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It’s happening on the Hill – the Hill District, that is! A swirling renaissance of renewal, rehabilitation, renovation and revitalization with the fervor of a revival is occurring in the most remarkable community in the nation’s most livable city.
What once was, is now again - a historic hub is hopping with crackle of rebirth. You can feel the energy as you see the changes along Centre Avenue in the construction of a full service supermarket, the new Thelma Lovette YMCA, as well as the recently–renovated Kaufman Center and the new Hill District branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
New and renovated housing is cropping up throughout the Hill. Fifth Avenue High School has converted into multipurpose housing with a variety of floor plans and the Dinwiddie Street corridor between Fifth and Centre Avenue is bursting with new residential construction and restored structures.
And the best is yet to come! New Granada Square will restore the grandeur and pride to the art deco structure that once served as the Hill’s calling card.
The Hill District invites you to be part of the revival – come on in!
Hill District Heritage & History
Hill District history mirrors that of the City of Pittsburgh, as the city grew and became more established as an industrial core, newly settled European immigrants flocked to the hillside area overlooking the Golden Triangle, and emerging white collar workers and commerce merchants moved out to greener and quieter areas of Oakland and Shadyside. The rise of the steel mills and World War I led to an increased demand for labor as men went off to war. This demand for steel mill labor partly fueled the Great Migration of first generation and recently-freed Blacks from the South in search of a better life. The vast majority of these newly relocated African Americans settled in the Hill.
Remnants of the diverse cultural mosaic of the Hill District of 1920s-1940s can still be seen in landmarks that once housed synagogues, temples and orthodox houses of worship and in the architecture of some of the historic structures that accent the community.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the vibrance of the Hill’s heyday. Nightspots like the Granada Theatre, the Crawford Grill, the Hurricane Lounge and the Savoy Ballroom made the Hill an exciting community. The Hill became nationally-known on the burgeoning Jazz circuit because it was home to legendary Jazz giants - Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein and Earl “Fatha” Hines. Night life in the Hill District attracted patrons from throughout the city to soak in the music. According to the documentary “Wylie Avenue Days,” “from the 1930s to the 1950s, the Hill District emerged as one of the most prosperous and influential Black communities in America.”
The Pittsburgh Courier (“America’s Greatest Weekly”), once boasting a circulation of more than 250,000, was headquartered in the Hill; its chief photographer, Charles “Teenie” Harris, produced one of the richest archives of life in an American city. A who’s who of Hall of Fame baseball players: Satchel Paige, Earl Hord, Josh Gibson, Jimmie Crutchfield and Cool Papa Bell –practiced and played on the fields of the Hill. Greenlee Field, the nation’s only Black-owned baseball stadium, was the home of the legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro League. Madame C. J. Walker opened Walker College of Beauty Culturists in the Hill District in 1909. Decades later, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson would use his childhood neighborhood as the backdrop and center of life for his Broadway plays; bringing people from across the country to drive up and down Wylie Avenue looking for Aunt Ester’s house.
The Hill District’s rich and storied past is what makes it the special place we celebrate today, and inspires residents and community members to continue developing for generations to come!