Pittsburgh's Polish Hill is a neighborhood in transition
It is a place where almost everyone has a nickname: Unz, Buzz, Punchy, Miss Josie, Kitty, Breeze and his daughter, Little Breeze.
It was home to thousands of Polish immigrants in the early 1900s. Then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter sported a Polish Hill T-shirt as he stumped for votes there in 1976.
Pittsburgh's Polish Hill, perched over the steel mills that once lined the Allegheny River and belched smoke and soot around the clock, is a neighborhood in transition today, home to almost 1,300 people.
A mix of old and young, it retains an inherited sense of community, said Mark O'Connor, a Slippery Rock University professor of English and a Polish Hill resident who wrote “Holy Ghosts,” a historical essay about Polish Hill that appears in the current issue of The Massachusetts Review, a quarterly literary magazine.
“I like the mix. ... It is so rich with history,” said O'Connor. “One man was on the USS Missouri during the surrender of Japan in World War II.”
Regis Myszewski, 87, was a teenage sailor aboard the Missouri and woke up Sept. 2, 1945, to see the Japanese coming aboard.
“You couldn't see the water for all the ships,” he said. “They didn't tell us what was going on and then the Japanese were there surrendering their swords.”
Myszewski, who grew up on Polish Hill, likes the neighborhood.
“My next door neighbor, I went to school with,” he said.
In its heyday, Polish Hill had 27 stores, eight grocery stores, a meat market and dry cleaner, O'Connor said. Most of them are long gone, although a resurgence is under way with younger people moving in and remodeling homes. About 25 percent of the people are ages 20-34, according to the Census Bureau.
During the past 10 years, Polish Hill has become an “in demand neighborhood” with a diverse population, said Leslie Claque, one of its new breed of residents who “just fell in love with the place.”
“There's an energy here ... a really good feel to it,” she said.
Heidi Tucker, 33, lives a block and a half away from the Lili Cafe on Dobson Street, the popular corner eatery that she owns that serves as a sort of community center and meeting place.
“It's a strong community. ... Everyone knows everyone,” said Tucker, whose customers include older people and what she calls “coffee culture kids” — educated young adults with interests in music and the arts.
Fires played a big part in this urban renewal.
“In poor neighborhoods, most buildings were made of wood, not brick, so if one house went, it could spark other houses,” Claque said.
That's a fact not lost on people who live or have lived there.
“Every single person I talked to has a fire story,” said O'Connor, who has lived in Polish Hill for five years and spent six months researching the community as part of a sabbatical project.
The culture clash between former mill workers and the younger crowd is working out because they “have the exact same desires,” O'Connor said. “I think there's hope, actually.”
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- One injured in shooting on city’s North Side
- Transportation challenges rife as Pittsburgh focuses on making fixes
- Montour Trail gets needed updates
- Lawsuit: Pittsburgh Public Schools should have known officer was abusing boys
- Highmark asks patients to ‘Meet Dr. Right’
- Transportation funding uncertainty impacts planning for Western Pa.
- Newsmaker: Derek Wesley
- Police confiscated cellphone of driver who struck 7-year-old girl Thursday
- Teachers union advises lawyers for colleagues of Plum pair investigated on sex charges
- 2 from Carrick charged in connection with rash of heroin overdoses
- Trib Total Media Outstanding Young Citizen Awards presents scholarship, 10 gold medals