pittsburgh’s north side: andy warhol & the mexican war streets

The North Side of Pittsburgh, once a sooty industrial city called Allegheny but annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907, is home to the Andy Warhol Museum, new stadiums for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pirates, the Mexican War Streets, the “Three Sisters” bridges connecting Downtown to the North Side, and spaces for artistic expression, including the Mattress Factory and Randyland.

The Andy Warhol Museum celebrates the life and art of Pittsburgh’s native son. Warhol (1928-1987), an influential and controversial artist in the pop art movement, is known for erasing the traditional distinctions between fine art and popular culture, and making art more accessible to the masses. He died at age 58 of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery.

Though the building was originally built in 1911 as a distribution center for products sold to mills and mines, the museum was redesigned in 1994 and is now, as one of the four Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh, the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single artist.


The Andy Warhol Museum

The museum features the biggest collection of ephemera documenting Warhol’s life and career from his early student work in the 1950s to pop art paintings, drawings, commercial illustrations, sculptures, prints, photographs, wallpapers, sketchbooks, films, videos and books.

I enjoyed the prints of celebrities — Elvis, Mick Jagger, Jackie Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicklaus, Pia Zadora — as well as plywood painted boxes of Brillo pads, Campbell’s Soup and Heinz 57 ketchup.   Other unusual art includes the Statue of Liberty in camouflage, Mao wallpaper and skulls, multilayered cakes and ice cream cones, and paint-by-number sailboats.  Some of his films are quite risqué!

Outside the museum, we found statues of Willie “Pops” Stargell (1940-2001), long time Pittsburgh Pirate, and Roberto Clemente (1934-1972), right fielder for the Pirates and one of the great all-time hitters and fielders. He died in a plane crash while taking humanitarian supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake.


Willie “Pops” Stargell


Roberto Clemente

We also admired the curvaceous Alcoa Headquarters and the “Three Sisters” Bridges.




One of the “Three Sisters” Bridges

Slipping across the Allegheny River to the Strip, we failed again at securing a table at Pamela’s, so we ate at a food court, Smallman Gallery, where we enjoyed brunch from Colonial Brunch: Mote Pillo: scrambled eggs, chorizo, hominy, white beans, queso fresco and fresh tortillas. It was a delicious little feast!

As we walked back to our car in the Strip, we heard music coming from one of the old warehouse buildings and popped in to see what was happening. Lively singers stood on stage singing spiritual tunes, and a huge crowd sang along to words flashing on an overhead screen in a dark bar-like atmosphere.  The music was quite moving and brought tears to my eyes.  A sign on the door said AMPLIFY CHURCH.  Another sign said:


The goal of Amplify Church is, according to its website, to “to inspire and equip the church to fully engage the next generation.”  Recognizing the falling membership in traditional churches, this community seeks to engage young people.

Pittsburgh seems to be transforming itself in every area, from industry to art to the environment to spirituality.

We popped back over the North Side to check out the Mexican War Streets where streets are named for battles (Buena Vista, Monterey, Resaca, Palo Alto) and leaders (Taylor, Sherman, Jackson) of the Mexican-American War  (1846-1848).  This war followed after the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845, which Mexico considered part of its territory.


Mexican War Streets

As we had time to kill before the 1:00 pm opening of the Mattress Factory, we walked around the neighborhood a bit and, quite by surprise, came upon the quirky Randyland. Created by Randy Gilson, who believes in “making something worthwhile out of what is seen as worthless,” the property has developed into “a place for Randy’s passion and intelligence to run wild.” The bricks of Randyland are gathered from nearby homes that have been torn down and reflect the stories and energies of the residents they once held.

On this sunny but cold March Sunday, we find lots of colorful “junk” and kids digging with shovels in the sand for plastic dinosaurs.  We’re invited to sit in retro metal lawn chairs and admire oddities such as pink flamingos, mannequin heads and plastic dinosaurs.

The Mattress Factory, founded in 1977, supports established and emerging artists-in-residence to create site-specific installations. The focus is on the unconventional, challenging and thought-provoking, and seeks to challenge traditional artistic practices. It has commissioned or presented works by over 750 artists and is notorious for pushing the boundaries of both artist and viewer.

We walk through the Dennis Maher installation “A Second Home,” which fills one whole house in the Mattress Factory complex.  Saturated with construction materials, furnishings, toys, architectural models, video projections and a soundscape of house mechanics, it is an immersive environment that “dreams of memories that it has never had, conjures the places that it has always wanted to be, and draws its own magic out of the grains of the woodwork (from a flyer at the installation).”


the Mattress Factory Row House at 516 Sampsonia Way – “A Second Home”

Other installations at the Mattress Factory include Solar Grow Room by Meg Webster and Repetitive Vision by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese master painter, sculptor, performance, and installation artist.


Solar Grow Room


Repetitive Vision


Mike x infinity

When we returned home from Pittsburgh, because our power had been out for about 35+ hours, we had to throw out most of our frozen and refrigerated foods.

Nonetheless, it was a fabulous trip.


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a 700 to 1,000-word post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.  In this case, I tried to meet some of my intentions: discovering the overlap between history and everyday life, finding the essence of a place, and telling what is surprising about a location.  (I don’t recommend setting this many intentions. For my next journey, I hope to simplify.)

You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose & poetry.  (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, June 11 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Tuesday, June 12, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!