Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenic Pittsburgh: What Makes the 'Burgh Beautiful?

Scenic Pittsburgh has picked up the mantle of a century-old fight atop Mount Washington as one of the many large and small beautification battles it fights.




 

Mike Dawida wants you to know Scenic Pittsburgh is not just an anti-billboard group. “We’re pro-beauty, and beauty is good for business,” explains Dawida, the former Democratic Allegheny County Commissioner who has headed the local advocacy group since its 2010 formation.

One could be forgiven for assuming the group is all about billboards. One of Scenic Pittsburgh’s first triumphs was a 2011 lawsuit that helped force the dismantling of a large light-up sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center. The group also was active in persuading Monroeville in 2015 to reject 10 oversize electronic billboards along the Parkway East.

And Dawida has been a vocal critic of the enormous — and enormously controversial — billboard on Mount Washington. The current saga, re-ignited since 2016, involves owner Lamar Advertising draping a vinyl banner over the aging sign; the company claimed city officials were stalling its plans to renovate the sign with new lighting. That fight has been appealed to Commonwealth Court, where it awaits a ruling, and further appeals could follow — but legal battles over the billboard go back nearly a century. 

Pittsburgh city officials first challenged the sign’s then-owner Henry Posner in 1921; a compromise clipped the height so giant letters hawking Clark’s Teaberry Gum did not obscure the view. During the city’s first Renaissance, as greenery began to sprout again on the pollution-scarred hillside, Mayor David L. Lawrence pleaded with Posner to abandon plans to replace the old giant wooden sign with a new, somewhat smaller steel and neon version. The mayor’s plea failed, but public backlash drove away clients. For the next seven years, the sign flashed only short public service messages and a giant digital clock.

Later advertisers — WTAE, Alcoa and Bayer — kept up the practice, alternating their corporate logo with the current time and 20-character proto-tweets such as “Explore flag history.” Now, like Mayor Bill Peduto, Dawida warns a new electronic sign could become a nuisance, beaming advertisements such as weekly supermarket specials from the city’s preeminent promontory. Dawida says the city should use eminent domain to seize the parcel if Lamar can’t be convinced to donate or sell it. 

But Jonathan Kamin, the attorney that represents Lamar, says it is the city and Scenic Pittsburgh, not his client’s sign, that are perched on a slippery slope. “Some may prefer certain content being on that board, and I certainly understand that,” Kamin says. “But what is lost in the debate is that it has to start with ... an individual’s or a corporation’s rights under the Constitution.”

As Dawida claims, billboards aren’t the only signs that arouse Scenic Pittsburgh’s ire. For instance, there are the so-called “high wall signs,” particularly those that began sprouting on the tops of city skyscrapers a decade ago. “People say to me, ‘Look at Times Square,’” says Dawida. “But they don’t have signs on top of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building … It’s almost like a masculinity contest: We got one so they got one.”

On the other end of the size spectrum are the six street-level posters on Heinz Hall; the Pittsburgh Symphony wants to replace them with electronic signs. In February, Scenic Pittsburgh filed suit to stop the symphony, saying the proposed new signs, approved by the city planning commission, constitute “noxious signage” disallowed under current regulations. That dispute is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Scenic Pittsburgh continues to advise municipalities how to craft zoning ordinances to keep signs and billboards at bay. And now the group is turning its sights on a new scourge: power lines. To make the case for burying cables underground to reduce visual blight and power outages, it is relying on a study by Scenic America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit with 50 state and local affiliates — rather, 49, since Scenic Pittsburgh stepped up from affiliate status this year to become the national organization’s first official chapter.

Pittsburgh has been a “model affiliate,” says Mark Falzone, president of Scenic America. “We are going to be able to better hear their needs, and provide research materials and backup for local issues that they’re facing,” he says. “That’s something we are really excited about. We want to be in a position where we’re not just advocating in Washington, D.C.”  .”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.

Do You Want to Pay More Taxes to Improve Parks?

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy hopes to restore the city’s parks to their former glory, but they may need a tax increase to do so.

The Latest Restaurant and Bar Openings in Pittsburgh

We say hello to a new concept from Justin Severino, a summer-long dance pop-up and a new spot for cocktails.

PM on KD: Sean Collier Guest Hosts for the Day

PM associate editor Sean Collier appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live as a guest host to fill in for Heather Abraham. He shared some details about our latest special edition: City Guide.

Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

For many couples, family and tradition means everything. Having a band that helps reflect those can be a great way to pay tribute to your heritage, while getting your guests on the dance floor.

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says corned beef inside an import business, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

To celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary, several local events are set to take place, from film screenings to new exhibits and more.

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Pop Culture Pop Up Bars Are Here to Stay

Nintendo-themed Level Up is in Market Square for another week, but if you miss it, you can catch the Pokémon-themed bar coming this fall.

How Scary is the New Steel Curtain Coaster at Kennywood?

The ride claims records for the world’s tallest looping coaster and tallest inversion; it also has more inversions than any coaster in North America. We rode it this morning. Here's what we have to say.

The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

Netflix's action thriller is forgettable, but serves well as a quick throwback.

Pittsburgh Marks the First Stop of the New Whiskey Rebellion Trail

Think the story of American whiskey begins in Kentucky? Think again.

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Do You Want to Pay More Taxes to Improve Parks?

Do You Want to Pay More Taxes to Improve Parks?

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy hopes to restore the city’s parks to their former glory, but they may need a tax increase to do so.

Comments

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

To celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary, several local events are set to take place, from film screenings to new exhibits and more.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Latest Restaurant and Bar Openings in Pittsburgh

The Latest Restaurant and Bar Openings in Pittsburgh

We say hello to a new concept from Justin Severino, a summer-long dance pop-up and a new spot for cocktails.

Comments

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says corned beef inside an import business, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.

Comments

The Park After Dark

The Park After Dark

Kennywood’s “Night Rider” tickets may be the best bet for many visitors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

Comments

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Try as he might, General Manager Jim Rutherford has so far been unable to change the makeup of his team as intended. It may, thus, ultimately fall on head coach Mike Sullivan to adjust the attitudes of players with a recent track record of resisting change for the greater good.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

Netflix's action thriller is forgettable, but serves well as a quick throwback.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

For many couples, family and tradition means everything. Having a band that helps reflect those can be a great way to pay tribute to your heritage, while getting your guests on the dance floor.

Comments

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Comments

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Amanda Lee began painting glasses in her basement to help pay for her college education. Today, she ships her products across the globe from a new, shabby-chic warehouse and gift shop.

Comments