Most people are happy if articles are not written about their neighborhoods, since conflict, controversy or something kind of exciting is necessary for a story to be compelling to both writer and reader.
So I assure people in these quiet neighborhoods, such has Swisshelm Park (map at left is from city website), that I'm going to blog about them, not splash them across the front page or even inside the B section. In City Walkabout, their secrets will remain pretty safe.
It makes them more willing to pose for photos and tell me things that, OK, maybe aren't exciting but ... every neighborhood deserves some attention, even those that don't demand much.
Today provided another excuse to get some vitamin D, so I toured Swisshelm Park, and I warn you now that your blood pressure will not spike if you keep reading.
It borders Squirrel Hill South and Regent Square, the Mon River and Swissvale. In fact, its vertical eastern boundary puts some side-by-side neighbors in different municipalities — Swissvale or Swisshelm Park.
Residents along Goodman and Pocono Streets have a view of the Mon, the Waterfront, the Carrie Furnace and the Edgar Thompson Works, as shown in this photo taken from a back yard. I could see the steeple of a church and the Carnegie Library in Braddock while a red-tailed hawk did its lazy glide over the water.
The neighborhood is a mix of beautiful and utilitarian, old and new, mostly well-kept houses of a variety of styles. There is no retail unless it's a well-kept secret.
The largest part of the neighborhood is steep hillside and undeveloped wooded land above Nine Mile Run. It is tucked away, with only one access road out on its border with Squirrel Hill.
(The cluster of houses near the river known as Duck Hollow is isolated from the rest of the neighborhood and has its own way in and out.)
As I drove around winding Windemere Street, a building made me stop and get out. It wore the sign "Sarah Jackson Black Community Center." It was the only place in the neighborhood I could pop into.
Lucky for me, John Shields was there to give me a tour.
The center is named for a member of the family that owned the building when it was a barn and stables. In 1937, the community wanted a meeting place and bought it by selling bonds, he said.
Before that, an 1837 log cabin sat on the site.
The community center has a board of directors, of which John, a former teacher, (shown below) is president slash custodian.
Inside, it is beautiful, a big open fixed-up barn with walls of solid knotty pine panels. On its wood floors, contra dance groups meet every Friday night. Dance classes are held there four days a week.
“We trust them so much we give them their own keys,” John said of the Friday adult dance group.
The neighborhood votes there, holds its Halloween parties there and comes together for community meetings when there is a crisis, such as kids walking through alleys making noise.
The neighborhood regularly comes in at or near the bottom in crime statistics and high in all the stability ratings such as housing value and educational performance.
“We have a great neighborhood,” John said, pointing out that it had “85 percent return of Census forms.”