Step Beat: Talking Missed Connections and Mis.Steps with Ms. Steps

bent street sign for the intersection of Lappe Lane and Shirls Street with downtown Pittsburgh in the distance

Only the street sign remains: where Lappe Lane used to end at Shirls Street, Spring Hill

Lappe Lane is one of the more fascinating throughways you’re likely to travel. Roughly equal parts city steps, paved road, and (non-existent) “paper street,” Lappe begins down in Spring Garden and then runs straight up and over the hill, back down the other side, through a cemetery (though you wouldn’t know it), and just keeps going.

If you like hiking the steps, there’s a decent chance you’ve already climbed Lappe Lane’s lower flights where the stairs intersect Spring Garden Ave. or Goehring Street and continue up to Yetta and St. John’s Cemetery at the top of the hill. These early sections offer great options to what entry-level step trekkers are after–steep vertical ascents, great city views, kooky between-house catwalks, and lots of nice here-to-theres with alternate options to get back down the hill.

Even so, you’ve probably never made it up here, where we are, at the very end. And that’s because–like some twisted Zen koan–even where Lappe Lane finally ends, it doesn’t actually go there.

hillside with staircase overgrown with weeds, Pittsburgh, PA

Lappe Lane, from South Side Ave. to Fabyan Street, Spring Hill

Laura Zurowski has an ambitious goal: visit and document every one of Pittsburgh’s seven hundred and thirty-nine (known) sets of public steps. As if all the navigating, stair-climbing, and list-checking-off weren’t enough, Zurowski’s Mis.Steps project gets even more complicated. No mere exercise/sight-seeing venture, each and every steps visit is followed by an additional mixed media exploration via old-school/pre-digital instant photography, short prose, colored sidewalk chalk, print-making, and final distribution via the computer Internet.

We’ll get to all this. Today, though, we’re just trying to locate the very last two flights of Lappe Lane, at the far north end of Spring Hill.

woman taking photograph of weed-covered set of public stairs in Pittsburgh, PA

In the weeds: Laura Zurowski with her Polaroid Spectra 2 camera

“Pittsburgh chose me,” Zurowski says of her relocation from Providence, by-way-of upstate New York. The decision came six years ago alongside the desire to own a home in a place she could pursue more creative projects. “I asked myself, ‘What do I want life to be?’ and the answer was that I wanted to be open to ideas; to have a more robust, creative existence.”

The interest in the city steps only came some time after the move. Seeing the volume of empty houses in Pittsburgh was new, startling, and inspirational–but also melancholy. “Every one of those (abandoned) homes contained people’s lives, so seeing them empty is really sad,” Zurowski says, “With the steps–even if they’re in bad condition–I never feel sad like I do with empty houses.”

That, coupled with Bob Regan’s Orbit essential The Steps of Pittsburgh: Portrait of a City (The Local History Company, 2004) was enough to send Zurowski on her mission.

woman marking public steps with sidewalk chalk

Chalk it up: Zurowski tags another completed set of steps with a Polaroid-sized chalk square.

We see one small boarded-up home, but for the most part, the houses on this block all appear both lived-in and loved. Lappe Lane’s thirty-or-so steps starting from South Side Ave. [Mis.Steps Trip #109] are easy enough to spot. There is no street sign at this intersection, but a familiar pair of red-brown handrails reaches out of the hillside and right down to the edge of the quiet residential road.

But try walking up these stairs and you’re quickly ensnared in wild jumble of weedy overgrowth, thorny bramble, and whatever those plants are that leave prickly stickers on your socks and pant legs. Even half-way up the short flight, it’s obvious you’ll not be going far. One of the uphill homeowners has–perhaps, illegally–built an elaborate A-frame treehouse directly blocking the public right-of-way. Even if someone wanted to, no one’s going anywhere on these steps.

Polaroid photo of overgrown city steps in Pittsburgh, PA

Trip #109: Lappe Lane – S. Side Ave. Polaroid [photo: Laura Zurowski]

Zurowski fights her way through the thicket of tall grass, up past the first plateau, and on until nearly swallowed by the plant kingdom. There’s a shrugged acceptance this is far as these particular steps will allow, an untangling from the jaggers, careful descent back to the landing, and then hands dart into the backpack for the Polaroid camera. The single picture–there is only one per set of steps–is taken in an instant.

“My friend who’s a photographer said, ‘You’re going to have a really hard time coming up with 739 ways to take pictures of stairs’,” Zurowski says, “And it would be hard if they were all the same–but I haven’t come across two sets that look alike.”

“I look at the Polaroid [photos] like they’re portraits of people,” Zurowski continues, “If I were going to give human-like qualities to the steps, what would they be like? Hopefully the Polaroid captures the essence of what each flight of steps is all about.”

Polaroid photo of public staircase with trees and house behind

Late summer scene: Polaroid from Trip #61 – Harpster Street, Oct. 2017, Troy Hill [photo: Laura Zurowski]

The instant photograph is ejected from the camera, rested on a stair tread, and then the journals come out. There are two of them: one for “field notes”; the other, narrative impressions. With each visit, Zurowski includes a short meditation on the scene, which will be used later on.

Zurowski scratches a rough square, just about the size of a Polaroid picture, with sidewalk chalk on one of the stair risers. Mis.Steps super fans are undoubtedly taking selfies with chalk squares around town right now. Finally, the iPhone is used to snap one last picture summing up the whole scene.

With that, we’re on to Trip #110–the very end of Lappe Lane, just up the hill from where we are now. Here, Zurowski will do it all over again, but, just like every other one of those 739 sets of steps, this one is completely different from the one we just saw. For one, there aren’t any steps here (anymore).

autumn leaves on long set of public steps in Pittsburgh, PA

A blast of autumn past: Mis.Steps summary photo (including Polaroid and chalk square) from Trip #68 – Basin Street, Troy Hill/Spring Garden, Oct. 2017 [photo: Laura Zurowski]

That’s a lot of process–but it ain’t over yet! Back home, Zurowski completes the cycle with the publishing of each Mis.Steps adventure every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The narrative is honed, the Polaroid digitized, and the pairing of image + words goes out to the world via the Mis.Steps’ blog, Instagram, and Craig’s List “Missed Connections” page. That’s right: between “Kinky Dom Roleplay – m4m (Canonsburg)” and “Thanks for the hot time – m4m (McKeesport)” there’s a little story and photo about listening to birdsongs on the Morningside Avenue steps.

Risograph print of a Polaroid photo showing public stairs with a woman leaning on handrail

#20 Diulius Way, Central Oakland. Risograph print by Jimmy Riordan.

I know what you’re thinking: All this sounds great, but there’s nothing to hang on my wall or swap with friends! That’s where you’re sorely mistaken. Conveniently, Mis.Steps has taken the whole project out of the aether and fed it through a 1980s-era technology at the hands of Braddock printer Jimmy Riordan.

The result is a hard copy series of “trading cards” that further abstract the original murky Polaroid into ghostly, high-contrast 3-color art prints. In addition to the photographic image, the cards contain the Mis.Steps index number, street and neighborhood names, location, step count, and the city’s construction date (if known) on the front and the narrative text on the back. Card collections are available from the Mis.Steps website and Copacetic Comics in Polish Hill.

collage of nine Risograph prints made from Laura Zukowski's steps photos

No two alike: various Mis.Steps Polaroid-sized Risograph trading cards printed by Jimmy Riordan

If it’s not obvious yet, Laura Zurowski really loves Pittsburgh’s city steps–Orbit readers know we share an opinion on this matter. “If there’s an underlying goal,” Zurowski says of the Mis.Steps project, “It’s to get people to visit the stairs. I’d like to encourage people to look around, to check out other parts of the city, and to become connected with their neighborhoods.” We couldn’t agree more.

woman at top of long set of public stairs looking at a view of downtown Pittsburgh, PA

Route with a view: Zurowski at the top of the Vinial Street steps, part of the “Spring Garden Stair Stepping” event, Troy Hill

Still not enough Mis.Steps for you? Well, you’re in luck. Zurowski has teamed up with Threadbare Cider for a series of combined guided city step hikes and cider house tours/tastings dubbed Spring Garden Stair Stepping (and Cider Sipping). You’re probably too late for today’s kick off hike–and it sold out way ahead of time anyway–but there will be a couple more chances with repeat events April 15 and May 20.

Step Beat: Oakley Dokeley, The Oakley Way Rehab

Detail of public steps with mosaic decoration of a woman's head, Pittsburgh, PA

It’s a cruel reality: when you’re working the city step beat, there ain’t a lot of news to report. No, most of the stories we run end up being about going to visit steps that inevitably won’t be around for long, occasional Indiana Jones-style heroics to hike them, or the historical curiosities of infrastructure ruins that were once so vital and now–all too often–go nowhere and serve no one.

So it is with no small amount of glee that The Orbit goes to press with a story on not only the complete rehabilitation of a set of core city steps, but the genuine newsy news that they’ve been wonderfully dressed-up in brand-new full-color mosaic tile.

public steps with mosaic decoration including houses, sky, a fox, a bird, sun, and stars, Pittsburgh, PA

Oakley Way Steps, top mosaic section

Oakley Way is one of the many climbs that create access points from the South Side Slopes above to the flats below (and vice-versa). The street is actually seven short (but mostly vertical) blocks long–part city steps/part steep road-with-steps sidewalk. The bottommost stretch (from Josephine to McCord) is the only section that’s received the mosaic treatment, but some of the upper sections have also been nicely rehabbed with patched concrete and fully repaired and repainted blue handrails.

Artist Laura Jean McLaughlin led a group of volunteers in the design, construction, and installation of the mosaic risers. That process was covered in a recent Post-Gazette piece that only scooped us because we got side-tracked by Fairywood and tryptophan and shelved the post for a month. Fooey!

looking up Oakley Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up: the Oakley Way steps

Spread across seventy-seven consecutive risers, the mosaic’s central figure is a tall red-booted woman in a checkered skirt who–based on the proportional size of the river, bridge, and factory building also in the piece–must stand about the height of the US Steel tower. Also decorating the lush scene are Slopes homes, grass, flowers, a fox, a bird, the sun and stars.

If you’ve seen any of McLaughlin’s other local projects you’ll recognize her loose, cartoonish, and earthy signatures. A lesser blog might invoke the term “whimsical,” or even (shudder) “funky”. The Orbit won’t stoop to that level, so we’ll just say they’re fun, very Slopes-centric, and a great compliment to the D.P.W.’s fix-up work.

Oakley Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

View down the bottommost section of Oakley Way (from McCord Street)

We’ve argued in these very virtual pages that Pittsburgh’s network of public steps is a city asset unlike any other–part transit route, part jungle gym, part historical oddity, and what should be a big draw for tourism*. It’s encouraging to see any set of steps getting much-needed maintenance, but it’s especially great to see them dressed to thrill with such a wonderful addition as McLaughlin’s mosaic.

There’s at least one other similar project out there and completed. Linda Wallen’s mosaic work at the base of the steps off Itin Street in Spring Garden isn’t nearly as ambitious as Oakley Way, but it’s still a great twinkling beacon in the great constellation of city step dark stars. May these two heroic projects guide step freaks to a new, golden dawn of altitude adjustment, wide perspectives, and throbbing calf muscles.

public steps with mosaic tile decoration of woman's head with houses and deer in the background, Pittsburgh, PA

Old and new: remnants of an earlier, defunct passage under the rehabbed Oakley Way steps

* Visitors who don’t want to lose their breath climbing dozens of flights of steps to dilapidated neighborhoods with spectacular views should consider lodging other than Chez Orbit’s fold-out sofa.

Step Beat: Anthony and Ivondale

intersection of Anthony Street and Ivondale Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Anthony and Ivondale streets, The Run

They’re not the longest or the prettiest. They’re not one of the great nature-in-the-city hikes, and there’s not much of a view. Heck, these steps don’t even fulfill the most basic purpose of infrastructure: you can’t go anywhere on them!

So why are we even reporting on the Anthony and Ivondale city steps? Well, this blogger will tell you. There’s a time for greatest hits and, as Buck Dharma so wisely reminds us, there’s a time to play B-sides. On the back of the platter, Anthony and Ivondale still earn the occasional spin, and it still sounds…er, walks pretty good.

The onion domes of St. John Chrysostom Byzantine from the Anthony/Ivondale intersection, Pittsburgh, PA

The onion domes of St. John Chrysostom Byzantine from the Anthony/Ivondale intersection

Last year we reported on the wonderful existence of the great Romeo & Frazier intersection in an overgrown hillside of South Oakland. That particular confluence of city steps is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Pittsburgh’s commitment (at least, historically) to pedestrian thoroughfares as fully-accredited “streets.”

We see the same great treatment at the corner of Anthony and Ivondale, where the steps are given their own street light and signage. Only here, the whole enterprise is more absurd since there’s not really any chance of either walking these steps in the dark or needing directions to where they’re (not) going.

intersection of Anthony Street and Ivondale Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up Ivondale Street from behind St. John’s

The other obvious factor on any step-trekker’s noodle is that this particular pair of step-streets is almost surely on the endangered list. At one time, Anthony Street must have continued all the way up the hill to Greenfield*. That would have connected residents of The Run up to Greenfield’s commercial district and uphill parishioners down to the mighty St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.

But those aren’t really well-travelled routes any more–at least, not on foot. In fact, they’re so neglected that you can only walk a tiny minority of Anthony Street before you’re met by an ocean of out-of-control overgrowth that completely blocks passage on the through-way**.

city steps overgrown with weeds, Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh Babylon: Anthony Street’s long, inaccessible climb up to Greenfield

Anthony & Ivondale will never be destination steps like Rising Main or Little Jewel Street or the “Try Try Try” steps. But if you find yourself in The Run for a large sandwich at Big Jim’s or just passing through en route between the Schenley Park and “Jail Trail” bicycle runs, it’s well worth the stop and poke-see. You won’t get lost; there’s nowhere to go.

* Looking at the map, it seems like Anthony probably terminated at tiny Raff Street, itself just an extension of Alger Street, a block off Greenfield Ave.
** Already on the list is going back in the winter when we can see what’s left when the knotweed has died off.

Step Beat: Climbs 57

looking up long set of city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up the lower section of the 57th Street steps

Has Pittsburgh fifty-seven varieties of city steps? Maybe.

It’s an intriguing question. There are long and short sets of steps; steps on the side of the street and steps alone in the woods. There are steps of wood, metal, and concrete; steps in good repair and ones that are falling apart; open steps and ones permanently closed. Some have special bicycle ramps added; others just tell you to Try. There are steps with crazy turns and angles and steps that just go up one straight line. There are steps the whole neighborhood uses, step street intersections, and steps that no longer go anywhere.

It would probably take a significant imagination to keep this riff going all the way out to the magic number. However, we know Henry J. Heinz considered 57 to be a lucky number*, and if it’s good enough for the king of condiments, it’s good enough for Pittsburgh Orbit. We certainly felt lucky after a climb up the very fine 57th Street Steps in Lawrenceville.

city steps with older home, Pittsburgh, PA

Step-accessible (only) house at the bottom of the 57th Street steps

city steps at 57th and Duncan Streets, Pittsburgh, PA

The intersection at Duncan Street, mid-point in the 57th Street steps

The steps that make up the pedestrian section of 57th Street qualify as at least two of these varieties. The lower half, from where Christopher Street forks off 57th up to Duncan Street, is in immaculate shape. The treads and rails are all perfectly maintained, with easy clear passage. The surrounding foliage has been neatly trimmed and there was no litter the day we visited. There’s even one remaining house that is only accessible via the steps.

An the upper half? Well, that’s another story. In the middle of a lush Pittsburgh summer, dense knotweed has enveloped the majority of this stretch with just enough room for the city trekker to go full-on Indiana Jones. [Note to readers: bring a fedora, whip, and satchel.] It’s clear this batch is neither as well-loved nor as well-used as its downhill sibling. Still, it offers a great off-the-grid version of the step experience, which is just as much of what we’re after.

city steps nearly overgrown with knotweed, Pittsburgh, PA

Entrance to the upper section of 57th Street steps (at Duncan Street)

looking up city steps covered by trees, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up the upper section of 57th Street steps

If there’s a bummer to the 57th Street steps, it’s that you’re stuck with a straight up-and-back trip–there’s no looping around for a more interesting walk/hike. Somewhere around half-way up the top stretch (above Duncan), you hit a pretty decisive end-of-the-line. The treads are gone, trees and weeds have overtaken what’s left, and a clear Steps Closed barrier has been placed across the route.

At this point, the red handrails continue, tantalizing us by disappearing into the hillside. The map shows that at one point the steps terminated up on Price Way in Stanton Heights, but that connection seems unlikely to be re-opened–at least until The Orbit gets put in charge of public works. Until then, pass the ketchup.

city steps missing treads with "Steps Closed" sign blocking the way, Pittsburgh, PA

End of the line: top of the 57th Street steps

* Heinz famously had way more than 57 different food products when the “57 Varieties” tag line was dreamed up and added to packaging.

Step Beat: Basin Street Blues

Looking down the Basin Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking down from near the top of the Basin Street steps, Troy Hill

If there are more stereotypically Pittsburgh names for a couple streets than Brabec and Voskamp, point this blogger to them. That these two short residential ways (in Troy Hill and Spring Garden, respectively), should be connected by a picture-perfect set of city steps is all the more apropos. Action, scene, cut, and print.

Top of the Basin Street city steps at Brabec Street, Pittsburgh, PA

Top of Basin Street at Brabec Street, Troy Hill

Tripping across a new set of city steps is no great feat–there are hundreds of them after all*. But randomly arriving at a stretch as spectacular as the Basin Street steps doesn’t happen every day. The couple hundred individual risers that connect these two near North Side neighborhoods have everything the step trekker and urban daydreamer could possibly hope for–theater, tranquility, history, and mystery.

View of Spring Garden and Spring Hill neighborhoods from the Basin Street steps, Pittsburgh, PA

View from the steps: Spring Garden (below) and Spring Hill (above)

Steps, by their altitude-adjusting nature, almost always offer something in the way of rewarding city vistas and Basin Street is no exception. The view from the very top (at Brabec Street) is shrouded in trees, but multiple points along the way offer terrific angles through the branches down to the Spring Garden bottoms below and up into the lush hillside of City View/Spring Hill above.

Thick tree cover and hand rail from city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Hill view from the steps

Aside from the surround-sound bird chirping and song-singing–plus one indefatigable opossum loitering in a Voskamp Street back patio–not a creature was stirring in or around Basin Street on the day we visited. It is this gentle peace right in the center of the city that makes a great set of steps so special.

Basin Street has its requisite signs of humanity–foundations for long-gone homes off to the sides and no small amount of litter left by teen drinkers and hill campers–but it generally has more of the feeling of being way out in the woods. It’s fair to say that this particular wood still features the sounds of weed whackers, dudes working on cars, and distant classic rock wafting through branches–but a wood nonetheless.

Looking up the Basin Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking up the Basin Street steps

Like Tolstoy’s happy families, each story of the city steps is in a sense the same: a wonderous artifact of urban infrastructure still exists, relaxing in repose on and under-visited city hillside. Nature, time, and tide reclaim as much as the Pittsburgh D.P.W. allows. The occasional pedestrian saunters through, but they exist mostly in a time of their own.

On the other hand, though, each passage of steps–at least the really glorious, long, secluded ones like Basin Street–offer their own unique experiences: different views, twists and turns, different high, lows, and end points. Rising Main, it ain’t, nor does it have the clusters of great steps like Fineview or the South Side Slopes, but this little backside of Troy Hill is well worth the trip. Big ups to the Basin.

View of the Spring Garden neighborhood from the Basin Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Voskamp Street, Spring Garden, from near the bottom of Basin Street

* There is no official number, but the estimate is somewhere around 750 sets of public steps in Pittsburgh.

Step Beat: May the 54th Be With You

Top entrance to the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

There is a darkness. Upper entrance to the 54th Street steps at Camelia Street, Stanton Heights.

An unusually iridescent quality to the daylight–the result of diffuse, cloud-filtered sunbeams’ gentle descent to Earth. That, paired with recent showers and high spring reawakening, resulted in a glorious array of patchwork greens popping from every direction. Bright yellow-greens from first leaves and tangled weeds climbing through last year’s dead growth. Deep low greens darken ivy shadows and taller members’ undergrowth. Add one storybook passageway–literally full of twists and turns, hoots and birdsongs–and you’ve got a recipe for magic.

Right-angle turns at the top of the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Zig zag wanderer: right-angle turns at the top of the 54th Street steps.

The 54th Street steps are a stretch that one can only assume is on the endangered species list. Several pedestrian walkways link the residential neighborhood of Stanton Heights (above) to 10th Ward/Upper Lawrenceville (below). At one time, there must have been significant demand for this kind of infrastructure, but with (most of) Lawrenceville’s big industry jobs long gone and automobile ownership more rule than exception, it’s hard to imagine many people needing to use these particular steps anymore. This blogger didn’t encounter a single other human on his recent visit.

Long middle section of the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

The long middle section of the 54th Street steps including wooden replacement handrail.

And that’s a shame…sort of. Pittsburgh has its share of great parks, trails, green spaces, etc. But it never ceases to amaze how simply walking around city neighborhoods offers so many everyday opportunities for nature, tranquility, solitude–you name it.

The 54th Street steps, as well as others up this way, are a prime example. The parks may have a greater bounty of trees, flowers, birds, and chipmunks, but they don’t supply the crazy catwalk gangways and cut-into-hillside stair climbs. You won’t see the same ghostly foundations of long-gone step-accessible (only) houses or burnt offerings to witchcraft. The entire length of 54th provides commanding bird’s eye views of Upper Lawrenceville and across the river to Millvale. The river trails are often crowded with Sunday cause-marchers and lollygagging strollers that can test the through-rider’s patience. The presence of humanity is no such problem up here.

Overgrown hillside view from the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

This is city living. View from the 54th Street steps.

The 54th Street steps are in quite good shape overall. There is some cracking to the concrete and there’s been obvious repair work including a fixed-up section of felled handrail with a jerry-rigged wooden replacement. But the treads are all sound and there’s no point where they feel like they’re falling apart. Any regular step-hiker will tell you this is no small achievement.

This is all pretty remarkable given the length and complexity of the operation. Fifty-fourth Street is definitely not the longest set of steps in the city (that’s the unbelievable Rising Main Way on the North Side), but with maybe 200 stairs* it’s probably up there. When you factor in the six right-angle turns and long flat stretches, it’s really a hidden jewel a in the city’s step crown. Get out there and try it on for size.

Bottom entrance to the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Lower end of the 54th Street steps at Wickliff Street, Lawrenceville.

* Just guessing here–we didn’t count.

Step Beat: When Tullymet Sylvan

View from the top of the Tullymet St. city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

View from the top of the Tullymet Street city steps, Hazelwood

It is around this time of year that the intrepid city climber has usually packed-away his or her step-hiking boots and can but merely dream of a fast-forward to warmer temperatures, de-iced stair treads, and the re-greening of hillsides. But this particular season’s relentless run of glorious late fall weather has kept the traditionally cold, gray, and wet days at bay. There’s been nary a snow flurry, freezing rain, or frosty morn to even hint at the inevitable winter days to come. The bewildering number of perfectly blue sky days is something rarely seen around these parts.

And so it was this past weekend. We seized the opportunity to embark on an up-and-down* bicycle-based reconnaissance of the Greenfield and Hazelwood neighborhoods which led us to a happenstance trip up Tullymet Street, a most excellent set of city steps heretofore unexplored by this blogger.

Tullymet city steps, Pittsburgh, PA.

Steps as far as the eye can see. The longer stretch of the Tullymet steps, from Sylvan Ave. up to Gladstone St.

Hazelwood’s long, curving riverfront was once home to the enormous Jones & Laughlin steel mill and it is one of the many city neighborhoods that used to primarily house the industry’s huge local workforce. Like a number of its peers, there is no longer that much to walk down to anymore–the mill is gone, as is most of the commercial activity on Second Avenue.

Unlike those other neighborhoods–say, Troy Hill or Fineview or The West End–there’s also not that much to walk from up the hill. Gladstone and Sylvan are quite long streets that clearly used to contain many homes, (you can see this both in old city platte maps and evidence from the extant foundations that remain) but are now almost completely vacant. Today, there might be just one house every hundred yards up here–and half of those appear uninhabited.

Concrete house foundations with trees growing through.

Nature without man. Foundations of felled houses, seen from the Tullymet Street steps.

It’s a curious thing, as I could imagine it being quite a terrific place to live. The location is right there in the city (it’s probably three miles to downtown, as the crow flies), just around the corner from bustling Squirrel Hill, and an easy ride to Oakland. These particular streets are completely surrounded by nature, spectacularly quiet, and with lovely views all the way across the river–at least by this time of year, when the leaves have all fallen to clear the sight lines.

Oh, sure–it’s probably hard to get a pizza delivered up here and I imagine you’d get snowed-in pretty easily being the only one left on a half-mile dead-end street, but people pay top dollar for that kind of isolation in other places. Imagine the possibilities!

Street sign for Tullymet St. and Sylvan Ave., Pittsburgh, PA.

This is where Tullymet Sylvan

Whether or not you’d consider moving in, it’s well worth an afternoon visit–especially if you get another it-ain’t-winter-yet day like this one. Tullymet’s two sets of steps probably contain 250-300 actual stairs (I didn’t count), so it’s a good run any way you cut it. But numbers aside, I can’t stress enough how fantastic it was to be right there, on the edge of the center of the city, in eyeshot of the Monongahela River, in absolute tranquility; the only sounds the chirping of birds and the rustling of fallen leaves.

View of late fall trees and vines from the Tullymet St. city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Hillside view from the Tullymet St. steps

And I realized what a mistake it was to consider the post-fall colors period to be down time for a step hike. What’s left of Pittsburgh’s lush spring/summer viney overgrowth, denuded in the cold weather months, creates an eerie, otherworldly science-fiction landscape when struck against the impossibly bright blue sky and low winter sun. How fortunate are we to have these magical landscapes right here, open all year ’round.

Tullymet city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking down the shorter stretch of Tullymet steps, from Sylvan Ave. to Chance Way

* “Up and down” is no joke. This blogger’s fancy phone informed him that he climbed the equivalent of 131 flights of steps over the course of Saturday–this is roughly a hundred flights more than the average day.