You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yetta: The Mosaic Houses of Spring Hill

A row of frame houses with mosaics covering the basement/foundation walls, Pittsburgh, Pa.

The mosaic houses of Spring Hill

It’s been said that Pittsburgh is place where you can have a basement apartment with a view. In Spring Hill, you have to actually take some steps up to reach the basement–and what a view!

By the time I got up there, it had been a workout. First, up and down, back and forth through the aptly-named Hill District looking for remaining traces of the Jewish Hill District. But the Hill was only the appetizer–scaling the steep Itin Street incline to Spring Hill proved to be the main course.

Stairway between houses with mosaics, Pittsburgh, Pa.

This panting blogger’s wiener was apparently too appealing a target for one four-year-old with a brand new water cannon. As his parents sorted through the poison ivy looking for a rose bush, their youth made it rain–on my short trousers. And let me tell you, he may be a little guy, but Max’s aim is true, his judgement unsparing, and he yields no mercy to the winded cyclist.

So when Kate gave me the tip to continue on even further up the hill (OK, just one short block) to Yetta Street for the checking out of a set of mosaics, it was time to go.

Yetta Street mosaic detail

And rewarded we were! There aren’t quite enough of them to justify this as a “neighborhood thing,” but with three clearly-related mosaic-bedecked houses in a row, plus one more down the block, it’s at least some inclination of a movement that will hopefully grow into said thing.

The styles and subjects range from groovy blasts of abstract color and shape to more recognizable scenes of gardens, flowers, and undersea life. One section may or may not be a loose impressionistic map of downtown Pittsburgh and its surrounding rivers. The Basilica of San Vitale this is not, but they’re quite nice.

Yetta Street mosaic detail

The mosaics are all set into the basement walls added under the front porches of the houses on the north (up hill) side of Yetta. The prim Victorian frame houses above with the scattershot artwork below give a terrific kind of business upstairs/party in the basement effect. This kind of decorative anachronism probably drives the historical crowd to hysteria, but, you know, live a little.

Victorian house in Pittsburgh, Pa. with mosaic on basement walls

Business upstairs/party in the basement

Yetta Street mosaic detail

I’d guess they all came from the same set of hands, but there wasn’t anyone around when we visited to ask. I’d love to know how recently these were added, if more neighbors are signing on, how the whole thing got started, etc. So we’ll have to wait for a subsequent trip up to Spring Hill to try again. I’m sure young Max is reloading as I type.

boy holding a super-soaker squirt gun

Watch your trousers: Max and his super-soaker

UPDATE (6/3/2015): The eagle-eyed and impressively-associated readers of The Pittsburgh Orbit quickly alerted us that the Spring Hill mosaics are both the work of Linda Wallen and that there are more of them in the neighborhood that we missed. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk with Linda and get the full story.

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