The Frankenstein Hillside of Woods Run

Hillside with embedded bricks and cinderblocks, Pittsburgh, PA

The Frankenstein hillside of Woods Run (detail)

This is about as Pittsburgh as it gets. A steep, nearly vertical, hillside forms a natural boundary between two distinct neighborhoods–Brighton Heights up above and Woods Run down below. Hillside erosion (or the threat thereof) has forced the hand of…someone (the city? industry? private property owners?) to infill cracks and fissures in the bare rock, but they’ve done it in the cheapest, most ramshackle way possible. It’s kind of like creating the goofy colored belt system instead of actually building any new highways–but to solve erosion issues instead of…directional? [The belts certainly do nothing for traffic.] In both cases, The Orbit applauds this philosophy of low-tech, minimally-destructive, infrastructure recycling.

Hillside with embedded bricks and cinderblocks, Pittsburgh, PA

Even with the bright morning sun shining on them, it’s a little hard to see what’s going on in these photos. The hill probably reaches fifty or sixty feet above street level at its highest and there are at least a handful of houses that back right up near the top edge. At the base is vacant land (today), but likely held row houses, retail, or small industry buildings back in the day.

Irregularly set into the rock face are a mortared collection of various masonry materials–bricks of all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as cinderblocks, paving stones, and poured concrete. The overall effect is as if some bygone cheapskate public works director gave the order to “just fill the cracks with whatever you have laying around.”

Hillside with embedded bricks and cinderblocks, Pittsburgh, PA

The combination is beautiful, weird, and, yes, looks like the work of a mad scientist, or maybe a mad civil engineer. There’s the very awkward collision of nature and technology–like a brick and stone cyborg, only this one wants to keep loose rock from falling on you instead of hunting you down for crimes you’ll inevitably commit in the future. The spare parts and junk shop chic is something any crazy inventor with a bricklaying hobby would be proud of. The hill’s vertical face is rendered in wonderful 3-D, at points both smooth and jagged, metric and chock-a-block–it gives the whole enterprise this incredible depth and texture. Seeing these on a clear day, in the A.M. (when the eastern sun lights them up), will match any gallery experience. We guarantee it, just like Dr. Frankenstein did.

Hillside with embedded bricks and cinderblocks, Pittsburgh, PA

Getting there: The Frankenstein hillside runs along the dog-legged stretch of Woods Run Ave. between Eckert St. and McClure, right across the street from Mr. Jack’s Neighborhood Bar (“No guns. No knives.”)–just look up. Cyclists will be well aware of this particular patch of road as it’s the primary route from the very end of the river bike trail by the old jail to points west and north.

Ghost House: Brighton Heights II, The Redemption

ghost house in Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost house: Antrim Street, Brighton Heights

According to one old saw, it takes a lot to laugh, and it takes a train to cry. And let me tell you something: it takes missing a broad-daylight ghost house to bring this blogger to his knees; begging forgiveness from you, dear reader. Mom: you deserve better.

Back in April, we ran our first ghost house story on a particular gem we found climbing the steep McClure Avenue hill from the Woods Run neighborhood to Brighton Heights. Maybe if we’d stopped whining about having to bicycle uphill long enough to look around, we’d have seen the yin to that house’s yang literally right around the corner.

Returning to that same beat this summer we were greeted by this visage on Antrim Street. The outline a classic Pittsburgh two-story, four-room frame with an almost-exact match rear porch/addition glommed onto the back. This one features the added mystery of a second-floor section above the back porch that appears in white paint. What is that? It looks like an addition on top of the sloped porch roof, but that seems nutty. You got me.

Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives, but he had less to say about make-goods from unreliable bloggers. Let’s make this thing right. We got back there; we realized the error in our ways; now let the record be set. I know we can never hope to fully repair the trust we’ve lost in this failure of reporting, but we can try. To you, Antrim Street ghost house, hopefully we’re square.

ghost house in Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost House: Brighton Heights

"Ghost house"--impression of one razed house against another still standing

Ghost house: Brighton Heights

You don’t see one of these every day–that is, unless you regularly find yourself traveling the back way from Woods Run up to Brighton Heights.  I was all the way down in my low gear huffing and puffing up that hill and believe you me I thought twice about giving up the small amount of inertia I had to stop for a photo, but there was really no decision.  This is the kind of hardship we dedicated bloggers/ghost house haunters live for.

‘Scuse me while I catch my breath, even the memory is exhausting…OK, I’m good.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah: there I was, face-to-tar shingle and clapboard with the big one!  This amateur archeologist had everything he needed but the platte maps.  Such a perfect specimen!  One tiny house perfectly imprinted on the neighbor’s only slightly larger simple frame home, complete with front and rear porches, slanted roof, and exposed foundation.

I don’t know what happened to that little guy, but I’m sure glad it (literally) left a mark to tell us where it was and give us a hint at what it was all about.