'Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania'

Pittsburgh's signs do more than establish a brand; they communicate stories that reflect our neighborhoods.



Whether we realize it or not, signs (defined here to mean “a notice, bearing a name or advertisement that is displayed for public view”) do more than establish a brand; they communicate stories that reflect our neighborhoods.

Take for example the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. For decades the facade facing all incoming traffic heading south on Liberty Avenue has featured the iconic “Polish Wall of Fame” mural. This artwork, in combination with the “Welcome to Pittsburgh’s Little Italy” sign (posted directly across the street), not only informs travelers that here, at the foot of the Bloomfield Bridge, is the only Polish restaurant in Little Italy, but it also speaks volumes of the diversity that exists within each of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, saying, “Here is a city where different cultures coexist.”

And signs such as this one cover an uncountable number of buildings in the area. You could spend a lifetime trying to capture them all on film, or you could pick up a copy of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania, a book produced by the Pittsburgh Signs Project (with the help of Carnegie Mellon University Press) to commemorate Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary.

Sure, this type of commemorative spirit inspired a lot of the Pittsburgh 250 projects, but what makes this project special is the collaborative manner in which the book’s content was compiled. This is a crowd-sourced project. The editors gave an open invitation to any and all photographers from the 14 counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania to submit images online at pittsburghsigns.org. (The website’s archives feature every submission—even the ones that did not make it to print—and allow visitors to search images by neighborhood, subject or style.)

The editors then whittled down the submissions to the 250 images that spoke “about our shared history, about what we [Pittsburghers] love and about what moves us,” the images that “provide clues to where we are, who we are and how we live.”

The text is kept to a minimum—allowing the photos (and the signs contained within) to do all the talking. The book’s 200-plus pages feature some of the region’s most notable and less well-known landmarks (the Heinz ketchup bottle and Twin Hi-Way Drive In, respectively), to name a couple.

The end result is an excellent coffee-table book and an even better conversation piece. You can spend hours searching your mind’s database (or the Web site’s) trying to recall where you’ve seen “that sign” before, or you can organize a group and go on a scavenger hunt. (Note: The GPS coordinates provided in the book’s index are useful.) Or better yet, if inspiration strikes, grab your camera and head out on your own to capture the as-yet-to-be-discovered signs. They are out there—new signs and olds ones—speaking of “our region’s visual identity, architectural heritage, entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of innovation—those things that best demonstrate Pittsburgh’s genius of place.” So, what are you waiting for?


Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania, edited by Jennifer Baron, Greg Langel, Elizabeth Perry and Mark Stroup; Carnegie Mellon University Press; $29.95 (Paperback)

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.
15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

According to the region's behind-the-scene players, these individuals are some of the city's rising stars.
Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Entering into the final weeks of the 2015 regular season, pitcher Gerrit Cole has emerged as the Pirates’ ace.
At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik strike again with täkō, their taco-centric downtown eatery with an extensive tequila selection.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Commuting Toll: How Much Do We Waste Stuck in Traffic?

Commuting Toll: How Much Do We Waste Stuck in Traffic?

Pittsburgh gridlock not only frays nerves — it dings the wallet.
Breeding Success: Alpaca Farming is Booming in Western Pa.

Breeding Success: Alpaca Farming is Booming in Western Pa.

Our rolling hills are good for more than vegetable gardens and chicken coops. Dozens of alpaca farms are located in the region.
Head North to Find the Comfiest Place in the Pittsburgh Area

Head North to Find the Comfiest Place in the Pittsburgh Area

Cranberry Township was the only western Pa. area mentioned in a nationwide list of most comfortable cities.
'We Are Family Matters' Pirates Mashup is Brilliant

'We Are Family Matters' Pirates Mashup is Brilliant

Pittsburgh viral video genius Benstonium creates another winner.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.
15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

According to the region's behind-the-scene players, these individuals are some of the city's rising stars.
Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Entering into the final weeks of the 2015 regular season, pitcher Gerrit Cole has emerged as the Pirates’ ace.
At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik strike again with täkō, their taco-centric downtown eatery with an extensive tequila selection.
 A Sign That This Time, It's Good to Part with the Past

A Sign That This Time, It's Good to Part with the Past

Pitt Girl explains her change of heart on what should be done with the large, decaying billboard on Mount Washington.
Oh, the Humanities - Can They be Saved?

Oh, the Humanities - Can They be Saved?

Locally and nationally, college and university students are flocking to programs they perceive to be pathways to jobs while they forego studies of languages, history, art and philosophy. But at what cost?
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module