Dinwiddie Street & History of the Hill District
The Hill District is the historic and cultural center of Pittsburgh’s African American Community. The community is rich in history and has a vibrant backstory. The major milestones of the region are highlighted in the timeline below.
In the 1880’s through the early 18th Century, the Hill District experienced a mass emigration of European Immigrants, including Scotch-Irish, German, German- Jewish, Italian, Syrian, Greek, Lebanese, Polish, Russian, and Chinese. The diversity brought life to the Hill District with various street markets, languages, religions and cultures.
During the same time period, Black Nationalism was beginning to gain momentum in the Pittsburgh community. Political Advocacy was widespread and the area served as a hub for the Underground Railroad.
In the 1920’s through the 1950’s, the Lower Hill became a network of commercial and cultural activity. Referred to as “the crossroads of the world” by Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay, the region was a catalytic area for African- American music, literacy and sports. The first black owned baseball field in the country was built in the Hill District, with baseball greats like Josh Gibson, Satchel Page and Cool Papa Bell calling the field home. The jazz scene really exploded in the 1940’s and 50’s with famous jazz clubs like Crawford Grill and Hurricane Lounge. These clubs were routinely packed with jazz lovers and were welcoming to all patrons regardless of race or ethnic background. The neighborhood quickly became known as “Little Harlem” and hosted some of the finest jazz musicians of the time: Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Lena Horne, as well as musical legends including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway.
The Great Depression and World War II caused difficult times for the community. The Hill District and the greater Pittsburgh region experienced economic hardship. Segregation and a deteriorated housing stock emerged. The city responded by building over 3,500 public housing apartments, including Bedford Dwellings, Addison Terrace, and Aliquippa Terrace in the Hill District. The hardship continued when the city implemented plans to level 95 acres of existing homes to build the “Civic Auditorium”. 8,000 residents were forced to relocate and thousands of buildings were demolished- resulting in several vacant lots and blocks. The Civic Auditorium- “a grand cultural venue for affluent Pittsburgher’s” never did come to fruition, instead the city paved large surface lots. The demolition and relocation was set to continue throughout the Hill District, but community members took a stand at Crawford Street and refused to allow any more changes to their community. This movement is marked by the “Freedom Corner” monument today. Eventually the Civic Arena was built; from 1967 to 2010 the Civic Arena was the primary home for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a venue for several well-known musicians including Sinatra, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Already historically significant for its rich musical past, August Wilson added literacy significance to the community in the 1960’s. Wilson co-founded the Black Horizon Theater and he wrote numerous plays, 9 of which are set in the Hill District. As recent as 2016, Academy Award Winners Denzel Washington and Viola Davis filmed “Fences” in the Hill District based on the August Wilson play of the same name. The movie was nominated for multiple Golden Globe Awards and received positive reviews.
From the 1970’s up until present day, the Hill District has been recovering from the disinvestment and distress of previous decades. Several neighborhoods have been or are in the process of being rehabilitated including Dinwiddie Street. The area continues to be historically recognized for its Musical and Literature significance and there are many Community Groups dedicated to restoring and supporting the Community.
Trek Development Groups’ Commitment to the Hill District
Dinwiddie Street Housing: Trek Development Group along with an experienced Development Team and group of Community Leaders has been focusing on preserving and celebrating the history and culture of the Hill District since 2008. Our commitment started with the demolition of the unhealthy and poorly maintained Reed Roberts Housing along with the full restoration and redevelopment of the Miller School to create Dinwiddie Street Housing. The redevelopment consisted of 95 new housing units, broken down into four phases of development. In order to combine the old with the new, the Development team reviewed each individual parcel and existing unit to see what buildings they could retain and where they would need to interweave new construction. The main focal points of each phase is broken down below:
Phase I: Integrate Historic Buildings- 23 Units
Phase II: Central Highlight with Community Room and Office; Restoration of Stone Facades- 23 units
Phase III: Adaptive reuse of Historic Miller School & Gymnasium into 8 loft style apartments- 26 units
Phase IV: Complete the Dinwiddie Framework; Larger Community Center- 23 units
The four phases include several rehabilitated historic brown stones on Dinwiddie Street and 8 loft style apartments in the Miller School. The Miller School was mindfully rehabilitated; the unique original details- including the gymnasium floor and elements of the auditorium were restored.
Trek continues its journey in the Hill District with Bedford Dwellings (Choice Neighborhood Planning recipient) and Reed Roberts For Sale Housing. We are dedicated to supporting the community with new developments while maintaining and celebrating the residents and rich culture that exist both historically and today.