Saturday, November 10, 2012
Over the past couple of weeks, excitement has grown not just between us, but among family, friends, and co-workers who have learned of the project. Admittedly, the interest provides early validation that our concept is worthwhile. Then again, even without that, we’ve agreed that we’re in it for the long haul. The experiences will continue to enhance our appreciation of our great city and that’s at the core of what we’re doing.
It was a special event, once again, that drew us to our second neighborhood, Regent Square. Derek was scouring for a lead on a second neighborhood to visit when it clicked. Early November is time for the Three Rivers Film Festival in Pittsburgh and, being that we had never attended 3RFF (how embarrassing), it made sense to tie it into our new 90 Proof project. We’ll get to that event later, but we knew it took place, partially, in Regent Square.
On this second excursion, we were joined by close friends Lexi and Joe, who just so happen to share in our passion for Pittsburgh’s unique character. It’s also important to point out that Joe was the mastermind behind the 90 Proof title to the project. Thanks, Joe No! What would we do without our Golden Bear?
Listen. If you happen to be tackling a project about Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, you should start with places that make clear sense because, well, this one was a b!#$% to understand! Here’s the deal. Regent Square is indeed one of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods, but Regent Square doesn’t belong exclusively to the municipality that is the City of Pittsburgh. Only 1/4 of it does! All in all, the neighborhood belongs to four different municipalities – Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Swissvale, and Wilkinsburg.
We’re not sure if this is a characteristic unique among the city’s neighborhoods, but time will tell. We decided it was important to capture the neighborhood as a whole, so we extended ourselves beyond the city limits to see all that Regent Square had to offer.
Like with our first neighborhood, Highland Park, we had spent a limited amount of time in Regent Square previously and, in much the same way, were familiar with only a single attraction in the area. “Highland Park = zoo. Regent Square = D’s SixPax & Dogz.” That was our thinking pre-90 Proof! Luckily, there was another fortunate similarity between our first neighborhood visit and this one; we learned that there was plenty more to celebrate and there was no question that this, too, was another proof of Pittsburgh’s greatness.
A Little History
Regent Square had two starts. First, in 1863, Judge William Wilkins acquired a 650-acre piece of land and had another Wilkins, William Clyde Wilkins with whom he had no relation, plan what was then known as the Devon Plan. The plans were first recorded in 1872.
A few decades later, the Devon Plan was expanded and acquired by William E. Harmon. It was Harmon who renamed the area Regent Place and, eventually, Regent Square. Today, we can see how the “Wilkins” names are tied to today’s landscape, but there was another name ingrained in the Regent Square footprint – “Westinghouse.”
We’ll surely run into more of George Westinghouse’s sphere of influence during our journey through the 90 neighborhoods, but it’s interesting to note that he encouraged some of his employees to build homes in this area. Today, some of these grand homes stand alongside others that were built for the blue collar worker. All of them look beautiful, though, set back from century-old tree-lined brick streets. Check out a more thorough take on the history, here.
It’s easy to love neighborhoods that can offer a little bit of everything, namely a feeling of the great outdoors up next to modern urbanity (Kim thinks Derek’s a “jagoff” for using this word). Regent Square does just that. It’s a safe bet to say that Frick Park provides the truest and most well-preserved outdoors area within city limits. While we were tempted to explore all near-600 acres, we reigned in our desire and opted to cover just the portion of the park included within the neighborhood’s boundaries. The rest will be explored on future stops…ahhh…can’t wait!
Frick Park is Pittsburgh’s largest park and its eastern end serves as the western border to Regent Square. Its beginnings stem from the generosity of Henry Clay Frick (or his spoiling parental nature), who gifted the land to his 17-year old daughter in 1908. He offered his daughter anything she wanted for her “debutante” party that year and her request was for her father to create a place where all of the city’s children could enjoy nature. We’re just glad she didn’t ask for a brand new model-T because we’re still reaping the benefits of this gift!
Our favorite attraction in Frick Park, at least within Regent Square, is Nine Mile Run. The stream is named after its approximate distance from the confluence of Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers. Only 1/3 of the stream actually flows above ground. The stream and the watershed association that oversees it are absolutely fascinating. They’re so fascinating and so important, in fact, that we’re going to type the next two sentences in big font so you can’t ignore it:
Nine Mile Run represents one of the largest urban stream restoration projects in the United States and serves as a model for others like it across the country. Guided by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the initiative is one of the most successful aquatic ecosystem restorations in the nation’s history.
But what does that mean? Let’s look at the problem so we can understand the significance of the solution.
If you’re like us, you might not understand the detrimental impact that typical rainwater can have on an urban community that is ill-equipped to handle it. Much of the “upper watershed,” or, neighborhood area above the stream, is comprised of impermeable surfaces (think sidewalks, roads, and other hard surfaces that can’t absorb rain). Here, a relatively small amount of rainfall can be enough to pick-up harmful materials like oil on roads, garden fertilizer, and landfill items before surging into storm drains. The “lower watershed,” or, the stream itself, can have erratic changes in flow as the water rushes in from the drains. The foreign substances and resulting stream bank erosion have a devastating effect on the ecosystem.
So, how do you fix something like that? 1) Get help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 2) educate the people.
The restoration effort, completed in 2006, added more curves and big rocks to help slow the flow of the stream. Native plants were also reintroduced to the area. In terms we can understand, that helped slow the bank erosion and bring back some harmony. So, that’s the fix to the lower watershed, but it takes complete participation from the people of the upper watershed to provide a permanent solution.
Residents in 1,400 upper watershed homes are participants in the “rain barrel initiative.” These folks have attached rain barrels to their gutter run-offs to, again, slow the flow into Nine Mile Run and divert the rainwater into their own gardens. Additionally, residents in-tune with the issue plant trees to help absorb the water. We now understand that mature trees can hold back 3,000 – 4,000 gallons worth of rain!
So, what can you do?
First, we hope you’ll watch this video, brought to you by WQED. It’s where we got educated. Then, if you’re a resident in the upper watershed or know someone who is, get involved with the rain barrel initiative; plant a tree; or, if you’re a Wilkinsburg resident, have a tree planted for you by the Borough! We’ll even supply the link. Check this out!
Beyond Nine Mile Run, we’ll mention just a couple of other highlights of our time in Regent Square’s Frick Park. We’ll save the rest of the coverage for an adjacent neighborhood!
The overriding feel of the area is one of complete freedom and relaxation. We ran into nearly a dozen friendly dogs, happy to be walking with their owners off of their leash and sniffing their way down the winding paths. Everyone had a smile on their face, though the 70-degree day in November helped that cause. Just off a walking path, we found a wide-open field occupied by a number of Ultimate [Frisbee] games. Young adults lined the sidelines cheering on their teammates in action.
Dogs aren’t the only ones in luck in this neck of the woods. Tennis players are, too; we hear there aren’t too many red clay courts around and the recently restored courts here are beautiful.
The Theater and Three Rivers Film Festival
We returned to our car mid-afternoon to swap our mud-covered boots for comfortable kicks to carry us through the rest of the day. The next stop was the attraction that pulled us to Regent Square to begin with, of course, and it was a great feeling to already feel fulfilled by the neighborhood before what we thought was the main attraction. The Regent Square Theater was built in 1938, purchased by Pittsburgh Filmmakers in 1999, and has served as a single-screen neighborhood theater up through today. It has plenty of character and there’s no wonder it played a role as one of three theaters in the 31st annual Three Rivers Film Festival this month.
We checked out just one of the 3RFF’s 50 movies shown between November 2nd and 17th entitled The Law in These Parts. The alarming documentary included a series of interviews with Israeli military personnel who imposed a judicial system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where countless Palestinian suspects have been tried, often times with biased judgement and horrific consequences. We’ll save the details and link you to a trailer and more information here.
Maybe the mark of a good day is to feel enlightened and to have fun. Regent Square gave us both. The park and film enlightened us and the food and drinks took care of the rest! Let’s see if you can start to see any trends in our neighborhood visits…
The first stop for the four of us was for coffee! Katerbean Coffee Shop on South Braddock Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag, was the obvious choice. We hear there’s another shop in town, too. You locals will have to let us know if we made the right choice, but we were pleased. Joe, Lexi, and Kim grabbed some various lattes and Derek selected a coffee with scorching hot steamed milk. How hot? See below.
The caffeine provided the kick-start we all needed to walk the streets and park in order to soak up the feeling of life in Regent Square. Then, after said walk, it was time for some other fuel.
Hot diggity dog! If you have the chance to spend any time at all in Regent Square, do yourself a favor and patronize this absolute gem. Well, it’s an absolute gem if you like imported and American craft brew and some of the finest gourmet hot dogs in Pittsburgh. There was no way the four of us weren’t hunkering down for a bit at D’s.
Among the menu items being passed among the four of us was:
- The Chihuahua (Vienna beef)
- The Chicago (Vienna beef)
- The Angry Tiki (Vienna beef)
- Nachos (Kim thinks she’s consumed less than 5 hot dogs in her lifetime…”blah!“)
- Blue Point Wet Hops Experiment (x3)
- Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale
- Church Brew Works Pumpkin Stout
After lunch, we headed to The Beer Cave, which includes a walk-in cooler with beers from all over the world and a sizable shop with even more choices for take-out.
Our dogs were barking after a stroll through the neighborhood’s streets, and even a stop at an antique shop nearby, so we decided to catch a rest at The Map Room. What’s the draw? A cartography theme. And, here, you can find a nice selection of draft beers, including a few local ones from East End Brewery and, most importantly, really old Trivial Pursuit cards that you can take to the outdoor sidewalk seating area.
“Alma goodness.” – Joe
We wrapped up our full day in Regent Square at an intriguing dining spot in the City of Pittsburgh zone of the neighborhood along South Braddock Avenue. Alma is owned and operated by James Wallace, who also runs East Liberty’s Ethiopian restaurant, Abay. Alma claims to offer dishes from Latin American countries with an emphasis on African-influenced items.
Homemade Argentian-style sangria made it to the table first while we all combed through the menu options. Lexi led the way with Torrejitas de Frijolitos– legume cakes with collard greens, black-eyed pea fritters, and sweet plantains. Kim selected the Sándwich de pollo chiludo con aguacate– a pulled chicken sandwich with avocado prepared like it would be in El Salvador. Joe opted for the Rabo de buey con papas fritas caseras– a Puerto Rican take on braised oxtail with a potato side. Derek went with the Plato vegetariano con quinua y ensalada de choclo – quinoa with choyote (a squash/zucchini relative) and asparagus.
Other Neighborhood Odds and Ends
A few other spots worth mentioning:
Once we understood the scope of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, it made sense that an environmental charter school had sprung up in the area. It is the first environmentally-themed public school in the City of Pittsburgh. Check out their site to learn about their unique approach to education.
This non-profit organization has been the hub for civic engagement for 30 years. The Regent Square Civic Association, one of the primary resources of knowledge for our neighborhood visit, is housed here, along with neighborhood race hosts Run Around the Square.
Beyond serving as a home base for these civic leaders, the WSCC offers a myriad of classes from dancing to pie-baking.
If you’ve made it through this blog post, we’re sure you see the proof already. Regent Square offers something for everyone and undoubtedly serves as one of 90 proofs of Pittsburgh’s greatness.
We enjoyed our day, happy to have been joined by Lexi and Joe, and will have our ears to the ground about what’s next for the neighborhood. We hope that the upper watershed continues to take great strides in revitalizing the Nine Mile Run area. Actually, on that note, we should point out a kind stranger who guided us along our way!
When we were first looking for access to Nine Mile Run, a gentleman (Dave?) in his best bright-blue overalls was returning to his vehicle. It was obvious he had just spent a few hours working in the outdoors. Beyond pointing us in the direction of the stream, he informed us that he and his friend had spent the morning planting trees to help revitalize the area. Well, thanks, Dave. We appreciate it and so does your community.
We hope you’ll set aside some time to visit some of these attractions and enjoy all that Regent Square has to offer.