East Liberty (Pittsburgh): Wikis


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Coordinates: 40°27′43″N 79°55′26″W / 40.462°N 79.924°W / 40.462; -79.924

East Liberty
East Liberty Presbyterian Church.JPG
East Liberty Presbyterian Church
Pgh locator east liberty.svg
Neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Coordinates: 40°27′43″N 79°55′26″W / 40.462°N 79.924°W / 40.462; -79.924
Population (1990): 7973[1]
Population (2000): 6871[1]
Area: 0.581 mi² [1]

East Liberty is a culturally diverse neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's East End. It is bordered by Highland Park, Morningside, Stanton Heights, Garfield, Friendship, Shadyside and Larimer, and is represented on Pittsburgh City Council by Patrick Dowd. East Liberty Presbyterian Church, one of the more impressive churches in Pittsburgh, is located there.



Around the time of the American Revolution, East Liberty was a free grazing area in Allegheny County located a few miles east of the young, growing town called Pittsburgh. (In older English usage, a "liberty" was a plot of common land on the outskirts of a town.)

Two farming patriarchs owned much of the nearby land, and their descendants' names grace streets in and around East Liberty today. John Conrad Winebiddle owned land west of present-day East Liberty, in what are now Bloomfield, Garfield, and Friendship, and his daughter Barbara inherited a portion close to what is now East Liberty. Alexander Negley owned a farm called "Fertile Bottom" north of present-day East Liberty along the southern bank of the Allegheny River. Negley's land included some of present-day East Liberty and much of nearby Highland Park, Morningside, Larimer, and Stanton Heights.

Alexander Negley's son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, built a manor house, and developed a village that he called East Liberty after the old grazing commons. In 1816, Negley saw to it that the Pittsburgh-Greensburg turnpike was built through East Liberty, which made the area a trading center and ensured its future growth.


East Liberty truly began to develop as a commercial area in 1843, when Jacob's daughter Sarah Jane Negley married the ambitious lawyer Thomas Mellon. Mellon had first visited the area of modern-day East Liberty in 1823, when as a 10-year-old he saw the Negley mansion for the first time and decided he wanted something like it. He achieved this goal and much more: after first becoming a prosperous lawyer, he made his true fortune by marrying Sarah Jane Negley, selling or renting the land near East Liberty that she inherited, and using the proceeds to finance Pittsburgh's nascent industries. Like Jacob Negley before him, Thomas Mellon worked to make East Liberty a transportation hub: Mellon convinced some of Pittsburgh's first trolley lines to pass through East Liberty.

In 1868, the City of Pittsburgh annexed what is now East Liberty. Thanks to its favorable location and Mellon's guiding hand, East Liberty became a thriving commercial center in the following years. East Liberty's merchants served many of Pittsburgh's industrial millionaires, who settled in nearby Shadyside and Point Breeze. Professionals in Highland Park and Friendship and laborers in Bloomfield and Garfield also shopped in East Liberty. By 1950, the area (now often called 'Sliberty) was a bustling and fully urban marketplace.


Two decisions in the 1960s changed East Liberty. The first was an attempt to halt a slow trickle of businesses from the City to the suburbs. In the early 1960s, a few of East Liberty's larger merchants saw that some residents of Pittsburgh's East End were moving to the suburbs, and that suburban shopping malls were consequently growing and expanding. These merchants feared that suburban development would harm East Liberty's status as a market center, and asked the City of Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to take action.[2]

The URA proposed creating an outdoor pedestrian mall on Penn Avenue, to be surrounded by car-friendly roads on which large stores, surrounded by parking lots, could serve shoppers just as the new suburban stores were doing. This plan required the demolition of roughly half of the 254 acres (1.03 km2) that comprised East Liberty. After some contentious debate, the plan was approved, and the URA stopped traffic on the busiest part of Penn Avenue (the old Greensburg-Pittsburgh turnpike of Jacob Negley's day) and routed it onto a series of new, one-way thoroughfares (called Penn Circle) that formed a ring around the central business district. Many small shops were destroyed—a million square feet of retail space in all.

While the URA was remaking the street plan of East Liberty, the City of Pittsburgh's housing authority made a second set of changes to the neighborhood. Housing authority planners noted that the nearby African-American neighborhood of Homewood was overcrowded, largely as a result of the URA's earlier demolition of the lower Hill District to create the Civic Arena, which had forced many of the Hill's African-Americans out and into the North Side and Homewood. The housing authority's solution was to build three large housing complexes, each close to 20 stories tall, in East Liberty along the new Penn Circle roads.

These two measures ultimately failed to preserve East Liberty as a market center, and arguably hastened the old neighborhood's demise. By routing cars away from Penn Avenue, the URA's new street plan seemed to send a message that the neighborhood's commercial center was not worth visiting. The housing authority's massive housing complexes quickly developed a reputation as centers for crime, and this reputation, which was perhaps reinforced by racial prejudice against the complexes' African-American residents, likely did as much as the confusing street plan to drive commerce away from East Liberty.[3]

In the span of just a few years during the mid-1960s, East Liberty became a blighted neighborhood. There were some 575 businesses in East Liberty in 1959, but only 292 in 1970, and just 98 in 1979. The businesses that remained tended not to serve the majority of nearby Pittsburghers, but only the captive audience that remained in what was now an urban ghetto.

Growth again

In the three decades following 1980, East Liberty has slowly regained its status as a market destination for shoppers.

In 1979, Mellon Bank and other businesses created a nonprofit community development corporation, East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI).[4] In the fifteen years following its founding, ELDI focused on rehabilitating some of the East Liberty’s historic commercial spaces. These included the Regent Theater (now called the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater)[5] and Motor Square Garden.

ELDI’s rehabilitation projects were time-consuming, and they did not make the neighborhood the destination for shoppers that it had formerly been. For example, ELDI and the Massaro Corporation recreated the Motor Square Garden building as an indoor mall in 1988, but consumers did not respond.[6]The American Automobile Association bought the building in bankruptcy court in 1991 and now uses it as office space.[7]

In addition to its moderately successful property rehabilitation efforts during the 1980s, ELDI was able to remove the failed pedestrian mall on Penn Avenue and return that thoroughfare to its traditional use as a two-way street. These successes set the stage for a large and somewhat controversial series of developments in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Between 1996 and 2006, ELDI and the City of Pittsburgh worked to attract new “big box” retailers to East Liberty and to remove the 20-story housing projects that surrounded the neighborhood. First, ELDI and the City used tax increment financing to lure two national retailers to the neighborhood: Home Depot and Whole Foods. Both of these stores thrived, and their success convinced small local merchants and other national retailers to invest in the neighborhood.[8][9] Second, after a complex and time-consuming set of transactions, two of the three housing projects that visually barricaded the neighborhood were demolished in 2005, and the third was demolished in May 2009.[10]

Because these efforts involved resettling the largely African-American population of East Liberty’s housing projects and attracting several high-end retailers, ELDI and the City have been criticized for acting as agents of gentrification.[11][12][13]Some of these concerns have been assuaged by new mixed-income residential developments which have begun to replace the demolished housing projects, as the new developments provide arguably nicer and safer accommodations for some of the projects’ former residents.[14][15][16]

By 2009, East Liberty more closely resembled the busy commercial neighborhood of 1959 than the struggling ghetto of 1979. Merchants continue to invest in the neighborhood, and outside observers consider it to be fully rehabilitated.[17][18]


In 2009, the Remnant Choir from East Liberty's Mt. Ararat Baptist Church won second place, and $20,000 in prize money, in a national contest that was sponsored by Verizon Wireless, and was designed to find the "Best Church Choir in America."[19]



  1. ^ a b c Census: Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Department of City Planning. January 2006. http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/cp/assets/census/2000_census_pgh_jan06.pdf. Retrieved 2007-07-19.  
  2. ^ Fitzpatrick, Dan (2000-05-23). "East Liberty Then: Initial makeover had dismal results". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/businessnews/20000523intro3.asp. Retrieved 2007-09-16.  
  3. ^ Rosenwald, Mike (2000-05-25). "Perceiving is believing: A major obstacle to the renewal of East Liberty has been its dangerous reputation". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/businessnews/20000525elib3.asp. Retrieved 2007-09-16.  
  4. ^ http://www.eastliberty.org/AboutUs.html
  5. ^ http://www.popcitymedia.com/features/kellystrayhorn.aspx
  6. ^ Roy Lubove, Twentieth-century Pittsburgh: The post-steel era, at pp. 126-128.
  7. ^ http://pittsburgh.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2006/10/23/focus5.html
  8. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/tribpm/s_546641.html
  9. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_476685.html
  10. ^ http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09138/970898-85.stm
  11. ^ http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A20362
  12. ^ http://www.eastofliberty.com/
  13. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/tribpm/s_546641.html
  14. ^ http://www.pittsburghpg.org/pg/09120/966745-100.stm
  15. ^ http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08357/936778-53.stm
  16. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_471284.html
  17. ^ http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09159/975799-53.stm
  18. ^ http://www.popcitymedia.com/features/37bizguideEL.aspx
  19. ^ East Liberty church choir places 2nd in national contest, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 10, 2009

Further reading

  • Toker, Franklin (1986, 1994). Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-5434-6.  

External links

See also


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