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Rich in history. Poised for a rebirth.
The Hill District, which I'm lumping together as the Upper Hill, Middle Hill and Crawford-Roberts neighborhoods for the purposes of this blog, is at an inflection point at the time I'm writing this blog. Cut off from Downtown since the 1950s, this predominantly Black neighborhood went from being a cultural hub to a failed urban renewal case study.
But that story doesn't end here. Looking to the resurgence of East Liberty, Lawrenceville and other neighborhoods we've covered in this series, the Hill District is primed and ready for a comeback. Join us as we discuss a brief history of the Hill, a look to the future and some amazing places already starting change in this neighborhood.
Those who only know the Hill District from our lifetime might be surprised at this subtitle, but that's exactly how Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay referred to the Hill District in its heyday. From the 1920s through the 50s, the Hill was very different: a a huge collection of entertainment venues centered around jazz dotted the streets, cheers for the Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro league baseball team that played at Greenlee field echoed throughout and streets were buzzing with a vast array of Black-owned businesses that made this neighborhood thrive.
You can read more on our blog, but the Hill District was an epicenter for jazz music during this time. It was the birthplace of be bop and other jazz styles, it was where jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald made frequent stops at the Crawford Grill or New Granada Theater and it gave fledging jazz musicians in Pittsburgh the connections to become national successes.
Unfortunately, outdated and inadequate housing led to an urban renewal project, coupled with the building of the Civic Arena venue, that displaced thousands of Black residents and cut the Hill District off from Downtown.
But all is not lost on the Hill, and huge changes are already underway. In the Lower Hill (Crawford Roberts) neighborhood, fittingly at the site of the former Civic Arena, a new 4,500 seat music venue with parking garage is under construction. That's great for the area as is, but what I really love about this plan is how it focuses on the entirety of the Hill District.
This facility will look to reconnect Downtown with both the Middle and Upper Hill through heavy investments into the aforementioned New Granada Theater, a new rec center, tax assistance and more to keep the rebirth of this area happening throughout.
And while music venues are great for visitors, residents of the Hill are also looking forward to the opening of Salem's, a full grocery store, that allows easy access once again to fresh groceries and provides jobs for locals. We'll continue to monitor the Hill's progress after this publishes, but here's some things you can do right now in this historic neighborhood:
Located in Crawford-Roberts, the Energy Innovation Center stands as a beacon to Pittsburgh's green future. Their historic building is LEED Platinum-certified and their goal is to spread their message on sustainable energy and developing technologies through their training programs and diverse list of tenants. The EIC can also be used as a conference and event space, making it a perfect location to host business events in the ever-growing green industry.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Pittsburgh native August Wilson lived right on 1727 Bedford in Crawford-Roberts. While this property fell into disrepair over the years, the August Wilson House saved and transformed the property, officially opening in 2022. Their holistic focus is on furthering the arts on the Hill, a goal which they strive for through engaging events, staging annual backyard productions of Wilson's plays and converting the family home into a place to both honor Wilson's life and provide interactive opportunities for creators.
Up on the Middle Hill, the Thelma Lovette YMCA is a gleaming example of what is possible to bring community together. The old property received a multimillion investment to make this a community hub for connecting with community and bettering yourself through innovative programming and first-class facilities.
For more than 20 years, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has been putting on culturally diverse and/or Pittsburgh-focused shows on the Upper Hill. Working closely with the artistic community, the Playwrights also strive to encourage new playwrights onto the scene and give emerging artists, especially from marginalized groups, a chance to succeed. Most performances take place right here in their intimate theater.
Providing great coffee is just the beginning of what Cares CommuniTEA Cafe does in Crawford-Roberts. This hub of the Hill District does it all by providing workforce training to youth and young adults, helping connect people in the community and serving up a delicious lattes, bagels and an mouthwatering pesto caprese to patrons.
Trust the review scores. With 500 ratings and a 4.7 average, this Middle Hill diner is homey, cozy and sure to be a surprise hit of your trip to Pittsburgh. Diners here rave about the grits and french toast, and grab their signature iced tea to go to enjoy as your explore the Burgh.