Pittsburgh Promise Inspires Yard Sale Donation

By Diane Averill

You can find almost anything at the Highland Park Yard Sale — including civic mindedness and a glimpse of real promise. That’s what folks found last September, among the artwork, toys, books and clothing on offer at the Key family home on Jackson Street. This particular sale took in $714, all of which was donated to Pittsburgh Promise in the name of Amber Key, a 2012 graduate of Pittsburgh CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) and a Promise scholarship recipient. 

Amber Key

Having run track for both Westinghouse and Obama high schools, Amber accepted a track and cross-country scholarship at West Chester University, only to find her energies ignited while working in the university’s communications media projects. She gave up the track scholarship in order to devote more time to her true calling and was able to follow her dream thanks to her Promise scholarship.  

“The Promise gave me options,” Amber said in a recent conversation. ”I’m so grateful to have  graduated without debt.” As the eldest of three children in the family, she was grateful, as well,  that her scholarship allowed some financial breathing room for the education of her younger siblings. 

With her BA in communications studies, Amber entered the workforce selling TV ads and since then has become a producer at WUSA9, a CBS-affiliated TV station in Washington, D. C., where she currently resides.  

When Amber’s parents decided to participate in the COVID-belated Highland Park Yard Sale, she saw it as a multi-pronged opportunity and decided that she would come home to launch her new business, Jackson Street Media, from its eponymous location while using the sale as a platform for giving back to Pittsburgh Promise. On her Facebook page, she encouraged other Promise alumni to visit the yard sale and buy a Jackson Street Media t-shirt or simply make a donation in support of future Promise recipients. 

“A lot of people gave donations without buying anything,” said Marion Key, Amber’s mother.  She estimated that the bulk of the sale proceeds came from donations and t-shirt sales. 

“Amber has a very philanthropic spirit,” Marion said, adding that during the previous summer, her daughter had spearheaded a drive to collect cosmetics and personal hygiene products for distribution to D.C.’s homeless population. It’s a spirit that Amber comes by quite honestly; Marion Key is development director for FAME, Fund for Advancement of Minorities Through Education. 

With a day job as a TV producer and a new side business in website development and marketing plans, Amber Key might seem to be a very busy young woman. But wait. On May 7, she will receive a Master’s degree in Journalism and Digital Storytelling from American University. 

Did somebody say, “promise?”

Houses, History, N’at: The Negleys and other notable names of Highland Park

Houses, History, N’at is an occasional series of articles on the topics of, well, houses, history and related subjects. In this article, we’ll continue to draw from the application that resulted in Highland Park’s designation as a Residential Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. The application was meticulously researched and developed by the late Mike Eversmeyer, a Highland Park resident and architect who worked in both government as the city’s historic preservation planner as well as in private practice. See our first article based on the application which includes an overview of the styles of houses in the neighborhood.

The first 100 years of European settlement in Highland Park had relatively little development of buildings and roads in the neighborhood but the families who put down roots at the time have made a lasting impact, including in the street names we’re all familiar with as well as in some of the most well-known houses in the area. In this post, we’ll describe the history of Highland Park starting with the first European settlers in the 1770s through the 1880s.

The initial wave of home building in the Highland Park neighborhood stretched from around 1860 – 1880, but Alexander Negley became the first permanent European settler 100 years earlier when he purchased 278-acres of land north of Bryant St. His son Jacob married Barbara Winebiddle, the daughter of local landowners, and purchased a 443-acre farm called Heth’s Delight adjacent to his father’s. Jacob and Barbara built a brick house in 1808 at what is now the corner of Stanton and Negley Ave. and Jacob ultimately owned all of the land he bought as well as his father’s property, becoming a prominent resident and building a grist mill, starting a bank and helping to found the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. His daughter Sara married Thomas Mellon, the patriarch of the banking family.

When Jacob died, Barbara divided the land among her children, a move that formed the division between East Liberty and Highland Park. Around this time, a county surveyor, Robert Hilands, laid out the first streets of Highland Park, including Negley Ave. and what was initially called Hiland Ave. but later changed to Highland Ave. in 1890.

Monument to the Negleys in Highland Park.
The plaque on the monument.

The Negleys left their mark in Highland Park and beyond. In addition to being the namesake of Negley Ave., a monument in Highland Park, to the northwest of the super playground, pays tribute to members of the Negley family and other early European settlers who were buried at the site. Other members of the Negley family are buried in a section of nearby Allegheny Cemetery.

Sallie Negley, born in 1852 and died in 1874, was buried alongside other members of the Negley family in Allegheny Cemetery.

Plus, the farmhouse to the southeast of the reservoir that is now a parks building was once a Negley family home. (Just outside of the Highland Park neighborhood in Friendship, a Negley family home recently sold. The listing on Zillow says it was built in 1903 and the photos show that it has been beautifully maintained over the years.)

The year 1872 was a notable one in Highland Park, with the extension of horse-drawn streetcar service from Pittsburgh to East Liberty and the beginning of construction of the reservoir in the park by the city Water Commission. The land purchased for the reservoir later provided the germ of the Highland Park landscape park that was founded in 1889.

During the 1870s and 1880s, large country houses and clusters of smaller suburban dwellings popped up in the neighborhood. The largest houses on substantial lots were scattered along Highland, Stanton and Negley Avenues. While the area feels close to downtown today, at the time it represented an escape to the country by the wealthy away from the crowding and pollution of the city center.

This house is much more modest but built in the same Second Empire style as the King Estate.

The grandest and surely most famous house built during this period is commonly called the King Estate. William Negley originally built a house on the site in 1869 but it was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1880 by Alexander King, a glass manufacturer. The house has been meticulously restored by its current owners and is on the market for a mere $3m. It was featured recently by the New York Times, with additional photos included in the listing on Zillow. The King Estate is built in the Second Empire style and there are just a few others of the same style in the area.

The Italianate style was also popular during this period of home building and there are a few that retain their original appearance.

An Italianate style house in the neighborhood

Stay tuned for our next installment, which will highlight additional development in the 1880s as well as the 1890s.  

This blog post was written by Nancy Gohring, HPCC newsletter editor, and David Hance, president of the Highland Park Community Development Corp.

Submit Your Photos to the #LastSlide Project

As many of you know, our beloved Highland Park Super Playground will go through a lot of changes very soon. The all-wooden playground that was built by the community three decades ago has sadly reached the end of its life. The city, along with the Highland Park Community Council, the HPCC Playground Committee and other active members of the community, have spent the last year gathering ideas and creating what has been dubbed Super Playground 2.0. See the final design plans here.

While the new brings with it a great deal of excitement, it also strikes a bittersweet chord with the many Highland Parkers who were involved in its construction and/or have fond memories of playing at the Super Playground over the years. Out of respect for all of the playground lovers out there, the HPCC thought it would be a fun idea to not only celebrate the new, but also commemorate the past prior to the deconstruction of the current playground.

A rendering of the new Super Playground

To accomplish this, we have created the #LastSlide project to collect pictures, both past and present, of the Super Playground and the fond memories that accompany them. If you would like to participate, please send your pictures to hpccspecialprojects@gmail.com and once compiled, we will include them in our monthly newsletter.

While many of us are sad to say goodbye to the Super Playground, we could not be more excited about the new design. While we don’t have an exact date yet for the closing of the current playground, it will be coming up soon. We invite you to enjoy one more visit to the current playground we look forward to seeing all the memories that make up the #LastSlide project.

Keep an eye out in the HPCC Newsletter and neighborhood ListServ for more announcements about the official playground closing dates well as planned community events leading up to the Grand Opening of the new Super Playground 2.0 this summer!

Meet your neighbor: Imad Brookins brings artisan wares from around the world to Penn Ave.

One January morning in Cairo, Highland Parker Imad Brookins woke up to find the Internet and phone had been cut. He didn’t know it yet but it was early days of the pro-democracy protests rolling across Northern Africa and the Middle East that later would become known as the Arab Spring. Imad had moved to Cairo eight months earlier to study Arabic.

With only government propaganda on TV and no way to communicate with friends or family, Imad set out from his apartment to buy water and phone cards, even though he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find a working phone. He and a group of others converged at a friend’s house; one of them had a satellite phone that he shared despite the steep expense so that his friends could call relatives abroad.

Imad Brookins, behind the counter at Jamil’s

Imad’s Cairo experience was the start of eleven years away from Highland Park, where he grew up with seven siblings and his parents, the founders of Penn Ave. institution Jamil’s. His mother Rashida recently returned to Highland Park after a few years on the North Shore and Imad and some of his siblings help run the store.

After the Egyptian government first cut the phone and Internet, Imad spent about another month in Cairo trying to get out. Once, he managed to make it to the airport and found U.S. Marines and embassy representatives in the midst of the chaos offering to put U.S. citizens on planes – but they couldn’t say exactly to where. Imad held out. Ultimately a friend from Puerto Rico who was living in Indonesia was able remotely to buy him a same day ticket to Jakarta. After a scramble to pack what he could – Imad traded his TV and other belongings to friends for their suitcases so he could pack up his books – he made it out. He ended up having to leave behind products that he was selling in the local market as well as some unique tools used to make beads.

Fabrics in the shop

Just like in Cairo, in Indonesia Imad sourced goods to be sold in Jamil’s and also sourced and sold silver jewelry and batiks. Imad moved back to Pittsburgh in the early days of the pandemic. While picking up and starting over, first in Cairo and then in Indonesia, sounds impossible for many people, Imad’s childhood and parents perhaps made the thought of packing up for a faraway land within the realm of possible.

Imad’s late father, for whom the Penn Ave. shop is named, started out in construction but got into vending, initially at flea markets and other national events. He then joined other vendors lining Penn Ave., selling goods outside year around. One day a store front became available and Jamil and Rashida decided to risk it. “I remember my folks taking the table and running across Penn Ave. and put it in there, where it stayed for a while,” Imad said. That was 1994.

Jamil and Rashida traveled extensively. “Most of their travel was by invitation,” Imad said. “People saying, ‘I want you to meet my family in Morocco or Namibia or London.’” Once there, they would spend time in the marketplaces, haggling for the non-tourist price for goods that they could sell from the shop.

Today, Jamil’s website describes the store as “a community and marketplace that offers artisan wares, and books that celebrate black culture and history.” In addition to books, incense and jewelry, Jamil’s sells body care products including Jamil’s-branded shea butter and black seed oil that Imad makes in Rashida’s kitchen. Jamil’s also sells goods made by Imad’s sister Baiyinah who is a seamstress with an online store called The Woven Kente.

Imad, with some of the products available at Jamil’s, including Jamil’s branded shea butter

Visitors to Jamil’s receive a warm welcome and fascinating insight into the origins and history of some products. The shop counter is a jumble of squeeze bottles containing various scents, a combination of which may be similar to those used by Cleopatra, who is said to have used perfumes to attract men, Imad said. According to the label, Jamil’s African Black Body Soap Body Wash is a type of soap that has been used for centuries in west Africa and is made via an elaborate process that starts with drying plantain peels, coco pods, palm tree leaves and camwood bark and then roasting them. The remaining ash is mixed with shea butter and other oils and then cooked for up to 24 hours.

Entrepreneurship clearly is strong in Imad’s family. In Jakarta, Imad started a youth development program with his wife and business partner Widia Ratnasari. He’s currently at work on a couple of projects, including one that would offer live virtual shopping in marketplaces around the world and another that would set up a space for Pittsburgh artists to create and gain skills for marketing their art. You can find Imad working on Fridays and Saturday in Jamil’s.

Chairs fit for a king and queen at Jamil’s (all photos by James Rooney)

Art in the Parks designers want to hear from you

The deadline for providing feedback to the group that is creating Highland Park’s Art in the Parks installations has been extended and you now have until next Friday to weigh in.

One of the designs proposed for the park

The Urban Conga was selected by the City of Pittsburgh as one of the artist groups for the Art in Parks program to develop a piece of public art in Highland Park. The Urban Conga would like your feedback on three designs for a new art installation in Highland Park. Each design is unique and located in a different part of the park. Please provide your feedback by Feb. 4. 

The information you provide will remain anonymous and will be used to help The Urban Conga develop a final concept to make sure it is something the community will utilize and be proud of within Highland Park. They do not want you to choose your favorite, but instead, let them know what you like or would like to see more of in each concept.