Category: Pittsburgh Beauty

Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: Shady Liberty Pedestrian Bridge

Shady Liberty, pedestrian bridge designed by Sheila Klein
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

In my Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path series I describe a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot in the city. I hope these posts will give you inspiration for future adventures and will remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city bursting with beauty.  The rest of the series is located here.

Pittsburgh has a lot of nicknames: The ‘Burgh, Steel City, Sixburgh. My favorite one is probably the City of Bridges.  I’m so proud to be from the city with the most bridges in the WORLD.  I’m even more proud to be from a city where we treasure our bridges so much that we yarn-bomb them!  That’s right!  From August 12th to September 6th the thousands of hours of grueling labor involved in the Knit the Bridge project will come to fruition and the Andy Warhol Bridge will be covered in knitting! I trust it will be a truly magnificent sight.

Shady Liberty, pedestrian bridge designed by Sheila Klein
Shady Liberty, pedestrian bridge designed by Sheila Klein

In honor of the beautification of this well-loved city bridge, I thought I’d focus my Beauty off the Beaten Path series on another Pittsburgh bridge:  Shady Liberty.  It’s newer and less well-known than the Andy Warhol Bridge, but it was born to be a functional piece of public art.  And I’m so happy I discovered it earlier this summer with my family!

We found it during a walk through East Liberty and Shadyside after eating in Penn Circle.  We were wandering around the upper level of the Eastside shopping complex (the retail development that includes Whole Foods) when we heard the sound of a passing train near the Busway below.  As we went closer to the railing to get a better look, we came upon a pedestrian bridge that links the Eastside shopping complex in East Liberty to Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.  Since I don’t live in this area and rarely walk around it, I never even knew it was there! Although it was small in size, this Pittsburgh bridge was BIG in personality!

It is called Shady Liberty and it was designed by Sheila Klein and opened in 2012.  Its basic structural elements are quite modest:  a simple concrete walkway with a surrounding chain link fence and posts. And yet, the designer was inspired to turn these functional parts into pieces of public art:

Painted lines
Painted lines
  • The concrete walkway is painted with random, overlapping yellow and white stripes that appear to be street lines (they are actually modeled on a Liberty Avenue parking lot where street-line painters test their equipment).  However, unlike traditional street lines, they lack any perceivable order.  Careful scrutiny reveals that this unexpected absence of pattern is exactly what makes the walkway so beautiful.  I like to believe the design reflects something really cool:  the unique path of each individual pedestrian (as opposed to the more predictable driving pattern of an automobile).  In that way, I believe the walkway’s artistic design promotes walking vs. driving as a responsible (and fun!) mode of transportation.
Handmade glass sequins
Handmade glass sequins
  • The chain link fence follows the path, protecting pedestrians from falling into the busway and railroad tracks below it.  However, the chain link fence, too, is beautified.  At the top, it is ornamented with large handmade glass sequins that were created at The Pittsburgh Glass Center. They reflect the sun’s glittering light—bringing the sky closer to the bridge and the people on it. The fence also has a gently curving design, leaving room for surrounding greenery.
  • Finally, the metal fence poles provide structural support to the fence and anchor the handrail. However, they also curve over the top of the walkway to support suspended glass orbs that light the bridge at night.  Although I haven’t had the pleasure of being on this bridge after dark, I believe these lights would reflect stunningly in the glass sequins–mimicking the the stars and the moon in the night’s sky.
Crossing Shady Liberty
Crossing Shady Liberty

Shady Liberty was beautiful to traverse AND it was fun for my kids!  They enjoyed following the lines AND peering over the edge at the passing trains.  I enjoyed relaxing on a bench that faces the bridge on the Eastside portion.  I spent some time observing the passerbys.  I was amazed at how many different sorts of people actually utilized the bridge:  elderly people, students, families with children, young professionals, even lucky (probably childless) couples grasping bottles of wine and takeout!

While pondering the Shady Liberty Bridge that day, I started thinking about Pittsburgh and its unique geography. Our broad rivers, though beautiful, could be considered a major challenge, with the potential to seriously divide our city.  And yet, we have built bridges-the Andy Warhol Bridge, the David McCullough Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and so, many, many more–to cross our rivers and bring together our neighborhoods, our people, and our resources.  What an incredible testament to the unity of our city!

Watching the train go by below
Watching the train go by below

The Shady Liberty bridge, though diminutive in size, has a similar and equally commendable purpose.  It brings together the very different communities of Shadyside and East Liberty to share in the continuing efforts to economically revitalize the East Liberty area.  Thank you Sheila Klein and the East Liberty Development, Inc for your impressive vision!

Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: Randyland

Their swan song??
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
Welcome to Randyland!
Welcome to Randyland!

In my Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path series I describe a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot in the city. I hope these posts will give you inspiration for future adventures and will remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city bursting with beauty.  An Introduction to the series is located here.

Last Sunday my husband wanted to take the kids to the Children’s Museum to check out the new Waterplay and Clifford exhibits with them.  We left early and had some time before the Museum opened, so we decided to explore some of the surrounding Northside neighborhoods.  While driving down central Northside’s Jacksonia Street, we glimpsed what appeared to be a heavenly mirage in an otherwise economically depressed neighborhood–a panoply of bright colors covering the entire facade of a corner home.  We couldn’t resist getting a closer look…and I’m so glad we did!

randyfrontfacade

We found what may be my GREATEST discovery in Pittsburgh yet–Randyland!  Situated on the corner of Arch and Jacksonia streets sits the artistic masterpiece and home of Randy Gilson. Gilson has taken his house, the next house over, and the land in between and turned it into a veritable wonderland of quirky artistic expression.  He has covered the walls with elaborate murals painted in eye-popping hues.  He has collected an impressive array of other people’s “trash” and used it to decorate his home.  And he has greenified an otherwise barren-looking environment by planting throughout.  He calls this magical place Randyland. It’s very difficult for me to describe the experience of exploring Randyland–its eccentricity and artistic audacity defy expression.  And yet, I feel I must give you a taste of our visit…if only to entice you to get out there and take a look at it yourself.

Pittsburgh map
Pittsburgh map

The main facade is located on Arch Street.  It is painted in a bright yellow with trim in shades of blue, purple, orange, pink, and greens.  Adorning the front of the building are giant colorful butterflies, old Coca Cola signs, graffiti reading “PEACE,” “JOY,” and “LOVE” and painted-on windows where black silhouettes of people appear to be deep in conversation.  On the Jacksonia Street side of the home is a painted Pittsburgh map situated alongside a wall full of old street signs.  The map is full of playful details capturing the essence of different Pittsburgh spots.  If I didn’t have kids along with me that morning, I probably could have spent a good 30 minutes exploring the intricacies of this map.  But the best part was still to come…

Randy's backyard
Randy’s backyard

As we continued down Jacksonia Street, we came upon an open gate with a promising sign that said, “Another Day in Paradise.”  We weren’t sure if we should proceed into the yard, but an OPEN sign assured us it was acceptable to trespass.  So we entered into the bizarre parallel universe that is Gilson’s backyard.  Nearly every inch of the surrounding walls are covered in murals.  Fire escapes are decorated with suspended old metal chairs.

Chairs suspended from a fire escape
Chairs suspended from a fire escape

 

 

 

 

 

Old buckets are carefully affixed to the sides of gates. Lines of model dinosaurs appear to be frozen in migration.  They are followed by lines of rats with red eyes.  Statues peek out from corners–some are covered with old rusty chains.  Others have plastic snakes wound around them.  Huge plastic spiders are tucked into pots overflowing with greenery.  Pretend geese are caught in mid-waddle.  A giant alligator statue hangs out on the ground with 80’s style sunglasses perched on its massive jaw.  Frogs, gnomes, pinwheels, mannequins, butterflies, swans, old pots, sunflowers, you-name-it, are crammed into the Space.  And a welcoming pergola sits in the center of the yard with adult and child-sized seating under it.  It’s the perfect place to reflect on Randyland–to ponder what Gilson has done to beautify this old house, buried on this old street, with a bunch of other peoples’ trash.  It’s unbelievable.  It’s overwhelming. It’s beautiful.  And it’s sheer genius.

Kid-sized seating amongst the artwork
Kid-sized seating amongst the artwork

For all its superficial recklessness–close inspection reveals that this place is carefully and lovingly maintained by an eccentric, but inspiring, individual.  So-who is Randy Gilson? According to a 2008 Pop City article,  Randy Gilson grew up in poverty in Homestead.  He moved to the Northside during the 1980’s while pursuing his cooking certification at the Community College of Allegheny County and acquired his property at auction for $11,000 in the 1990’s.  Since then, he has invested over $100,000 in renovations.  He has even expanded his focus to the Northside neighborhood in general.

Riding an alligator
Riding an alligator

 

 

 

 

He has installed streetscapes, vegetable gardens, and public parks throughout the area.  In the opinion of many individuals, Randy Gilson is singlehandedly leading the revitalization of the Northside. According to the same article, Gilson developed his interest in recycling old materials at Christmastime during his poor childhood.  His family never got many gifts at Christmas, so he used to travel around his neighborhood, gathering other peoples’ discarded items and fixing them up to put under his own Christmas tree.

Playing with the dinosaurs
Playing with the dinosaurs

****

My family spent about 45 minutes exploring Randyland.  As you can imagine, my kids were enthralled. They played with the toy animals, tried out the different seating arrangements, and just stared–trying to absorb the scene.  I will certainly bring my kids back to this spot.  In fact, I would even arrange a morning playdate here since hefty chunks of time could be spent wandering through the booty. However, please note:  I do not know Randyland’s hours of operation.  All I can say for sure is that on a beautiful Sunday morning it was open for exploration.

Their swan song??
Their swan song??

For me, Randyland represents exactly what Pittsburgh is becoming–an old city, previously broken and discarded by the steel industry, but now slowly being reborn into a city of incredible potential and beauty through a passion for sustainability of individuals like Randy Gilson.

Trust me: it’s an inspiring place to be.  Thank you, Randy Gilson, for what you do…

Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: The Courtyard at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

In my Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path series I describe a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot in the city.  I hope these posts will give you inspiration for future adventures and will remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city bursting with beauty.  An Introduction to the series is located here.

We recently made a very exciting discovery during the 2013 Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival in Oakland.  At one point during the festivities, my children wandered off toward the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building.  Since I figured the kids probably needed some time away from the mayhem and I was curious to explore the building anyway, we wandered in. Wow!  We found something really cool…

The Nicholas Lochoff Cloister
The Nicholas Lochoff Cloister

The Frick Fine Arts Building has a beautiful interior courtyard that I’ve never seen after all of my years in Pittsburgh.  You enter the courtyard through the wide hallways of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister where scale reproductions of the frescoes of 15th century Italian masters grace the walls.  This Cloister surrounds the garden on all four sides with glass doors that lead into it at regular intervals.  The garden is designed to resemble an Italian Renaissance-style formal courtyard with a central water feature and carefully manicured boxwood hedges and topiary.  It is pictured below:

The Frick Courtyard
The Frick Courtyard

Although the space is actually pretty small, it was the perfect size for my kids.  And it was perfect size for me too!  I was able to keep them in view the entire time while happily relaxing in the sunshine.  And since it’s completely contained, I didn’t have to worry about them running off and disrupting studious academics in the building!

fountain kids

They ran up and down the pathways, gazed at the fountain, and had lots of fun walking along the steps that lead down into the courtyard (note: probably not handicap or stroller-friendly for this reason).

The garden is nicely insulated from the busyness of Oakland.  It is extraordinarily peaceful with the gentle trickle of the fountain, the careful symmetry, and the beautiful artwork visible through the glass. Long ago, I wandered through Italy with one of my greatest friends in the world and in the Frick Courtyard, I almost felt like I was back there…

Although this is certainly not a place to spend an entire morning, we spent a very lovely 30 minutes enjoying it.  And for those individuals who work in Oakland, it could also be a lovely spot to eat lunch and unwind in the warmer months.  I hope you get to enjoy it, too!

Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: An Introduction

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

During the end of my years at Boston University, I developed an unusual habit for any college student. I started waking up close to dawn and taking a 1-2 hour walk.  I never started out with a path in mind.  Instead, I just allowed my natural curiousity to take me on a different journey each morning. And what did I find on those abandoned streets, all alone, on those crisp, quiet mornings?  I found beauty.  I found it everywhere.  I found it hiding on the banks of the Duck Pond in the Public Gardens where silent, serene men and women did early morning Tai-Chi.

I found it buried near the Fens, in the dew-covered Urban Gardens teeming with flowers and veggies.

And I found it appear, for just a moment, in the Christian Science Center’s Reflecting Pool awash with morning’s first light.

These discoveries quenched my thirst for adventure…and made me feel happy.  I became like my idol, Amelie, uncovering the quirky secrets of a bustling metropolis!  And when I left Boston, these images were what I ended up missing. They made the city feel like home to me.

Since I’ve moved to Pittsburgh and had children, I have tried to continue taking these types of walks. Only now I take my kids along and allow them to dictate my path!  I have found that children are particularly suited to this style of nomadic wandering.  They rebel against agenda.  They naturally run the other way if you set them on a definite trajectory.  For children it is the unknown path–the closed door, the mysterious gate, the almost-buried pathway–that is so intrinsically interesting.  And the unusual discoveries made along the way are the life’s-blood of a good outing for kids.   So..if it’s safe and we don’t have too much to do, I generally let my little ones take me on an adventure.  After all, I learned in Boston that beauty can be found in some very unusual places.

Because I have so much fun exploring Pittsburgh with my children in this way, I am starting a series on my blog entitled Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path.  When my children lead me to a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot, I will write about it.  My goal in these posts is not to dissuade you from having your own adventures or making your own discoveries.  God no!  My goal instead is to give you some inspiration and to remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city of astounding beauty.  Please join us in our adventures!

Coming tomorrow…our discovery of the Courtyard at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building.

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