Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Photo by Jennifer Baron
Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Photo by Jennifer Baron

In its earliest days, the Shadyside Action Coalition was all three of those words.

In 1976, when the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education was failing to build the proposed “Great High School” on land next to Reizenstein Middle School in Shadyside, 24 acres of undeveloped land was left vacant and people were dumping trash on the property. Shadyside Action Coalition decided to force the board to clean up the land, which is now, in part, The Village of Shadyside.

Sixty members of the organization attended a school board meeting carrying empty bushel baskets, according to coverage in the Pittsburgh Press. Members told the board
that if the property was not cleaned up, they would return the following month with those baskets filled with trash and dead rats. The property was cleaned and ultimately redeveloped.

The Shadyside Action Coalition — which has fought the city, developers and the bars to keep the character of the neighborhood intact — ended its battle on March 3 in an announcement by email and a notice on Facebook.

The organization came together in 1973 as a coalition of churches, the Rodef Shalom Synagogue, neighborhood block organizations and concerned residents — but the neighbors often set the agenda.

When Fantastic Plastic, a rock nightclub, wanted to open in Shadyside, the Coalition objected. The president of the company who owned the bar said in a 1976 meeting that his own neighbors in Upper St. Clair would not mind if his nightclub opened there. Members of the Shadyside Action Coalition decided to see for themselves, chartered a bus and 40 members, many of them elderly, took off for Upper St. Clair. They parked the bus in front of the nightclub owner’s house and started going door-to-door surveying his neighbors.

In 1977, 200 people from the neighborhood met with the late U.S. Rep. William S. Moorhead to express their fears that Pittsburgh Regional Transit (then called Port Authority of Allegheny County) would take too many properties along the railroad right of way to build what was then called the PATway, but is now the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. They were also worried that commuters would drive to the busway and park in the already congested neighborhood.

In the 1990s, the organization opposed the construction of the Shadyside Parking Garage on Bellefonte Street.

In more recent years, the most visible aspect of the organization has been the Shadyside House Tour, a fundraiser that covered the group’s budget for mailings but had come to be a biennial event because of the difficulty in securing homes and the huge number of volunteers it required.

Before the turn of the century, the organization was a robust one with campaigns for electing officers.

More recently, when no one wanted to assume the mantle of the presidency, the coalition was run by a committee of Shadyside residents: sisters Carol and Susan McGinty, Gloria Ashcraft and Blair Stackhouse.

“It was a pretty robust group,” Carol McGinty says about the organization’s first 30 years.

In 2006, the coalition worked with the bar owners to create the Neighborhood Bar Task Force to keep the patrons in check. Bar owners sent their employees to training by the Liquor Control Board to recognize when someone had enough to drink and should not be served more.

“We had regular meetings with the police and the LCB” Susan McGinty says. “The people who were not directly affected didn’t know what it took to pull that off.”

“I am very proud we worked that out,” Carol McGinty says.

More recently, Shadyside Action Coalition’s time has been taken up with development.

“Just constant development projects, people wanting to build something out of the scope of the zoning code or the planning commission regs, or just what people felt was going to be too big,” Carol McGinty says.

The Meridian
View of what the Meridian project will look like in Shadyside. Rendering courtesy of the Pittsburgh Planning Commission.

In those cases, the coalition organized community meetings so that the developers could talk to the community, such as meetings between ECHO Realty and the community over the new Giant Eagle and apartment buildings at the corner of Shady and Penn avenues.

In recent years, the organization has seen a lack of both “action” and “coalition” to fight developments that neighbors oppose.

“When the organization had hundreds of people, and they voted on things, it was run differently because of the volume of people that were active members,” Carol McGinty says. “There was the ability to take a stance on issues. As the number of acting members became smaller and smaller, it didn’t make sense to say five or eight people were going to make decisions about the neighborhood.”

She points out that there are now about 14,000 residents of Shadyside and maybe 20 pay dues as Shadyside Action Coalition members.

One issue the group has continued to focus on is traffic and the safety of everyone who uses the roads. But even with those issues, people pop in and out of meetings.

Ashcraft says the leadership committee tried to figure out a way to get more people involved. They even met with Shadyside’s representative on City Council, Erika Strassburger, to brainstorm about how to boost membership.

“It’s kind of like the sign of the times,” Ashcraft says. “It’s unfortunate. There’s always going to be a need for neighborhood interaction.”

Now, she is wondering how she is going to find out what is being proposed for the neighborhood.

Susan McGinty thought more people would attend the meetings during the pandemic when they were held online instead of at Winchester Thurston School.

Instead, most people would log on if they were concerned about an issue, then never come back for another meeting.

Ashcraft says a bigger blow than the pandemic happened in 2018 when the city passed an ordinance requiring organizations to become “Registered Community Organizations” to take part in certain meetings and to have a voice in zoning issues.

The requirements for those organizations — to obtain nonprofit status, establish bylaws and elect officers — were too onerous for the small band at the Shadyside Action Coalition.

“We started being left out of [city] notifications,” Ashcraft says.

Stackhouse says she first attended the coalition’s meetings 10 years ago when the Weather Permitting concerts started at Shadyside Nursery, then she kept coming back to learn what was happening in the neighborhood.

The McGinty sisters got involved in the 1990s after the coalition helped them keep a bar from opening a roof deck next to their home when they were living on Copeland Street. Ashcraft also became involved around the same time because of the bars.

When the notice went out that the organization was shutting down, Stackhouse says she received nice notes from friends who had said they were sorry but had only attended a single meeting about an issue that interested them.

All four of the women who formed the board of the Shadyside Action Coalition say it is their hope that, as the organization is retired, that another group will form to take up the responsibility of keeping the community informed and helping neighbors work out issues in Shadyside.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.