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Blown away at Carrie Furnaces

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

carrie
 
Pittsburgh’s future looks awfully bright even if you’re not an optimist. The stars are aligning. But what makes us love this place is everything it brings with it from the past to the present. 
 
A fascinating past that you still can see, even if some of it is in shreds, is one of our greatest assets going forward.
 
For this little spate of ‘burgh love, Walkabout takes you south and east to Munhall, where the Carrie Furnaces are out standing in their field, a post-industrial Oz that you reach not by yellow brick road but by jarring gravel and rubble that suggests there was once paved access.
 
Everything about the site suggests what once was, from the way there to the colossal destination.
 
Three friends and I took a tour of old Carrie on Saturday. The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area offers these tours in part as a way to fund Carrie’s continuing stabilization as an industrial museum within a national park of 38 acres of the original Homestead Works. Rivers of Steel describes its mission as “to preserve, interpret and promote the resources of the Age of Big Steel.”
 
It was my second visit to the site but the first one that afforded a full view of the scale of the hot and arduous 10-hour work day for thousands of men whose daily visits to the neighborhood tavern become all too understandable when you consider the trappings of their jobs.
 
One friend described the gorgeously rusted monstrosity as “ a crime scene” because of all the jobs that went away. A former mill worker whom we met agreed with him. I sympathize, and a lack of complete understanding of the vagaries of economics prevents me from taking a stronger position, but Carrie as she stands today is a gift to this region. 
 
For one thing, she’s still standing, if not entirely at least in large enough scale to make our jaws drop. From the ground, the cluster of missile-like stoves and the two furnaces on each end, their shapes jutting with fierce asymmetry into the sky, make you feel as insignificant as you are and yet strangely empowered as a member of the species who had the audacity to build something like this. 
 
What I have felt both times at the Carrier Furnaces is an emotional gut-wrench and a sense of pride. Even though I am grateful for environmental standards that have resulted in cleaner air, that sense of great loss is palpable on this site.
 
When you climb the metal steps up and up into the guts of the place, you start to feel the ghosts. Some people roll their eyes at that image, others exchange a knowing look. The butterscotch floor tiles that once lined the corridors are intact in places. The rest is rubble. Daylight streams into the gaps between one humongous rusting piece and another. Enormous bolts, enormous wheels, enormous values and the monstrous cluster of stoves are offset by delicate catwalks. 
 
It helps to have a clutch of elders on hand to tell us how the systems worked — from the rail cars hauling in ore and limestone  to the intricate monitoring of ore, coke and limestone cooking up in the furnaces. These volunteer docents spent their younger days working in mills, whether at Carrie or various others.
 
The two furnaces at the site, which are 92 feet tall, were built in 1906 and functioned until 1979. The original furnace began operating in 1884. The site turned out as much as 1,000 tons of iron a day.
 
Tours continue every Saturday through October.  They begin at 10a and run every half hour. The 11.30a tour, the last of the day, highlights works of art that have been commissioned throughout the site.
 
The tours cost $15 for students, $17.50 for elders and $25 for everyone else. You can take a guided or self-guided tour.
 
Next Saturday, the Pillow Project presents "The Jazz Furnace," a day of performance events from noon to 5p and from 7p to midnight. That costs $15 for general admission and $10 for students.
 
The event will infuse tours with live music, dance and chalk installations and exhibits. The night session will feature full-length dance performances, video illuminations and multimedia installations with live music.  
 
Reservations are recommended because people who walk up could be turned away and because the tour could be cancelled if not enough people reserve a spot. Cancelled tours are made up to you or you can get a refund. Private group tours are available Monday through Thursday by appointment only.
 
To reserve a space for any of these events and for more information, visit www.riversofsteel.com or call 412.464.4020 ext 32.
 
photo by Paul Nawrocki

 

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Hustle and versatility = 5-year success

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

foodshoppe
Five years ago, the little food market on Northumberland Street in Squirrel Hill changed hands.
 
John Ruggieri had been in the grocery business since he was a 12-year-old boy and decided to retire in his mid-50s rather than die on the job as his father had. He found capable buyers in Joya Burkholder and James Devers (above).
 
The business partners of the newly named Food Shoppe are celebrating their fifth anniversary in a business that's tough enough when it's on the beaten path. This one, several blocks from the Murray-Forbes corridors, shares a block with a dry cleaner and a police and fire station.
 
This week through Saturday, the Food Shoppe offers lunch specials, and tonight is the anniversary party, with a special 5-7p cook-out and half-priced grilled items. Turner Dairy will be giving tea samples, Nicky D will be making pizzelles and Gary Langer, the man behind Uncle Gary’s Peppers, will trot out his array of items for the public to sample.
 
When I reported on the store’s transition in 2008, the storefront, which is set way back off the sidewalk, did not have cafe tables out front. These tables have filled up with lunch customers since the new owners added them for outdoor lunch grills.
 
Joya said the Food Shoppe has expanded its customer base in large part by offering more prepared foods such as soups and entrees made in the store. “Over half our business is prepared foods,” she said.
 
You can still find the can-and-box staples that include canned peaches, ketchup, toilet paper and garbage bags. But the attractions clearly are the deli counter and prepared food section. Unlike in many small markets, you can find shallots, leeks, fresh ginger root, asparagus and blueberries in this one.
 
Asked if they would do it again if they had known what they know 5 years ago, they paused and laughed. “I would,” said James, “and maybe she wouldn’t.”
 
“It’s just such a complicated beast,” Joya said, describing the juggling act of ordering, baking, cooking, keeping inventory moving without running out, keeping fresh items fresh, marketing prepared items for fast sales and scheduling catering jobs.
 
“We were lucky to make it through 2008” and the subsequent economic scare, James said. “We have grown, but there are peaks and valleys” with seasonal upticks for Jewish and Christian holidays and the seasonal vagaries of produce availability.
 
“It took us at least two years” to get into the rhythm, Joya said.
 
The store’s as pretty as it was when John Ruggieri ran it, without the beautiful Middle Eastern carpet. It stocks baked goods from Prantl’s right by the cash register. There’s a pizza counter where the pies are made on site. The produce is fit for a photo shoot. 
 
Some reconfigurations of the old store have reduced the aisle space, including several indoor tables.
 
The Food Shoppe’s audience is largely affluent residents who live nearby, but the owners see a number of people who ware working in the neighborhood — electricians, plumbers and gardeners — for lunch. It’s the only place within blocks where you can get a prepared meal.
 
“But we hear people say that they’ve lived here for several years and didn’t know we were here,” Joya said. “I think a lot of people who do know don’t know what we have. We’re not a dinky little store.”
 
The secret to their five years and counting? “Hustle and versatility,” she said.  “That’s what has kept us going.” 

 

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Discovering the 'burgh step by step

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

 Slopessteps

Anna J. Cawrse, a landscape designer at the Design Workshop in Denver, visited Pittsburgh last fall in part to participate in the annual Step Trek event in which people traverse the public steps of the South Side Slopes. This year is it Oct. 5. Find out how to sign up and trek here
 
During her studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, she had taken a class called "Shrinking Landscapes." Each student was assigned to choose for study a city that had done the post-industrial swoon.
 
“I selected Pittsburgh, not by chance but from the persuasion of a very passionate University of Pittsburgh alum,” she wrote in a piece she titled “Paper Streets of Pittsburgh.” “She was the first person to introduce me to the innovation and resilience of this adaptive city.
 
Part of the assignment was to create a guide or game “that reveals a less-known aspect of the city,” she wrote. “As my research of Pittsburgh progressed, so did my appreciation of the city. I applied [for] and was awarded the Penny White grant at Harvard to come to Pittsburgh, walk the steps, and visit with the South Side Slopes Association.” 
 
Pittsburgh has 712 sets of public steps, more than any other city in the country. Cincinnati is the next closest with 400. San Francisco, with 168, rounds out the top three.
 
Here’s Anna:
 
“My final project for the Shrinking Landscapes class was a map highlighting all of the steps of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and a set of collector cards for each staircase. Together the map and collector cards recast the steps dealing with the steep slopes as a challenging game. If a partaker climbed all of the steps in Pittsburgh, they would have nearly climbed Mt. Everest.
 
“It was through this class and assignment that I immediately realized that Pittsburgh is taking on a new identity. This tough, industrial and sports-crazed town is being looked to for its repurposing and adaptive attitude. Yes, Pittsburgh is considered one of America’s shrinking cities, and yes, Pittsburgh is still climbing out of that time, but it is creating a strong community that embraces its past while transforming for its future.
 
“The South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association is a prime example of a group that is dedicated to preserving these pieces of historic infrastructure for future generations. Their mission goes beyond maintenance to focus on the community that is directly linked by the steps and to create awareness of this unique feature for the rest of Pittsburgh. They host events throughout the year that range from cleaning up parks, removing invasive weeds, creating community gardens, lighting the stairs and their main event, Step Trek. This event takes participants on varying routes of difficulty throughout the neighborhood via several different sets of South Side steps.
 
“Two friends joined me for Step Trek last year. Even though both had lived in Pittsburgh for years, this was the first time they had heard of and participated in the Step Trek. I was struck by how many times they said ‘I had no idea this was here’ as we walked up and down the stairs.”

photo by Anna Cawrse

 

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