Do you know your HPCC from your HPCDC from your HPGC?
Whether you’re new to Highland Park or you’ve been here for a few years, you’ve probably encountered a term or acronym used in the neighborhood that you didn’t immediately recognize. Here’s a guide to help clarify the different entities and spaces that come up when you live in Highland Park.
HPCC ➡ Highland Park Community Council We are the oldest continually operating neighborhood organization in the City of Pittsburgh and are run completely by volunteers. We host monthly community events, publish a monthly newsletter and this blog. Our mission is to take a leading role in the community activities that address issues of common interest and concern and that promote a safe and healthy neighborhood for the diverse residents of Highland Park. Learn more on our website.
HPCDC ➡ Highland Park Community Development Corporation The HPCDC works to develop vacant and idle lots around Highland Park. They have had a huge hand in the revitalization of the Highland Park business district on Bryant St. The HPCC often works with the HPCDC, but the two organizations are separate entities. Learn more on its website.
HPGC ➡ Highland Park Garden Club The HPGC supports individual gardeners, promotes garden education, and provides neighborhood garden and horticultural activities. Learn more on its website.
HPELBPC ➡ Highland Park/East Liberty Bike Ped Committee The HPELBPC is a group of residents dedicated to supporting infrastructural improvements for bikers and pedestrians. Learn more on its Facebook page.
MACC ➡ Morningside Area Community Council MACC is the mirror neighborhood organization to the HPCC for the neighboring Morningside neighborhood. Like the HPCC, MACC is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to improving and supporting the Morningside community. Learn more on its website.
BGC➡The Garfield-Bloomfield Corporation The Garfield-Bloomfeild Corporation is a community organization founded in 1976 to address physical and economic declines in the neighborhood. It has a strong focus on ensuring affordable housing in neighboring Garfield and runs a number of programs to support low-income families. Learn more on the website.
ELDI➡East Liberty Development Inc. The East Liberty Development Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing East Liberty. It is involved in development projects in the neighborhood and invests in and supports projects aimed at supporting and creating benefit to residents of East Liberty. Read more about the projects ELDI supports on its website.
EECM➡East End Cooperative Ministry On the border of Highland Park and East Liberty, the East End Cooperative Ministry provides food for people who need it, runs a shelter and other housing programs, and offers programs to enable people to secure steady employment. Additional details are available on its website.
The ListServ This long-standing email-based mailing list is run by a neighborhood volunteer. It is one of the most active ways neighbors communicate digitally with each other. Though it’s not run by the HPCC, all HPCC public communication is posted to this list. To sign up, go to mail.highlandparkpa.com
The Parklet or Bryant St. Parklet In 2020, the HPCC worked with the HPCDC and Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to set aside a corner lot at Bryant St. and N. Euclid St. as a community green space. The HPCC leases this property from the URA, and HPCC volunteers provide its ongoing maintenance.
Flynn Parklet There is also a space called Flynn Parklet at Bunkerhill St. and N Saint Clair St. which is a tennis/hockey/basketball court area operated by the City of Pittsburgh.
The Farmhouse This refers to the large building next to the Farmhouse Playground and baseball field on Farmhouse Dr. in the northeast corner of the neighborhood, adjacent to Highland Park.
The Fountain This refers to the large fountain in the front entrance garden in Highland Park (the city park).
The Super Playground This refers to the large playground on Reservoir Drive, visible up the hill from Bunker Hill Street.
What have we missed? Send your suggestions to hpcceditor.com and we’ll update the list!
The first thing you notice as you enter the office of the Reverend Dr. Asa J. Lee—who prefers to be called, simply, Asa—is the sizable calabash that sits on the floor in front of his desk. Burnt orange in color, it is ornamented by the image of the mythical Sankofa bird, picked out in tiny beads of pink, white and dark blue. The bird’s feet face forward, while its head is turned to look backwards.
“It symbolizes using the past as a guide for planning the future,” Asa explains.
The Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, at S. Highland Avenue and St. Marie Street, chose Asa to guide the institution into the future as its seventh president. Inaugurated in the Fall of 2021, he represents a considerable step forward from the past in that he is an ordained Baptist minister heading up a seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, and he is the first African American to do so.
In their march forward, both Asa and the seminary sustain long traditions, such as the learning of Greek and Hebrew, which Asa demonstrates when he pulls a Greek New Testament from the bookcase. Flipping through the pages covered in the Greek alphabet, he reads aloud, in Greek, a portion of the Lord’s Prayer.
While ecumenism abounds at PTS, where the student body represents a number of different faiths, it thrives as well at the Lee family home on Jackson Street, where Asa’s wife, Chenda, is an ordained clergy member of the United Methodist Church and works as director of clergy and congregational development for the UMC’s western Pennsylvania conference. The Lees’ four daughters, ranging in age from six to 13, attend Catholic school.
A Maryland native, Asa obtained his bachelor’s degree in music education from Hampton University with a major in trumpet and a piano/organ minor. Growing up, he had played organ in church and after four years teaching in private and public schools, he decided to heed the call to the ministry that he had felt as a teen. It was at Wesley Theological Seminary that he met Chenda.
Music remains an integral part of Asa’s life, much in the form of his children, who play flute, guitar and piano. Three of them play ukulele, and one is the family vocalist. Chenda, he says, would not call herself musical but she has a beautiful singing voice.
Back in June of 2021, after first arriving in Pittsburgh, Asa spent a lot of time getting out to meet “anyone and everyone,” he says, to get a feel for who were his neighbors and where connections could be made.
“Neighbor is a spiritual concept,” he says, and one that is fraught with contradiction. As neighbors looking out for each other, it’s easy, he explains, to send a check to a favorite charity or an international appeal for help, “…but what about the homeless guy that you just passed on the street? It’s hard to help who’s right in front of you.” He observes a caution in Pittsburgh’s emphasis on named and defined neighborhoods, in that it can create boundaries that keep people apart.
Transcending boundaries and building relationships for the good of the city are the foundational goals of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, an interfaith organization for which Asa sits on the board of directors. The foundation’s Amen to Action project, now in its fifth year, will package one million meals in November, to be distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Ten sites in the metro area will each produce 100,000 meals, paid for by donations and packaged by volunteers. On November 12, Asa and PTS will host one such event, staffed from churches of all faiths in the surrounding East End. (To make a donation, go to amentoaction.org.)
While there are still more neighbors to meet and things to learn about the city he now calls home, Asa Lee has made up his mind quite firmly about one of Pittsburgh’s signature culinary concepts: On sandwiches and salads, he says, with his signature ready smile, “Please, I’ll take my fries on the side!”
After nine months of closure, the Highland Park Super Playground has reopened!
On August 24th, a grand reopening celebration was hosted by the Highland Park Community Council along with the City of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of neighbors and families gathered to enjoy a beautiful first day of play. The event kicked off with an official ribbon-cutting with words from Andrea Ketzel (the project lead for the new playground from the City of Pittsburgh), Monica Watt (longtime Super-Playground caretaker and HPCC playground committee member), Marsha Kolbe and Roseanne Levine (the two Highland Park prior-residents who led the creation of the original Super Playground), as well as Mayor Ed Gainey and Highland Park city councilperson Deb Gross.
The weather was gorgeous for the opening and the new playground glowed under the sun, filled with kids climbing, running, swinging and laughing. A large, playful balloon arch and balloon bouquets added to the festive view, contributed by Von Walter + FUNKballoon. Under the Maple Grove shelter, kids enjoyed free treats from Vinnie’s Shaved Ice, as well as face painting and temporary tattoos from artists with PGH Party Creations, all sponsored by the Highland Park Community Council.
The new playground retains the wooden, natural-play feel of the original Super Playground, a key expressed desire of the community. It also has some new elements including individual and group bouncers, a scramble area with wooden stumps, and both large and small boat play structures. The ground around the playground is now squishy, safe for running (or falling!) and easy to navigate with a stroller or wheelchair. There are more varieties of swings, including a large-spider swing that can hold multiple people, two double swings that kids and adults can ride together, and two toddler swings. Surrounding the perimeter of the new playground are several picnic tables and a number of custom wood benches made from reclaimed wood – some of which came from the older trees around the playground which had to be removed due to their condition when construction began.
At the front of the playground glimmers the new community garden mosaic sign, created in partnership with the Pittsburgh Glass Center. The sign reads “Highland Park Super Playground” in mirrored letters surrounded by colorful flowers made by community members. If you or a loved one joined us for the mosaic flower-making events earlier this summer, you can find your flower on the online mosaic guide. There, you’ll also find photo albums of the mosaic-making, playground construction and the grand opening, as well as a link to purchase a special commemorative Highland Park flower mosaic kit from Pittsburgh Glass Center to make and keep at home.
Additional changes to the playground are coming this fall. Over 40 new trees will be planted in and around the playground once the weather is more consistently cool. Pittsburgh Glass Center will also be installing a dozen small “hidden mosaics” inspired by ideas submitted by kids and community members last year.
The large tunnel near the playground will continue to be under construction until next summer. Once that is complete, the road around the reservoir will open again to traffic. Over the next few years we also will hopefully be seeing improvement to the paths leading to and from the playground.
The HPCC would like to thank all the community members who provided input for the new playground design, online or during the multiple community design meetings. We’d also especially like to recognize our playground committee members, who spent the last two years working with the City of Pittsburgh to keep the community connected, involved, and informed about the redesign project: Sabrina Culyba, Mac Lynch, Betsy Rogerson and Monica Watt.
If you haven’t had a chance to see the new playground, we encourage you to swing on by!
First a Presbyterian church, then a Baptist church, now an organization designed to use the arts to bridge gaps between communities, the church on the corner of N. Negley and Stanton has a rich history. Some of that history will be shared during an open house event on Sept. 21 celebrating 20 years of the Union Project, the current stewards and occupants of the church, that will include details of future building preservation projects.
Once inhabited by the Adena Tribe, the Hopewell Tribe and the Monongahela People, and later refugees from tribes including the Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois, the corner of Negley and Stanton was later the site of a red brick farmhouse built in 1808 and occupied by Jacob Negley and his wife, Anna Barbara Winebiddle. It was their daughter, Sarah Jane, who married Thomas Mellon, founder of the bank.
The house was gone by 1889 however, and just a few years later the Second United Presbyterian Church was built, completed around 1902, and now housing the Union Project. It was one of only three churches that ultimately served Highland Park and one of only two remaining, the other being St. Andrews on Hampton.
In 1936, Second United Presbyterian changed hands. Its congregation joined that of East Liberty Presbyterian, and East End Baptist Church moved from its location on Shady Ave. into what’s now the Union Project. East End Baptist later changed its name to Union Baptist around 1960 but by 2000 the church no longer had enough participants to support it.
The Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation bought the building in 2002 for $145,000 and leased it to the Union Project until 2006, when the organization took over the lease.
Jeffrey Dorsey, the executive director of the Union Project, finds that history of the building — transitioning from supporting a predominantly white congregation to a predominantly black congregation — fitting given the mission of the Union Project. “The history of the building has been half white and half black,” he said. “And the Union Project got its start with thinking of how to be a place that bridges ethnicities, races and socio economic backgrounds, and to use the arts to build more inclusive communities.”
The story of the stained glass windows and the Union Project’s efforts to restore them is well known locally and farther afield. Through trial and error, including training young people aging out of the foster system and neighbors to repair the windows, the organization figures it saved $1.3 million by leveraging the community to bring the windows back to their current beauty. The Union Project still gets calls from organizations in Pittsburgh and beyond looking for tips on how to affordably restore stained glass windows in historic buildings.
The Union Project’s windows, unique in their predominantly green hue, bring people together in other ways. Dorsey noticed that the building had become a popular spot for same-sex couples to get married and didn’t know why until one couple told him that they wanted to be married in a church but didn’t feel comfortable doing so in one with traditional religious iconography that implied judgement on their marriage. The Union Project windows exude beauty but no judgement.
Admire the windows for yourself, as well as the recently built exterior kiln shelter, during the celebration from 4 – 6 on Sept. 21.