When Cyle Dowling first came to Pittsburgh four years ago, he knew next to nothing about the city and even less about its neighborhoods.

“I got into the city, went downtown, and I had no idea where I was. At one point I looked up and saw all these homes up on the mountain, and I knew that’s where I wanted to live.”

After renting on Oneida and Grace Street, Dowling finally bought, renovated, and moved into his first home in Pittsburgh this March, on Estella Avenue, just a stone’s throw from Grandview Avenue.

Dowling, who also owns a contracting company in the Mount, Fine Finish Coatings, says that he couldn’t have imagined a better place to live.

“You’re in the city but you’re out of the city,” he says. “Shiloh Street is fantastic. Packs and Dogs is there for a six-pack to-go and a good, quick bite to eat. You have Nico’s, a great local dive bar, and there’s a Shop and Save right around the corner. There’s great restaurants on Grandview [Avenue], and Grandview Park is like this hidden gem that no one knows about.”

“Bigham Tavern is basically my private kitchen,” he adds with a laugh.

Dowling is one of many who have moved to the Hilltop in recent years, drawn as much by the amenities as the affordability.

Mt. Washington mural. BC photo.

Something for Everybody

Prior to becoming a realtor for Northwood Realty, Greg Panza headed business development for the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation. In many ways, his position now is the same as it was before: he lives to sell others on the neighborhood he calls home.

“It’s an exciting time to be here,” says Panza. “When I bought in ’04, people I knew said I was making a mistake. ‘That’s a bad area; it’s going downhill.’ I’m glad I didn’t listen.

“There’s this false impression that if you don’t have a lot of money you have no business looking at Mt. Washington,” he continues. “People I know who are just so enamored with the stronger markets— East Liberty, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, South Side—I tell them that, if they consider Mt. Washington, they can get twice the size, with off-street parking, for half the price.”

One individual who made the leap to Mt. Washington is Curt Conrad, Chief of Staff for City Councilman Corey O’Connor. A West Virginia native, Conrad came to Pittsburgh in 2012 to begin studying for his Masters in Social Work at Pitt. After graduating in 2014, Conrad was still renting a one-bedroom apartment in Highland Park.

Mt. Washington. Brian Conway photo.

“I had all these friends who were telling me that I should buy instead of rent, that it was so affordable” he says. “I thought that was ridiculous—I was incredulous that it would work out. But I talked to a realtor, and she ran the numbers and it turned out I could own a three-bedroom house in Mt. Washington and pay less than a one-bedroom rental in Highland Park.”

Conrad says he didn’t know much about the area at first—“I didn’t know much of anything south of East Carson Street”—but since buying a home this February he has fallen in love with the neighborhood.

“Within a month of moving in,” he says, “I had one friend move to a house on Beltzhoover Avenue and another on Pasadena Street, both of them in their 20s. It’s reassuring that young people are moving to the area and it’s not a flight out.”

Conrad also cites the work and advocacy of the Hilltop Alliance, local CDCs and other, active community groups as a reason he moved to Mt. Washington. “I think that’s a sign of a thriving community.”

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.