Syria Mosque in the 1950s. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Children gather in the Mosque during opening festivities in 1916. Symphony concert crowd during World War II. (The Pittsburgh Press) Rusted Root performed at a rally to help save the partially demolished Mosque in 1991. (Joyce Mendelsohn/Post-Gazette) Heavy equipment brings down the concert hall. (Randy Olson/The Pittsburgh Press) View of the demolition from above. (John Beale/Post-Gazette)

1991: Life and death of the Syria Mosque

For today’s post, you can thank the Monday blues.

We had ‘em, so we googled our second favorite Monday song (the first is by the Mamas and the Papas). We found it on YouTube — a live version of “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, filmed at the Syria Mosque in 1986.

Ah, the Syria Mosque. Thus began another search. We found on the web several live performances at the Mosque — Genesis (1976),  the Band (‘70), James Taylor (‘76), Allman Brothers Band (‘71), Edgar Winter Group (‘72). Most are just audio files, but a few contain video of performances in what was once the city’s prime concert venue.

The Syria Mosque was a colorfully regal presence on Bigelow Boulevard, across from Soldiers & Sailors Hall. Most people today may remember the 3,750-seat hall for the rock and roll shows it hosted. But in its 75-year life, the Mosque was home to much more.

Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Shriners celebrated the Mosque’s opening in 1916 with a week of festivities, one of which was captured in a picture published in The Pittsburgh Press on October 29 of that year. The image shows the hall crowded with hundreds of children, many holding American flags and wearing Shriner hats. The caption says “moving pictures and a luncheon” kept the children entertained.

Over the years, the Mosque was home to the  Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Opera and the National Negro Opera Company.

Then there was jazz. The list of performers includes:

— Louis Armstrong (three appearances, beginning in 1949)
— Duke Ellington (in ‘54, he shared a bill with Armstrong and Billy Eckstine)
— Count Basie
— Benny Goodman (‘41)
— Miles Davis (‘55)
— Charlie Parker (‘50)

— Art Blakey (on a number of occasions, including a concert in 1955 with the Jazz Messengers)
— George Benson (‘76, ‘77 and ‘86)

We could go on, but you get the point. The Pittsburgh Music History website offers more detail than we can provide here.

Now let’s talk rock:

— Bill Haley and the Comets (in ‘55, with Bo Diddley and the Drifters; tickets ranged in price from $1.75 to $3.75)
— Buddy Holly (four performances ’58, the last in October, four months before his death)
— Bob Dylan (in February ‘66, six months after going electric at Newport; also played in ‘64 and ‘90)
— Bette Midler (forgive us for lumping her with rockers, but she had a great quote in her ‘73 show: “We’re on a tour of the tackiest city’s in the world, of which Pittsburgh is without a doubt No. 1”)
— The Who (in ‘69, the year of the rock opera “Tommy,” and ‘90)
— Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (‘74)

— Bruce Springsteen (in ‘75 and ‘76; his manager Jon Landau called the Mosque “one of the finest theaters he has ever played in”)
— Linda Ronstadt (‘75)
— Bob Marley (‘77)
— James Brown (‘76 and ‘86)
— Ramones (‘88)
— R.E.M. (‘85 and ‘86)
— Bon Jovi (‘84)

Can’t forget the comedy:

— Robin Williams (‘86)
— Richard Pryor (At the height of his career, in ‘78)
— George Carlin (‘84)
— Bill Cosby (‘71)
— Jack Benny (‘50 and ‘63)
— Bob Hope (‘50)

Of course, these are just partial lists. 

Time was up for the Mosque in 1991. UPMC, then known as Presbyterian University Health System, bought the building for $10 million. What followed was one of the most intense preservation battles in the city’s history. It ended with a handful of protesters, including then City Councilman Jim Ferlo, getting arrested in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the bulldozers from advancing on the Mosque.

Today the site is a surface parking lot.

— Steve Mellon

Top picture: Demolition crews at work in 1991. (John Heller/The Pittsburgh Press)

Dec. 5, 1983: Webster on the bench during a game at Three Rivers Stadium.

1970s: "Iron Mike" Webster and his routine

"Practice, practice, practice." That was the mantra Mike Webster’s son, Colin Webster, heard constantly when he was growing up.  

It was how “Iron Mike” of the Pittsburgh Steelers lived his life. He left his house regularly on the off season to go watch game tapes, to scribble in a notebook different plans and ideas to improve his performance. “He practiced driving a sled almost daily it seemed,” Colin remembered. “He worked the basics, over and over again.”

He ate steaks and drank milk in large quantities. He had a thing for potatoes too, according to Colin, with lots and lots of butter. “He never gained an appreciable amount  of fat, probably because his two and three hour workouts (and occasionally longer) would eat up all those calories, and also because he actively tried to avoid weight gain after he reached 245 or 250.”  

He was a bad singer but a stoic athlete albeit he never acknowledged the latter. “I am not a great athlete,” he said. “I’m not quick or coordinated, so my only chance is to tire the other guy out, hit him hard and never let up.”

Another memory of Colin Webster was the maniacal steps routine his father followed. “He would run the stadium steps pretty much every workout − that’s usually the first thing you will hear from Wolfley, Ilkin, or the other guys. They said they always just wanted to go shower after practice, and Dad would start running the steps, trying to train his legs to stay fresh and ready for more no matter how much “football” activity they had done, so he could always turn it on 100 percent for the whole game.” That’s the image that stayed with his son and the image you see before you captured by the Post-Gazette photographer Mark Murphy.

For all of these things and the dangerous career in the NFL, Mike Webster paid the highest price. “The brutal beating encountered in every game adds up over time,” his son wrote. “‘Oklahoma’ drills, which left internal scarring around the internal organs and the brain, head slaps, and the like don’t help either.” Mike Webster was the first former NFL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He died at age 50. His story will soon be told in the Will Smith movie, which will be filmed in Pittsburgh this year. 

In the Post-Gazette archives our editors found not only photographs of one of the toughest Hall of Famers but also a story by Jonathan Silver detailing the battles of “Iron Mike.”

— Mila Sanina

The Lagoon of Nations and Court of Peace at the 1940 New York World's Fair. (Handout/Fair Publicity) A photo illustration from The Pittsburgh Press showing one of several buildings announcing a prominent Pittsburgh presence. A photo illustration from The Pittsburgh Press showing one of several buildings announcing a prominent Pittsburgh presence. The interior of the Pennsylvania Building. Its main feature is the 136-foot Unity Bridge, entirely suspended, which was a gift of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. (Handout/Fair Publicity) This setup was featured in the Hall of Progress. (Handout/Bogart Studio) May 11, 1940: Opening day from the air. The Court of Peace is in the foreground, Constitution Mall in the center and thematic trylon and perisphere behind that. (ACME photo)

1939-40:Pittsburgh at the New York World’s Fair”

In those years, Pittsburgh was flying high.

The center of significant innovation and dominant building industry, its presence was on prominent display across the grounds of the 1939-40 World’s Fair in New York.

This was still more than a year before World War II really fired up the region’s steel mills.

Among the most striking exhibits was the Pittsburgh House of Glass, a building that had its home in the Town of Tomorrow, an entire suburban block designed to showcase home features that architects believed would be part of the future.

The house wasn’t made entirely of glass. That would have made for a better joke about who should or shouldn’t throw stones.

See photos inside the house not found in the PG’s archive.

Nevertheless, its purpose, according to architect Landefeld & Hatchl, was “to suggest possible additions to the comfort of modern living, particularly those features made available through the use of glass products.”

Moreover, “few persons or families may want to reproduce this house exactly as it is shown,” they wrote, according to a fan site dedicated to preserving the World’s Fair.

Beyond the House of Glass, there was the Pennsylvania Building, whose exterior was made to resemble Independence Hall. But it had a “vigorous modern interior,” according to the Fair’s publicity team. It and other Fair buildings had substantial help from Pennsylvania builders and raw materials such as steel, aluminum and anthracite coal.

Back then, anthracite could only be found in Pennsylvania. 

But symbols of the state’s ingenuity? Crowds from around the world witnessed those.

—Ethan Magoc

In March 1972, Anne X. Alpern rode on the Monongahela Incline with Harold Geissenheimer, assistant director of operations for the Port Authority Transit. (Edward A. Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) October 1961: The opening of Democratic headquarters in the Frank & Seder Building in Pittsburgh. From left, Gov. David L. Lawrence, Justice Anne X. Alpern, Lynda Harper and Wm. McClelland. In December 1960, Anne X. Alpern is shown holding the agreement that allowed the public to view the art collection of Dr. Albert Barnes of Philadelphia. (Post-Gazette) In March 1972, Common Pleas Judge Anne X. Alpern took her long awaited ride on the Skybus at South Park. (Edward A. Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) This photo shows Anne X. Alpern, her daughter, Marsha Ellen and Irwin A. Swiss, husband of the judge.

1961: “First woman on Pennsylvania’s high court”

Anne X. Alpern had planned to be a teacher but she took her father’s advice and studied law at the University of Pittsburgh. 

In her 40-year legal career, she sought justice, demonstrated a flair for courtroom drama and had a knack for simplifying issues in complex cases. 

The pinnacle of her career came in 1961 when Governor David Lawrence appointed her a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, making her the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

Even as a lawyer, Anne X. Alpern attracted attention. While a city solicitor, she gained statewide recognition in rate battles with the Public Utility Commission. She called it “the Public Futility Commission” and labeled its rate increases “the Overcharge of the Light Brigade.” 

After 12 years as an assistant in the city solicitor’s office, she was named city solicitor in 1942, becoming the first woman to hold that position in a major U.S. city. 

In his 1946 profile of her for Collier’s Magazine, Victor Rubin wrote: “Where other women with a fraction of her physical charms employ their wiles to win orchids, slender, serious Anne X uses her high legal and forensic skill to win decent housing, fair taxes, lower gas rates and other social objectives for the people of Pittsburgh.”  

Mr. Rubin was clearly enamored of his subject: “Her dark eyes shining, her black hair combed in an extremely becoming page-boy bob, her contralto voice ringing out, she might have been another Tallulah Bankhead.”

Judge Alpern was born in Russia but moved with her family to Scenery Hill in Washington County when she was still a child. 

Two of her famous cases involved mass transit and art. She presided over the “Stop Skybus” lawsuit and issued a court order that stopped the Port Authority from moving ahead with its plans to build the controversial mass transit system.  She was elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1954.

In 1959, Governor Lawrence appointed her state attorney general, making her the first woman to hold that job in Pennsylvania. 

In 1960, Attorney General Anne Alpern was instrumental in opening to the public the $500 million art collection at the Barnes Museum in suburban Philadelphia. The priceless art collection had been closed to public view for 38 years.   

After her appointment to the state Supreme Court, she ran for election but lost to Henry X. O’Brien.

Gov. Lawrence appointed her to the Allegheny County Common Pleas bench and she served there until 1974, when she returned to private practice. She died in 1981.

—Marylynne Pitz

The arches take shape in 1932. (Photo Credit: Unknown) Sculptor Frank Vittor, left, displays a clay model of one of the panels to be carved in granite on the entrance pylons. (Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co.) Officials estimated 30,000 people gathered along the bridge and nearby hillsides to witness the opening of the span. (The Pittsburgh Press) Spectators crowded onto the bridge deck for a dedication ceremony on Sept. 10, 1932. (The Pittsburgh Press) The bridge on Aug. 17, 1947. (Photo credit: Unknown)

1932: The George Westinghouse Bridge, Pittsburgh’s engineering marvel

We at the Digs have always appreciated the grand splendor of the George Westinghouse Bridge, but until we examined an envelope of images showing its construction, we never truly understood how awe-inspiring the span must have been to Pittsburghers in the early 1930s.

The pictures show massive frameworks of steel and wood rising as high as 200 feet above the Turtle Creek Valley. We looked closely and saw, perched atop the beams, tiny figures — workers tasked with the hazardous job making the engineers’ designs a reality. Concrete for the structure was delivered by massive buckets carried along cables swaying high above the site.

Those beneath the span knew the risks. Railroad companies directly below covered the roofs of their steel sheds with heavy wood planks to withstand the impact of falling objects — timbers, tools or workers who’d made a misstep. The bridge claimed its first victim on Dec. 31, 1931 when laborer Joseph Urban, 28, of McKeesport slipped off a beam and fell more than 200 feet to his death.

The bridge was ready for traffic on Sept. 10, 1932. Motorists wanting to be among the first to cross waited in their cars for hours while officials conducted a dedication ceremony on the bridge deck. Politicians climbed on a small stage and droned on, their voices amplified and flung at the masses gathered on the bridge and surrounding hillsides. Newspapers estimated attendance at 30,000. Boy Scouts roamed through the crowd, ready to assist those overcome by the heat.

Shortly before 4 p.m., Herman Westinghouse, brother of the famous inventor for whom the bridge was named, sliced a small ribbon and the Turtle Creek Valley echoed with the shrieks of factory whistles celebrating the event. Drivers pressed on their horns, adding to the bedlam.

Pittsburgh at the time was accustomed to doing things big. And here’s the proof: The George Westinghouse Bridge was declared the largest structure of its kind in the country. The center arch, 425 feet long, was then the longest reinforced concrete arch in the country. The bridge is 1,510 feet long, with the center arch clearing the Pennsylvania railroad tracks by exactly 200 feet. At this point, an 18-story building could be placed under the span.

This is what a publication called the Engineering News-Record had to say:

“The George Westinghouse Bridge claims a place in the select company of other great engineering achievements of recent years, such as the Holland Tunnel, the Hudson River Suspension Bridge and the Hoover Dam.”

— Steve Mellon

Top Picture: Framework for the bridge rises above the Turtle Creek Valley in 1931. (Photo credit: Unknown)

Tom Barrasso steps silent through the midst of reporters outside the Public Safety Building, May 1994, John Heller/Post-Gazette Tom Barrasso after the Penguins defeated the Rangers, May 14, 1992. Barrasso had to retreat all the way into the net to make this first period stop against the Whalers, February, 1992, Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette. Barrasso with the Prince of Whales trophy in the Penguins locker room following the a 5-3 win over the Bruins, May 1991, Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette Goalie Barrasso announces his renewed contract with the Pens, 1992 (Gene Puskar/Associated Press)

1991: "Tom Barrasso, a legendary goaltender"

All eyes are on the Penguins as a new hockey season is officially about to start in Pittsburgh this week against the Anaheim Ducks. 

As has been the case in the past, the hopes for this season is that this year’s Penguins will bring Pittsburgh lots of good memories, less injuries and more victories. The Stanley Cup wouldn’t be bad either. 

Perhaps bringing back the black-and-gold outfits of the 90s as their third jerseys will serve as a lucky charm. Marc-Andre Fleury’s outfit is the coolest, no doubt.  He will be sporting the giant yellow pads, gloves and a yellow  mask, which — if you remember the Penguins of the 90s — looks like the mask that the legendary Tom Barrasso used to wear during Penguins’ glory days when the team won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.   

Which brings us to Tom Barrasso… In our archive, folders with Barrasso’s images do not bleed black and gold, they are mostly black and white. But they do tell a story of a golden boy, the story of his play that established him as a “money goalie.”   

Barrasso’s journey to professional hockey started early. He went straight from high school to the NHL becoming the first and the only goaltender to ever play in the NHL without having played major junior or college hockey.

His coaches agreed: “He has hockey sense, he stops the puck well and he knows what he’s doing.” He stopped a lot of pucks. In 1997, he set a record as the first U.S. goaltender with 300 NHL wins. 

In 2000, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators, then joined the Carolina Hurricanes. After that he played with the Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues. Barrasso played 19 NHL seasons with 6 teams, 12 of those seasons he played in as a Penguin. In 2003, to retire as a Pittsburgh Penguin, Tom Barrasso signed a pro forma contract with them and then announced his retirement. 

In spite of his great play or maybe because of it, Barrasso’s relationships with many teammates and the Pittsburgh media was, as the PG’s Dave Molinari once put it, “frosty, at best.” That was unfortunate, Molinari wrote, “because he was capable of offering great insight on things that happened on the ice.”

He was inducted in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. 

— Mila Sanina

April 13, 1930: The new county office building is rising, the Pittsburgh Press wrote in the cutline of this image. April 15, 1930: County commissioners Joseph G. Armstrong and E. V. Babcock laying the cornerstone. (The Pittsburgh Press) April 15, 1930: An American flag and a Bible were placed inside the cornerstone. County commissioners E.V. Babock, with flag, and Charles C. McGovern, at right. (The Pittsburgh Press) What a gothic city hall might have looked like. This rendering is undated, though it was evidently considered during the early 20th century. (Credit: Unknown) Oct. 1, 1926: An architect's rendering of how the county administration building might have looked.  (Credit: Unknown) March 15, 1957: As part of the city renaissance, the City-County building needed serious cleaning. (Credit: Handout/Garry's Commercial Photographers) That same filthy wall, but relatively clean in 2014. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) July 1965: A view of the Allegheny County Office Building looking east toward Duquesne University, the Monongahela River and Boulevard of the Allies. (The Pittsburgh Press) 2014: The City-County Building on Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

Views of Pittsburgh’s government buildings not often seen

Even as his fellow county commissioners placed the cornerstone, Charles C. McGovern fumed.

He remained frustrated about the cost to taxpayers of a new $3.65-million county administration building. The fight had long been lost on that day in April 1930 when the cornerstone was laid.

Still, he said, “the increase in the public business of this county does not require a deal of millions of dollars over a period of 30 years.”

Translation: we’re not that busy that we need to buy this big new building.

But at that point, five months into the Great Depression, the deal was done. Allegheny County’s administration had a new home — one that neighbors another fine governmental structure, the City-County Building on Grant Street. 

That building had a parallel history with the previous structure, alternately known as Municipal Hall or, simply, City Hall. Replaced by the new one on Grant Street, the 1872 structure stood mostly empty until the 1950s, when it was torn down. Today, the former Saks on Fifth Avenue store sits there.

(PittGirl wrote in 2013 about the mysteries of the objects formerly occupying that building.)

In our archive, we found two drawings of what each office’s replacement could have looked like. Those are the fourth and fifth images here.

Somewhere along the way, that park, the extra floors and the grand pointed roof were ditched in favor of the more utilitarian.

During Pittsburgh’s mid-century renaissance, both needed a good cleaning. All the dirt, dust, soot, ash and other industry particulates left the bright exteriors quite dark. That’s not unlike the 2007 Cathedral of Learning cleaning that restored to the Oakland landmark its stone sheen.

Today, the City-County building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the County Administration Building boasts a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation designation. We wonder what Mr. McGovern would say.

—Ethan Magoc

Updated from original: Our thanks to former county manager Robert Webb, who knows the two buildings well and elucidated our confusion of more than one of the county building photos.

Signs on the old Glenwood Bridge warned motorists to drive slowly and not to throw lighted cigarettes on its wooden deck.
A truck lumbers across the splintered wooden deck of the old Glenwood Bridge in June of 1966. After vandals tore up some of the Glenwood Bridge's wooden decking, city police superintendent James Slussed ordered the span closed to motorists and pedestrians. In 1967, the Glenwood Bridge closed for a weekend while workers applied a non-skid surface to the steel panels on the bridge deck.
1964: “Hazelwood residents’ battle for Glenwood Bridge”

Late in July of 1964, Hazelwood residents became fed up with the deplorable state of  the rickety, two-lane Glenwood Bridge, which crossed the Monongahela River and linked their neighborhood with Hays, another community in the city’s 31st Ward. 

One sign on the span said “Slow Travel At Own Risk. ” Another warned motorists not to toss cigarettes on the wooden bridge.

Construction of a new Glenwood Bridge had begun in 1960 but was moving at a glacial pace.

After vandals tore up the 70-year-old bridge’s wooden deck, city police Superintendent James Slusser inspected it and ordered it closed to motorists and pedestrians on July 30, 1964.

Hazelwood citizens, who were fed up with having their tires punctured on the bridge, seized the moment and staged a protest that lasted for three days. 

About a dozen Hazelwood residents, most of them women, set up barricades at both ends of the bridge and took turns around the clock staffing the blockade to make their point.

Afterward, the state spent two months repairing the bridge before reopening it to traffic in November 1964.

Four years later, residents of Hazelwood, Hays and the South Hills received an early Christmas present when the new Glenwood Bridge opened to traffic on Dec. 20, 1968. The new bridge cost $18 million.

— Marylynne Pitz

Top image: In the summer of 1964, Charles Frederick took up his post in a lawn chair to enforce Glenwood Bridge barricades as part of a protest staged by Hazelwood citizens.

The trashed cafeteria at Oliver High School. (Pittsburgh Press photo) After trouble in 1967, police walked the halls of Oliver High School. (Pittsburgh Press photo) In 1968, Oliver Principal Frank Crowley tried to persuade wary students to attend classes. (Edward Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Violent clashes erupted outside of Oliver High School in Sept. 1969. (Al Herrmann Jr./The Pittsburgh Press) Police rushed to the school to quell the disturbance. (Al Herrmann Jr./The Pittsburgh Press)

Feb. 13, 1969: ‘Adults have taught these kids to hate.’

In the cafeteria, where the trouble began, the floor was slick with milk spilled from those small cartons ubiquitous in American schools. Windows were broken. Tables overturned. Pieces of broken glass crunched under the feet of investigators trying to figure out what happened, and how things at Oliver High School had gotten so quickly out of control.

The anger that had flared in the room just a short time earlier had gone from the place and now there was mostly sadness. A 17-year-old senior named Ed sat by himself and did not look up at the mess around him. He was part of the school’s Grievance Committee, which had tried to head off the clash. He admitted that his group’s efforts “just turned into a big nothing.”

His friend Greg stood nearby. “I thought we were there,” Greg said. “I thought we were getting things fixed up pretty well between blacks and whites.”

Audrey Beverett agreed. In sewing class and gym class, white girls and black girls laughed and joked with each other and “it really seemed like school again.”

But then, at noon, words were exchanged in the cafeteria. Students separated. Whites at one end, blacks at the other. Stools and trays and fists flew through the air. This went on for 15 minutes. In the end, two students were taken to Allegheny General Hospital and the cafeteria was a shambles.

Oliver had experienced trouble before. In Nov. 1967, a 45-minute melee between white and black students ended only when 150 police showed up. School officials were shocked. They thought Oliver was a place of “good race relations.”

A year later, brawling students shattered dishes and tore out light fixtures in the cafeteria. The rukus spilled onto the streets outside, where teenagers lobbed rocks and bricks at each other.  Students were getting accustomed to seeing lines of police officers in the hallways.

One parent at Oliver worried the kids were becoming “monsters.”

It’s not the students, said the school’s new principal, Dominic Iannotta. It’s not the school.

“The adults have taught these kids to hate,” he said. “Every time there is a disruption at Oliver, people ask the question, ‘What’s wrong with Oliver?’ Instead, they should be asking, ‘What’s wrong with the community?’”

Steve Mellon

Top picture: In Sept. 1969, a few months after a massive student fight in Oliver High School’s cafeteria, violence once again erupted at the school, this time spilling out onto the grounds outside. (Al Herrmann Jr./The Pittsburgh Press)

Pam Cohen, owner of the diner, listens at a public hearing at the Clack Health Center in Lawrenceville. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)

1980: "Pamela’s diner"

If you ask a Pittsburgher where to find best pancakes in the city, the answer most likely would be, “At Pamela’s.”

It’s a signature breakfast diner of the ‘Burgh, which would, for sure, impress any pancake connoisseur with its buttery crepe-thin flapjacks… a mountain of whip creme on top and its genuine Pittsburgh diner feel.  Ask Barack Obama. He was there in 2008, on a campaign visit —  just goes to show you: it’s not some sort of a dinky place. 

 First Lady Michelle Obama cleaned up her plate at Pamela’s in 2009, while Obama, already the president, was “resentful he didn’t get to Pamela’s.” But people understood, he must have gotten too busy solving world’s economic problems with other world leaders during the G-20 Summit happening in Pittsburgh at the time (If you remember, there were plenty of those… economic problems that is)Owners of Pamela’s are not shy about their accomplishment: “Since 1980 we’ve been serving the best breakfast in Pittsburgh,” they announce on their website.  Translation: Pamela’s. Is. The. Best. (Sorry, Weight Watchers). 

Not just because of the best breakfast though. Pamela’s diner has  been on the Pittsburgh market for more than 30 years, which means that it was part of the ‘Burgh when it was not so cool. To top it off, Pamela’s, although it’s now considered a chain diner, is locally owned. AND the owners are two successful women, who came up with a concept of a quintessential Pittsburgh breakfast place in 1979. The official name of Pamela’s is Pamela’s P&G Diner, or, P&G’s Pamela’s Diner where “P&G” stands for first-name initials of the owners, Pam Cohen, the mastermind behind the kitchen, and Gail Klingensmith, the entrepreneurial spirit behind the venture. 

The first Pamela’s opened in Squirrel Hill. Business was doing well. Today there are six Pamela’s in the Pittsburgh area: in Shadyside, Oakland, Millvale, Mt. Lebanon, the Strip District and the flagship location. 

The Wall Street Journal recently listed visiting Pamela’s as one of the “things to do” in Pittsburgh. Do it.

— Mila Sanina

This 1902 image shows children playing a game called streetcar. From left is cousin Sophie Acheson, Charles Spencer Jr. and Elizabeth Spencer. Starting in 1886, the Spencer family lived in this house on Amberson Avenue in Shadyside.  
​(Photo by Dale Gleason/The Pittsburgh Press) In 1983, when The Spencers of Amberson Avenue was published, ​Beatrice Spencer, the widow of Charles Spencer Jr., made sponge cake for a party held at the former Spencer home.

1886: The Spencer family of Amberson Avenue

In 1886, the Spencer family moved into a roomy, Victorian-era house on  Amberson Avenue in Shadyside.

The seven Spencer children adored their energetic, thrifty mother, Mary Acheson Spencer, who was a graduate of Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University.

“When she went away we missed her more than tongue could tell,” Ethel Spencer wrote in her memoir, “The Spencers of Amberson Avenue.”

Published in 1983, the book became a classic text about middle-class life in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh. An English teacher, Ethel Spencer ran the Department of General Studies at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.

The seven Spencer children were Adeline, Kate, Ethel, Mary, Elizabeth, Mark and Charles Jr. Their father, Charles Hart Spencer was a tense, nervous man employed by Henry Clay Frick. He also was a talented amateur photographer and his pictures, which captured his family, appear in the book.

When “The Spencers of Amberson Avenue” was published, a reception was held at the family’s home, which still stands at 719 Amberson Ave and was designed by architect George Orth.

Beatrice Spencer, the widow of Charles Spencer Jr., made her mother-in-law’s sponge cake for the party. Beatrice Spencer, who lived in the house as a bride, said she also stayed there when her mother-in-law took her two unmarried daughters, Ethel and Kate, abroad.

The  Spencer family lived in the house until 1950, the year their beloved mother died.

— Marylynne Pitz

Top picture: The seven Spencer children fussed when their father, Charles Hart Spencer, insisted on taking their picture. From left are Charles Jr., Elizabeth, Mary, Mark, Ethel, Kate and Mrs. Spencer. The eldest daughter, Adeline, is missing.

Ray Camp is hoisted to safety. (Post-Gazette photo) Arrow points to the stalled scaffold and the rescue operation. (Post-Gazette photo) Charles Crane dangles from a safety rope at the Pittsburgh National Bank building. (William Campbell/Post-Gazette) Firefighters pull Crane to an aerial ladder. (William Campbell/Post-Gazette) A window washer at the Post-Office Building on Grant Street climbs outside to clean windows. (Post-Gazette photo)

March 16, 1971: Window washing turns perilous

A worker on one of the upper floors of the Gateway 4 building glanced out an office window one blustery day and saw a ruddy-cheeked man in a hooded sweatshirt outside, 19 floors above the sidewalk.

The man was holding up a note. “Help,” it read.

This is what happens when window washers like Ray Camp have a bad day. Their electric scaffolding stalls and leaves them hanging. Rescue workers rush to the scene. People gather on the street below and squint into the sky to watch the drama unfold.

In this case, police on the roof lowered ropes and harnesses down to Ray and his brother Lyle (the two always worked as  team). Lyle had trouble getting into his harness. It was too small. Judging by the pictures we’ve seen, it gave him a monster wedgie.

Then, 10 officers grabbed a rope and tugged until first Ray and then Lyle was hoisted to safety. The brothers decided to take the rest of the day off.

We found in our archives two photo sequences of such rescues. Both sets of images give us chills.

On May 3, 1991, one window washer was dumped out of a work scaffold that suddenly shifted between the fourth and fifth floors of what was then the Pittsburgh National Bank building. William Eikey dangled from a safety belt and clung to the side of a building.

His coworker Charles Crane remained inside the scaffold, which was hanging vertically. When he felt he was being shocked by the scaffold’s electric motor, Crane jumped free and, like, Eikey, hung from a safety belt and awaited rescue.

Bank employees watched as Pittsburgh firefighters raised an aerial ladder. Rescue workers worried about the scaffold, which twirled dangerously in winds that gusted to 36 miles an hour. The scaffold slammed into the building and shattered a double-paned window.

More than 1,000 people jammed Wood Street to watch. They cheered when Eikey and Crane were brought down 70 feet to safety.

Crane vowed to return to the job. “I’m going up there again,” he said. “Just look out for me.”

Eikey wasn’t so certain. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

Steve Mellon

Top photo: Office workers watch as Lyle Camp is pulled to the roof of Gateway 4. Coverage of the event was credited to Post-Gazette photographers James Klingensmith and Harry Coughanour.

The old Fence, seen in the background of a 1974graduation ceremony. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) Fresh paint covers a restored section of the Fence in 2011. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) CMU prepares for its peace rally at the Fence, which was painted with messages at a vigil held the night of the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. (Photo by Eileen Shiue) Frigid temperatures are not a factor for CMU students upholding the traditions of the Fence, as seen in this 2012 picture, (Vaughn Wallace, Post-Gazette)

1974: "The Fence on CMU’s campus”

According to the Guinness Book of Records, up until 1993, a structure installed in the middle of the Carnegie Mellon University’s campus simply known as “The Fence,” was the most painted object in the world. 

To some it’s just a colorful fence. To others, it’s a symbol, a tradition, a part of the institutional memory that lives. 

The landmark is so respected and protected that there are strict rules on repainting the fence that include using brushes rather than rollers, covering the entire structure and decorating it exclusively between midnight and sunrise. 

Those who want to ensure their message is not painted over must post at least two people to “guard” the fence, camping out overnight in a tent if necessary. They sometimes bring sleeping bags, a barbecue and music.

In 1993, the fence collapsed under layers and layers of paint. The new structure was erected in the same place to continue the tradition. The fence has served as a rallying point for issues big and small around campus for decades. 

In March of 2011, the unthinkable happened. A group of freshmen defaced the fence using a hacksaw. Before any serious damage was done, a group of CMU students intervened to stop the vandals. 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported an outrage over the egregious offense. The outrage spilled over online.   

"This was where I was for the vigil the night of 9/11/01. This (was) where I announced to my friends (who were camping there that night advertising a Scotch and Soda show) that I’d just gotten engaged," wrote an online reader. "The paint has become physically integral to the fence! In many ways, the paint IS the fence, representing the years of events it has been used to advertise, celebrate, and remember."

— Mila Sanina

1952: East Brookline. (Ed Romano/Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) 1960: Espland to Fountain Streets, Fineview. (Post-Gazette) 1945: Lincoln Avenue near Arbor Street in East Liberty. (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) 1963: Hooper to Locust Streets on the Bluff. (Post-Gazette) 1958: Warren to Compromise Streets, Fineview. (Earl McCartney/Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) 1976. (Post-Gazette) 1977: South Side. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette)

Do you know the locations of these Pittsburgh steps?

Pittsburgh and its steps are not unlike Pittsburgh and its bridges.

Because of geography, they’re inseparable features of the city’s character. Pittsburghers know bridges and steps well, and some view them as a unique aspect of living here.

Or they might tell you they’re generally annoyed at having to bother with all those steps and getting stuck in traffic on any number of bridges.

The Post-Gazette’s photo archive has but one small folder labeled “City steps.” Inside are seven photos of staircases from around the city.

Each has a history.

In the top photo, for example, two girls eluded attacks in April 1952 while walking to work — separately. It’s not known from the photo nor the clips if the attacker was caught. 

Photo No. 2: In the winter of 1960, the Post-Gazette took city officials to task for failing to clear rutted snow and ice coverings from its myriad steps, despite the fact they were fining property owners $5 for not cleaning sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowfall.

And just as in the fourth photo, the city still deals with expensive maintenance on its hundreds of staircases. Rarely is there enough money to cover all the needed repairs, as Diana Nelson Jones wrote this summer.

You might likewise have a story about one or two sets of stairs you’ve come to know.

But this is what we want to know in the comments below: can you name the Pittsburgh neighborhood to which these steps belong?

We waited two days to add the answers to the captions. Not many here nor on our Facebook page guessed correctly. As one member of the community wrote, “These comments say it all.. All steps look alike.”

—Ethan Magoc

May 21, 1981: Three-year-old Amanda Palmer and Ethel, a broken statue on Mount Washington. (Andy Starnes/The Pittsburgh Press) April 23, 1972: The Pittsburgh Press in its published photo cutline remarked about the effort it took to climb down the hill to reach the top of the Liberty Tunnel and paint a fraternity affiliation. April 23, 1972: Apparently scrawled by boaters, read the Pittsburgh Press cutline, this river graffiti is not even interesting — unless roll calls turn you on. June 29, 1974: A vandalized classroom at Philip Murray School on Rectenwald Street in the South Side. (Edwin Morgan/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 3, 1975: Four boys, ages 9 to 12, drove 30 cars, trucks and vans into each other in the Duquesne Light Company Manchester parking lot, resulting in $30,000 in damages. (Anthony Kaminski/Press) Aug. 9, 1979: A war memorial was defaced in Beaver when vandals knocked the hands off this statue in Ft. McIntosh Square. (Ray Thompson/Post-Gazette) Sept. 9, 1988: Officers guard the Steen vault at Chartiers Cemetery in East Carnegie. The vault was broken into and family member remains strewn about inside. (Marlene Karas/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 24, 1990: Dick Garrity, a Woodland Hills School District worker, cleans glass out of the pool after vandals broke windows in the school — $40,000 in repairs. (John Heller/The Pittsburgh Press) Dec. 31, 1990: What a way to end the year in Penn Hills and Verona. Sixty cars were spray-painted and had tires slashed, mostly on Fourth Avenue. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo)

An ode to Pittsburgh’s vandalized places

These images comprise a collection of obvious targets for Pittsburgh’s vandalizing youth in the city’s not-so-distant past.

It seems every year or two from the 1970s through the 1990s, some brazen act of public vandalism would draw newspaper photographers to points across the city. Camera in hand, they documented the latest destruction that was evidence perhaps not so much of pure maliciousness or criminality so much as a lack of things to do.

Children and teenagers (usually males) evidently require more constructive pursuits, and in a time before video games provided a comparatively innocuous outlet, their energy went toward the destruction of public landmarks.

Permanently or momentarily stationary objects made the best targets: schools, statues and cars. Walls were good sport, as, unfortunately, were cemeteries.

The more visible the better. That would be you, Liberty Tunnels.

And as for the folder marked “Vandalism” we found in the archives? What does it say about the journalistic ethics of shooting and publishing these photographs? Did it lead to copycat acts and beget even more destruction? Or was it a warning to the public to keep an eye out for such vandals in an effort to aid their capture?

Hard to say in retrospect, but there’s something almost artistic in the records of the destruction, particularly with poor old Ethel.

—Ethan Magoc