Book Reviews: Winter 2016-17

Abandoned Pittsburgh 1: Portraits of the Steel City’s Forgotten Past, Chuck BeardAbandoned Pittsburgh 1: Portraits of the Steel City’s Forgotten Past
By Chuck Beard
Beowulf’s Books, 2013/Second edition 2015
Color and B&W photographs
Paperback, $30

“Abandoned Pittsburgh 1” is part of a three-book series that allows readers to explore the remnants of some select abandoned places without all the danger of trespassing. In this volume, Chuck Beard explores the Duquesne Steel Works, St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, LaSalle Electric Supply Co., and the Carrie Furnace & its Hot-Metal Bridge. Each location has a short introduction along with a bit of historical context. There is also a breezy foreword by Rick Sebak on the surprising amount of buildings from our industrial past that continue to intrigue us as a part of the urban landscape.

In this ongoing documentation project, Beard wants to know what happened at these sites by capturing photos of what was left behind and comes up with a sort-of industrial archaeological record. Several photos are comprised of graffiti or broken windows and one can almost feel the cold wind rushing through the empty floors of the Duquesne Steel Works. The metallic corrosion and palpable dust also add a gritty texture to each subject. It is particularly heartbreaking to examine the black and white photos of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church that once stood along Rt. 28 and was razed for the completion of the road project not long after Beard’s photos were taken. This series is rather somber and seeing the photos in black and white foreshadows the church’s entry onto the list of Pittsburgh’s lamented demolished buildings. Pittsburghers have a reverence for their past and Beard succeeds here by capturing not only the sight but the sensation of what is left inside their now silent walls. Some may want to remember these places as vibrant workplaces and worship sites but there is still some beauty in their stillness.

Note: There is a second edition of this book that was released in 2015 with an alternate cover, new format, and new unpublished photos.

Reviewed by Liz Simpson, Assistant Editor/Assistant Registrar, Heinz History Center

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