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Living South: 'Over to Pittsburgh'

South Hills is Pittsburgh's green zone.

There's something special about the South Hills. Well, of course, that's obvious. But I have good reasons for saying so.

When I had a news office on the South Side, old Mrs. Pankowski would ask if I could drive her "over to Pittsburgh" from our block on Sarah Street. Mind you, she then was standing about one mile from the Allegheny County Courthouse.

"Over to Pittsburgh" was her reference to the old ways, when the home community meant everything. Old Mrs. P. didn't think of herself as living in Pittsburgh but as living "on" the South Side.

Did you know there's an official South Side song?

When I first moved to Sarah Street, the geezers at McCann's, who'd been thrown out of work at the mill, taught it to me:

"There do I work,

there do I get my pay

South Side, Pittsburgh,

Pennsylvania."

If you want to jazz it up with tasteless ethnic dialect, sing “verk” for “work” and “Peetesborg” for Pittsburgh.

But I digress. What we call "south of the Mon'," whether that be the South Side or South Park or , is profoundly different from the rest of Pittsburgh.

For long-time residents, the South Hills traditionally has been the greenest part of town—huge forested parks; lush, ritzy country clubs; big cemeteries and memorial parks; the County Fair, and goofy little streams like Glass Run and Streets Run meandering through steep wooded hills down to the Mon'.

Yet, in the old days—the really old days—the southern communities were among the most industrialized (and hence, polluted), embracing coal mines, foundries, glass works, distilleries, and of course, behemoth steel works along the river and the belching railroads and tow boats that supported them.

For instance, look no farther than the West Mifflin slag heap, now the site of Century III Mall. In sheer mass and volume, it's one of the largest things ever constructed by human beings. Yet, nobody set out to "build" it; it's really nothing but thrown-away industrial waste.

Who, today, remembers that "Pittsburgh Airport" was, for decades, in West Mifflin? It was a place where magnificent four-prop, tri-tail Lockheed Constellations swooped out of the sky from exotic destinations. Yet, the gigantic airport still is there, unseen and unheralded along Lebanon Church Road, known today as the Allegheny County Airport and home to thriving private aviation businesses.

The South Hills also was home to the cream of the area's gangsters and crooked politicians back in the day. Ripepi, Mazzei, Bazzano, Grosso, Romanelli all lorded over the inner-city Pittsburgh and Harrisburg-State Capital rackets from their lush compounds nestled throughout the South Hills.

But I digress again. There are few things more tedious in journalism than some curmudgeon like me rhapsodizing about the way things used to be. I know that. We call it "the past" because it has "passed"—and isn't coming back.

Today's South Hills is a really big and diverse place, and you can't generalize too much about it, except to say that "it" lies south of the Mon'. But you can generalize a bit more and say that it's a fine place to be "from" (as we say in these parts), and it's a grand place to live.

There are more trees than there are people, and more grass than there is concrete.

It's a vast, well-diversified region of fine communities each finding its own way, with or without connection to the metropolis across the Mon' to the north. Each community is distinct. Hills and valleys will do that to a region.

It's a place where people truly care about the important things—their homes and families. They take care of their schools and their relatives.

Clearly, the South Hills is in at least its second iteration in the post-industrial era—maybe even its third—as corridors like Route 51 and Lebanon Church and Library roads continue to be Monroeville-ized by fast food, Wal-Marts, dollar stores and tanning salons every few feet.

But that's an economic wrinkle that will correct itself with time. As long as we have South Park, we'll be fine.

Where else in Pittsburgh—or anywhere in the world, for that matter—can you exchange stares with a surly American bison (all 12 feet and 2,800 pounds of him) at the Game Preserve and then stroll down the hill to the Fairgrounds for a free concert with Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Robert Edward Healy, III August 14, 2012 at 01:42 PM
This McCloskey blog is good stuff.
cc August 14, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Game Preserve is wonderful to take children to to feed the animals. I enjoyed reading the article.
Diane Laurent August 15, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I live in Atlanta, but spent the first 38 years of my life in the South Hills, your article made me laugh and it is "passed", but still nice to remember
William McCloskey August 28, 2012 at 12:55 AM
... about the airport, 81 years: http://triblive.com/home/2444574-74/airport-county-allegheny-chamber-gas-authority-burgwin-pittsburgh-fitzgerald-macey#axzz24nWHyjaR
Mike S September 07, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Don't forget our steep hills and deep dales. Beechview's Canton Street is a good example. Dormont and Mt. Lebanon have some pretty impressive topography, too. And a long string of South Hills communities are blessed with access to the T, a quick, comfortable and reliable way to get "over to Pittsburgh."

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