Sunday, June 30 & August 12, 2013
A lot of folks ask us how we choose the neighborhood we want to visit next. It’s tough to choose since we have more than 80 neighborhoods left at this point. So far, we’ve been letting special events draw us to particular neighborhoods and it’s worked out quite well. This time, a mid-summer invite to the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium’s annual Great European Beer Festival was the catalyst. However, it turns out that the initial draw and the neighborhood we explored were different. The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium (on St. Clair Street on the map below), located in East Liberty, sits just 4 blocks from the small neighborhood of Friendship . We wanted to save East Liberty for a later visit, so we opted for nearby Friendship instead. We’re glad we did. There’s no doubt it’s among the city’s smallest neighborhoods, but it packs a wallop of character.
How small is Friendship, you ask? Only 0.11 square miles according to PGHSNAP and that’s good for 2nd smallest of all 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods! Given its size, we decided to head out a little early that Sunday and take a thorough walking tour of the quaint neighborhood.
The History…and the Confusion
Its appearance invokes terms like quaint, residential, stately, and even simple. Simple it’s not, though. Friendship’s history is shrouded in hearsay and there’s even some misunderstanding that exists today, at least about its geographical borders.
We’ve seen some conflicting information about how Friendship got it’s welcoming name. In fact, we’re not sure who to believe! Uncovering this mystery likely requires an inquiry with the Pennsylvania Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Heinz History Center’s Library and Archives…or maybe an email to Rick Sebak. Or maybe you can help us (comment at the bottom of this page or on Facebook and Twitter with your insight, please!).
The story usually goes something like what’s stated by the Friendship Development Associates and Friendship Preservation Group’s website: the area was named for the friendship between early resident and land owner Joseph Conrad Winebiddle and the family of Pennsylvania provincial founder William Penn. A common variation on the story is that the friendship was direct between Winebiddle and Penn himself (as opposed to Penn’s descendants). It doesn’t take much effort to find out that the gentlemen were not contemporaries, so the latter story is impossible. Citing a 1999 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, the Wikipedia entry for the neighborhood states that any variation of this story is incorrect. Rather, the neighborhood is named for its east-west bisecting street – Friendship Avenue – which, in turn, was named after a farm at the present-day intersection of Friendship Avenue and Roup Avenue. That farm was home to a descendant of Penn’s who belonged to The Religious Society of Friends, a religious sect better recognized today as the Quakers.
On top of the contested history lies some present-day confusion about the neighborhood’s geographical borders. The borders seem clear for us, but it’s because we learned them as we explored the neighborhood for the first time – with no preconceptions. Some residents distinguish the neighborhood’s boundaries differently such that Friendship extends several blocks westward beyond its boundary of S. Graham Street and into Bloomfield at Gross St. The best logic we’ve heard to support this misunderstanding is that, at Gross St., a division of architectural styles becomes evident – “Friendship’s” Victorian brick homes end and Bloomfield’s typical row-houses begin. Really, this division occurs within Bloomfield’s borders. We don’t wish to imply that this misunderstanding is widespread or even of much consequence, but it is significant since the community leadership associations’ map includes sites outside the neighborhood.
To be fair, the map’s intent may be to indicate just how close to home these attractions are for Friendship residents. In any case, we were reminded of something important while trying to interpret these diverging claims: Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods are distinguished along official census tracts. Even more importantly, we remind ourselves that though we’re rigid in identifying these invisible and official neighbornhood boundaries to demonstrate the unique character found within each, real life has no such tangible constraints. In Friendship, like in the 89 other neighborhoods, countless examples of our city’s unmatched character are always within reach!
Hopefully we’ve started two important conversations here (history & geography). It’s certainly intrigued us. However, we’re going to leave additional sleuthing up to our readers. It’s more important for us to stay on our track. We’re here to experience this neighborhood today, to discover its unique character, to enjoy an area in Pittsburgh with which we’re not familiar, and to spread the word about what we find so that others may be obliged to experience their city more intimately, too.
Inside the Borders
It’s amazing what can be found within .11 square miles. The real story here is the homes. They are impressive. Like what we found in Observatory Hill earlier in the summer, many of these monstrous and beautiful homes were converted decades ago, and many decades from the time they were built, into duplexes or apartment complexes. More recently, some have been reconverted back into stunning single-family homes and some with environmental responsibility. There’s a mix, for sure, and our Sunday stroll showcased it all.
Unbeknownst to us back on June 13th, we actually celebrated Kim’s birthday in Friendship! At the time, we were looking for a restaurant that we hadn’t tried before and some friends told us to check out Avenue B. Without looking into it, we figured the restaurant was in Shadyside. It wasn’t until our official neighborhood visit, two weeks later, with our map in hand, that we realized Avenue B is located on the inside of Centre Avenue, Friendship’s southern border. 90 Proof Pittsburgh: learning something new on every neighborhood visit!
We had a fabulous meal at Avenue B, making it one of our favorite restaurant experiences in the city! We started the evening with some delicious fried green tomatoes. Kim opted for steak with lobster mac and cheese and asparagus for her main meal and Derek had their specialty Wagyu beef meatloaf. We also split dessert and some French press coffee. Yum! We really cannot recommend the place enough and hope you all take the time to check it out really soon!
Situated right in the center of the neighborhood, where Roup St. and S. Fairmount St. split, is a triangular oasis of a park called Baum Grove. We understand that this urban retreat is home to the annual Friendship Flower and Folk Festival, which occurs in mid-May and features musicians, flower sales, and vendors supporting the preservation of Baum Grove itself. Charming character abounds in this small park.
Business and Other Attractions
Friendship is almost strictly residential, but according to those census tracts and the official neighborhood borders, we know that a number of businesses exist. The community Rite-Aid, located at the corner of Roup and Baum Blvd, was formerly a Firestone rubber and tire facility. Just across Roup Ave., for locals’ convenience, is an Aldi grocery store. We never take this kind of thing for granted; we wish we could walk to a grocery store sometimes! It’s one of those perks that can make a neighborhood even more livable.
Another place of interest in the neighborhood, along the S. Graham western border, is the Pittsburgh Montessori School. For those unfamiliar with Montessori schooling, like we were, the approach to education could be considered somewhat unconventional and is based on the principles set forth a century ago by Dr. Maria Montessori. This school is, however, part of the Pittsburgh Public School system and educates youth between 3 years and early adolescence. Here’s a solid explanation from the Greater Pittsburgh Montessori Society’s website.
On the northern end of Friendship, along Penn Avenue (a block from Bloomfield’s popular Quiet Storm), is The Cotton Factory – offering “socially awkward tees and finely printed oddities,” which are hand-printed on made-in-America t-shirts. A branch of The Cotton Factory, called TeeRex Syndicate, is busy pumping out great t-shirt designs for local organizations. Check out their work!
We can’t pretend to be experts on glass work, but we don’t have to be to tell you how special this gem is for Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Glass Center is a non-profit public-access school, gallery, and studio. In August of this year, the PGC’s founders were honored as Pennsylvania’s artists of the year by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Additionally, the organization is recognized by many as a leading glass center in the world.
During our visit, an exhibition called Lifeforms was showing. On display through November 17, 2013, the show features 50 works of glass that showcase real lifeforms – plants, animals, and a microscopic world found beyond the naked eye – with incredible accuracy. In some cases, it’s hard to believe the works are glass at all. The artists hail from all over the world and were juried into the exhibition.
There are multiple ways to participate at the PGC. We stopped short of taking classes (at least so far!) and opted just to enjoy the current exhibition. However, for those inclined, classes are offered for beginners and for advanced artists alike. It looks like there are even some holiday-themed classes available this fall; sign up to blow glass pumpkins before it’s too late!
On the first Friday of each month the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative, whose mission it is to revitalize the Penn Avenue Corridor between Negley and Mathilda (only partially in Friendship), hosts Unblurred – a gallery crawl between 4800 and 5500 Penn featuring work in a number of spaces. Pittsburgh Glass Center anchors one end of the event by attracting visitors for their hot jam.
We knew that this would be one of the hardest posts to write; we just didn’t know how hard. We lost a very special reader on August 1st when we lost Kim’s grandma, Josie. Although she never owned a computer, as soon as we would finish a post, it would be printed and either dropped off on our next visit to her cozy apartment in Freeport or mailed to her right away. She loved reading the blog so much that any time she received a new post she would get out the older ones and read them all over again.
She would have loved a small, quaint neighborhood like Friendship where a strong community bond pulls the whole neighborhood together…somewhere with a place for neighbors to congregate like Baum Grove…somewhere you can walk to the grocery store or a restaurant…somewhere with stately historic homes. Josie enjoyed Freeport for some of these reasons and we know she would have loved reading about Friendship in the same way. Community played a huge role in Josie’s life. Maybe it should in all of our lives. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this project. Isn’t there just something special about understanding and appreciating your neighborhood, town, or city?
We can think of no greater neighborhood to pay tribute to such an amazing woman than one named “Friendship.” She was a friend to so many in her 97 years. We feel lucky to have been two of them.