Pittsburgh is like a patchwork quilt of great neighborhoods stitched together. Some neighborhoods get more publicity than others. One of the overlooked gems of Pittsburgh for me is Deutschtown. Sitting to the east of the Mexican War Streets neighborhood, I feel that it unfairly gets lumped into a generic “North Side” category by many.
In actuality, Deutschtown (“Germantown”) has played a vital part in Pittsburgh’s history that has a tendency to get wallpapered over at times. As per the excellent Deutschtown website, complete with a self-guided walking tour and history PDF, the area where Allegheny Center currently sits was the City of Allegheny. To the east of the Commons was farmland. Starting around 1850, this area became an expansion area for the City of Allegheny and home to many German (followed by Croatian) immigrants. When the City of Pittsburgh forcibly annexed the City of Allegheny in 1907, Deutschtown became a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
But here’s what is missing from both the Deutschtown website and the walking tour file — any mention of the neighborhood east of I-279. If you were an outsider with no knowledge, you would think that Deutschtown was confined to E. North, Canal Street, East Street, and Cedar Avenue. There’s no mention at all of Teutonia Mannerchor, the private German club formed back in 1854 on Phineas Street that is committed to social fellowship and maintaining German pride in heritage. Although it is not regal by any stretch, the Bier Haus Tavern on Spring Garden Avenue is not mentioned at all in the business listing section of the website. It’s as if there was some sort of falling out or schism between the two halves of this neighborhood.
It’s not as if the “eastern” part of Deutschtown is trying to hide. There’s a giant Welcome to Deutschtown sign right at the intersection of Chestnut and East Ohio for everyone to see getting off Route 28 or the 16th Street Bridge.
The problem is that the “western” half has a useful business corridor on East Ohio Street, a plethora of interesting bars/restaurants (Max’s Allegheny Tavern, James Street Speakeasy and Gastropub, Bistro to Go, among others), and a decent housing stock. The “eastern” part has none of those things. To be polite, the housing is in a transitional state, as evidenced by some of these pictures taken recently.
Some areas on the eastern parts of Suismon and Tripoli looked like they were sets from The Wire. There were quite a few boarded up buildings, vacant lots where dilapidated houses used to stand, and just general lack of upkeep on others.
But all is not lost for Deutschtown. Far from it, especially if the City and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) can shine a little light over in this area. Here are some ways that the City, the residents, and URA can team up to reconnect this portion to their more promoted bigger brother:
1. Start to acquire and assemble complete blocks for re-development
It appears as if certain blocks have been been piece-mealed in terms of acquisition, most likely to obtain truly delapidated or condemned nuisance structures. URA and City should team up to obtain a complete block in order to install quality, affordable housing.
This portion of Deutchstown is ultra-convenient to downtown Pittsburgh, especially for lower-income workers that may work downtown. In the future, this would be a great stop on the Light Rail North, but since that isn’t happening anytime soon…
2. Ensure quality public transit from this part of Deutchstown to the City
Currently, Chestnut Street is the hub for Port Authority bus routes. The main bus is the #6 Spring Hill and it appears to run a steady hourly route. There are also two other buses (#4 Troy Hill and #7 Spring Garden) that run along Chestnut, but not with the consistency of the #6 line. Port Authority has to commit to maintaining that service.
With bike lanes and transit by bike all the rage, perhaps the City could designate a portion of Chestnut and the 16th Street Bridge as a bike lane. The 16th Street Bridge leads on to Penn Avenue, where the City could potentially extend the designated bike lane further up from its existing terminus.
3. Explore a URA-funded facade renovation program
In step one, I proposed a tear-down idea to create new and fresh housing, but this idea is the opposite side of the coin. If there is a block in this zone that seems to have houses with good bones, but the facades are struggling, perhaps the URA could run a no-interest loan or some type of grant program to the homeowners so that the facades can be repainted, wood trim replaced, or new windows installed. These minor things could make a major difference on a large enough scale.
4. Recruit more Germans to re-populate Deutchstown
No, seriously. When you have a place with a name that means Germantown, is it totally crazy to try and seek out more German immigrants to re-settle there? I know…old European countries like Germany aren’t sexy for immigration; everyone wants to get the 21st century Asian countries like China or India. Latin American immigrants are everpresent. But let’s go old school for an old school neighborhood. Let’s go get some Germans!
The City could easily cut a promo or create some splashy webpage and network with whatever sister city I’m sure Pittsburgh has in Germany to recruit potential immigrants. Companies that are already here, like Bayer and Siemens, could set up low-cost housing for their employees who come over here to staff these offices.
Deutschtown is an area worth taking a look at more in-depth and not just blowing by it at 50 mph on I-279. With a little TLC and re-investment on a multi-party approach, it can be another jewel in the crown of the City of Pittsburgh.