In Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh’s creative community has found its home—and your shopping excursion here gives you a chance to take a piece of that artistic spirit back home with you. Once known as a neighborhood where immigrant laborers churned out iron and steel, today’s Lawrenceville offers everything you need to outfit your home in style. Featuring an eclectic mix of art galleries, furniture shops, and specialty boutiques known as the 16:62 Design Zone, Lawrenceville is a destination for all things arts and interior design.
Whether you fancy pottery or painting, art glass or ornamental ironwork, jewelry or sculpture, Victorian antiques or mid-century modern furniture—you’ll find it here, housed within turn-of-the century storefronts with freshly painted facades. A lot of the wares for sale in Lawrenceville have been handcrafted by local artists, giving you the opportunity to pick up artful souvenirs that are uniquely Pittsburgh.
Once the site of a Lenape (Delaware) tribe village, Lawrenceville’s earliest identity was as Shannopin’s Town. Like many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, George Washington visited here, in the company of fellow surveyor Christopher Gist. They were intending to traverse the Allegheny River on a raft, although ice jams are said to have prevented their crossing.
The father of modern-day Lawrenceville was William Barclay Foster—who, as a matter of fact, was also the father of American composer Stephen Foster of “Oh, Susannah” fame. William B. Foster began plotting out this new community in 1814. At the same time, he sold land to the U.S. government for the construction of an arsenal, or munitions factory, to supply the Union Army during the Civil War. At the peak of its operation, the Arsenal employed 1,200 workers. But tragedy accompanied the industry boom: in 1862 an explosion rocked the arsenal, killing approximately 80 employees, including many young girls. Take a stroll through Allegheny Cemetery, and you’ll find a monument honoring their sacrifice, as well as the Foster family burial site.
From the mid-1800s through the 1950s, Lawrenceville experienced industrial growth, with mills and foundries popping up along the banks of the Allegheny River just as they did in the adjacent Strip District. As industry grew, the neighborhood welcomed workers from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Croatia, and Serbia in search of jobs and a brighter future for their families. Today’s business owners and residents take great pride in preserving the legacy of their predecessors’ labors: in both the Butler Street business district and the residential areas filling the neighborhood’s slopes and riverfront flatlands, you’ll find storefronts and rowhouses that are lovingly restored to their Victorian-era glory, as well as churches that serve descendents of Lawrenceville’s original residents.
Keeping It Real
Lawrenceville has adopted the arts—but this community hasn’t taken on a high-falutin’ attitude. Amidst the chic shops, you’ll find friendly neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops that draw both young hipsters and the senior set. And the arts have become a way for old and new generations to celebrate their shared affection for the neighborhood. The Lawrenceville LifeLinks sculpture, which graces buildings on Butler Street, features icons that represent community values in a “charm bracelet” concept, and murals on Butler Street and Penn Avenue demonstrate neighborhood pride.
But the greatest example is Art All Night. Organized by residents, this free, annual 24-hour arts festival is an invitation for anyone—and they mean anyone—to share their creativity. The concept is simple: anyone can bring one piece of art to display. A crew of community volunteers assembles the collection into a massive exhibit, and the public is invited back to see the results: one of the biggest and broadest art exhibits in the region—and a reminder that art is for all.