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Dormont: On Golden Mountain

Just shy of one square mile, Dormont is proof that good things do come in small packages. Nestled between the City of Pittsburgh to its north and Mt. Lebanon—its more suburban neighbor to the south—Dormont boasts two public parks, two walkable business districts, views of Downtown and an impressive housing stock.

Dubbed “Golden Mountain” both for its San Francisco-like hills, as well as for the dollar signs that lit up developers’ eyes during the borough’s housing boom, Dormont became the South Hills’ first independent municipality in 1909. After the opening of the Mt. Washington streetcar tunnel in 1904 and the Liberty Tubes in 1924, Dormont’s sturdy brick homes beckoned growing families. Billed as sunny Dormont, early developers touted the streetcar suburb as a sylvan refuge from the smoky city. Many of Dormont’s first homes, spacious structures that grace Espy and Glenmore Avenues, were designed by prominent architects. The borough is also home to several brick apartment buildings named for the granddaughters of their builders, as well as duplexes and row houses. Sponsored by the Dormont Public Library, the borough’s annual September house tour highlight’s the neighborhood’s eclectic residential styles, including Arts and Crafts, American Craftsman, Victorians, Four Square, Colonial, and Cottage homes, as well as properties built in the borough’s English Park Plan. Many of Dormont’s spacious two- and three-bedroom homes sell for between $75,000 and $175,000.

In today’s mobile global world, community pride still runs deep in Dormont. “Dormont Day,” first held in 1914, along with the borough’s annual July 4th firework festivities, children’s Halloween Parade, and clean-up activities are wildly popular. Dormont offers organized sports for children of all ages and its public Library features a computer lab. Fun is NOT dead in Dormont. On October 20th, the Dormont Mainstreet Committee hosted a “Dead in Dormont Zombiefest” at the Hollywood Theater, complete with a Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead double feature, “Dead in Dormont” t-shirts, and an appearance by sci-fi tv personality "Chilly Billy" Cardille.

Location, location, location.

A key draw is Dormont’s convenient placement along Pittsburgh’s light rail system—the easy to catch, comfortable “T,” which follows the city’s old trolley tracks and provides dramatic vistas. The closest thing to a subway, Pittsburgh’s “T” stops not once but three times in Dormont. Hop off the “T” and onto pedestrian-friendly Potomac to run your errands at Bargain Books, DeWalt’s World of Health, Dormont News, and the borough’s 78 year-old Potomac Pharmacy. Access to the T is a bonus, but if light rail is not your style, hop aboard one of the many PAT buses that regularly roll through Dormont’s West Liberty corridor. Dormont’s proximity to public transportation, the Interstate system and Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as the convenience of its schools, shops and churches, make it an attractive residential choice.

What other borough is home to a pool that boasts its own blog? The state’s oldest municipal pool is currently at the center of a robust fundraising campaign that has raised more than $600,000. Dormont’s “one-million gallon” sloped swimming pool—both a national historic landmark and a major community anchor—was constructed in 1920. Nearby are park pavilions, a recreation center, tennis and basketball courts, a horseshoe club, the “Castle” playground, soccer fields and “Pop” Murray Little League field. You can even take yoga classes in the park. And all within walking distance to Bruster's, Starbuck’s, a health food store, and an Indian market. The community is book-ended by two public parks, the centrally-located, 23.5-acre Dormont Park, and the more intimate 5.2-acre Beggs-Snyder Park located off of McNeilly Road.

From Whence They Came

If people make the place, then Dormont deserves its own walk of fame. A renowned Dormonters list is topped by country music legend Slim Bryant, TV fave Mister McFeely, TONY award-winner Stephen Flaherty, comedian Dennis Miller, politician Ron Paul, and Sorbonne-trained painter Robert Schmalzried.

Part-city, part-burb, the little borough that could boasts Indian, Mexican, Greek, Chinese, and Italian restaurants, as well as a host of pubs and pizzerias. Favorites include Azzeria, a pizza-panini-gelato hot spot that occupies a former coal mine, Mexi-Casa, a neighborhood burrito and brew hangout that is ringing in its 5th birthday, and the newly-expanded, longtime staple Dor-stop Restaurant. Franco’s Trattoria offers more upscale Italian fare, while Tom’s is one of the South Hills’ favorite 24-hour haunts. Dormont’s two main business districts, quaint lamp-lined Potomac Avenue and the West Liberty corridor, boast everything from salons, a florist, vet and post office, to Moonstones, a gift shop that offers yoga classes, and Fredo’s, a deli that made Pittsburgh Magazine’s “Best of 2006” list. Also worth the trip by foot, bus or “T” are cult film mecca Incredibly Strange Video, The Exchange music shop, and new kid on the block New Leaf Café. The neighborhood is even home to both a beauty academy AND a bartending school.

Dormont’s porch-fronted homes and tree-lined streets promote authentic neighborhood interactions. Its sidewalks are dotted with strollers, joggers and four-legged friends, and its business districts are walkable from all borough streets. To jumpstart community revitalization, Dormont has launched annual—and wildly popular—pub crawls, community clean-up activities and wine tastings. In September, more than 1,000 people flocked to the borough’s first annual Potomac Avenue Street Festival. Plans are now afoot for the borough’s year-long 100th birthday bash in 2009 and the borough is developing a Main Streets Program.

Community Connections

History buffs and newcomers will love the Dormont Historical Society—the region’s only municipal resource of its kind— where two rooms of memorabilia, publications and artifacts dazzle even the most knowledgeable Golden Mountain veteran. Efforts spearheaded by the South Hills Theatre Group are now in place to turn one of the neighborhood’s beloved and much beleaguered structures into a community arts center. Built between 1927 and 1928 by the Harris Amusement Company, who in 1905 opened the world’s first Nickelodeon Downtown, the classical-style theater originally seated 1,200 people, and featured a massive marquee, Wurlitzer pipe organ, grand staircase, and comedy and tragedy floor tiles. Add to your checklist of historic places the 100 year-old Dormont Presbyterian Church, which has been designated by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Dormont’s 9,000 residents receive the borough’s free newsletter, as well as KO Connections, profiling Keystone Oaks School District. Ranked in Allegheny County’s top 35 school districts, KOSD educates 2,300 Dormont, Castle Shannon and Green Tree children and teens. Dormont Elementary, one of three neighborhood elementary schools in the District, serves 423 Dormont children in grades K-5.

One loyal resident recently dubbed Dormont Pittsburgh’s “most underrated great neighborhood,” in a letter to the editor published by Pittsburgh Magazine. It's exactly that brand of neighborhood spirit that lies behind resident-created blogs like SaveDormontPool.com, founded by ex-San Francisco resident John Maggio and DormontBlog, created by WYEP disc jockey Darren Stroh.

Boasting a 24-hour diner, a bowling alley, plenty of green space, and the South Hills’ only single screen movie theater, Dormont beckons all to make the trek through the Tubes.
Jennifer Baron is the development news editor and Pop Filter editor for Pop City. Newly married, she lives happily in Dormont with her husband Greg.

Captions:

The 'T'

Dormont housing

Dormont pharmacy

Fredo's Deli

Castle Playground

John Maggio's 1966 Dodge Dart

Photograph of John Maggio's 1966 Dodge Dart copyright Jennifer Baron

All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen




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