100 Miles on Foot––and a New Perspective on Pittsburgh
By Elyse Tuennerman, PHLF Intern, Summer 2016
Having grown up in Ohiopyle, a tiny rural town (population 59!) in the mountains of Fayette County, my childhood experiences in Pittsburgh consisted mainly of isolated day trips. My family made the drive up to “the city” for special events––theatre performances, Pirates games, Fourth of July fireworks, and the like––but my understanding of how these different parts of Pittsburgh fit together, both geographically and conceptually, was limited. My knowledge of Pittsburgh’s architectural history was, too, limited—despite the fact that I have been a tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright’s House on Kentuck Knob for five years, and that my mother is a local historian.
After walking over 100 miles on architectural tours, spending many hours looking over historical photographs and maps, and speaking with many fantastic and passionate Pittsburghers, I can say that my summer internship with PHLF has filled some of these gaps in my knowledge; my understanding of and appreciation for this city has grown immensely.
Attending summer walking tours has given me the chance to meet a stunning variety of people, from 5-year-old day camp children, to retired school teachers, to families visiting Pittsburgh for the first time. This has always been one of my favorite parts about being a docent at Kentuck Knob, and it was during my time at PHLF as well. Every group of visitors has their own unique perspective on a given space, no matter how many times you give the same tour. On our downtown tours, the youngest visitors were often the ones that most surprised me. One 6-year-old student in particular sticks out in my mind: he immediately noticed that the design in the carpet of the Union Trust Building lobby matches the pattern of the skylight above, something that took me weeks to figure out.
On PHLF tours, visitors are often reminded that, “the more you know about a place, the more you care about a place.” This certainly rings true for me. Over the course of the summer, I went from being completely unable to find Grant Street on a map to giving passionate accounts of its historic significance to any friends or family members willing to listen. As an aspiring city planner, it has been exciting and heartening to meet the many amazing PHLF staff members and volunteers who work so hard to foster an appreciation for our community and welcome discussion regarding improvement.
The list of places that I have called “home” is beginning to grow for me. This will be my last summer in Pittsburgh for some time as I prepare for a fall study-abroad experience in Aberdeen, Scotland, and then for continued undergraduate studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I am so glad, though, that this list started with Pittsburgh. This area’s built and natural environment are simply remarkable. I have been reminded of that every time an out-of-town visitor joined one of our tours, or a building that I was researching appeared in a book or article about exemplary architecture. My experience at PHLF has stirred up a sense of Pittsburgh pride in me that I did not know existed, and I am very thankful for it.