Nestled in the colorful neighborhood of Deustchtown (which one of my fellows covered wonderfully here) sits a hidden gem for anyone who loves history or calls Pittsburgh home, the Allegheny City Historic Gallery (ACHG).
While the idyllic nature of what we call the North Shore is beautiful, anyone who grew up on what’s been known as the North Side or Allegheny City will tell you, this is nothing compared to the neighborhood’s former beauty. That’s the subject of the ACHG. The gallery boasts images and some keepsakes from some of the neighborhood’s most beautiful old structures. The gallery hosts photos of places some people have never seen before like the previous Sixth Street Bridge, but also includes photos of people living in and around the North Side.
Much of the ACHG’s beauty lies in its humble roots. Just like Pittsburgh, it was built from a collection of thoughts and ideas and assembled with some good old fashioned elbow grease.
The whole project started when Bill Gandy, who has lived in the North Side area his entire life, shared an old photo on Facebook. Soon it became bigger than he could have ever imagined, leading to councilwoman Darlene Harris asking if Gandy would want to open a gallery to host the photos people had been sharing with him. With a modest budget of just $12,000 Bill and his wife Kim, a photo restorer, got the project kicked into high gear. This summer, they opened their doors in the quaint Deutschtown section of what we now call the North Shore.
Nestled in among other small businesses and coffee shops, the ACHG hosts a treasure trove of beautiful photos and objects. On a small shelf tucked behind an old-style Coke case is a ledger from the former Masonic Hall. The names are written in beautiful penmanship no one uses in 2015, outside of greeting cards, and the names give a glimpse into the past and the people who frequented the lodge in 1887, the date of the book.
But what this place truly is, is a feast for the eyes. On one wall a full restored and recolored photo Kim did herself is hanging proudly. She explained the long process and how they asked people who lived on the street at the time and even went out to scratch old brick to get the accurate colors.
Because that’s what makes the Gandy’s and the ACHG a perfect match. Their passion and attention to detail are second to none in bringing to life a time many may have forgotten. From photos of old school dances from the turn of the century to adventures to uncover more about the old curved track incline, they are devoted and this devotion shows itself in the beautiful work on their walls.
While the project is new, it is growing daily with the ability to truly experience history from the photos on the walls to stories shared by Bill and the chance to even, “taste history,” via the old style penny candies and nostalgic glass Coke bottles. They are even getting children involved.
In the front corner of the gallery is the kids section full of illustrated characters to represent the different neighborhoods. This gives kids something to connect to and is something Bill is excited to see grow so that when children visit the gallery they can point and say, “hey she looks like me,” really connecting them with their town and those who came before them.
Because in the end that’s the goal of the gallery. To show people, some from the North Side and some not, what used to be where things like PNC Park and the Aviary now stand. The latter, is actually on the site of the old penitentiary and as Gandy jokes, “they used to have jail birds, now they have birds jailed.” But also to show how the people of the area lived together. Gandy wants to show how people of all races, creeds, and religions came together and maybe this gallery can help us come together once more.