Exile in America (Part 3): Lawrenceville/Strip District

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.

Stephen Foster’s tombstone, Allegheny Cemetery

A most nondescript monument for such an iconic figure (and native son). But it may be fitting, for even though Foster wrote some of the most popular songs ever — songs I sang in grade school music classes, that are still lodged in my head — he died on the Bowery, drunk and destitute.

Down to the waterfront (satellite image)

Gingerly I walked the narrow shoreline, hearing explosions up ahead. I encountered a group of shirtless urchins, setting off fireworks, doing what urchins do. “Just passing through,” I declared. Lord of the Flies occurred to me then — primal regression, at society’s edge; a vision of being swarmed, having my throat cut and left for dead. (I don’t think they were the type, though, and surely I didn’t deserve it, for my harmless intrusion on their obscure hideaway.)

“Bad Kids . . . Spunk”

Houses in Lawrenceville

Lawrenceville has undergone a renaissance in recent years, through the same "mixed use" formula that's driving the revival of neighborhoods across the Rust Belt. It’s the antithesis of suburbia: instead of houses in one place, the shopping mall in another, and industry segregated in some no-go hellscape, it's all intermixed. When it works, as it does here, it’s a vivid, concrete expression of vitality.

Pgh. Casing Co., Strip District (next to 33rd Street Bridge)

My band used to rehearse here; the guitarist’s father owned the company, which made natural sausage casings. I most remember the drying room upstairs, a large space filled with racks where pig intestines were stretched out on slats, and that smell — like walking into the belly of a pig.

Former site of 27 Bar, a dive my grandmother owned for 20 years(then sold to the city, which cleared the property a long time ago)

One of the wholesale candy stores my uncles owned (17th St. & Penn Ave.) . . . My cousin took over the business (this store and the main one in Mt. Oliver are still operating).

Exile in America (Parts 1-4)

More Images of Pittsburgh (Slideshows)

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