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Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Era of Big Plans

A conversation with the trio of authors behind a new book about the Steel City’s mid-20th-century transformation.
Lynette May, Gerri Walker, Shirley Jenkins, and Alberta Thompson hitting golf balls at the Washington Plaza putting field, with Civic Arena in the background, 1969.
Lynette May, Gerri Walker, Shirley Jenkins, and Alberta Thompson hitting golf balls at the Washington Plaza putting field, with Civic Arena in the background, 1969.(Monacelli Press/Teenie Harris)

Pittsburgh was, according to The Atlantic in 1868, “hell with the lid off.” In 1935, Frank Lloyd Wright said it was “doomed and slowly dying.”

The city attracted great numbers of European immigrants and African Americans from the South between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rewarding its newcomers with just enough economic opportunity to offset a toxic environment and substandard housing. The modern industrial world had brought great wealth to Pittsburgh’s tycoons, but not much for anyone else.