East Liberty (Pittsburgh)
East Liberty is a predominantly
African-Americanneighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's East End. It is bordered by Highland Park, Morningside, Stanton Heights, Garfield, Friendship, Shadyside and Larimer. East Liberty Presbyterian Church, one of the more impressive churchesin Pittsburgh, is located there.
Around the time of the
American Revolution, East Liberty was a free grazing area in Allegheny Countylocated near a few miles east of the young, growing town called Pittsburgh. (In older English usage, a "liberty" was a plot of common land on the outskirts of a town.)
Two farming partriarchs owned much of the nearby land, and their descendants' names grace streets in and around East Liberty today. John Conrad Winebiddle owned land west of present-day East Liberty, in what are now Bloomfield, Garfield, and Friendship, and his daughter Barbara inherited a portion close to what is now East Liberty. Alexander Negley owned a farm called "Fertile Bottom" north of present-day East Liberty along the southern bank of the
Allegheny River. Negley's land included some of present-day East Liberty and much of nearby Highland Park, Morningside, Larimer, and Stanton Heights.
Alexander Negley's son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, built a manor house, and developed a village that he called East Liberty after the old grazing commons. In 1816, Negley saw to it that the Pittsburgh-Greensburg turnpike was built through East Liberty, which made the area a trading center and ensured its future growth.
East Liberty truly began to develop as a commercial area in 1843, when Jacob's daughter Sarah Jane Negley married the ambitious lawyer
Thomas Mellon. Mellon first visited the area of modern-day East Liberty in 1823, when as a 10-year-old he saw the Negley mansion for the first time and decided he wanted something like it. He achieved this goal and much more: after first becoming a prosperous lawyer, he made his true fortune by marrying Sarah Jane Negley, selling or renting the land near East Liberty that she inherited, and using the proceeds to finance Pittsburgh's nascent industries. Like Jacob Negley before him, Thomas Mellon worked to make East Liberty a transportation hub: Mellon convinced some of Pittsburgh's first trolley lines to pass through East Liberty.
Rise and fall
In 1868, the City of Pittsburgh annexed what is now East Liberty. Thanks to its favorable location and Mellon's guiding hand, East Liberty became a thriving commercial center in the following years. East Liberty's merchants served many of Pittsburgh's industrial millionaires, who settled in nearby Shadyside and Point Breeze. Professionals in Highland Park and Friendship and laborers in Bloomfield and Garfield also shopped in East Liberty. By 1950, the area (now often called 'Sliberty) was a bustling and fully urban marketplace.
Two decisions in the 1960s changed East Liberty. The first was an attempt to halt a slow trickle of businesses from the City to the suburbs. In the early 1960s, a few of East Liberty's larger merchants saw that some residents of Pittsburgh's East End were moving to the suburbs, and that suburban shopping malls were consequently growing and expanding. These merchants feared that suburban development would harm East Liberty's status as a market center, and asked the City of Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to take action. [cite news | url = http://www.post-gazette.com/businessnews/20000523intro3.asp | title = East Liberty Then: Initial makeover had dismal results | date =
2000-05-23| accessdate = 2007-09-16 | work = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette| last = Fitzpatrick | first = Dan ]
The URA proposed creating an outdoor pedestrian mall on Penn Avenue, to be surrounded by car-friendly roads on which large stores, surrounded by parking lots, could serve shoppers just as the new suburban stores were doing. This plan required the demolition of roughly half of the convert|254|acre|km2 that comprised East Liberty. After some contentious debate, the plan was approved, and the URA stopped traffic on the busiest part of Penn Avenue (the old Greensburg-Pittsburgh turnpike of Jacob Negley's day) and routed it onto a series of new, one-way thoroughfares (called Penn Circle) that formed a ring around the central business district. Many small shops were destroyed—a million square feet of retail space in all.
While the URA was remaking the street plan of East Liberty, the City of Pittsburgh's
housing authoritymade a second set of changes to the neighborhood. Housing authority planners noted that the nearby African-Americanneighborhood of Homewood was overcrowded, largely as a result of the URA's earlier demolition of the lower Hill District to create the Civic Arena, which had forced many of the Hill's African-Americans out and into the North Side and Homewood. The housing authority's solution was to build three large housing complexes, each close to 20 stories tall, in East Liberty along the new Penn Circle roads.
These two measures ultimately failed to preserve East Liberty as a market center, and arguably hastened the old neighborhood's demise. By routing cars away from Penn Avenue, the URA's new street plan seemed to send a message that the neighborhood's commercial center was not worth visiting. The housing authority's massive housing complexes quickly developed a reputation as centers for crime, and this reputation, which was perhaps reinforced by racial prejudice against the complexes'
African-Americanresidents, likely did as much as the confusing street plan to drive commerce away from East Liberty. [cite news | url = http://www.post-gazette.com/businessnews/20000525elib3.asp | title = Perceiving is believing: A major obstacle to the renewal of East Liberty has been its dangerous reputation | work = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette| date = 2000-05-25| accessdate = 2007-09-16 | last = Rosenwald | first = Mike ]
In the span of just a few years during the mid-1960s, East Liberty became a blighted neighborhood. There were some 575 businesses in East Liberty in 1959, but only 292 in 1970, and just 98 in 1979. The businesses that remained tended not to serve the majority of nearby Pittsburghers, but only the captive audience that remained in what was now an urban ghetto.
Despite the damage done by the urban renewal of the 1960s, East Liberty's location still made it a good potential site for retail businesses. East Liberty remained close to some of the Pittsburgh area's most prosperous residents, who had not left the City for the suburbs, but continued to live in Shadyside, Point Breeze, Highland Park and Friendship. To revitalize the neighborhood, community groups in East Liberty worked to lure these potential shoppers back. In the 1980s
Motor Square Gardenwas converted to a retail mall. It failed, but the Pittsburgh American Automobile Associationuses it as its headquarters.
In the 1990s, the City of Pittsburgh took a first step in this direction by returning some of the neighborhood's roads to their pre-1960 traffic pattern. After 2000, the City also used
tax increment financingto lure two national retailers to the neighborhood: Home Depot and Whole Foods. Both these stores thrived, and their success convinced other national retailers to invest in the neighborhood.
The success of Home Depot and Whole Foods sparked a great deal of investment in East Liberty. Local entrepreneurs opened successful restaurants, nightspots, and other businesses, many of them targeted at local artists, musicians, and young professionals from Shadyside. National stores did likewise ( [http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_476685.html] ). And after a complex and time-consuming set of transactions, two of the three housing projects that visually barricaded the neighborhood were demolished in 2005. The last will be demolished within the next few years.
The City of Pittsburgh still has plans to return the roads of Penn Circle from one-way thoroughfares to two-way streets, and otherwise to return the neighborhood to the way it was during its heyday. But the success of national and local retailers, and the destruction of the three housing projects, suggests that the neighborhood has recovered from its struggles in the period from 1965–1995, and will once again become a retail center in the greater Pittsburgh area.
During the early 1980s, Mellon Bank and other businesses forged a new nonprofit community development corporation, East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI). Through the efforts of the CDC, the failed and dilapidated pedestrian mall on Penn Avenue was removed and replaced by a conventional street. Many of the buildings along Penn Avenue were rehabilitated and reoccupied. ELDI purchased and reopened the Regent theater, converting it to a performing arts center and enlisting the help of Carnegie Mellon University. A cluster of antique shops, boutiques, and galleries opened on Penn Circle South. Altogether, ELDI's efforts in the 1980s attracted approximately 200 new businesses and $80 million in new investment.
However, ELDI's focus on the business district and its mostly business leadership eventually caused some local residents to mount an aggressive effort against the CDC, urging a change in focus to deal with neighborhood housing and employment issues.
On July 14, 2008 a mob of approximately 30 persons, some reportedly as young as 8, looted a service station in East Liberty during a power outage. The mob broke windows and stole food. A small amount of cash was also stolen.
*cite book | author=Toker, Franklin | title=Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait | location=Pittsburgh | publisher=University of Pittsburgh Press | year=1986, 1994 | id=ISBN 0-8229-5434-6
*cite magazine| author=Stewart, Charlie | title=Redeveloping East Liberty | Shady Ave, Spring 2006 [http://www.eastliberty.org/doc/shadyaveelspring.2006.pdf Shady Ave- Redeveloping East Liberty]
Mob loots East Liberty gas station. Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Wednesday July 16, 2008
* [http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20010507gallerylist9.asp East Liberty's Wall of Fame]
* [http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/cp/maps/flash.html Interactive Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Map]
* [http://www.eastliberty.org/ East Liberty Development, Inc.]
* [http://www.cathedralofhope.org/ East Liberty Presbyterian Church] http://www.postgazette.com/pg/08198/897247-100.stm
List of Pittsburgh neighborhoods
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