A Brief History of The Hill District

History of the Hill District

The Hill District is bordered by Downtown Pittsburgh, the Strip District, Polish Hill, the Bluff (or Uptown) and Oakland. The Hill District is Pittsburgh’s oldest African American community, originally called “Little Haiti.” It was called this because of Haiti gaining independence in 1804 and the many Haitians that live there.In the 1910s, Bedford Dwellings, and the Hill District in general, caught the eye of many migrants coming from all parts of the U.S. Many from the rural south came up to the neighborhood. Jazz musicians flourished in the community and many called Bedford Dwellings and the Hill District “the crossroads of the world.” The phrase was made part of the neighborhood’s vernacular by DJ Mary Dee of what was then called WHOD Radio, at the time Pittsburgh’s only African American radio station. In the summer of 1956, over 1,000 buildings were razed and the Civic Arena began its construction. The redevelopment broke off the Hill District communities from the rest of the city and resulted in its economic downfall. Between 1950 and 1990, the Hill District lost over 38,000 of its residents, including 400 businesses. Luckily, the area has been undergoing a revitalization as of late.

Fast Facts about Bedford Dwellings & Middle Hill

History of the Hill District

The area was the setting for nine of the 10 plays in Pittsburgh Cycle, by August Wilson. The ’80s TV series Hill Street Blues was named for the Hill District and a writer for the show actually went to CMU (back when it was called the Carnegie Institute of Technology). After years of poverty, Bedford Dwellings and the Hill District are undergoing a renaissance. For example, there is now Centre Heldman Plaza, a grocery store and retail and restaurant center. The New Granada Theater underwent a restoration, opening up new eyes to the place where Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performed. Duquesne University opened a pharmacy in the neighborhood as well, marking the first university-operated pharmacy in America.

 

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