The West End is sometimes called the West End Valley and sometimes the West End Village, but the names are interchangeable because the neighborhood wouldn’t feel like a village if it weren’t a valley. Following the bend in Wabash Street, Elliott and Duquesne Heights form steep walls of greenery no more than a quarter mile apart at their widest points. That coziness among its neighbors — the West End is also the name of the entire section of the city and the banners on Main Street read “WE” — is contrasted by the openness of the neighborhood itself. Because of demolitions decades ago, some houses don’t have next-door neighbors. It is the complete opposite of the rest of the city; in most of Pittsburgh you walk through cramped blocks built onto hillsides only to stumble upon surprising views, but in the West End you stroll down open blocks — many lined with art galleries and neighborhood eateries and parks — completely walled in by nature.
The West End is full of murals, many featuring Pittsburgh. The north-facing wall of the police station on South Main shows a diverse group of police officers and a German shepherd posing before a vista of the Point. A building behind the West End branch of the Carnegie Library showcases the “West End Wall of Cultural Pride Mural” from the summer of 1993, including the flags of various nations waving from the arch of the West End Bridge. The side of a storefront on Wabash, across from a basketball court where a group of guys played a trash-talk heavy pick-up game, shows a child reading a book.
Wabash leads to Woodville and the industrial end of the neighborhood, where an old Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad trestle runs over Johnny’s Diner (“Now Open Seven Days a Week”) and a pedestrian walkway crosses a foul smelling creek. The roads on the other side lead to Minnotte Square, where Minnotte Corp. still manufactures giant impressive objects that other manufacturing companies use to manufacture objects. One of the buildings features the homeboy fire hydrant graffiti tag so common in the East End.
On the way back to the main drag, we followed a staircase leading all the way up to Kerr Street in the back end of Elliott. From the high point on the staircase, before it disappeared into the trees, we could see Allegheny General Hospital and a sliver of Heinz Field across the Ohio River. We followed Kerr to a trail that zigzagged in switchbacks along a narrow ridge overlooking Noblestown Road and stumbled into West End Park.
The park includes a World War I monument so old it refers simply to “The World War,” no “I.” It honors the members of the “16th Military Zone,” and aside from a brief mention on this photograph from the 1923 Armistice Day Parade when the monument was dedicated, I know nothing about the 16th Military Zone (but would appreciate anything anyone out there knows about it). The monument is by Frank Vittor, the prolific sculptor responsible for the eagle-topped columns at the downtown entrance to the Boulevard of the Allies; the oft-vandalized Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park; and a controversial nude statue of Miss America 1935 Henrietta Leaver, among many, many other local statues, busts, memorials, columns, coins and reliefs. At the bottom of the park we found our final mural of the day, a mosaic of the golden triangle and the West End, including a miniature West End Park and a miniature mosaic, and so on and so on.