The Moving Guide to Friendship
Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhood of Friendship emerged as one of the nation’s first upper-middle class suburbs in the early 20th century, thanks to a convenient location at the end of the streetcar line that let the era’s industrial managers easily scoot downtown to get to work.
Now, a full century later, Friendship has come full circle after a period of neglect. Once again, it is attracting young professionals and their families, along with students, artists and a range of other residents drawn by an extensive assortment of affordable real estate. The beautiful, historic Victorian and Colonial Revival homes that are the hallmark of the neighborhood’s housing stock offer a great deal of space at a relatively low cost.
Architect Doug Cruze saw the neighborhood’s potential a decade ago when he and his wife Liza chose to buy one of those big Victorians on South Graham Street, after they had rented a Shadyside apartment for a year.
Due to a zoning change in the 1950s, many of the once-beautiful old builidngs were chopped up into multi-units and were in great need of renovation. The Cruzes' home, for instance, had been converted into three apartments, but the couple chose to restore it to its original form, claiming the bottom two floors as their living space, and renting out the third floor – once the servant quarters – to a tenant. They found a different tenant for the property’s carriage house.
While new zoning in the 1990s pushed to restore the neighborhood back to single family units, many of Friendship’s homes still offer the opportunity for owners to generate income through rent to help offset mortgage and renovation costs. “You can end up having a much bigger place than you could [otherwise] afford to have,” Cruze says. And when owners are also landlords, the rental property is assured of staying in optimal condition.
The bottom line
While the affordable housing in Friendship runs the gamut, buyers can scoop up a small house for $129,000 or find a 12 or 13-room gem (or diamond in the rough) for $280,000. While that might seem high in this comeback neighb, the houses are quite large and architecturally noteworthy--and they would cost considerably more in upscale neighborhoods closeby. In addition to the beautiful housing stock, many of the homes feature parking pads in the back--another draw to househunters tired of street parking.
As Shadyside becomes more saturated, Howard Hanna's Orlando "Scats" Scatana expects more people to flock to Friendship and the value of housing to rise accordingly. The realtor says he sells to a lot of doctors, lawyers, college professors and other professionals, and that they tend to be younger transplants from other, bigger metropolitan areas.
Not ready to buy but looking to rent? Rates for studios and one-bedroom apartments go for $500 to $600 while a two-bedroom apartment goes for $600 and up. A three-bedroom/two bath unit was just rented for $725 a month.
More housing choices
Friendship Development Associates (FDA), responsible for the lion’s share of neighborhood development, has done a number of impressive renovations on properties throughout the neighborhood, such as the national award-winning Clarendon Place project.
Brand new townhouses will soon appear at the corner of Penn Avenue and Gross Street. Another new project is the Penn Fairmont Apartments which feature 60 units of senior housing and 7,500 square feet of retail space. Phase II of the project, the Corner Building at Penn and Fairmount, consists of 15 loft condominiums, 8,270 square feet of retail or restaurant space as well as artist studios. In another much smaller project, the FDA renovated three apartments behind the Quiet Storm coffee shop at Penn and Graham.
You have to be an artist to live there but lofts are being built in the same building as the FDA and Dance Alloy. With a bevy of reasonably priced housing options and a burgeoning arts district, Friendship is quickly becoming a top destination for the city’s most creative residents.
J. Atticus Adams, a sculptor who moved to Pittsburgh from Charleston, S.C., last November, selected a loft in the neighborhood for that very reason. “I wanted to live closer to where more artists were living,” he says, noting that other neighborhoods that had been recommended to him, such as Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, can be too expensive for many artists.
One big attraction for him is Unblurred, which provides monthly opportunities for artists like him to show their art close to home, or in Adams’ case, his loft.
After talking with the former Arts District Manager and now FDA Executive Director, Jeffrey Dorsey, Adams decided to open up his Penn Avenue loft to Unblurred attendees to see his uniquely beautiful sculptures created from white thread and aluminum screens – the kind that Grandma had in the door when you were a kid.
The inside track to househunting
Because of the area’s increasing popularity, the demand for real estate in the neighborhood is high. “If you want a house in Friendship, you need to act fast,” Cruze suggests. “If you just look in the Sunday paper, you’re not going to find it.”
Architect Marc Mondor, principal of the firm evolve and Friendship resident, understands the attraction. In fact, he says, “I don’t see why this wouldn’t be as desirable a place to be in as Squirrel Hill or Shadyside."
The neighborhood’s allure goes beyond its housing. Friendship’s convenient location four miles from downtown makes for a quick commute, one that can easily be made by bicycle, or, for the particularly hearty, on foot.
“Gas prices can go up to five dollars a gallon, and it’s not going to impact us too much,” says Mondor, whose family’s South Evaline Street home is only blocks away from his office on Penn Avenue.
Play time, school time
While the neighborhood isn’t home to one of the city’s larger parks, it does feature a pleasant outdoor setting in Baum Grove, the community green space at 400 Roup Avenue. Baum Grove recently received a face-lift with tree-pruning, improvements to the flowerbeds and the addition of a beautiful community herb garden. Bike racks were also installed at the park, thanks to the Elm Street Program through the Friendship Development Associates. The PlayPark at Pittsburgh Montessori, built by the Friendship Preservation Group and the Friendship Development Associates and funded through grants, offers a recreational outlet for the neighborhood’s children.
Those children now have two quality schools to attend thanks to a couple of Friendship’s latest additions. The Waldorf School relocated from its South Side location to Victoria Hall, one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings and a former convent, in the fall of 2003.
This September will mark the opening of the Pittsburgh Montessori School in the former Friendship Academy building, which was scheduled to be shuttered in the Pittsburgh Public Schools reorganization plan. Friendship residents, a formidable bunch, were able to lure the Montessori school, which is one of Pittsburgh’s magnet schools, to a prime spot on Friendship Avenue.
You’ve got to have friends
The legend that the neighborhood was named for the friendship between founder Joseph Conrad Winebiddle and the family of William Penn may be a myth, but the neighborhood's tradition of welcoming newcomers is not. The people in Friendship, living up to their name, are a major component of Friendship’s magnetism.
Friendship’s sister organizations, the Friendship Development Associates (FDA) and the Friendship Preservation Group (FPG) both grew out of a mobilization against seizure of a parcel of land by a car dealership in 1989. They won; that land is now the beloved Baum Grove which became a catalyst for other neighborhood efforts. Today, the Friendship Preservation Group serves as the neighborhood’s main outlet for its residents’ involvement, coordinating a number of annual events, including the Friendship Flower and Folk Festival, National Night Out, the Friendship Yard Sale and a neighborhood progressive dinner.
Both the FDA and the FPG have played a large role in making the neighborhood safer, a remarkable change appreciated by residents.
“When we bought our house 10 years ago, Friendship was a lot rougher,” Cruze says.
Neighborhood block watches have engaged area residents in taking ownership of creating a safe neighborhood, although many outsiders still operate under the misconception that Friendship, particularly the area closest to Penn Avenue, is not safe.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Do you feel safe?’ They associate this area with crime. I’ve never had a problem,” Adams says.
With its stretch of Penn Avenue still in its infancy as a commercial corridor, Friendship does not have a traditional business district within its borders. Yet there are enough amenities within walking distance to nearby communities--such as Bloomfield's main street on the west border of Friendship, Shadyside's Walnut St. a mile away, and East Liberty’s new Eastside development and Whole Foods to the east--to provide plenty of options for residents waiting for businesses to fill in the spaces available closer to home.
“I like how I can walk to everything,” Adams says, comparing his neighborhood to that of downtown Boston.
As Penn Avenue’s development takes off, some are hoping that out-of-control gentrification (and the surging real estate costs that often go hand-in-hand with it), doesn’t bully its way into the neighborhood and change its character.
“In some ways….the area’s interesting because it is in transition,” Adams says. “It’s not so gentrified, so expensive that artists get pushed out.” Part of the mission of the The Penn Avenue Arts Initiative’s mission is in fact to help artists gain an equity stake as development is increasing values.
Mondor, for one, would be surprised if that ever happened in Friendship. “There will always be affordable housing here. There’s not going to be that [gentrification] kind of upheaval,” he says.
Think that Friendship might be your ideal spot for a home? Get a sneak preview at the neighborhood’s House Tour, scheduled for Sunday, September 24.
For more info on Frienship & Penn Ave Arts District visit the PopCity:
- Visiting Guide
- Investment Guide
Directions to Friendship & Penn Ave Arts District
From the North:
Take I-279 South and take the East Street exit, Exit 8B, toward PA-28 North. Stay straight to go onto East St and turn left onto E Ohio St. Merge onto PA-28 North and take Exit 2 on the left for the 40th St. Bridge. Turn right onto 40th St. Bridge/Washington Xing Bridge. 40th St. Bridge/Washington Xing Bridge becomes 40th St. Turn left onto Penn Ave and arrive into the Penn Ave Arts District and Friendship.
From the East:
Take I-376 West and merge onto PA-8 via Exit 8B toward Wilkinsburg. Stay straight to go onto Penn Ave/PA-380 and continue to follow Penn Ave. Go past Negley Ave. and Arrive in Friendship and Penn Ave Arts District.
From the South:
Take PA-51 North and take the ramp toward I-579/Downtown/South Side. Turn right onto W Liberty Ave and turn slight right onto Liberty Tunnels. Liberty Tunnels becomes Liberty Bridge and stay straight to go onto Crosstown Blvd. Take the Bigelow Blvd/PA-380 exit and merge onto PA-380. Turn left onto Baum Blvd/PA-380/Baun Blvd bridge and continue to follow Baum. Turn left onto S Atlantic Ave and then right onto Penn Ave. Arrive in Friendship and Penn Ave Arts District.
From the West:
Take I-279 North toward Pittsburgh and merge onto PA-28 North via Exit 7C toward Chestnut St/East Ohio St/Etna. Take the 40th St. Bridge exit, Exit 2, on the left. Turn right onto 40th St. Bridge/Washington Xing Bridge. 40th St. Bridge/Washington Xing Bridge becomes 40th St. Turn left onto Penn Ave and arrive into the Penn Ave Arts District and Friendship.
Photos:<c> space galleryDoug and Liza Cruze in front of their renovated Friendship houseClarendon PlaceAtticus Adams in his loft in the Showroom Building
Mark Mondor at his 'evolve' architectural office
Montessori School in Friendship
All photographs copyright © Jonathan Greeneexcept <c> space gallery © Tracy Certo