Things to do in the Hill District

Dubbed “the crossroads of the world” by Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay during its heyday in the 1930s through 1950s, the Hill District boasts a strong African-American cultural heritage.

The list of jazz greats who’ve played in The Hill is long and storied and includes everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. August Wilson set nine of the 10 plays in his Pittsburgh Cycle here. And Willie Stargell set up a fried chicken store here from the 1960s to the 1980s that rewarded patrons with free chicken whenever the Pirates Hall of Famer hit a home run.

Bordered by Downtown Pittsburgh to the west, the Strip District and Polish Hill to the north, the Bluff (Uptown) to the southwest and Oakland to the east and southeast, the Hill District has undergone big-ticket revitalization efforts recently.

There’s a new $9 million YMCA with rooftop garden. A pharmacy run by neighboring Duquesne University. A grocery store, filling a long-time void. New, modern architecture in a rental townhouse complex called Dinwiddie St. and the Miller Lofts conversion from a school into sleek loft space. And now there’s a planned restoration of the New Granada Theater, a historic jazz club with an art-deco façade, as well as the restoration of the birthplace home of August Wilson.

But, economic and social progress has been an uphill battle here since the urban renewal of the 1960s, when the Civic Arena was built in the Lower Hill. That project separated the rest of The Hill from Downtown and displaced 8,000 residents and 412 businesses. Until 2013, The Hill’s 17,000 residents went 30 years without a local grocery store.  The Arena is now gone and in its place is the Consol Energy Center, home to the Penguins and a major concert venue.

Now private homeowners are invested in the community, college students are taking advantage of its central location and low rents, and former residents are moving back. The location is key. Residents of The Hill’s five distinct neighborhoods – Crawford-Roberts, Upper Hill, Middle Hill, Bedford Dwellings and Terrace Village – walk, drive or ride the bus to work Downtown, the Strip District and Oakland.

It could be that more attention than ever is being paid to the Hill District to which residents respond: It’s about time.

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