Smoky City: Six Looks at the Heinz Plant Smokestacks

Heinz factory smokestacks with red brick factory buildings

Why do we love smokestacks? [Ladies: don’t answer that! We also love water towers, and rivers, and, uh…doughnuts.] They just look so great! Especially when we no longer have to suffer the consequences of blackened skies and filthy garments and routine emphysema*. It’s like the hollow promise of light beer: all the taste without those pesky calories.

When we started thinking about a series on Pittsburgh smokestacks, there were really just three obvious first world properties to kick off with: the old U.S. Steel stacks in Homestead, Michael Chabon’s “Cloud Factory” in Oakland, and the Heinz plant. Only one of these is on the bicycle ride that separates this blogger from the cheap blueberries and hard Italian cheese in the Strip District, so the choice was made for us.

Heinz factory smokestacks, Pittsburgh, PA

It’s unclear how much of Heinz’ near North Side plant is still an ongoing ketchup-making operation vs. condiment-associated loft housing. At least a part of the facility is security fenced from blogging yabbos like myself and the plant continues to spout a white particulate that suggests vinegar may still be combined with tomato paste on the premises. It’s the kind of place where workers (at least, a few workers) in hard hats still exit at quittin’ time with a cold beer on the noggin. There ain’t no Hunt’s on the table where they’re headed.

Heinz factory smokestacks with new glass and aluminum buildings, Pittsburgh, PA

Like the Washington Monument or St. Paul’s Cathedral, the smokestacks are visible from all over–the Heinz and 57 brick inlays readable from some distance. Almost everywhere on the Allegheny River side of town gets some sort of vantage point.

The Heinz stacks are so omnipresent that most people likely don’t even pay attention to them anymore. On bicycle rides down the river trail I kept noticing how you’d see the stacks from far off up the trail, glimpsed between the newer buildings along the river, from up above on Troy Hill, and down below near town. This was an Orbit story begging to happen.

Heinz factory smokestacks close-up, Pittsburgh, PA

Oh, and happen it will…er, did. In fact, happening it is, right now. I’m typing–I should know! It’s one of those freaky kind of ketchup happenings you read about in the condiment blogs. Dudes in fry outfits; ladies going “hash brownie”; little tykes experiencing colors we never dreamed of. It’s so beautiful! There’s no casting aspersions; just reporting the facts. Lay down thy preconceptions and pick up your spatula: it’s an old-school fry-up and we’re tending the griddle, jack.

Heinz plant smokestacks seen over a mound of gravel in the Strip District, Pittsburgh, PA

Heinz factory smokestacks silhouette with blue sky and white clouds, Pittsburgh, PA

* Pittsburgh’s air quality is still a mess, but, you know, it ain’t like it used to be.


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