1. This term "The Strip" is older than you might expect.
It's apparently from the fact that 11th Street (at the Greyhound
Bus Station) to 33rd (the start of Lawrenceville) is simply
a long, narrow strip of land. And although this area had other
names, including Springfield, Bayardstown, Northern Liberties
and the Old Fifth Ward, it has been "The Strip" at
least since the turn of the century. At that time, a teen-age
gang of some notoriety, known as the Bayardstown Rats of The
Strip, used to fight with a rival North Side gang, often on
ice skates in the middle the river. (Maybe they were just playing
2. The Strip is where Pittsburgh's long love affair with
heavy industry began. Its flatness makes it good for manufacturing.
It has good transportation possibilities, close to the river,
lots of rails. It was here that the iron industry established
itself in the very beginning of the 19th century. There were
glass manufacturers. Several foundries. Cotton and rope factories.
A slaughterhouse. A paper mill. When journalist James Parton
wrote his famous description of Pittsburgh in 1868 as "hell
with the lid off," he was looking down on the fiery and
3. A lot of people used to live in The Strip. A 1915 survey
estimated The Strip's population as 18,000. What had been a
large, 18th-century private estate became a 19th-century middle-class
residential district, then an urban industrial slum by the early
20th century, full of immigrant families. As industries changed,
people moved out. In 1990, the census found fewer than 300 residents,
mostly in row houses and small apartments above shops.
4. Across the street from Wholey's, at 17th and Penn, the building
that houses the Italian Oven used to be a church. The metal
siding on the restaurant covers up what was once the Fourth
United Presbyterian Church. Built around 1859, it may be the
oldest church structure in the city.
5. The bubbling entrepreneurs at the new brew pubs in The Strip are not the first beer makers here. There were 19 breweries
in Pittsburgh in 1884, several in The Strip: Wood & Hughes
Brewery (est. 1842), Anthony Bennet Brewery (1844), and Philip
Lauer on 18th Street (1888). The tall, dark factory that many
people know as the Otto Milk building was originally the Phoenix
Brewery (can you spot the decorative bird logo rising from the
once flame-colored brick?). In 1899, Phoenix merged with 11
others to form Pittsburgh Brewing Co.
6. Have a Duke? The Gage Co. (still in the big red brick building
on Liberty at 30th Street) in 1912 assembled several "Duquesne"
automobiles. Originally makers of beautiful brass gauges (or
"gages") for railroads, steam engines and other purposes,
the diversified Gage Co. also made sturdy Gainaday washers (you
gained a day if you used this new modern contraption that looked
like a garbage can with a wringer on top) in the 1930s.
7. The produce yards didn't move into The Strip until 1901.
The train tracks that used to go down Liberty Avenue to the
Point were later ripped up in 1906. Wholesale produce people
had originally clustered in the 600 to 900 blocks of Liberty,
but relocated along Smallman Street to take advantage of ample
space and rail yards and to accommodate their booming business.
No one has kept count of the many millions of tons of fruit
and vegetables loaded, unloaded and reloaded off the platform
8. Smell pretty ripe? The Sunseris' wholesale building with
the white front (next to Jimmy & Nino's) used to be People's
Baths. Run by the Civic Club, the public bathhouse charged 5¢
for a shower and 10¢ for a tub bath in 1915. The fee included
towel and soap. Pittsburgh was a very dirty city, and The Strip
one of the most industrialized parts of town, with little indoor
plumbing. About 200 to 300 baths were sold each day, and if
you couldn't afford the fees, you weren't turned away.
9. On Dec. 17, 1936, it rained bananas. Or bits of them, anyway.
An electric spark from a fan ignited the mixture of gases used
to ripen green bananas at the Pittsburgh Banana Co., on Smallman
Street. The blast destroyed one end of the building, blew out
54 windows in the old school at St. Stanislaus, and weakened
the church's bell towers so much that the big old tops had to
be replaced. No one was reported seriously hurt, but--yes, we
have no bananas--$20,000 worth of fruit was gone.
10. There were catacombs under the old St. Patrick's Church. When the Rev. James R. Cox was the very popular pastor of the
city's oldest Catholic parish, he had catacombs dug out under
his church, erected a lighted sign to attract the curious, and
charged a fee to see the underground passageways where devotions
were sometimes held. When the church burned in the early 1930s,
the catacombs (under the present church's yard) were apparently
top: The crew learns the secrets of baking biscotti from
Larry "Enrico" Lagattuta, hits the breadlines for
Breadworks specialities, interviews folks at Jojo's, and discusses
shooting at Alioto's.
thanks for most of this information to Lauren Uhl and Tracy
Coffing Walther at the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
and the great librarians in the Pennsylvania Department at the