If there’s one thing that actually warms the asbestos cladding where my heart used to be, it’s when a long-abandoned building in Pittsburgh gets new life.
Even after the post-steel economy finally stabilized, the scars remain in just about every neighborhood: boarded-up windows, blue demolition notices tacked to the door, remnants of past lives simply left behind. Ghosts, it turns out, aren’t great neighbors, even if they keep the rents down.
But when one of those places comes back from the dead, it’s not just a family or a person finding a new home. It’s an act of faith — that better days are ahead, even for the forgotten places.
The only thing better is when a giant hole in the ground is suddenly filled with housing, shops, workplaces, life. The best current example can be found on the corner of Murray and Forward Avenues in Squirrel Hill, which has looked like Squirrel Hill’s missing tooth since Poli’s shut down in 2005. Now, finally, it’s Flats on Forward, 43 units of “affordable housing with a preference for people with disabilities” from local nonprofit developer Action Housing. Plus, it’s got 10,000 square feet of retail space at one of Pittsburgh’s busiest intersections. Since a lot of nearby storefronts at the bottom of Murray are reaching their end-stage terminus (vape shops), this is a chance to turn it around.
Squirrel Hill is about as good as it gets for Pittsburgh-style urbanism, and even Mister Rogers bought in to its friendly, walkable neighborliness. Yes, squeezing 43 units of affordable housing into its core isn’t going to suddenly make the whole place as cheap as 1985, but with Pittsburgh’s barbaric zoning laws and easily inflamed opposition to anything new, it’s amazing this got built at all.
For sale: 3747 Beechwood Blvd., $228,600
So if you want to live in Mister Rogers’ actual neighborhood and don’t have the bankroll of King Friday, you’re going to have to make compromises. For instance, here’s a duplex on Beechwood Blvd., perhaps the only road in Squirrel Hill that’s actively unpleasant. But it is true that you do tune out the myriad city traffic sounds after a while: sirens, tractor-trailer brakes, people way too excited about going to Costco, et cetera. Otherwise, this place is pretty nice, a sturdy brick duplex in a convenient location, and neighborly if the people you share a wall with are friendly.
For rent: 1360 Denniston St., $1,400/month
Having a couple thousand college students as neighbors is a mixed blessing, at best. Sometimes, it’s quiet, studious kids who keep the local coffee shops and pizza parlors afloat. Sometimes, well, it’s Pitt after a bad loss to WVU and you can’t find your car because it’s on fire. Somehow Squirrel Hill gets most of the former, and Oakland gets the kind of college kids who throw their pizza boxes out the window. It might have to do with the preponderance of places like this charming apartment on the third floor of a large turn-of-the-century home — where it’s not hard to imagine you’re the main character in a Michael Chabon novel, on the cusp of writing the Great American Novel, if you can just get your love life sorted out.
For sale: 6514 Rosemoor St., $300,000
Morrowfield, 2715 Murray Ave., $900-$1,420, Squirrel Hill.