At the corner of Carrot and Celtic

https://www.strava.com/activities/3816294982
RATS #00272 – Oakwood

What will you find at the corner of Carrot Way and Celtic Way? This afternoon, you would have found a rather burnt, sweaty runner, amazed that the playground driveway became a true-blue alley.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today’s run was all about Oakwood. It’s a small neighborhood squashed between the suburban communities of Crafton and Greentree. It connects to the rest of Pittsburgh via Noblestown Road to Westwood, and, in turn, throws a lifeline to East Carnegie, connecting it to the rest of Pittsburgh.

I started in Westwood, where there is a bit of shopping and a lot of concrete. It makes me hot just looking at the desert of stark asphalt shopping strips. But going up Poplar for a bit I came across Hall Street, which was much more inviting.

Hall Avenue took me slightly out of the city into Crafton and then to Crafton Boulevard. Taking a left along Crafton Boulevard quickly brought me to Oakwood. Coming this direction, Crafton Borough was on my right and the City of Pittsburgh on my left. I caught Oakwood Road, which is immediately a bridge with steps on the left. Ha! Steps. I had to go. It dawned on me that Pennsdale doesn’t actually intersect Oakwood, it goes under it. Maps do have their limitations.

Pennsdale was another world. In a very green hollow, with a stream nearby, there are a few dilapidated houses, a burned out house and a couple of nicer ones at the end. Deer abound, and from the number of fawns I’ve seen, this year has been especially fruitful.

Pennsdale eventually becomes Steen Street and intersects Baldwick Road, a narrow winding road with cars parked all over the cracked sidewalks. Looping back to Oakwood Road, I actually crossed the bridge this time and found steps. leading behind some houses. It seems just to be a shortcut to Balver Avenue.

Quite in contrast to the creepy, burnt-out houses of Pennsdale, Balver Avenue is a ring of modest two and three bedroom houses built in the 1950’s and 60’s. There is an interesting mailbox there, which looks like a tall pink guy with a sailor hat on. Sorry, no pic.

From here, I just tried to hit all the little streets and alleys. Going down Grasmere Street, I knew it was a dead-end and wasn’t looking forward to coming all the way back. As it took a little turn, I noticed that the dead-end “barrier” was a few logs in the street. Continuing, I hoped it would lead to Oakwood Park. Alas, I was disappointed and just came to a wood pile. However, immediately to the right was a set of stairs which took me to very end of Oakwood Road. Yay!

From here, I wandered through the alleys and streets of Oakwood. It is rather small, but has some character, especially in the older streets.

Finally, I made it to Oakwood Park. A lone shirtless teenager shooting hoops was on pace to getting a nice sunburn as well. The old elementary school’s bell has been patriotically painted red, white and blue. The strangest thing, to me, were the tennis courts inside a high, circular, stone wall. Upon further research, it turns out this used to be a reservoir.

Continuing down Carrot Way, I didn’t even see one rabbit, but came out to Craftmont Avenue. At this, I returned along Noblestown Road to my starting point. Turns out, I got seven solid mile in, one of my longer runs this July.

Hot Damn, It’s Hot in Larimer

https://www.strava.com/activities/3708218189
RATS #00261 – Larimer

Hot and humid, Hot and humid,Hot and humid…

Like the banging refrain to a bad punk song, “hot and humid” pounded into my head as I explored the streets of Larimer this afternoon. I had, honestly, been avoiding this area for a bit. It seems like a no-man’s land, squished between Negley Run Road, Washington Road and East Liberty Boulevard. But, other than the heat, there wasn’t much to worry about on a sunny mid-morning.

Not more than a mile from Google’s Pittsburgh offices in Bakery Square, deserted and overgrown Paulson Avenue whimpers to a dead end above Washington Road.

En route, I saw these oft-photographed murals across from Jeremiah’s Place on Paulson Avenue. Mac Miller, I believe?

As I ran further from the busy streets such as East Liberty Avenue and Frankstown Road, the neighborhood becomes pancake flat and very quiet. Perhaps it was the heat, but except for the occasional dog barking or child playing, there wasn’t much activity out there. Many of the smaller streets and alleys are overgrown. Many lots are empty, presumably where houses had been demolished.

For Pittsburgh, this is an incredibly flat area. I managed to find one small set of stairs off of Finley Avenue. The residents of here, as throughout Pittsburgh, seem determined to make their homes as quirky as they can.

Along one alley, old parking spaces had been transformed into an art gallery.

But overall, there is no doubt of the poverty and neglect of this neighborhood. Across from a decent playground, complete with slides and with a water wall, stand two abandoned houses stamped for demolition.

This area is pretty large, too. I covered only about a quarter of the streets here, but easily racked up the miles. As I approached five miles, I headed back to my car. I ended up with a 10k. Good run!

Noble way to Crafton Heights

https://www.strava.com/activities/3447167472
RATS #00238 – Into Crafton Heights from Noblestown Road

This was a pretty well-planned run in Crafton Heights. Instead of approaching Crafton Heights from Steuben Street, I approached it from Noblestown Road. Honestly, a big draw was the availability of parking at the Shop ‘N Save on Noblestown Road. I wasn’t familiar with the area and didn’t know what to expect. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised and look forward to running more in this area.

To get to my designated parking spot at the Shop N Save, I actually went out of the city on the Parkway West, exiting at Greentree. A few minutes and a few turns later, there I was, pulling into a rather empty parking lot. Social distancing and Covid19 fears has certainly made traffic lighter!

Noblestown Road, at this point, is a broad avenue crossing street after street of modest two and three bedroom houses built in the 1950’s. It sweeps down to Crafton Boulevard, where I took a left and caught Stratmore Street as it climbed steeply. I turned around at Steuben Street, which is the border between Pittsburgh and Ingram. From there, I went back and forth on the grid of streets between Stratmore and Arnold. Much of the area resembled Hollywood Street shown above.

Round Top Street dives down a particularly steep hill. It also has one of the newest set of steps I’ve seen in the city.

Round Top Street Steps

Eventually, I got to Clairhaven Street. For cars, that’s where you have to turn left onto Norwalk Street, but people can take steps from Clairhaven Street to Arnold Street. These stairs are a little wonky. The wooden top section is a work-around. Older concrete stairs, having fallen into disrepair, were simply bypassed. There are two “orphan houses” here. An “orphan house” only has entrances on the stairs.

Crossing Crafton Boulevard again, I came across this, the busiest front yard in the ‘Burgh. They had at least a dozen shiny mannequin heads on stakes.

How many lawn decorations can you count?

Making my way back to the car, I was happy with this nice run in the sun in a pleasant part of Pittsburgh. I’ll be back.

Gardening in Garfield

https://www.strava.com/activities/3413828815
Rare morning run – RATS #00233

Ah, mornings, that time when I like to slowly awaken, shake off vivid dreams, think about the upcoming day and blink myself into consciousness. This morning, however, I popped out of bed, shoved my contacts in and darted out the door for a pre-work run. It was rather cold for early May, in the 30’s, but I think I overdressed. I headed for Garfield, just off of Penn Avenue. It wasn’t too far away and I had many streets to run there. I pressed the like button on a bold mural on North Evaline.

Then there were the steps. North Evaline begins as an average residential street but then continues to Hillcrest on two sets of stairs, becoming more and more overgrown.

Thankfully, Garfield is only really steep on the road coming off Penn Avenue. The cross streets, like Hillcrest, Kincaid, and Broad, are wavy, but not too extreme. Hillcrest is crisscrossed by other small streets and alleys. While some areas are tightly knitted with houses, there are also many wide open spaces. Presumably, there used to be houses on all the lots, but they were torn down as the houses fell into neglect. On Garfield’s hilltop the result is space for gardens and urban farms. Garfield residents seem to also have an artistic flair.

Of course, there are lots of steps as well. In addition to North Evaline, I did the steps on Fannell Street and Ardary Street. The Ardary steps come up from Columbo Street and widen into a full-fledged street. I’m had not been on that street before, so its always suspenseful to see what’s at the top of a set of stairs.

Warmed up by the run and the rising sun, I descended once again to the flat lands of Friendship. Nice way to start a morning, I must admit.

Another Side of Stanton Heights

https://www.strava.com/activities/3328610726
RATS #00222 – Stanton Heights

Nestled between the hills of Allegheny Cemetery and Stanton Avenue is a rather suburban section of Stanton Heights. I grew up in neighborhoods like this, albeit in Alabama.

To get there, I parked near McCandless and Wickliff in Upper Lawrenceville. I scooted down the stairs to Upland Terrace, a one street suburb built in the 1950’s. Crossing Stanton Avenue on Woodbine brought me into this cul-de-sac heaven.

Three and four bedroom houses built in the 1970’s sit back on their green lawns from the wide, winding, tree-lined streets. The stately trees soared into the bright blue sky. Compared to some areas of Pittsburgh, this is amazing. While hills rule Pittsburgh, the idea of large lawns, wide and clean streets with decent housing has yet to catch on everywhere.

Of course, with such wide and winding streets, the mileage added up quickly. Just looping through most of these avenues took me over seven miles, two miles further than circumnavigating all of Riverview Park, as I did earlier this week. It also wasn’t a mecca for street art, or fascinating steps, or unique architecture. But that’s OK; what are kids going to complain about if there aren’t some boring parts of town to grow up in?

Criss-Crossing the Hill

RATS #00217 – Hill District

Recently I have been traveling to different areas of Pittsburgh to find new streets and run them. Today’s run was closer to home, in the Hill District. The Hill District has several long parallel streets which roughly go from the hilltop above the University of Pittsburgh to Downtown Pittsburgh. These streets, Bedford, Webster, Wylie and Centre are the main thoroughfares which people take through the Hill District and I’ve already run them. Today’s run was about the smaller streets crisscrossing those major roads.

I had parked in West Oakland, so from this perspective, the small streets begin at a low elevation along Centre and rise to the cliffs off of Bedford Avenue. This is properly called the Middle Hill. Over the years, many of the structures in this area have been torn down, so now, there are plenty wide open grassy blocks.

I started with Junilla Street Steps, which come off of Centre Avenue. It continues, sometimes as a street and sometimes as steps, all the way to Bedford Avenue. Along one stretch of Junilla Street, I saw a few turkeys and heard their gobbles. Groundhogs were freely roaming in the vacant lots.

Morgan Street starts rather wide-open and then closes in as you reach Elba Street. From previous adventures, I call the flight of steps from Morgan to Centre the “Who’s You!” steps.

Briefly put, I had been accompanying a friend along these steps when she decided to go down to Centre Avenue to take pics. For some reason (perhaps because I had run a long way), I just hung out on the sidewalk in front of the porch in my black hoodie and woolen Army beanie. Turns out, a tall dude in a black hoodie and a woolen Army beanie hanging out in front of your porch in the Hill District can be a concern. After a few minutes, I heard some shouting. From the street above, a big black guy in a brown jacket was yelling:

“Who’s You? Who’s You?”

I had just realized he was yelling at me when my companion sprightly sprang up the steps, gave some big smiles and whisked me away. Whew! Even now I muse, “What was the proper response?… I am me?”

But I digress.

Francis Street was interesting. Starting from Centre, it is a rather broad avenue heading up the hill. Then, as I crossed Wylie Avenue, it became a cul-de-sac of newer, rather suburban housing. I did the big circle and went out the way I had come. Later, as I started down Francis Street from the other direction I spied some steps, took them, and again landed in the suburban cul-de-sac. Surprise, surprise.

Coming down the Watt Street steps provided a nice view of Christian Tabernacle Church. I gradually made my way towards the Upper Hill, aka Sugar Top, where the big blue water tower lives. I finished off Milwaukee Street and a few little streets before heading down Herron Avenue and headed back to my car. No one shouting at me today. Thank goodness for social distancing.

Polishing Off Polish Hill

https://www.strava.com/activities/3151937253
RATS #00194

This was a five miler through Polish Hill, trying to finish this tight neighborhood of narrow streets, impossible hills and stairs. I ran right after work, as a chilly evening rainstorm swept past. That storm was not fun, as the wind tried to tear my jacket off and the steep streets turned into rivers. Luckily, it didn’t last long.

Polish Hill is now an eclectic mix of the narrow old houses perched on cliffs, spectacular, renovated, $450k homes and small businesses. The WORLD HEADQUARTERS of Pepper’s – which sells polarized sports sunglasses, is unceremoniously perched on Pulaski Way, atop a cliff overlooking Liberty Avenue. Herron Ave winds steeply from Bigelow Boulevard to Liberty Avenue, cutting Polish Hill in two.

Back on the narrow, winding streets off of Herron, homeowners stake out extra space, from making dead-end stubs of streets their personal parking spots to reclaiming a bit of the hillside. I love this “Kenny’s Woods” sign, looking just like the ubiquitous “Kennywood” signs you see all over town. Of course there are stairs. Jewel Street stairs intersects Flavian steps on a landing.

Now starting to dry out, I made my way down Herron Avenue and onto Sassafrass Street on the other side of the East Busway. This valley road becomes Neville Street, then Lorigan Street as it passes far under the Bloomfield Bridge. Car dealerships keep excess inventory down hill, behind barbed wire fences. There is a cool place down here, Iron Eden, which makes ornamental ironwork and looks like some bizarre hovel in a medieval tale. Continuing on Lorigan took me to the Ella Street Stairs. These climb the high hill with a few turns, eventually leading to Ella Street (if you go straight), or Wertz Way (if you make the right turn at the last landing).

I saw a toy truck on one of the landings. I can just imagine a six year old boy playing with his truck there, only to be called away by his Mom, accidentally leaving the truck. He was probably forbidden to go on those stairs anymore, and after a few years moved away. I can’t imagine he forgot about it. I hope that one day, as an old man with grandchildren, he takes them back to visit his old neighborhood and finds his truck still there.

Toy Truck

Coming back through Bloomfield and Lower Lawrenceville, I crossed the Herron Avenue Bridge again. Immediately after crossing the bridge, there is an impressive set of stairs on the right. These Downing Street Stairs, took me back into Polish Hill, where I finished up. Now, except for three sets of stairs and a small alley, I’ve run all the streets of Polish Hill!

Rambling Run

https://www.strava.com/activities/3146562623
RATS #00192

This was a rambling run across the Northside from East Allegheny to Elliot in the West End. It included densely residential areas such as Central Northside as well as the wide open warehouse district between Route 65 and the Ohio River. I crossed bridges, went up stairs and finished with seventeen miles on this sunny, but chilly Sunday.

Starting out on the Northshore, I specifically wanted to finish off Virgin Way and Tripoli Street. In spite of the brilliant sun and crystal clear skies, Virgin Way was very threatening. Circling back to Tripoli Street, I noticed the Neu Kirche building, built, if the stones do not lie, in 1859. Originally a German Church, perhaps Lutheran, it has been repurposed as a center for arts.

This took me to Vista Street. I had hopes of trotting a little up the hill and taking the Vista Street steps down to Itin Street. Alas that was a navigational mistake, as these stairs were closed.

Turning my attention to the Central Northside, I did the grid of Sandusky, Lorraine and Boyle Streets. Unlike the other two, Boyle doesn’t have an outlet at the top of its steep rise from North Avenue. As I was running up Boyle, two women, likely in their mid-to-late thirty’s were chatting at the top. I drew closer and closer, hoping to find an alley or staircase to Fountain Street. A few yards before the retaining wall, the women looked more and anxious as I approached. Finally realizing there was no way out here, I said something lame like:

“Oh, I thought this street went through”.

“Nope, doesn’t go through”, the dark-haired woman with brown knee high boots stated flatly. Her companion, with a black and white checkered coat tried to be positive, commenting “At least you’re getting some good exercise!”

If she only knew, I thought, reversing direction. Somewhere along the way, I also saw an outdoor beehive oven. Again, I was glad for the brightness of the day as I zig-zagged through the streets and alleys. But then, I noticed something following me. On one street, there it was. The next block over, I saw it again. Whew, just a true alley cat.

Now I went up Chateau Street. My left knee started to twinge a little, but I decided to run through it. This took me to Warehouse Land. Large warehouses and garages were separated by large, wide streets. While some of the buildings were in disrepair, just about everything was occupied with some business or another. There’s one section, an “Industrial Park” with high fences and a big gate. Just inside is “Get Hip Records”. Around the corner is the whimsically painted “Bicycle Heaven”.

I finally made my way across the West End Bridge. Coming onto Steuben Street, I took the first staircase I saw. A couple of years ago, these stairs went all the way up to Lander Street. Today, however, they only made it to Elliot Street. The second flight was closed. I had to detour a bit down the street, taking the Planet Avenue steps instead.

Thus began my ascent into the West End Overlook area. Huffing and puffing my way to the top of Valonia, I came to Saint Martin Cemetery. Apparently all the tallest hills have cemeteries on them.

At this point, my knee was truly complaining, so I started back towards the Northside. Gamely trying to hit new streets wherever I could, I ran down Crucible Street. Sure enough, there were some stairs! But, no. They were closed. I was a bit bummed and just went to Steuben Street via Amherst Street. On the lower end, I could see why those steps were closed. A lower section of the stairs and railing had completely collapsed.

Crucible Stairs Top and Bottom

Steuben Street is a main road and the sides are littered with trash, most likely thrown from cars. I took the stairs from Steuben to South Main Street, where I surprised four deer. Just for fun, I highlighted one of them in red below.

Steuben Street to South Main Street

That was about it. It was another two and a half miles back to the car, which felt like it took forever. Getting into the car, I greedily drank water and gobbled pita chips.

North Lang

https://www.strava.com/activities/3125467710
RATS Run #00189

This run was along North Lang Avenue from Point Breeze to the steps at Apple Avenue. Outside the excitement of fire engines racing by on Penn Avenue, it was an uneventful run. The building “Engine House No 16” was, indeed, a fire station, but more recently has been renovated to its current state. City of Pittsburgh firetrucks came from a more modern house.

Crossing Penn, as North Lang drops out of Point Breeze into Homewood, the houses and yards are large. This one below was pretty typical, likely built in the early 1900’s. It seemed prim and proper to me, with its blue trim and cream colored brick and the morning sun blazing.

Neat house along North Lang

Crossing the railroad tracks and East Busway on the North Lang footbridge, tall church spires against the bright blue skies caught my eye.

St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church

Keeping to North Lang, I continued until the street, itself, gave out. This marked the end of flat Homewood. Steps led up to Apple Avenue, a delightfully named street which is disappointingly drab.

North Lang steps

Up on top of the stairs, the hillside held vestiges of past grandeur. This magnificent house looks to be on the upswing, but I’d be reluctant to trick-or-treat there!

I ran the length of Apple Avenue until it ended at small, unimpressive, street. Circling back, I finished where I had started in Point Breeze. It was a great run, an extra 4.7 miles after my earlier 4 miles in Frick Park.

Field of Dreams

https://www.strava.com/activities/3065914065
RATS #00178 – Oakland

If you build it, he will come…

Field of Dreams, 1989 Kevin Costner

Who is he? Sunday, “he” was me. I was running in Oakland and decided to pay the remnants of Forbes Field a visit. The first remnant was the outfield wall, 457 feet from home plate. The second was home plate itself, preserved under plexiglass in the floor of Posvar Hall. Sleepy studying students looked askance at a bundled up runner traipsing in, taking a picture and running out.

But, as Pitt has built up Oakland, “he” could also be every student, parent and professor drawn to its burgeoning educational, medical and research center. Here is Pitt’s research page, where you can see for yourself how large it has gotten. I’m a graduate of Pitt myself. But this day, I was just a runner, trying to capture a few more streets. Old Oakland is hard to see here, but there are glimpses.

After a few miles I stopped by the Cathedral for a few trips up the stairs.

Cathedral of Learning Up Close and Personal