College Town

These neighborhoods represent the beating heart of the city’s revival and are home to universities, libraries, museums and parks.

photo by dave dicello

What's Here

North Oakland: The ever-expanding University of Pittsburgh campus shares North Oakland with the Schenley Farms Historic District, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History [4400 Forbes Ave.,] and the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library [], as well as restaurants, shops and homes curving around the base of the Hill District.

Central Oakland: Today, this chunk of Oakland is largely populated with college students and campus institutions such as Hillman Library and Posvar Hall. In a former life, it was a Little Italy and still has the grocers, tri-color flags and front-yard statues of the Virgin Mary to prove it.

South Oakland: Sliced open by Interstate 376, South Oakland is a mostly residential neighborhood with a sliver of technology companies along its Second Avenue corridor.

Terrace Village: Named for a New Deal-era housing development long associated with the Hill District, the neighborhood known as Terrace Village now is home to many of the University of Pittsburgh’s sports facilities.

West Oakland: Dominated by the Carlow University campus and medical facilities including UPMC Montefiore and UPMC Presbyterian, West Oakland also includes a classic Pittsburgh hillside neighborhood along Robinson and Dunseith streets.


10 Things We Love in College Town

1 A slate of closings over the past decade (Jay’s Book Stall, Townsend Booksellers, Heads Together, City Books, etc.) has left Caliban Books [410 S. Craig St.,] as perhaps the oldest used bookstore in Pittsburgh. Upstairs is a clean, well-lighted place with rarities and first editions as well as the independent record store Desolation Row; the basement is a secret chamber of paperbacks, both classics and pulp.

2 One of the first vegetarian restaurants in Pittsburgh was a joint on Atwood Street called Cornucopia. Some 35 years later, Cornucopia is gone — but the street remains a diverse culinary district. Restaurants serve Cuban, Indian, Bengali, Malaysian, Thai, Mexican and Middle Eastern food.

3 Artists have been painting city views of Pittsburgh for two centuries. Among the best is “One A Day: 365 Views of the Cathedral of Learning,” which Spanish painter Felix de la Concha completed in 1999. The collection is on permanent display at Alumni Hall [4227 Fifth Ave.,]. 

4 Schenley High School [4101 Bigelow Blvd.] was the most expensive school in the country when it was built — the first to exceed $1 million. The Pittsburgh Board of Education closed it in 2008 and later sold the building to developers. The beloved school reappeared this summer in the film “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

5 Among the most eccentric parks in Pittsburgh — from both an emotional and a geometric perspective — is Harris Parklet, an isosceles triangle of grass where Craig Street meets Bigelow Boulevard in North Oakland. Through a Love Your Block grant, neighbors recently spruced up this highly visible intersection.

6 A few years ago, Friendship Community Presbyterian Church [181 Robinson St.,] started The Corner, which hosts performances, movies, discussions and workshops for locals in West Oakland. A café — known as The Third Place — is designed to be a hangout for all ages.

7 As University of Pittsburgh tour guides are fond of noting, Schenley Plaza [4100 Forbes Ave.,] is Joni Mitchell in reverse: The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy tore up a parking lot and put up paradise. The acre of green grass has become a concert venue, yoga studio, outdoor eatery and popular tanning spot in summer.

8 The late versatile artist and longtime Oakland resident Virgil Cantini spent much of his career running the Department of Studio Arts at the University of Pittsburgh. His employer also commissioned and purchased numerous public works by Cantini, including “Science and Mankind” (find it in the Chevron Science Center), “Man” (on the façade of Parran Hall) and “Ode to Space” (outside David Lawrence Hall).

9 The best rock-skipping spot in the city is Panther Hollow Lake. The surface of this reservoir in Schenley Park generally is calm, and flat stones are abundant in the patchy grass around the perimeter.

10 Larry and Carol’s Pizza [410 Semple St.,] long has been famous for “The Duo.” It disappeared from the menu for a while but was yanked from the grave by popular demand. The pizza shop is also becoming known for its 30-inch “King Kong” and “King Kong Overload” — if you and a friend can polish off an “Overload” in half an hour, the joint sends you home with $200.


Under-the-radar activity

Want to take your running to new heights? Join the Cathedral Steps Running Club, which is a group of runners who meet weekly to run up the steps of the Cathedral of Learning [4200 Fifth Ave.,]. Runners meet in the basement or on the third floor, and runs are organized via a Facebook group (add the Steel City Road Runners as a Facebook friend to join). The group keeps records on the fastest runs from the first floor to the 36th floor — the quickest climber made it in just over three-and-one-half minutes. — Jennie Dorris


Under-the-radar food and drinks

Korea Garden [414 Semple St.,] stands out among the student-focused Semple Street eateries in South Oakland. There’s a full menu of Korean dishes, but your best bet here is to gather a few friends for Korean BBQ: various meats cooked on a hot indoor griddle. Bul go gi (marinated beef) and marinated short ribs are great choices. You get a full array of banchan (side dishes) including kimchi, bean sprouts and glass noodles. Nearby, Chick’n Bubbly [117 Oakland Ave.,] serves what many might call “chicken candy” — deep-fried chicken wings and drumsticks dipped in sweet-and-spicy or soy-garlic sauce, served with finger gloves to protect you from the gooey coating. — Hal B. Klein


Categories: Visitors Guide