#4 – Squirrel Hill South

Friday, December 1, 2012 & Saturday, January 6, 2013

The Preparation

Ahhh.  Back in the saddle!  It was a longer-than-anticipated break for us through the holiday season, but we enter 2013 more committed than ever to 90 Proof!

We resume work in our home office, which is now transformed into a legitimate 90 Proof Headquarters with a couple pieces of art.  Thanks to Meredith and Paulie Anne for these inspiring gems!

90 Neighborhoods

90 Neighborhoods

The Buildings of Pittsburgh

The Buildings of Pittsburgh

Before we started the project, we stated in our story that we’re doing all of this for two reasons – to come to know our beloved city better and to spread love for our city among those folks who may be less familiar with its unmatched character.  Now, with each passing visit (and we’re only on #4!), our passion for the journey heightens; we become enamored by new discoveries in these endlessly unique neighborhoods and people in our lives respond with a sense of rejuvenation or excitement because they feel more connected to a very special place.

Our latest proof of Pittsburgh’s great character was uncovered in Squirrel Hill South.  Get comfortable before you read on.  Get a drink.  Hit the bathroom.  Hunker down.  We have A LOT of great things to share!

Location

Have you ever seen one of those hypothetical maps of Alaska overlaid across the contiguous United States of America?  It’s a huge state.  Squirrel Hill South is kind of like that.  Okay, it’s not quite like that, but it must be the largest neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh.  In fact, it took us two full days of exploration to experience the neighborhood thoroughly.

It’s bounded by 9 surrounding neighborhoods and, at its southern tip, the Monongahela River.  It contains the majority of not one, but two, of the city’s four major parks – Schenley Park (west) and Frick Park (east).  Each park is bulging with fascinating sites and stories and sandwiched between them is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.

Squirrel Hill South

Squirrel Hill South

Enough History to Get You Acquainted

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition explains the neighborhood’s history most eloquently.  They suggest that its delayed development, which occurred no earlier than “well into the 1800s” due to transportation challenges from already-settled areas nearer the Point, benefited the modern neighborhood.  Specifically, the stunted growth reserved green spaces for what would become Schenley and Frick parks.

There was a settlement in the 1760s along the Monongahela River border called Summerset (today, there’s a stately, and still-developing, residential plan called Summerset at Frick Park in this same area…we’ll get to that later).  Residences were also scattered north of the Mon in areas that, today, are part of Schenley and Frick parks (evidence of which still exists and we’ll get to that later, too!).  Eventually, a business district developed in the southern area.  Through the 1800s, though, the neighborhood’s central business district shifted north to meet the development of Oakland and Shadyside.  Today, that’s the intersection of Murray and Forbes Avenues – the hub of activity in Squirrel Hill South.

Day 1

Like with the past few 90 Proof visits, we targeted Squirrel Hill South after learning about a special activity happening on a day we just happened to have free.  We usually check out Visit Pittsburgh’s calendar of events before we hone in on our neighborhood target and, really, we’d encourage everyone to do that often just to stay abreast to current happenings in the city.  It’s one of our most-used resources.

We still can’t believe the event that drew us to Squirrel Hill South, though.  Kim heard about it through an underwriting spot on WYEP-FM and, then, after searching online, found details at fellow-Pittsburgh-loving-blog, IheartPGH.  Believe it or not, we went orienteering.  “Huh?”  That’s what we said, too.

Orienteering in Frick Park

Orienteering is an international sport.  It’s sort of like a scavenger hunt, except it’s a race through unfamiliar outdoor territory – like the woods in Frick Park – and there are no aids (no smartphones!) other than a compass and a detailed map of the area.  For some, like us, this was just a beautiful walk through the woods with a goal in mind – find eight “control points,” which are the target locations that must be found using only the map, compass, and intuition.  We let the others race.  We just soaked up the experience casually.

Where the Frick is the next Control Point?!

Where the Frick is the next Control Point?!

The event was organized by the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club, which was founded in 2003 on IUP’s campus.  Staff welcomed participants at a pavilion and provided varying levels of instruction as needed.  Some folks showed up in special clothing with their own compasses and equipment; they clearly didn’t need an introduction to the sport!  We looked like beginners, for sure, in our jeans and with our puzzled stares trying to figure out how to use the compass to read the special map.  Luckily, a WPOC staffer gave us a thorough introduction to the concept and, suddenly, we felt like we could discover our own New World.

Despite a brief wave of confidence, we ran into some obstacles:

Kim thought she knew where she was going, but Mother Nature got in the way...

Kim thought she knew where she was going, but Mother Nature got in the way…

Derek just had no clue...

Derek just had no clue…

The WPOC hosts a number of events throughout the year in different regional parks.  Apparently, this was the first event in Frick Park because they had only recently developed the special map of the area.  We imagine it requires a great deal of technology and time to piece it together so intricately.  Check it out:

Red circles = control points (objectives); black lines = trails and roads; dark green to bright gold shading = range of "impassable" to "open field" areas; contour lines = changes in elevation

Red circles = control points (objectives); black lines = trails and roads; dark green to bright gold shading = range of “impassable” to “open field” areas; contour lines = changes in elevation

There’s much more to discuss about Frick Park, but we’ll get to that a bit later!  At this point, we were hungry!

Mineo’s Pizza House

Mineo's Pizza House, est. 1958

Mineo’s Pizza House, est. 1958

After several hours in the Frick Woods Nature Reserve, the only thing we could think about was trying this famous pizza held so highly by so many.  Could it really be that good?

The answer is, most certainly, yes.  There’s a reason that the walls of Mineo’s Pizza House are adorned with “best in the city” awards from almost every media outlet you can imagine and for each consecutive year of our lives.  This pizza is the real deal.

We hoped to experience it the way it is meant to be experienced, so we admitted to the guys at the ordering counter that it was our first time.  A huge grin stretched across the face of the gentleman taking our order and he shouted at the rest of the crew, each busy with tasks in the kitchen, “newbies!”  He guided us toward the traditional pie, which is what we had in mind anyway, so that we could enjoy the essential and award-winning recipe.  We ordered an 8-cut and split it half-plain and half-pepperoni.  While we waited, the same worker brought out one thin slice of their white pizza, just so we could get a taste of it.  It was scrumptious and, though the pie itself would prove to be enough to make us believers, a move like that only helped solidify our respect for and enjoyment at this Pittsburgh landmark.

Traditional...half plain and half pepperoni (under the cheese)

Traditional…half plain and half pepperoni (under the cheese)

There isn’t anything particularly unique, at least at a glance, about this pizza.  It’s not exceptionally thin or thick, there’s a normal crust-to-cheese-and-sauce ratio, and the cheese looks like any other.  The taste, though, was enough to make us giggle.  It’s so fresh.  It’s so perfectly balanced.  It sets a standard, we’d agree, in what a traditional pizza should be.  Eating Mineo’s pizza was a complete joy.  Check it out if you haven’t already and let us know what you think!

Jerry’s Records

"We've been selling records for 33 1/3 years..."

“We’ve been selling records for 33 1/3 years…”

As if having one Pittsburgh institution on Murray Avenue wasn’t enough, someone decided it was necessary to open what Rolling Stone magazine called one of the best record stores in the entire country right down the street.  That someone was Jerry Weber of Jerry’s Records.

This place is a must-see not just for vinyl fans, but for absolutely anyone.  The 2nd floor store houses an incomprehensible number of records – something like 1 million according to the shop’s website.  Walking inside for the first time can take your breath away.

So many records...so little time...Derek didn't know which way to go.  He was moving around so fast he was a blur.

So many records…so little time…Derek was a blur trying to figure out which way to go.

Check out this fascinating story from November 2012, covered by the Post-Gazette, about a recent discovery of a very rare Robert Johnson record.  Be sure to watch the video on the left side of the screen.  We’re so regretting not knowing about this until after the new year.  We could have sat in on a Saturday afternoon and listened with Jerry!

61C Cafe

61C Cafe

61C Cafe

There are a number of coffee shops in Squirrel Hill South, but we opted to visit this one with a bold and inviting facade.  61C Cafe is named for a Homestead-McKeesport bus route that runs by the shop.  It was packed full of folks – individual students, couples, and families – both inside and outside on the adjacent patio.  We enjoyed a very good cup of Joe, to-go, but took note of the comfortable environment and welcoming personalities of the staff before shuffling back out to Murray Avenue.

90 Proof subscribers might remember our stop at Regent Square’s Katerbean coffee shop, along with friends Joe and Lexi, last fall.  Well, to bring things full circle, we just learned that the Katerbean was for sale and owners of the 61C Cafe moved in with a purchase.  Apparently, the new shop will be called the 61B Cafe, acknowledging a local Braddock-Swissvale bus route that runs through the area. Check out more information here and look out for a February 2013 opening!

The Manor Theatre

The Manor - "where the good movies play"

The Manor – “where the good movies play”

The story of the Manor Theatre, and its recent renovation, is as exciting to us as just about any other business development (and there’s been a ton of that!) in Pittsburgh lately.  We set out to see Lincoln on the day of our visit, but let’s start from the beginning on this one.

Over the years, there were four distinct theaters just in Squirrel Hill:  the Manor, the Squirrel Hill Theater (closed in 2010) the Guild or Princess Theater (now Gullifty’s restaurant, since ’82), and the Forum Theater (in the ’60s and ’70s).  Today, the Manor is the only game in town, but it provides an experience unlike any other.

It’s certainly a much different place today than it was 90 years ago when it opened, according to some pictures on the lobby walls.  The old pictures would put you more in mind of the Byham Theater downtown (one big 1,000+ seat movie palace) than they would of the space existing today (four individual intimate theaters).  We understand it went through plenty of changes through the years.  After a major renovation in 2012, the Manor now manages to blend its beautiful history with modern style.  It’s truly fantastic.  Check out this Pittsburgh Tribune Review article from May of 2012, just after the completed renovation.  Be sure to peruse the slideshow to see the transformation and read on to soak up the story.

Interestingly, the owners also run some fantastic Pittsburgh-area restaurants including The Willow in the North Hills, BRGR in East Liberty and Cranberry, and Spoon in East Liberty.  If you’re familiar with any of those establishments, then it’s easy to imagine the quality of the Manor Theatre.

The original, and beautiful, lobby focal point found hidden under a drop-ceiling during the 2012 renovation!

The original, and beautiful, lobby focal point was found hidden under a drop-ceiling during the 2012 renovation!

The lobby is beautifully renovated and inviting.  The M Bar, in the back corner, offers everything from carefully crafted cocktails named after film titles like The Godfather and The Big Lebowski to microbrews, Coppola wines, and tasty food options.  This is no ordinary movie theater concession!

There are four individual theaters at the Manor, each of which offers a state-of-the-art viewing experience thanks to Sony 4K Digital Cinema.  We don’t know what that means either, except that the projection is digital and the films look and sound amazing!  Oh, and the seats…yeah, they’re the same type of seat you’d find in a Lincoln Town Car, as we read in the aforementioned Trib article.  They’re fitted with cup holders, too, and your lobby drinks can be enjoyed inside the theater.  The seats have high-backs, and are more comfortable than any chair we have in our own house.

We could go on – commending management and staff for unknowingly making our experience so memorable with great service or for continuing the tradition of showing excellent independent films along with the blockbusters – but we’ll stop here and suggest you visit the Manor the next time you go to see a movie.  There’s something special about going to a neighborhood theater and that’s especially the case here when the theater provides an experience better than anything you’d find in a large chain cinema complex.  Forget all of that.

Is your interest piqued?  Check out their regular showtimes online and if you don’t mind staying up late, consider their Manor at Midnight Oscar Classics series ongoing through this year’s Oscar Awards in late February.  Maybe we’ll see you there.

Day 2
Mural on Murray

Mural on Murray

We knew we’d barely scraped the surface of Squirrel Hill after our first day, as full as it may have been.  We had the majority of two major parks ahead, plus more of the business district and even the areas away from Forbes and Murray.

Aiello’s Pizza

The restaurant is adorned with celebrity testimonials (from Franco Harris to Alex Trebek), penned directly to framed t-shirts.

The restaurant is adorned with celebrity testimonials (from Franco Harris to Alex Trebek), penned directly to framed t-shirts.

We started our day back on Murray Avenue, though, at Aiello’s Pizza.  Here, Giuseppe “Joe” Aiello has been making pizzas since 1978.  Interestingly, 11 or so years prior, he arrived in Pittsburgh from Sicily and began work at Mineo’s Pizza House.

After spending two days in the neighborhood and after speaking with friends and colleagues in the days since our visit, we understand that pizza is something of a hot topic in Squirrel Hill.  People love to debate which Murray Avenue pizza shop reigns supreme.  They vehemently defend one over the other with a sense of pride.  The beauty of it is that the two shops combine to make the neighborhood a special place to be.  We have our favorite, but think you should visit them both to experience each for yourself!  Let us know what you think!

Frick Park

Frick Park near Beechwood Boulevard at Nicholson Street

Frick Park near Beechwood Boulevard at Nicholson Street

We visited a fraction of Frick Park during our visit to Regent Square in the fall and also explored quite a bit during our orienteering expedition on our first day in Squirrel Hill South.  Additionally, we understood that some of Frick Park would be outlying from these two neighborhoods and we’d experience more during future 90 Proof visits.  Still, there was more to see and learn in Squirrel Hill South!

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy explains that Frick Park is the largest (561 acres) and youngest (1927) of the four city parks.  Industrialist Henry Clay Frick bequeathed 151 acres of his property to the City of Pittsburgh in 1919 and, in the following years, the city sought and acquired additional nearby acreage to create a park that would match the size of Schenley and Highland Parks.  The park serves as a beautiful retreat to city life and, in some areas, feels wonderfully isolated.

There was a blanket of snow on the ground on our second day in Squirrel Hill South and, fortunately for us, this revealed some recreational activities in the park that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Blue Slide Playground

Blue Slide Playground

Blue Slide Playground (slide built into hillside in background)

Our first stop back in Frick Park on Day 2 was Blue Slide Playground and a nearby haven for sled riding.  Apparently, Pittsburgh hip-hop artist Mac Miller recently put Blue Slide Playground on the national map with his 2011 debut album, Blue Slide Park.  Miller attended Taylor Allderdice High School (Pittsburgh Public School), which is just a couple of blocks away.  Of course, for local residents, it didn’t take a hit record to make this a special place.  The “blue slide” is built into the topography of the hillside.  While most kids were out sled riding on this particular day, one kid just couldn’t get enough of it (pictured above).

Sled Riding in Frick Park

Sled Riding in Frick Park

Nearby was one of the best sled riding hills we’ve ever seen.  There were two track options – an easy slope and a more extreme slope.  In the image above, a father pushes his girls down the easy slope.  In the far background, you can see older kids at the base of the fast track, which begins just outside of our picture’s scope, on the right.

There was a cheerful chatter among kids and parents at the top of the hill where we stood.  People just seemed to be in high spirits as this was the first big snowfall of the year.

Frick Environmental Center

Entrance to the Frick Environmental Center

Entrance to the Frick Environmental Center

We had plenty to learn about the Frick Environmental Center, but we were at least familiar with the area.  Pittsburgh’s most popular 10K race, The Great Race, starts just up the street.  Blogging away now, we realized that we could take advantage of an early bird discount for entering the 2013 race.  We just signed up!  Hopefully we’ll see you there (at the starting line or cheering us on at the finish line!)  in September for our 3rd and Pittsburgh’s 36th annual Great Race!

Anyway, the Frick Environmental Center is not just a physical place; it’s also a series of educational programs that take place throughout the community.  Its mission is “education through restoration,” which “connects people to nature and allows them to have a personal stake in their park.”  Sadly, in 2002, the Center burned and has not yet been replaced.  Despite it, classes (birding, composting, weed identification, etc.) have still been offered and there’s even a more recent lobbying effort to introduce environmental education in public schools.  Hallelujah.

Frick Environmental Center 2.0

Frick Environmental Center 2.0

Kim, in her big boots, did some exploration of the Frick Environmental Center area – as much as could be seen in several inches of snow.  This sign outlined details for the upcoming construction of the new Center.

The Center also conducts events on-site in the nearby Frick Woods Nature Reserve.  The Nature Reserve is comprised of the 151 acres of land bequeathed by Frick that served as the foundation for the park.  Today, it’s a beautiful network of trails and home to a variety of wildlife.  It’s essentially the area we explored during our orienteering session.

One of four Gatehouse Entrances

One of four Gatehouse Entrances

Also in this area, near the entrance, is one of four Gatehouse Entrances.  These stately structures were designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.

Next, we planned to leave Frick Park and head west to Schenley Park, which is the second major park within neighborhood boundaries.  We took the scenic route, though, heading south first, and stumbled on a couple of cool places.  First was a great overlook of the Homestead Grays Bridge from just off of Browns Hill Road.

Just south of Frick Park, overlooking the Homestead Grays Bridge and Homestead on the other side of the river

Just south of Frick Park, overlooking the Homestead Grays Bridge and Homestead on the other side of the river

Next we arrived at Summerset at Frick Park, the housing development we mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Its name references the original settlement on the southern end of today’s Squirrel Hill South, which was home to settlers in the 1760s.

The developing neighborhood, according to the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, sits atop what was for many years a slag dump for US Steel.  The development reclaimed the land, albeit 100 feet higher in elevation than it used to be, and turned it into a new residential plan with a traditional feel.

Our favorite street in the development - "Sebak Street" - which, we can only imagine, was named after our favorite Pittsburgher, Rick Sebak (WQED)

Our favorite street in the development – “Sebak Street” – which, we can only imagine, was named after our favorite Pittsburgher, Rick Sebak (WQED)

Many Pittsburghers would recognize this developing neighborhood, but only from the perspective of the Parkway, I-376, as it sits nestled above the entrance of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel traveling east to west.  Here’s an interesting look from the opposite perspective.

Squirrel Hill Tunnels from Summerset at Frick Park

Squirrel Hill Tunnel from Summerset at Frick Park

The Squirrel Hill Tunnel, built in 1953, is notorious for causing Pittsburgh commuters a lot of traffic grief but, on the bright side, since 2000, drivers have been able to enjoy uninterrupted FM radio signals.  We remember it being a big deal in Y2K, especially because it was the first in the area to be equipped that way.  A group of CMU students made it happen, according to this old WTAE article, for around $2,800, which was a bargain compared to commercial bids of $60,000 to complete the task.

Onward.  At this point, daylight was burning and we needed to get our fill at Schenley Park!

Schenley Park

We’ve now worked through the histories of both Highland Park and Frick Park together and, though they had very interesting beginnings, they may be trumped by the scandalous events that propelled the creation of Schenley Park in 1889.

Once again, the Park Conservancy provides a concise and captivating account of the park’s history.  However, be warned that there’s mention on a parent page that the park resides in the “heart of Oakland.”  What?!?!  Don’t worry; we’ll be reaching out to the Conservancy to encourage them to cross check their facts with us here at 90 Proof (haha)!  According to the City of Pittsburgh, this park must be 90%+ in Squirrel Hill South!

Schenley Park, originally known as Mt. Airy Tract, is the namesake of Mary Schenley.  Schenley sold the original plot of land to the city – directly to a businessman from East Liberty representing Director of Public Works Edward Bigelow (whom we learned about back in our first post, Highland Park).  The scandalous part of the history has to do with how Schenley acquired the land in the first place, but we’ll let you read that here.  Today, the park is comprised of 456 acres packed with fascinating attractions.

Schenley Oval Sportsplex and Skating Rink

Our first stop in Schenley Park mirrored our first stop in Frick Park earlier in the day.  Though the sun was setting on this gray snowy day, college students and families were still out savoring the perfect sled riding conditions.  We agreed that the hill here, known as Schenley Overlook, wouldn’t deliver the same thrill as the one in Frick Park, but you can’t argue with the view!

Sled Riding near the Schenley Oval Sportsplex and Skating Rink

Sled Riding near the Schenley Oval Sportsplex and Skating Rink – note the Cathedral of Learning on the right and the downtown skyline on the left!

There was also a steady stream of kids walking down a nearby path heading toward the skating rink.  Hidden away from the road, you really wouldn’t know it was there unless you chose to follow the crowd with ice skates!

A perfect day for ice skating...if you're unlike us and can actually skate!

A perfect day for ice skating…if you’re unlike us and can actually skate!

The main part of the Schenley Oval Sportsplex is home to cross-country running trails, a 400-meter track, 13 tennis courts, and a turf soccer field.  Combined with the rink, nearby Bob O’Connor golf course (the only course in city limits!), and a popular disc (“Frisbee”) golf course, this area is a paradise for outdoor recreation.  We should also mention The First Tee of Pittsburgh, located here, which is local chapter of a national organization aimed at providing young people the opportunity to build character and life skills using golf as the platform.

Neill Log House and Martin’s Cabin

These two homes were among the most mind-blowing discoveries for us while in Squirrel Hill South.  How are these not known by everyone in Pittsburgh?  Moreover, how are these not better protected, cared for, and marked?  Why do we think they’re so important?  They’re among the oldest structures in Pittsburgh and are likely older than the United States of America!

The Martin House (or Ambrose Newton Home) along Overlook Drive in Schenley Park

This is what it would look like if Kim lived in the 1760s (at the Martin House)

The Martin House, also known as Martin’s Cabin or the Ambrose Newton Home, is located right along Overlook Drive and can be easily seen from the road.  According to the SHUC, it was built in the 1760s, though the Park Conservancy says it was between 1769 and the mid-1770s.  The house is boarded up, but it’s not fenced in and is fairly accessible other than a few stairs.

The Neill Log House, photographed through a fence

The Neill Log House, photographed through a fence

Not too far away, along Serpentine Road within Bob O’Connor Golf Course, is the Neill Log House.  This home was built around the same time frame and looks quite similar.  It’s a bit further off the beaten path, though, and is fenced in on all sides.  It belonged originally to the family of Robert Neill, but later to Captain James O’Hara (1803 mayor of Pittsburgh) and his granddaughter – the one and only Mary Schenley.

We understand that the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation has placed a plaque on the Neill Log House, though not the Martin House, which is a start at least.  Then again, we couldn’t find this plaque while we were on site.  This happened in the 1970s, supposedly, and we wonder what could be done to take a new step in preservation now.  These homes certainly serve as a striking reminder of our region’s history.

Westinghouse Memorial

The centerpiece of the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park

The centerpiece of the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park

Holder of 100 patents, founder of 60 companies, inventor of the railway air brake, and purveyor of the alternating electric current system (AC, which trumped Edison’s DC philosophy), George Westinghouse is a Pittsburgh, American, and international legend of invention, entrepreneurship, and industry.  His impact on the modern world is almost incalculable and his story is almost hard to believe.  It’s easy to understand why – in 1930, decades after his death – his memorial in Schenley Park was financed entirely by small donations from 55,000 of his company’s employees.

The memorial dedication in 1930 was carried across the KDKA-AM radio airwaves to the region and then broadcast around the nation.  The memorial itself was fitting as it depicted a boy, who is known as “The Spirit of American Youth,” looking toward Westinghouse, who stands between a mechanic and an engineer and surrounded by plaques describing his bold career achievements.

Sadly, by 2009, the pond (once natural and later artificial) that provided a wonderful setting as part of the memorial, had to be drained due to disrepair.  Then and since, the memorial itself has continued to erode.

Today, according to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, an effort is underway to restore the memorial with help from donors.  If you feel so compelled, you can make your contribution here.

Panther Hollow Valley and Lake

Panther Valley Lake (below, left) and a real-life Pittsburgh Panther guarding the Panther Hollow Bridge (constructed, 1897)

Panther Hollow Lake (below, left) and a real-life Pittsburgh Panther guarding the Panther Hollow Bridge (constructed, 1897)

Panther Valley Hollow is home to Panther Hollow Lake, which is fed by two streams – Panther Hollow and Phipps Run.  Hard to picture?  Check out this excellent map of the watershed.  What’s cool for us is that just a few months ago, prior to our 90 Proof efforts, we had no clue what a watershed even meant.  You might remember learning with us, or laughing while we figured out what it was all about, as we explored the Nine Mile Run watershed in Regent Square.  Maybe this map makes sense for you, too, now.

An interesting note is that the Panther Hollow Lake was dug in 1909 and, today, after decades of erosion and bacteria build-up, it’s only about 1/3 of its original depth and no longer provides a clean fishing environment or a beneficial place for wildlife at all.  Fortunately, through education, the area and supporters are on to the problem.  Though it will take years, and the help of not only nearby university students but also folks in the upper watershed, we will one day see the revitalization of this urban treasure.  It’s another reason, if you haven’t seen enough already, to support the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Flagstaff Hill

Race for the Cure '11 with our favorite running partners, Krystin and Matt (it's just that we can't ever keep up with them)!

Race for the Cure ’10, our first, with our favorite running partners, Krystin and Matt (it’s just that we can’t ever keep up with them)!

Flagstaff Hill, across the street from Phipps Conservatory and just north of Panther Hollow, is a sloping hillside with a beautiful panoramic view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Cathedral of Learning.  Students at nearby universities come here to relax and take in the sights.  We also read that the Hill used to boast a huge electric water fountain back in the early days of electricity.  It must have been a sight!  The community also gathers here for events like outdoor movies in the summer or the annual Komen Race for the Cure on Mother’s Day.  Wait.  Another race?

We just took another time out to sign up.  This one’s only a 5K.  If you weren’t up for the 10K Great Race, well, come on; do this one with us!  Register here for the race on May 12, 2013.  Walk it if you don’t run.  After all, you’re going to know all of your surroundings after reading our proof of Squirrel Hill South’s great character!  Still, if you’re out, but want to help the cause, make a tax-deductible donation to support our team’s fundraising goal!

We love having experienced Schenley Park in the snow, but there are some things we regret not being able to access (at least while Derek idiotically wore dress shoes), namely the famed Tufa Bridges and the streams feeding Panther Hollow Lake.  You haven’t seen the last of us, Schenley Park!  In fact, we’re going to be tempted to veer off course during our upcoming race this May!

Aji Picante

A Peruvian dinner destination at the end of a long day!

A Peruvian dinner destination at the end of a long day!

By this time, we were exhausted from our exploration of this beastly neighborhood and its endless fun.  It was time to back out of nature, just for a bit, and get back to the streets for a delicious dinner!

Aji Picante was recommended to us by a friend (thanks, Kerri!) and we’re so glad we dined there.  Believe it or not, this Peruvian restaurant is operated by the celebrated Pamela’s P&G Diner duo.  It’s quite a different experience, but the quality is there, along with the authenticity.

We started with the Torrejas de Choclo, which were crispy corn fritters bursting with cilantro and avocado flavors.  Kim also started with a green tea and Derek, needing some pep, went for the French press coffee.  Kim then enjoyed the Quinoa risotto and Derek a pan-seared fish dish over a Peruvian red onion and tomato sauce.

We were tempted to complete our delicious meal with dessert, but held off knowing that just down the street was a joint renowned for their post-dinner treats.  We were on our way!

Gullifty’s

Mmmmmmmm!

Formerly a theater and now home to Pittsburgh’s best desserts (since 1982)!

Bestowed with “Pittsburgh’s Best Dessert” honors 30 years and counting from Pittsburgh Magazine and Pittsburgh City Paper, Gullifty’s delivered the baked goods.

There were plenty of tempting items on the dessert menu (the dinner menu looked appealing, too), but the Peanut Butter Melt-A-Way got our vote.  Our waiter informed us that we were pretty lucky because it was the last piece in the joint!  Thank goodness we made it in time.  It lived up to its expectations.  We recommend it!

Mmmmmmmmmmm!

Mmmmmmmmmmm!

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Kim anxiously awaiting entrance to the Winter Flower Show and Winter Light Garden...

Kim anxiously awaiting entrance to the Winter Flower Show and Winter Light Garden…

We saved the best, or at least one of our favorites, for last.

We will preface this last stop on our journey by saying that we initially had confusion about whether it fell within Squirrel Hill South boundaries.  Various sources, including Google Maps and a number of reputable Pittsburgh sites, reference Phipps and a number of attractions we’ve discussed already as being in the heart of Oakland.  According to the City of Pittsburgh, that’s simply not the case and we’re pushing ahead using their map as guidance.  It was surprising to us, too, that all of this was within Squirrel Hill South!

We actually didn’t come to the realization that Phipps was located within our target neighborhood until just before dinner.  At that point, we looked at each other knowing we should probably tackle it on another, a 3rd, full day in the neighborhood.  As fate would have it, though, we learned that this particular evening was the last for the Winter Flower Show and Winter Light Garden, a holiday-themed exhibition that accented natural splendor with a beautiful light display.  Having not ever attended this particular show, we knew we needed to take advantage of the extended special event hours and visit Phipps that night.  So, we charged up with the aforementioned meal and dessert, and got ready for a perfect closing to our magnificent two days in Squirrel Hill South!

Dale Chihuly chandalier in Phipps' Welcome Center

Dale Chihuly chandelier in Phipps’ Welcome Center

We had visited Phipps several years earlier for the 2007 Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens & Glass exhibit, but during this visit we really came to appreciate everything the organization does, not only for the community, but also for the environment.  We’ll get to that but, first, the show…

We were excited immediately upon entering when we saw that a Chihuly chandelier, first installed for the show we saw years prior, remained.  Thanks to Colcom Foundation for keeping that one here!  In fact, a number of the beautiful glass works, which blended so perfectly with the living greenery, were still there.

A warming holiday hearth welcoming visitors in the first room, the Palm Court

A warming holiday hearth welcoming visitors in the first room, the Palm Court

We were already more than a week beyond the holiday season that envelopes the Pittsburgh area in late December each year.  Despite it, we were sucked back into the spirit, genuinely, as we walked into the Palm Court.  The sights were met with matching sounds as carols played over loudspeakers, seemingly sung by the trees themselves.  There were some other visitors soaking up this last opportunity to see the show, too, and they weren’t bashful about humming along to the carols.

We spent more than an hour waltzing through the gorgeous path outlined by staff – “always turn right, no matter what, and you’ll see everything!”  It was definitely a different kind of experience at Phipps under the veil of a winter night compared to a summery daytime visit, especially with the holiday lights accenting sights along the way.  The endless flowers, exotic trees, and unimaginable plants are difficult to describe, especially for people like us, who can barely keep simple house plants alive.  We can’t imagine the team full of green thumbs it takes to make this place work!

The Broderie Room, modeled after French-style knotted gardens

The Broderie Room, modeled after French-style knotted gardens

Phipps Conservatory is a magical place that you really must experience first-hand.  Until you carve out time to do it, though, we hope you’ll check out this captivating video.  It’ll bring you closer to this landmark than any of our words possibly could and it’ll introduce you to a way of thinking that, we can only hope, will change our world for the better.  Wait.  Watch one more.  Here.

“Phipps is an excellent example of the kind of transformation that’s been taking place in Pittsburgh.  Here you have this wonderful old relic from the last industrial revolution, built at a time when people thought that [we] were going to conquer nature…that there was no limit to the amount of resources we use or the amount of pollution we produce.  And here we are, 100 years later, and we’ve transformed ourselves into one the world’s greenest gardens…in Pittsburgh, one of the greenest cities [in] the world.”

– Richard Piacentini, Executive Director, Phipps Conservatory

After watching the video, you’ll know, like us, that Phipps Conservatory is not only a wondrous spectacle to visit; it’s also an organization that is leading the way in environmental sustainability.  One statement in the video sticks out the most.  It’s the concept that the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes will have as much impact on the world around it as a flower.  That’s unbelievable and it shows just how far our world has come in a century.  For more on the history of the building, more than a century old and more than a world apart from ours, check out Phipps’ excellent site.

So, in the end, Phipps made us believers.  Say hello to the newest members of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.  Join us here!  We’ll see you at the upcoming Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show happening now through February 24.

The Proof

Do we really need to make an argument, at this point, that Squirrel Hill South is a neighborhood that undoubtedly proves that our great city has unmatched character?

Whatever those things are that make a neighborhood a great place to live and visit – food, nature, recreation, cultural attractions, etc. – this place has them.  Our two days in Squirrel Hill South were eye-opening, to say the least.  We hope you agree.  Thanks for reading and we can’t wait to continue the adventure soon.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

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5 responses to “#4 – Squirrel Hill South

  1. Wow you guys- this is so completely thorough. I really need to sit down and examine all of this. What great research!!!!! Thanks for including me in on this. I am spreading the word for you. My sister is on as well in NJ. Great Workl

  2. Pingback: #7 – Perry North | 90 Proof Pittsburgh·

  3. You guys rock! I am moving to Squirrel Hill South from Seattle. I had good vibes about the place from my brief house-hunting visit. This blog post is great and I’m feeling even better about my decision! Keep up the blog. For newcomers like me, this is really useful stuff!

    • Your comment is thrilling. Welcome to Pittsburgh. We’re happy the post gave some practical insight and hope you’ll let us know what else you find in your new neighborhood!

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