For Pittsburgh, a new future without steel

On the road again…

…and once again to Pittsburgh, the old steel city among the green hills of western Pennsylvania, where old friends live in a city of optimism and hope.

From Mount Washington, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers come together and become the Ohio River, the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the steep mountain as dramatic as in any other American city. Below, some twenty bridges in all directions cross the rivers between the city’s many neighborhoods. Among the skyscrapers downtown are some of America’s finest buildings, from the days of Carnegie, Heinz, and Mellon to modern masterpieces by Philip Johnson and others, and to native sons Andy Warhol’s and August Wilson’s museum and cultural center, respectively.

And across the rivers lie the splendid ballparks for the Steelers and the Pirates, important landmark in a city of passionate sports fans.

Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s south side reminds me of Haight Street in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s old hippie neighborhood, with its galleries, rock clubs and small shops. Old mixes with new, former philosophy professor Edward Gelblum’s lovely old bookstore “City Books” with young Jake Nickman’s “Buddy’s Brew on Carson” – the finest of beer stores.

Coming into the city, along Monongahela River in Mon Valley, where the steel mills lie as giant monuments to a bygone era, side by side, mile after mile, in the small towns of McKeesport, Braddock, and Homestead, with furnaces long since cold and chimneys without smoke, the optimism and sense of hope might be a bit hard to understand. At its peak, the steel mills employed well over 100,000 workers, but in the crisis of the 70s and 80s, most of them lost their jobs, and Pittsburgh’s steel industry is only a fraction of what once was.

Today, Pittsburgh is the prime example that the old industrial cities in the “Rust Belt” can come back. But the recovery is based on something completely different than the steel, on distinguished universities and hospitals – biotech, green technology, health care, finance, and research. Today, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) logo is seen on top of what once was U.S. Steel’s 64-story headquarters, and with its 50,000 employees, the university hospital is western Pennsylvania’s largest employer.

It’s a city of history and character, and of excitement. I will return, again.

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“Pacific Standard Time” — about Los Angeles’ modern art

Los Angeles, today, has world-class museums – that’s easy to forget in the sun on the beaches from Redondo to Malibu.

And right now it’s more exciting than usual to visit the city’s many museums because of a large, joint effort about the Los Angeles art and design scene between 1945 and 1980. Called “Pacific Standard Time,” it involves 60 cultural institutions in Los Angeles and up to Santa Barbara in the north, Palm Springs to the east, and San Diego in the south. What an abundance of exciting and inspiring exhibits about how Los Angeles became a world leader in the arts!

We only managed to visit three of the museums during our recent visit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Getty Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Wish we had more time…

LACMA is just getting better and better since we lived in Los Angeles ten years ago. Enlarged and renovated, it is so pleasant, and the exhibition “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way'” reflects the city’s exciting development in art and design, especially after World War II. Swedish-born Greta Magnusson Grossman, who moved to Los Angeles in 1949 and died there in 1999 and who became a leading name among the city’s architects and designers, participates with three of her designs.  She said once:

”California design is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…it has developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way.”

One of my favorites is otherwise the mobile home, “Clipper,” from 1936, by Wallace “Wally” M. Bryan, after Pan Am’s Clipper. Has there ever been a more stylish mobile home?

The Getty Center, in the Santa Monica Mountains, is always worth a visit in itself… to take the little tram up the mountain and spend part of the day high above the city among the museums many treasures and gardens followed by lunch in the sun, is a peaceful excursion, away from it all. Getty’s three shows, “Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture, 1950 – 1970,” “Greetings from LA: Artists and Public 1945-1980,” and “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” make the visit infinitely more interesting than usual.

And MOCA, in the middle of downtown next to Little Tokyo, with its avantgarde “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981” gives an excellent picture of the frenzied activities in the Los Angeles art scene during those turbulent years, between Richard Nixon’s resignation after the Watergate scandal and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the two California presidents. The exhibition takes its name after a song by the local punk band X, about how the California dream and the optimism of the hippie years in the late 60s turned into the disillusioned years after Watergate and Vietnam.