s building to see the construction happening.

Last year’s shock was seeing the giant hole cut into the building.

I hadn’t planned to go inside the Embassy Suites this year, but did just to see the view of Kaufmann’s and check in on rooftop construction.

Also, peek-a-boo, clock!

You’ll want to swipe through my Union Trust building photos on Instagram.

Quite possibly some of the most breathtaking views came from the Koppers Building on Seventh Avenue.

On the 29th floor is an innovation center and a rooftop area that offered some amazing views of the North Side and beyond, down Bigelow Boulevard and The Strip, and the Hill District and Oakland.

And, this amazing note in the Koppers Building is rooting for all of us:

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Getting around Pittsburgh ain’t easy

Ever get caught in construction that you either didn’t know about or forgot? We’ve all been there.

One Sunday night several years ago, I was coming home from the Harrisburg area and was excited to be getting off the Turnpike at Monroeville, only to be stopped several miles later in standstill traffic.

What should have been an easy 25-minute ride from the Turnpike to my house ended up taking nearly an hour on a Sunday night.

Or many years ago when PennDOT was screwing with the old West End “Circle” and had squiggly arrows on detour signs that made zero sense.

Admittedly, this sign making the rounds on Facebook isn’t the worst I’ve seen (though, it does send all of the detour traffic the same way, which can’t be good), but it’s still very much so very indicative of Pittsburgh traffic.

But from the looks of it, if you’re going to Mt. Lebanon, you won’t hit much traffic.

Looking at local journalism as the Sewickley Herald marks 116 years

Happy birthday, Sewickley Herald!

For 116 years (Sept. 19, 1903), the Sewickley Herald has served as the record keeper, fact checker and voice of the Sewickley Valley.

I played a small part in the storied history of the Sewickley Herald, serving as a reporter and then editor of the venerable weekly publication for about 11 years.

To say I loved that newspaper is an understatement. The Sewickley Herald and its core mission of providing quality news and information meant such a great deal to me.

I knew my role as a steward of that newspaper was important. Things don’t last that long without passion, pride and commitment.

In a 2013 story celebrating the 110th anniversary of the Herald, I wrote: “Founding publishers J.L. Kochenderfer and James Stinson likely had little idea of the legacy the Herald would carry with it more than a century later.”

By nature of the business, I was part of some pretty big stories impacting the Sewickley Valley — just in my short part of its legacy.

Community journalism sometimes gets a bad rap. Too often, I had then-colleagues snicker at the thought of covering hyperlocal journalism. They didn’t see the value in covering local school board meetings or road paving projects. To them, journalism was about big news in big areas with big crime.

And yet, there we were at the Sewickley Herald, covering bank robberies and business districts, middle school musicals and council members violating state ethics laws.

Thankfully, I’m bad at math, because I would not want to know how much unpaid time I put in at the Sewickley Herald (and in later years at The Signal Item in Carnegie and the South Hills Record — two papers I later became editor of at the same time as I was editor of the Sewickley Herald … doing more with far less).

As time went on, our staffs were slashed. I began with the Sewickley Herald in 2007. At the time, there was an editor (Dona Dreeland), two reporters, a sports editor and a photographer. I was a part-time reporter early on, splitting my time with the Herald and Signal Item (the two papers I would close out my Trib career as editor of).

By the end, we were a staff of an editor (me!), plus a photographer who was split in a million different directions … and a group of freelancers who I owe so much to for helping me look like I had it all together.

And somehow, we still put out quality work, covering school board meetings, student achievements, asking the tough questions and getting in all those local events and briefs.

And somewhere in there we managed to have some fun with (and win several awards for) our online presence/community, photo, news stories, feature stories and sports stories.

Stepping away from the Sewickley Herald was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as much as I love the Herald, I knew it was time.

In my farewell column, I wrote, “As one of the oldest community newspapers still in operation in the region, the Sewickley Herald has documented quite a bit of change across the Sewickley Valley over the years. After all, change is news. And things always are changing.”

I’ve known and understood the role of a community newspaper for years, but I didn’t find quite the right way to articulate it until I was nearly done:

In my 2018 Herald Citizens of the Year celebration speech, I described how the role of a community newspaper is much like the role of a mother.

“The Herald is there to comfort when there is pain, question when there is conflict, and celebrate when there is joy,” I explained at that celebration. Mothers get to the bottom of disagreements between children, can tell when someone isn’t telling the truth, and know everything that happens at home even if they didn’t witness it.

– Sewickley Herald, Aug. 2, 2018

I miss local journalism. And, sadly, locally and nationally, local journalism has drastically changed just in the last year, as more companies seek to squeeze every last penny out of the success of decades old community newspapers.

I ended my 2018 farewell column with a quote from a musical (“Avenue Q”) that I think of every single day: “Everything in life is only for now.”

Sewickley Bridge marks 108 years

We tend to take bridges for granted in Western Pennsylvania. That is, until the span is closed.

Next year should be interesting for people who use the Sewickley Bridge, as PennDOT (finally!) will rehabilitate the span.

But until then, let’s celebrate the Sewickley Bridge, which turns 108 years old on Sept. 19. The current bridge that’s standing is not 108 years old. The second Sewickley Bridge opened Oct. 21, 1981.

And, as I documented in a 2011 story for the Sewickley Herald, the bridge almost didn’t make it into the 1980s. PennDOT wanted to tear it down following the recent opening of the Interstate 79 Neville Island Bridge.

But Sewickley Valley residents, led by Gloria Berry, campaigned and the bridge was saved.

A tugboat crashed into the new I-79 span, leaving no crossing along the Ohio River for miles.

“When they closed the bridge, it was like big red letters — emergency,” Berry told me for the 2011 Herald story. “There was no crossing the Ohio River from McKees Rocks to Ambridge.”

The bridge is an important piece of the culture of Sewickley Valley and the Moon Township/Coraopolis area, too.

“Both sides of the river are connected economically, medicaHy, through education, religion and socially. It was a lifeline for so many people on both sides of the Ohio River,” Berry said.

At the time, PennDOT said about 19,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Read more about the Sewickley Bridge in this 100th anniversary story I did in 2011 for the Sewickley Herald. You can search the Sewickley Herald archives on the Sewickley Public Library website.

Note: I worked at the Sewickley Herald from about 2007 through August 2018.

Kennywood’s Steel Curtain coaster packs thrills, frights, fun into ride

I don’t know if I’ve laughed as much and at the same time been as apprehensive as I was today taking my first ride on Kennywood Park’s record-breaking coaster, The Steel Curtain.

Kennywood offered a first look to media and some very important guests before the ride officially opens Saturday to the public.

Bobby.jpg

Special thanks to my friend Kristina Serafini for capturing this shot of me buckling in for the ride.

In a name that pays homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers and its thrilling run of the 1970s, The Steel Curtain is packed with inversions, corkscrews, speed and thrills that are only for the best football fans in the nation. (There was a woman in a Detroit Lions shirt and some guy in a Cleveland Browns shirt today and I have many questions.)

Check out the stats for this beast:

  • Nine inversions (the most of any roller coaster in North America)
  • World’s tallest inversion at 197 feet high
  • Pennsylvania’s tallest roller coaster at 220 feet
  • Lift Angle: 50 degrees
  • Length: 4,000 feet
  • Duration: 2 minutes
  • Passengers: 24
  • Speed: 76 mph

Several current and former Steelers players had a chance to ride today, including Matt Feiler, whose first attempt didn’t go so smoothly. The 6-feet, 6-inch and 330-pound guy had to have ride staffers configure the seat for him, but it kept him from riding with fellow Steelers players.

In between his first attempt and his actual ride, I talked with him a bit. He told me he enjoys coasters, but it’s difficult to find ones he’s able to get on.

At the end of his ride, he told me The Steel Curtain was “awesome.”

Craig Wolfley, Cam Heyward and John Banaszak were among members of the Steelers family who took first rides.

No Steelers event is complete without “Renegade” blasting and a Terrible Towel wave. The song plays in short snippets as the train heads up the lift hill. And, of course, it was the lead song for today’s press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony for Steelers Country, which is a new themed area that ties two of Pittsburgh’s greatest institutions: the Steelers and Kennywood.

And Bill Hillgrove got the crowed amped with a Terrible Towel wave right before Kennywood Park officially opened Steelers Country’s big attraction, The Steel Curtain. (The park is finalizing other great experiences to be part of Steelers Country, and plan to use the area for a variety of events … some Super Bowl parties would be fun, *hint* *hint* get to the Super Bowl, Stillers *nudge* *nudge*.)

Oh, and, of course there were fireworks! What Pittsburgh celebration would be complete without fireworks? Even if it was like 10 in the morning.

OK, so what about the actual ride, you ask?

I tried to explain the experience in today’s edition of Inside Pittsburgh (which yinz should subscribe to!). But it’s hard to really put into words how incredible this coaster is.

The lift hill slowly pulls you up for as few moments before jutting you to the top. And from there, you’re just taken through the twists and turns of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Steelers D line. (But for those wondering, it is a totally smooth ride!)

From my piece in today’s Inside Pittsburgh newsletter:

The Steelers-themed train offers no enclosure, so riders are left feeling vulnerable — which is part of the thrill. Only a seat belt and lap bar hold passengers in. When I looked to my left, I saw what had to have been the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever seen. The faint sounds of that Steelers amp-up song “Renegade” by the Styx only added to the excitement up the lifthill.

After that, the entire ride was as heart-pumping as the final seconds of a Steelers-Ravens clash, with twists, turns and inversions only fit for the toughest football fans in the nation. The zero-G inversion was thrilling, but there wasn’t much time to enjoy it as we roared into a set of corkscrews. Near the end of the ride is a bump akin to the bunny hops near the end of Phantom’s Revenge.

If you’re heading to the park this weekend or any time soon, hit me up: I’ve got a season pass and will be your ride partner on The Steel Curtain.