Cal-Kirk a gem hiding in plain sight

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Walkabout’s correspondent in California-Kirkbride Brent Boss is gung-ho about his neighborhood. He and his wife moved there from Lawrenceville after opening the Buena Vista Cafe in the Central Northside.

Cal-Kirk and Cent’no are adjacent, with Brighton Road as the boundary. Brighton Road has amenities but it’s kind of ugly and in no way suggests what is on either side. Cent’no is pretty well celebrated because of its Mexican War Streets Historical District, but most people have no idea what Cal-Kirk is all about.

Brent invited me to take a walking tour of the neighborhood with him. We picked a pretty day recently. This photo is of him on the left and Tom Corcoran, his landlord who lives in a marvelous house next door.

They are perched up on what the city’s street sign calls Sunday Street but the city maps also call Oriana Street, named for the daughter of an early landowner.

In his pitch to me, he told me that “amazing things are happening in California-Kirkbride, from Brighton Place and California Avenue to Kirkbride to Morrison Streets.”

“Late last summer, I noticed on Brighton Place and Brighton Road, a couple of prominent sidewalls being redone. Salvaged bricks were used. Then I noticed a couple of houses desperately needing to be demo’d were demo’d. Weedy lots were cleared and trees were planted and historical details on Brighton Place wood were replaced and painted historically appropriate colors.

“Then I saw it spreading to the rest of Cal-Kirkbride. Trees were well-pruned and new ones were being planted, all the way up to the [Uniondale] cemetery.

“One day, the same people are clearing land of litter and dead trees across from near my house.”

He and other residents attribute these improvements to crews that work for Northside Associates, whose head honcho, Bob Mistick, bought out his brothers two years ago.

For some years now, the name Mistick has been a negative lightning rod that galvanizes many in the Northside because for years the Section 8 properties they managed were troublesome. Some say they still are; some say they are much improved.

Around the Northside neighborhoods, I see more attention paid to Mistick properties. Whatever the motives might be, the transformations in Cal-Kirk are indisputable.

The neighborhood looks good.

Brent led our tour starting at Pennsylvania Avenue. We crossed over to Brighton Place, where not only Mistick-owned properties but six or seven others that individuals bought last year have all been renovated. “Carnegie Mellon students live there,” Brent said, pointing to one.

We crossed California Avenue and walked around B Street, St. Marks and Kirkbride. Where once there were rows and rows of houses, huge gaps stretch in all directions between pieces of the rows that remain. They are the last examples of architectural features that I haven’t seen quite like this anywhere else in the city.

This site, which describes Cal-Kirk as a district on the National Register of Historic Places, provides this history:

“One-quarter of the buildings in the historic district are in a rental rowhouse development built in 1892-3 by Herbert DuPuy, a Pittsburgh industrialist. Many of the buildings feature polychromed brick, stamped metal cornices and finials, and porches assembled from standard pieces of millwork to form intricate compositions.

“The majority of the contributing structures are two to three story, two to three bay brick row houses. The common features includes Mansard roofs, dormers, bracketed or corbelled cornices, and stone or decorative wood lintels, sills, and architraves. There are several variations in row house styling including: Richardson Romanesque, Italianate, and Victorian vernacular. In the context of Pittsburgh’s architecture, the district falls between the generally smaller and earlier buildings of the Mexican War Streets, and the contemporary but grander houses of the Manchester Historic District.”

The vacant lots that were once overgrown but are now cleared of garbage, invasive plants and other overgrowth. Brent said his family in Mount Lebanon asks him, “aren’t you afraid to live there?” And he says, “Would you be afraid to live on a farm?; becasue it’s that quiet here.’”

We walked up city steps at St. Ives to get to the aerie where Brent lives next-door to Tom. Tom has created an oasis in and around his Victorian home up there.

And he view of the city is extraordinary.

I had been in Cal-Kirkbride before, once on a "Redd-up" sweep with the mayor and a crew of building inspectors. But I didn’t see it through the eyes of someone who is high on the place.

It’s amazing what a fresh set of eyes can do for your own vision.

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