Remember how horrible - and scary - the 31st Street bridge was a couple of years ago? Weeds growing up through the sidewalk. Rusting railings. Holes in the road bed.
It's a beautiful bridge today, the color of an Oklahoma winter sky, and it takes you past the former Pittsburgh Flat Roll Works, about eye-level with its vast industrial roof line. Those enormous metal barns with patches of rust and holes in the roof and deep dark spaces near the rivers are almost gone. They're both hideous and glorious, the places where Pittsburgh stored and manufactured much of its earlier life.
It's exciting to know that this one, at least, has new life.
At the end of the bridge, I make a left that could only be made in Pittsburgh - such a tight U-turn that the car had to fold in half... down a teensy road right up against the bridge ... past a handsome brick public works building... into the parking lot of Mogul Mind Studios.
I'd heard this place was going Hollywood and had to poke around for a look.
Just my luck, I catch John Yost before he has to leave for a meeting. Eager like a kid, he shows me around. The building I first entered is connected to another building by enormous doors that we now go through, into darkness and utter silence. He flips a switch and a loud several seconds of buzzing later, the place begins to dawn ever so slightly with light... so you can only sense how huge the space is.
"This is the third largest sound stage in the world," John says, just as the light reaches its peak. "I have the fourth largest as well."
John is the CEO and president of Mogul Mind, which is in the process of being as full-service as any Hollywood studio ever has been. He returned to his hometown six years ago after chapters in Germany and New York. He's an actor and producer with several multi-media companies; this 300,000-square-foot production park is intended for feature films, television shows and commercials.
The renovation is costing about $30 million. One of the bays will be used for shooting underwater scenes. John calls it "the rain room." Right now, the empty bay has "TANK" written in a painted outline.
He walks me through the set that Sony Pictures built for a TV pilot called "Fire in the Hole." It's mostly just a series of bare rooms; the filming is finished.
The fourth biggest sound stage doesn't look any smaller than the third. You could put all the houses on my street - and the street - inside it. The roof is so high - there are no ceilings, per se - that you could drive a golf ball (if you can drive a golf ball) without hitting a cross beam.
These giant buildings, or bays, all connect, but some are done and others still have gaps in the roof and weather on the floor below.
On the way out to look at the helipad, for which Mogul Mind just got FAA and city approval, John tells me not to worry about my footing "if you stay just left of my shoulder all the way to the door."
The faint light hints at stuff you could trip over, but when he opens the door to the outside, it turns out to have been a little water and some mud and a set of railroad tracks that come inside several feet before disappearing into the concrete floor.
Outside, a large gravel lot will be the helipad for now. John wants to eventually make a helipad on top of the old round pump house in the Allegheny River. An auxiliary mill building beyond the gravel lot will be the Fade to Black restaurant.
When the tow pound on the other side of the bridge support moves and a developer comes in and makes that expanse pretty and upscale, a film studio a few paces away will be perfectly located to cater to movie and TV stars.
As I drive back down that teensy road and make a right onto Butler Street, I think about all those guys who used to go to work in the sheet metal factory on all those days when Pittsburgh was gray, and I glance back at the blue bridge and imagine a movie star in the big tank battling an evil fish thing and all of us at the theater watching what looks like a real underwater scene and I am, once again, amazed at what people are pulling off in the ‘burgh.