Friday, March 29, 2013

Daily Dog Walks and Being a Tourist in the East End

Porter, high above Frick Park

My daily dog walks have rekindled my love affair with my neighborhood.

I have a fierce love for Pittsburgh's East End, especially Regent Square, Park Place and Point Breeze. These  city neighborhoods are densely packed with old residential streets that you might not notice when you come and go by car. But if you start walking from Braddock Avenue, you'll find a thick maze of meandering streets that rarely conform to a boring grid. City blocks trail off into dead ends. A street will abruptly give way to a community of townhouses clustered around a sculpture garden. Roads widen, narrow and form triangles for no discernible reason. Some streets even lead to entrances to the sprawling and gloriously green Frick Park.

Best of all, every street is a surprise. One block will hold boarded-up or even burned-out houses. The next block will hold pristine Victorian homes with wrap-around porches and stained glass windows. There are dilapidated decks and overgrown gardens and then there are elegant turrets. There are stately mansions--some finely preserved, and some divvied into apartments. I count the mailboxes and wonder how they fit so many units inside.

A surprise turret in Point Breeze.

This house seems pleasant and plain from the front, but from the back, seems to slip down the cliff and into the jagged tangles of Frick Park. Best of all, there is a footpath that connects to Frick Park walking trails right behind it!

The front. (Move, car!)

View of the back. The house is perched over Frick Park.

Magical trail!!

If you lived here, you could bask in city life AND have this as your back yard. Heaven!

Porter still can't walk very far, so before heading home tonight, we took a quick romp through Frick Park...

Never look back!

My favorite building is the Old Heidelberg, a historic landmark in Park Place. I remember riding past it in my mom's car when I was little, and I imagined that very lucky, very interesting people must live inside--like playwrights and poets and professors.

What are you doing on Braddock Avenue?

The Old Heidelberg is 105 years old, whimsically bedecked in mushrooms and mosaics, and is delightfully symmetrical and random at the same time. While the building is balanced with an equal number of balconies, doors, and windows, every one is slightly different. Its architect, Frederick Scheibler, became my favorite architect.

So when I started reading this book about him, I learned that his work is all over my neighborhood. In fact, some of my favorite houses are actually, unbeknowst to me, his work! Making this discovery was like the distinct thrill of realizing that my secret crush had class in the room next to mine. Or something. So tonight after work, the Beagle and I set out on a treasure hunt for Scheibler buildings.

I made a beeline for Scheibler's Whitehall Apartments, which look to me like an Old Heidelberg Lite. 

I would like to see your insides.

Even though they're several blocks outside of my normal daily dog walk, the Parkstone Dwellings are a pretty fantastic piece of Scheibler's work. I once begged for and scored a tour when I went to an estate sale in the Dwellings' front yard. The inside is just something out of a dream...turrets, a wall of mosiac featuring a dinosaur (!!), little toadstool statues and ornate windows and trim. 

Recently, I've been lamenting the loss of my childhood imagination. But on these walks, my imagination swells back to life, just in a different way. I imagine what it must be like to live inside these pretty homes. Or, what the last century held inside them. Could Scheibler have pictured his buildings standing 100 years later, filled with new daily dramas and woes? Who was born and died inside them? At what point in history did the aristocrats start to move out, and the college students start to move in, turning the servants' quarters into mud rooms and storage? And, most of all, when am I going to strike in rich and buy my very own Scheibler house?

1 comment: