1940s: "Bedford Dwellings"
Bedford Dwellings opened in the Hill District in 1940. At one point that year, a man was interviewing to live in a unit there.
An interview was then required of prospective residents. During the questioning, he changed his mind.
“I just remembered about that graveyard and I decided I’m not going to live with any ghosts,” he told an employee of the complex — allegedly built atop a cemetery.
From its inception through the present, the possible presence of ghosts, as well as a need to fill an abandoned mine in the late 1930s, have been far from being the only problems at the Hill District housing project.
The project would have been torn down in 2003 if not for a shift in federal funding, and today the units could use more care. Piles of litter are the first thing you see at its front on Bedford Avenue. Deep potholes mar Chauncey Drive, which loops through the complex’s eastern half. The 2423 and 2425 Bedford Avenue building numbers are missing or damaged. In short, it’s no longer the shining answer to the city’s lower-income housing needs.
More than 70 years ago, the complex was especially sought after. It was part of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority’s response to the federal government’s push to eliminate slums.
On opening day — July 15, 1940 — 32 families “paraded” into their new residence. On that day, The Pittsburgh Press wrote: “Thus begins a great experiment in public housing visualized by the Federal Government as a step in solving the problem of providing better living quarters for a ‘third of the nation which is ill-housed.’”
Despite issues such as dirty water that appeared from time to time, Bedford Dwellings was still the preferred public housing project 50 years after its construction.
Others, including Allequippa Terrace, had so deteriorated that, “for all the demand for public housing, the city just can’t give (them) away to its needy,” Dennis B. Roddy of The Pittsburgh Press wrote on Sept. 13, 1984.
Still, in the late 1970s, The Pittsburgh Press reported, mothers grew concerned about their children’s safety to the point of patrolling streets and buildings with brooms, swatting those driving up to sell dope to residents.
The next 40 years featured several attempts to replace or renovate many of the units, but much of the original Bedford Dwellings project remains.