New casino had no ‘not in my back yard’ problem in Chateau; there are no back yards
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Contrary to previous reports, the North Shore is not getting Don Barden’s Majestic Star Casino. The lucky neighborhood is actually Chateau.
But it’s easy to understand how the North Shore is the default setting for so many people. Chateau is a neighborhood with an identity problem.
In an exhaustive search of the neighborhood, using the map on the city’s Web site, the Post-Gazette could scare up just five residences — four year-round homes on the river, all associated with boat clubs, and one in what its resident used to call “the ward.”
It was named for Chateau Street, which actually is in the adjoining neighborhood of Manchester. Chateau was once part of Manchester, but city planners designated it as a separate neighborhood after Route 65 was built and split them apart.
Chateau became further isolated from residential tradition as neighborhood support businesses gave way to light industry, warehouses and huge parking lots. The 2000 census counted 39 people as residents, but where they are or might have been is a mystery.
A paucity of habitation bodes well for a controversial development. Nary a peep was heard pro or con in Chateau while the Hill District exercised its voice in opposition to a casino. Considering what a not-in-my-back-yard issue the casino was, this may be a good time to mention that in Chateau, there are no back yards.
Its border with the North Shore is Allegheny Avenue. Heinz Field is on the North Shore side, the Carnegie Science Center is on the Chateau side.
Just beyond where the casino is slated to go, Chateau becomes its spooky-emptiest, a wasteland of lots surrounded by chain-link fences, mangled trees and overgrowth at the shoreline strewn with garbage, chunks of industrial waste covered in black soot that looks like coat dust over dirty lint, and rusted parts of old boats.
The Pittsburgh Annealing Box Co.’s warehouse of corrugated metal stretches like a stranded ghost train along the river, scrawled with the message, “Join the race to the bottom.”
Dean Bartins has lived all 46 of his years in a grand, 120-year-old house in a part of Chateau on the other side of the highway. Once his house was surrounded by houses. His immediate neighbors now are Wendy’s, McDonalds and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.
“Some people would say, ‘Hey, you’re surrounded by parking lots,’ ” he said. “But from the inside looking out, it’s as far as the eye can see” — views of the entire skyline and the hillside across the river.
“We always called this ‘the ward,'” said Mr. Bartins. “But I know [now] it’s Chateau.” He said he became aware of the designation “maybe 20 years ago.”
“I have always considered this Manchester,” said Peggy Baust, the owner of Peggy’s Harbor, one of three boat docks in Chateau. She and her husband, Eddie, live at the boat dock they own and operate. They moved there from Shaler in 1972 to live in a houseboat and started their dock business in the early 1980s.
Their mobile home, its side deck adorned with a red Christmas bow and pine garlands, sits several yards from the lapping Ohio River and along the trail that brings a stream of bicyclists, joggers and walkers in good weather.
Her neighbors are a refrigeration company, a company that makes metal grills and welding rods, and parking lots.
Neither she nor Mr. Bartins expressed concern about the casino.
“Absolutely not,” said Ms. Baust. “I don’t know what will happen to the part of the trail that runs beside it, but it can’t hurt me.” (Casino owner Don Barden plans improvements to the trail.)
She counts the other boat club owners who live in homes along the river as her neighbors, “good neighbors,” she said, admitting that, “when 5 o’clock rolls around,” the neighborhood is pretty empty.
Arthur Ziegler, executive director of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks and one of the preservationists who helped save much of Manchester from the wrecking ball in the 1960s, said Chateau is news to him: “I’ve never heard anyone use that name. It was all Manchester.”
He said he and other activists in the late 1960s “went to meetings because we didn’t want the highway.”
Route 65 plunged Chateau into habitation crisis. Starting in 1960, the population declined severely: From 5,251 — when it was still part of Manchester — to 681 to 322 to 12 to 39, making it the least populated neighborhood in the city.
The highway that Mr. Ziegler called “typical of planning that uprooted people and severed a neighborhood so people could get to the suburbs more quickly,” is now an asset for bringing people back, according to the state gaming board chairman. The Post-Gazette reported last week that Gov. Ed Rendell said the chairman cited access as one of the factors in Mr. Barden’s selection.
Mr. Barden has predicted that the Majestic Star Casino, a two-story, glass and steel construction, will be built in a world-beating 15 months. And Chateau has some bragging rights, for what it’s worth.
(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. )