More Time for the Skyline

Art installation of Pittsburgh skyline as large cut-outs with black and white patterns projected on them

Spirit Lounge Pittsburgh 200th Birthday Celebration

Back in January, we posed the question is the Pittsburgh skyline that distinct? No definitive conclusion was achieved but it became clear that we’re dealing with an extremely popular subject. In only the few months since, we’ve seen new examples of the same profile appear over and over–in art, in industry, in history. Here are The Orbit’s favorites:

Spirit Lounge‘s 200th birthday party for the city was an orgy of Pittsburgh in-joke goofballery. The flashing, multi-color downtown skyline diorama looked great in all of its phases, but especially this high-contrast, two-tone number (above)–amazingly with just one building’s profiles caught on the bias. Hats off to whoever put this great display together.

Airbrush painting of the Pittsburgh skyline seen from the North Side

Warhola Recycling, North Side

Warhola Recycling would have to include a North Sider’s view of the city. The big touch points are all there: PPG, Fifth Avenue Place, Point State Park and its fountain–even one of the party boats on the river. This mural, airbrushed on the big steel doors on the side the building, is a great example of the skyline potentially popping up just about anywhere.

fantasy skyline with various Pittsburgh elements included

Energy Innovation Center (former Connelly Technical Institute), Hill District, c. 1930

The depiction of Pittsburgh in this arched doorway mural from the old Connelly Technical Institute is terrific in a number of ways. First, it’s just very much of its time–a pseudo-realistic depiction of the city in full industrial might: a place of buildings reaching to the skies, bridges that can ford any span, industry cranking out…stuff, and glorious rolling green hills as far as the eye can see.

But it’s also a perspective that doesn’t actually exist–and never did. The painting is a fantasy view of Pittsburgh combining real-life entities (downtown’s Gulf Tower, the Panther Hollow Bridge in Oakland, steel mills, farmland) plucked out of their actual habitats and re-combined in a close-shouldered collision. It’s like a regional greatest hits album that lacks any cohesive flow, but still sells because it’s got all the good stuff people want to hear.

city skyline painted on concrete tennis practice wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Garland Parklet, East Liberty

This skyline, painted graffiti-style in a park in East Liberty, is almost so abstract that we can’t count it–it could be Anytown (O.K. any city), U.S.A. There’s no recognizable Gulf Tower or U.S. Steel Building, but the central point is arguably Fifth Avenue Place’s giant hypodermic needle. They’ve also got a generic bridge in there, though it doesn’t really look like any of the “three sisters” suspension bridges. In any case, this blogger thinks it counts. Plus, it ended up on the backstop of a tennis practice wall in East Liberty, which is a pretty neat place to turn up a city mural.

Pittsburgh skyline mural painted on cinderblock building

Red Star Ironworks, Millvale

Excuse the weird cropping here, but there was a glass block window and a competing mural to work around. The entire front of Red Star Ironworks’ Millvale workshop has been painted as a giant tribute to big dudes working with hot steel. The split pair of Pittsburgh skylines that bookend the mural are really just a decorative afterthought. But they’re still there, and you won’t have any trouble picking out the now-familiar key players.

mural on brick wall including the downtown Pittsburgh skyline

Mural, Art All Night 2016, Lawrenceville

We could have filled an entire post–maybe several–with depictions of downtown Pittsburgh entered into this year’s (or any year’s) Art All Night. But we went with the one that will go down with the ship: a mural painted directly on the brick wall of the 39th Street Arsenal Terminal building that ain’t long for this world. New condos await, right there at the foot of the 40th Street Bridge, but they’re not going to make it into this skyline.

A Fine Time for the Skyline

Mural painted on garage door of man on motorcycle with the Pittsburgh skyline behind him and a banner reading "Gone but not Forgotten"

Gone but not forgotten, Homewood

Is the Pittsburgh skyline that distinct? This blogger wouldn’t have thought so, but it kept turning up, rendered by hand, in a variety of locales. The image is an interesting choice, especially for some obvious small time players. It’s there on a shuttered candy shop, a no-longer-serving Chinese restaurant, and a tribute to a fallen motorcyclist. [Note to self: cancel appointment to have Pittsburgh skyline tattooed across midriff.]

The iconography seems well established. Each representation features PPG’s signature spiked towers, the giant hypodermic needle that locates Fifth Avenue Place, and the taller-than-them-all monolith of the USX (née U.S. Steel) tower. Optional other inclusions are the fountain at Point State Park, the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne bridges, Oxford Centre’s very ’80s lopped cube, and the Kopper’s/Gulf Tower art deco two-fer.

Mural of a spirit blowing glass above the Pittsburgh skyline at Gallery G Glass, Pittsburgh, PA

Gallery G Glass, Bloomfield

The loose outline of a great glass-blowing water spirit floats weightlessly in front of a rough depiction of downtown’s tall buildings. It looks like Matisse, as rendered by a precocious fifth-grader. This lanky figure seems to spring from a Smurfs-like version of the Point State Park fountain. Earth, air, fire, and water: all the elements are there. The mural pictured here is actually just one half of a set–its nearly-identical twin faces the other direction and sits just on the other side of Gallery G’s front entryway on Liberty Ave.

Sign for Cutty's Candy Store that includes the Pittsburgh skyline and a version of the Steelers logo with the word "Cutty" added

Cutty’s Candy Store, Homewood

We loved this combination Pittsburgh portrait/ornate Steelers tribute/Candy Store business sign so much we ganked it for the Orbit masthead. The skyline has all the usual players, but here they’re rendered in a really effective semi-detailed black & white, resting on a set of rococo brass work, and reading brilliantly against the pitch black background. Maybe if Cutty had made the text as easy to read the candy store would still be in business and we could have popped in for some licorice on the ride. That was not to be.

mural of the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh painted on brick wall of former Yen's Gourmet restaurant, Pittsburgh, PA

Yen’s Gourmet (detail), East Liberty

We’re gathering the materials on the inevitable Orbit obit to Yen’s Gourmet (R.I.P.) on Penn Avenue and this one popped-out. The long brick wall that makes up the east-facing side of the building has one continuous mural of a congenial, multicultural East Liberty. Bathed in sunshine, people of all stripes walk the streets, curb their pets, shop, and frolic. There is at least one incongruous wolf (maybe it’s just a husky) with its eyes trained on you, the viewer and its tongue salivating. It is both painful and totally fitting that this portrait will never include the greatest elements of change in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood that would ultimately send Yen and his $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet packing*.  Likely the new Ace Hotel does not have such a deal.

Chromos Eyewear sign of a large pair of glasses, with the Pittsburgh skyline in each lens

Chromos Eyewear, Lawrenceville

This is almost certainly the newest skyline around as Chromos only took up shop in Lawrenceville’s tenth ward fairly recently–but how great to keep up the tradition and what an effective use of the idiom! One giant pair of glasses serving as this eyewear shop’s name-free shingle, each with a silhouetted downtown Pittsburgh skyline clearly in view. Real glass allows daylight through the rest of the lenses just like, you know, real glasses. Well done, Chromos.


* Just guessing here: we have no idea why Yen’s Gourmet closed their doors.

 

Ghost Houses: East Liberty

Ghost houst: East Liberty

Ghost house: East Liberty

Ghost house: the imprinted silhouette of a structure that is no longer there on one that is.  They’re the last remnants of a structure that has been banished from this earth and they speak to the current property owner’s neglect for updating to hide what many would consider a cosmetic blemish.  The alternate explanation being that they may be a very reverent way to honor the former structure.  It is impossible to know the intent.

Pittsburgh has a lot of these, owing to the city’s history of many close-quartered row houses and houses directly abutting industry.  That, coupled with the massive loss of population in the 1970s and ’80s that left lots of vacant, derelict properties that were ultimately razed.

The ghost house photographed above is particularly amazing.  It’s right across the street from The Home Depot in East Liberty and makes a perfect outline of the former house, including front and rear porches, against the off-white painted brick wall of a much larger building.  The addition of the lush green weedy grass (this photo taken in summer) makes it all the more unreal

Ghost house: East Liberty

Ghost house: East Liberty

This is another one, also in East Liberty, with a weird variant on the theme.  In this case, the former house’s fireplaces–including the fake stone work on the first floor fireplace–and plaster walls have been preserved in the exterior wall of the still-standing house next door.  It boggles the mind that someone would tear down an entire house, and yet leave pieces of the razed structure embedded in the house next door.  Or maybe it’s structurally damaging to pry out something as integral as fireplace and chimney from abutting houses?  Either way, the outcome is strange, magical, and beautiful.