Runners, take your marks! It’s almost time once more for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. Over the first weekend of May, nearly 40,000 runners will make their way through a 26.2-mile tour of the City of Pittsburgh, and about 350,000 spectators will line the streets to cheer them on.
If you’ve ever participated in the Marathon, either as a runner or a visitor, you know that it’s much more than a race. It’s a fun, open-air, community-wide celebration featuring 14 historic Pittsburgh neighborhoods. If you’ve never joined in, what are you waiting for? The starting gun? Join your neighbors and have a blast at one or more of the festivities taking place.
A few highlights: At the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo, runners get a first-class welcome to the City of Champions. On race day, neighborhoods along the course will host festivals showcasing their unique vibe and history. Runners can celebrate their accomplishments at the Finish Line Festival in Point State Park. With this year’s theme of “Black and Goal”, cheer groups are encouraged to hold signage and root for runners along the entire route—making this the largest tailgate party in ‘Burgh history.
Pittsburgh’s public art is one of the many wonderful things that make it a very livable city. In this series of five articles, we will feature specific neighborhoods, with a special lens on the eclectic and colorful public art that is visible along the course. This first in the series highlights the Strip District, Downtown and Uptown.
Pittsburgh is replete with cool enclaves and whimsical neighborhoods, yet no other part of our town is as iconic as the Strip District. It’s where memories are made, traditions are kept and a whole lot of good food is shopped for and savored. Natives know that the Strip—spanning from the 11th to 33rd Streets—was once primarily a collection of mills and factories dating back to the early 19th Century. Today, it’s the go-to shopping district for fresh fish and meats, ethnic groceries, kitschy Pittsburgh paraphernalia and, of course, the almost-famous Primanti’s sandwich. When you come out to cheer on the runners, treat yourself to a fresh taco, biscotti, peppy roll or other fare from street-side grills along Penn Avenue.
“The Strip Mural”
“The Strip Mural” at 1907 Penn Avenue is a vibrant, larger-than-life composite of scenes from the neighborhood. Compressed yet realistic, it puts viewers inside the main shopping area that they are actually on—complete with a touch of the city skyline. Artists Carley Parrish and Shannon Pultz drew hues from every spectrum of the color wheel to make the image pop, and the metal birds sculptured into the air add a 3-D quality.
“History of Jazz”
Runners might want to put a little swing in their step as they round Penn Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets. That’s the spot of “History of Jazz” by multiple artists. In living color you’ll see local greats Stanley William Turrentine on sax, Grammy award-winner Ray Brown on base, beloved George Benson on guitar, virtuoso David Roy Eldridge on trumpet, “Misty” composer Errol Garner on piano, Art Blakey on drums and vocalist Lena Horne (she lived in Pittsburgh for several years).
Race Route Highlight: The Strip District is the beginning point and the first 2.5 miles for both the half and full marathon. It is also miles 24 to 25.5 of the marathon course, as runners loop back onto Liberty Avenue in the Strip.
The Golden Triangle, our city center, is located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which meet and greet the Ohio River. Along the full marathon route, participants will be surrounded by building monikers—PNC Bank, U.S. Steel, PPG, BNY Mellon, Heinz, Federated Investors and more—and be able to view the historic Smithfield United Church of Christ and Oliver Building. Half-marathoners will glide by the stately City County Building and Allegheny County Courthouse. Art in the business district rightfully reflects great industrial barons that are both local legends and global captains of industry, such as Henry Clay Frick, Henry J. Heinz, Andrew Mellon and George Westinghouse. Runners will also near the French fort, Fort Duquesne (today it is a museum).
At the starting line—the corner of Liberty and Seventh Avenues—is the future-retro-themed mural “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” by artist Brian Holderman. It spans the entire side of the parking garage at 900 Liberty Avenue. Appropriately, the scene depicts transportation past, present and future.
“The Two Andys”
Full-marathoners can enjoy “The Two Andys” by Tom Mosser and Sarah Zeffiro. Rising above Wiener World at 628 Smithfield Street near Strawberry Way, it’s a playful image of two more local luminaries—Andy Warhol and Andrew Carnegie—getting coiffed under beauty parlor hair dryers. The work is slightly ironic: a steel tycoon soaking his nails and a pop-culture celeb reading Fences, the 1983 play by American playwright (and Pittsburgh native) August Wilson.
Stephen Butler’s T-Rex roars to life along the Boulevard of the Allies near Cherry Way—the finish line for all races. A throwback to the Prehistoric Age of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s DinoMite Days campaign, “Creation Rex” is one of the few remaining from the original 100 dinosaurs bred to showcase the works of established and emerging artists. Now living at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Creation Rex dons get-ups to suit the seasons, occasions like Earth Day, and to cheer on our local sports teams. Will he be wearing cross-trainers on race day?
Race Route Highlight: Runners line up to start the race on Liberty Avenue at 10th Street (near the Westin Hotel) all the way to Stanwix Street. Runners for all races will finish downtown on the Boulevard of the Allies near Wood Street. Marathon runners will travel down Smithfield Street before turning on Boulevard of the Allies to finish; half-marathoners will travel down Fifth Avenue to Grant Street before turning onto Boulevard of Allies to finish (this is new this year). Point State Park is the location of the post-race party.
With its public art, Pittsburgh’s Uptown will funk you up! This part of the ‘Burgh was once known to American frontiersmen and colonists as Ayer’s Hill, in honor of a fortification built by the English commander Ayers in the mid-1700s. During the 19th Century, the name changed to Boyd’s Hill. Nowadays, of course, it’s simply Uptown.
“Welcome to Uptown”
“Welcome to Uptown” adds a colorful burst of nature as residents and visitors enter the neighborhood, greeted by this creative welcome tree. Artist James Simon crafted this community sign with help from Hill District youth as part of his efforts to beautify the community and surrounding areas. Simon also helped to obtain and plant real live trees along the main street in Uptown, so race participants can breathe in some fresh oxygen compliments of Mother Nature.
Artist Gregg Valley also had a vision to bring nature into the city. This idyllic “Urban Paradise” waterfall scene along Fifth Avenue between Stevenson and Pride Streets uses a unique process called “faceting”, which creates the illusion of texture, depth and movement. Our beloved skyline resembles a shining city on the hill amidst green hills. The rush of water and lush flora and fauna in the foreground may just give runners a quick cool down.
“Four Panel Mural of the Seasons”
Clues to the origins of these four panels are scarce, and the artists are unknown. The art depicts Uptown over the course of four seasons—with dogs scampering, children playing, spring flowers blooming, fall leaves dropping, and even a top-hatted snowman standing beside barren winter trees. Thank goodness it’s spring!
Race Route Highlight: Only half-marathoners will experience Uptown. It’s a new part of course this year with runners running onto Fifth Avenue instead of Forbes Avenue in years past. Runners will run down Fifth Avenue past PPG Paints Arena, completing their sports tour of Pittsburgh after passing PNC Park, Heinz Field and Highmark Stadium.
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Keep that heart rate up and check back for part two of this series next week, which will elaborate on the North Shore and North Side neighborhoods.
For Public Art walking tours, visit https://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/public-art/walking-tours.
For more details about the neighborhoods, visit http://www.pittsburghcityliving.com/neighborhoodList.php.