Hey Pittsburgh, You’ve Changed in the Past 35 Years

It was our oldest son’s (James) birthday, and since he’s been working in Cleveland for a while, we thought Pittsburgh would be a good place for all of us to meet for the weekend.

James had never been to Pittsburgh, and my wife had not been there since I graduated from Carnegie-Mellon in 1981. I’ve only been back once, and that was five years ago when my youngest son (Pat) and I went there during my Fall Break. We had a great time exploring the city, and I’ve been hoping to get back ever since.

We stayed at Marriott’s Springhill Suites at Bakery Square, and it was a great hotel in a perfect location.

Bakery Square is a new mixed-use development located in the East End neighborhood of Pittsburgh, built out of the existing site of the historic Nabisco Factory. Bakery Square offers an exciting lifestyle center environment while hosting numerous free events to connect with its neighbors and guests.


Bakery Square offers an eclectic mix of retail, dining, living, and working spaces. As you can see in the picture one of the major tenants is Google.

One of the unique spaces was occupied by TechShop, a community-based workshop and prototyping studio on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation. TechShop offers the Pittsburgh maker community more than 16,000 square feet of workshop space equipped with world class tools and equipment, computers loaded with design software featuring the Autodesk Design Suite, hundreds of classes each month, and the support and camaraderie of a community of like-minded makers. We walked past it about 8:00 on Saturday night, and it looked like there were at least a dozen people in there, working away. Gary Vaynerchuk would have been impressed.

After checking into the hotel, I thought Shadyside would be a fun place to walk around on a Friday night and find something to eat. It was a nice neighborhood 35 years ago, and it is even nicer today (of course, any neighborhood that has an Apple store is a winner in my book). After strolling up and down Walnut Street, we had dinner at Mercurio’s, a great pizza place, and then headed back to the hotel.

We woke up early Saturday morning, and after a yummy free breakfast at the hotel, started out on our journey around the city. The first stop was the old house I lived in my second year at CMU, with four other guys. It wasn’t in great shape then, and unfortunately it is in even worse shape now. As you can see from the picture below, it would make a great stand-in house for the Munsters.


We loved the house though, and I have many fond memories of the time spent there. While the house has gotten worse over the years, the neighborhood has gotten much nicer, which was encouraging to see. After driving around the neighborhood for a few minutes, we headed to Carnegie Mellon to see what had changed on campus.

It took a couple of minutes, but I found the Business School, now known as the Tepper School of Business, thanks to the generosity of David Tepper, class of 1982 (one year behind me, but light years ahead of me in lifetime earnings…). The building has expanded considerably, and one highlight is the picture of the eight Nobel Prize winners who have taught at the Business School. Not too shabby…

After checking out the business school, we walked around the campus for a while, making sure to show my wife and son the “Fence”. The unofficial university billboard, the Fence is painted between midnight and sunrise by students who then stand guard as long as they want their message to stay. The original Fence was once the “most painted object in the world” until it collapsed and was replaced by a steel-concrete fence.


I also pointed out the pool I used to work out in, which apparently was the same pool that Fred Rogers used to use. Allegedly his apartment building was right next to the campus.

After the campus tour, we got back in our car and headed towards the Duquesne Incline. Along the way I pointed out Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, an impressive building right in the middle of Pitt’s campus.

The Duquesne Incline is one of the must-see and do attractions in Pittsburgh. The Incline is essentially a single trolley car that goes up and down the side of Mt. Washington, offering spectacular views of the city, the three rivers, and all of its bridges.


The Incline will always have special meaning to my wife and I, since we rode down the Incline after having had dinner at Christopher’s at the top of the Incline. It was at that dinner that I gave Mary her engagement ring. We still remember how excited and kind people were on the Incline as my wife showed everyone her ring. Christopher’s is no longer in operation, but the memory will always be there.

After riding the Incline, we headed to the South Side. This is the funky part of Pittsburgh, and I think I counted at least four tattoo shops in a half-mile strip on Carson Street. As I vaguely recall, it wasn’t always the safest place to visit 35 years ago, but today it is a bustling retail strip. One of our favorite stores we stopped in was S&S Candy & Cigar, which seemed to have every kind of candy I remember as a kid. (I have no idea why a candy store and cigar store are combined into one…)

Before leaving the South Side, we stopped for lunch at Emiliano’s, which was outstanding, and on our way back to the car we grabbed a bag of delicious pretzels at The Pretzel Shop.

When we got back to the hotel, we all rested up for a while, a little tired from all of the walking. Later on we took a walk around Bakery Square (where we saw those makers hard at work at TechShop). We then had dinner right at the Square at Asiatique Thai Bistro. It was another wonderful dining experience.

We called it a night, and made plans to check out Squirrel Hill the next morning. After waking up and having another great free breakfast at the hotel, we drove to Squirrel Hill. This is another unique Pittsburgh neighborhood that seems to have gotten much nicer over the years. We visited the local library located right in the heart of Squirrel Hill, Mary picked up some tea at the wonderful Blue Monkey Tea shop, and I picked up a good cup of coffee at Commonplace Coffeehouse.

At this point, we decided to call it a weekend, and start heading our separate ways. We all agreed that it was a wonderful weekend, and are hoping to return again to Pittsburgh in the near future.

It is a city of great neighborhoods, and of people obsessed with the Steelers…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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