Exile in America (Part 4): Troy Hill/Spring Garden/North Side

After 25 years in New York, the author moves back to his hometown and discovers a new world lodged in the old one . . . Sometimes the strangest destination is home.

Real Pittsburghers don’t cross bridges, they say, meaning people stay in their own self-contained enclaves.* That was true for me growing up. Those cross-river neighborhoods might as well have been two or three states away. The North Side, for example, was alien territory surrounding Three Rivers Stadium, where I ventured occasionally to see my beloved Pirates play, retreating back to familiar ground immediately after the game.

Some months after moving back to Pittsburgh, I got a temp job that took me north, to Spring Garden/Troy Hill, writing copy for a flight simulator company. Something about the area, which I had never even been near, fascinated me. Every smoky vista and perilous concrete staircase illustrated the convergence of location and destiny, and how a different neighborhood in the same city is really another world.

*That’s also true for Brooklyn, as well as other cities pocked with diverse and far-flung neighborhoods.

Parking lot of the flight simulator company where I worked

The staircase I used during my job – down in the AM, up at night (photo taken winter 2013)

Another look at the same staircase (summer 2013)

Troy Hill, probably more than anyplace in the city, is hostage to the hills – separated from the surrounding neighborhoods (and even from itself) by elevation, and the inaccessibilites that come with building/destroying/rebuilding all over such difficult terrain. Also, it doesn’t help that the neighborhood’s only direct link to the waterfront, arterial roads, and the other side of town –  Rialto St./31st Street Bridge – is under construction and will remain unusable for at least another 18 months. Such isolation gives the neighborhood an intimate feel, and makes those familiar staircases truly essential for basic navigation.

Houses through tree cover, the neighborhood glows

No easy way down . . . Some old staircases demand full attention.

The final stretch – a crooked landing

Terminus for an epic staircase – the aptly named Basin St. (nr. Spring Garden Rd.)

Staircases raking the hillsides . . . Classic Pittsburgh: Taming nature with industry

Where the locals gather (to elevate the mood)

Heinz Factory smokestacks – the neighborhood’s dominant view (esp. from Troy Hill Rd.)

Gateway to the north: 16th Street Bridge

Andy’s relative, a long-time scrap dealer

Slag pot from steel mill beside viaduct (industry as artifact)

Ivy covered stanchion: A part of the skyline (9th Street Bridge)

Exile in America (Parts 1-4)

More Images of Pittsburgh (Slideshows)


  1. Fantastic! Especially the pipe railings.. . . Sublime.

  2. My old friend, Like a salmon, Adam Quest, the original Oakland visionary, returns to his spawning ground after swimming the Ocean of NYC for 25 years. I remember fondly the hell's kitch bar we visited where the barkeep would pound a baseball bat on the counter for his less elegant MD 20/20 afficiandos. Me, I went west and have lived in LA since 91 though I too intend to return to the burg when my spawn heads towards the ocean three years from now. On a recent visit, I had time to look from uncle’s balcony in oakland towards lawrencville and bloomfield and any way you cut it, Pittsburgh's topology is stunning in its beauty. I now find less stupidity in choosing to spend my pre-migratory adult Pittsburgh years flying around in a cab or truck from 0-90 mph , ping-pong balling from up - Zellie to Plum -- from mornigside to dahn the run. It was a rush. Though other jobs certainly would've been more lucrative, the pleasure of flying up and down and around the curves was likely preferable to a person of my then age than any academically mordibund "respectable" employment. I look forward to seeing you one of these years though we're likely well past the 25th anniversary of "Abdul Holds Forth" which was a harbinger of the idiocy to come. You were a visionary -- probably still are.

  3. I like your take on the city and would like to highlight the one about the stairs.

  4. Striking, funny, eye-opening shots, as always. Must be the way you edit—you give the viewer the sense that Pittsburgh (or Brooklyn, or wherever you are) is full of wild and strange architecture. The variety of houses and materials, as if you're recording the mad imagination of the race.

  5. Very cool - I wonder if there is a market for a book or blog on rust belt travel - I would like to go to some of these places myself!