I have very fond memories of Northview Heights. My family moved to 883 Mt. Pleasant Road in Northview Heights from Howard Street in 1968. Lamar/Williams Street ran across our back yard leading to Penfort Street going West, and the Northside Drive-In going East. In the fall we had a clear shot from the back windows in the bathroom and my mother’s room. We had a big front yard with a tree, and a metal fence-like gate around it. Next to our front door was a metal box for the milkman’s deliveries. Around back there were a set of twin, metal in-ground garbage cans, slightly above those is the spout for the garden hose. There were two giant metal poles about 20 yards apart with 5 hooks each, for clothing lines. About a quarter of our back yard was a down hill slop that was capped off by chain link fences. I went to preschool behind the 3 stories on Penfort Street, kindergarten below the 3 stories on Chicago Street and attended Northview Elementary from grades 1-6. We moved away around 1990, but were there long enough to experience many of NVH’s evolutions 1st hand. I’m normally disappointed when I do an internet search for Northview Heights because the results are mostly associated with crime. So I decided to give a brief, crime-free rundown of the neighborhood that I called home for about 22 years. I will eventually cover all eras, but this blog is about the beginning years.
The area called Northview Heights was once part of Reserve Township, until it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1931. It’s approximately 2.5 miles from downtown and about 101.4 acres in size. The land had a few houses and farms on it, but mostly open space. There is also an old civil war fort located near the tower on top of the hill. I have heard that pieces of the wall are still there today, but I have yet to make visual confirmation. Between 1955-1962 the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh built 999 units including 2 ten-story units, 7 three-story walk-ups (with incinerators), and 516 Row Units that stood isolated from surrounding neighborhoods.
The housing unit officially opened in 1962. The residents were an interracial mix of Black and White families and seniors. The neighborhood had it’s own elementary school and recreation center that also hosted events.
Northview Heights Elementary – Located at 310 Mt. Pleasant Road, Northview Elementary was opened in September of 1962. It had 20 classrooms, 2 kindergartens, a large library and gymnasium. The school had an enrollment of 600 students grades kindergarten to 5.
The Vineyard – Around late 1961 two young, plain dressed Catholic Nuns from Holland named Jacinta Van Winkel & Eleanor Garritson purchased a 100 year-old mansion at 101 Hazlett Street, just outside of Northview Heights. Their goal was offer community services and minister to the residents of Northview. By 1963 they added 3 more members of their community. They had weekly contact with around 350 children and their house offered classes in crafts, music and religion.
The Bethany House – Around 1962 North Methodist Church Union purchased a 70-year old mansion located at 1500 Chicago Street, just outside of NVH’s property limits. It was run by 30 year old, Reverend John Garvin who was also a resident of Northview. Mrs. Joan Lotz was the Director of Educational Program and Mr. John Patak was the Youth Director. About 800 people a week were going to the Bethany House by 1963 for Scout meetings, a well baby clinic, sewing & cooking classes, and recreation in the basement which featured a soda fountain. The connecting chapel had over 100 members of the community in attendance weekly.
The Northside Drive In Theater – The Drive In opened on November 15, 1963, one week before the Kennedy Assassination. Located at 3200 Williams Road (formerly Geyer Road) and Lamar Street, it had one screen an could accommodate 700 cars. It also had a 10,000 square foot concession stand that featured 2 separate auditoriums for year round viewing. The 1st movies shown there were “A New Kind Of Love” featuring Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, and a movie named “Sodom & Gomorrah.”
Northview Heights Clinic – The clinic was opened in Northview Heights in 1964 as the result of a Federally-sponsored three-year study of the effects a small full-time medical clinic could have on the health of a huge modest-income housing project with practically no medical service. Dr. Florence L. Marcus headed a four member team, the others were not doctors. She quit her job with the Pittsburgh Public Health Department to work there without pay for almost a year. In 1967 the program ran out of money. The residents held a fundraising rally to save the clinic. They gave money out of their own pockets until new funding was resolved.
Bairhalter’s Grocery Store – In 1964 Ray Bairhalter a resident of West View, opened a grocery store at 1560 Chicago Street, on the Reserve Township side of the Chicago Street Cul De Sac (loop). He stated, “The 1st 4 years of the store were the best in their lives, one year they cleared $350,000,” according to a Pittsburgh Press Story from 1978.
Food Delivery – Northview Heights is isolated on a hill. Many services were delivered to the neighborhood by truck or bus. There were two converted school buses that served as mobile convenience stores. Tanney’s and Piggy Wiggy’s “Store Buses” would park in various locations throughout the neighborhood selling bread, pop, candy and more. Mancini’s bread truck would bring fresh bread and donuts to the area, and the Vegetable Truck would have greens, corn, and more. The milkman also delivered milk directly to the doors. Both the store buses and food trucks offered credit to the residents based on their word.
The neighborhood’s Black population increased steadily during the civil rights struggles of the 60’s. The loss of it’s White population was not unique to Northview Heights. “The great White flight” as it was called, affected the entire Northside. Coupled with the destruction of East Street Valley by Penn Dot, most of the White population moved further Northward toward Observatory Hill, West View, Bellview, Avalon & the North Hills.
The 1970’s was another Golden Age in the memories of most of the residents, myself included. Next time I will cover NVH in the 1970’s.