The last days of Logan Street
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HistoryMemories preserved in photos

The last days of Logan Street

Newly accessible collection revives the famed Jewish business district.

Photograph from the Lower Hill Redevelopment collection showing an Urban Redevelopment Authority surveyor standing outside Haimovitz Poultry Market at 91 Logan St, 1955. (Image courtesy Pittsburgh City Archives, Office of the City Clerk)
Photograph from the Lower Hill Redevelopment collection showing an Urban Redevelopment Authority surveyor standing outside Haimovitz Poultry Market at 91 Logan St, 1955. (Image courtesy Pittsburgh City Archives, Office of the City Clerk)

“‘Do you remember a street called Logan in the Hill District?’ asked Bernard Kaplan, smiling broadly because existence of one of Pittsburgh’s most colorful streets is little remembered. ‘It ran from Fifth Avenue to Bigelow Boulevard and was crammed with butcher shops, fruit stands, small grocery stores, delicatessens, merchants selling from carts — anything you could think of.’ Most of the area is now covered with concrete…”

That’s how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Douglas Smock introduced a 1977 article about the legacy of post-war redevelopment in the lower Hill District and nearby Uptown.

By the late 1970s, all that remained of old Logan Street was a one-block stump jutting off Fifth Avenue — that, and a lot of memories. Shelly Blumenfeld captured her memories of Logan Street in a series of paintings about a decade ago. Her canvasses glow with life — overflowing trucks on the street, crowded sidewalks, faces filling the upper windows.

Her memories date to the late 1930s and early 1940s. I’m looking at a photograph of the same block from the mid-1950s. Cars fill the street, people pace the sidewalks, signs flash from the store windows, people lean out the windows. But everywhere you look, reality intrudes: soot, grime, litter, flaking paint, tattered awnings and somber gray skies.

The photograph comes from a new digital repository launched by the City of Pittsburgh archives.

Included among this storehouse of materials are some 2000 photographs of individual properties throughout the lower Hill District. The Urban Redevelopment Authority created these photographs between 1955 and 1960, as it prepared for widespread demolition of the area and the eventual construction of the Civic Arena.

The lower Hill District was once the beating heart of Jewish life in Pittsburgh. By the late 1950s, the Jewish residential population of the neighborhood was relatively small. It had been around 11,000 in the late 1930s but would fall to less than 500 by early 1960s.

And yet, a Jewish commercial presence remained. You can find many people in the Jewish community today who remember visiting these Hill District businesses as kids.

The Jewish exodus from the Hill District occurred steadily across the 20th century with moments of acceleration along the way. The pending demolition of the lower Hill District was one of the greatest accelerants. And so the newly accessible Urban Redevelopment Authority collection captures the old Jewish business district at a moment of change.

All throughout, there are little clues.

In the photograph of 86 Logan St., the name “Louis Steinberg” proudly appears all over the façade, alongside the Hebrew phrase “Bassar Kasher” (Kosher Meats). But the store is dark, and filling the right-hand window is a hand-painted butcher paper sign announcing that the business had recently “moved to 2121 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill.”

Through the intersection at Clark Street is Haimovitz Poultry at 91 Logan St. It lives inside a squat, one-story brick building beneath a tattered, soot-stained awning. On the sidewalk out front is a tilting, four-tiered metal crate with seven clucking chickens inside.

In advertisements starting in the late 1940s, Haimovitz Poultry was already promoting, “Free delivery anywhere in Pittsburgh.” That “anywhere” meant Squirrel Hill, East End, and Oakland. Free delivery was a way to keep old customers who had left the Hill.

The window of 89 Logan St. reads “Cohen’s Poultry Market,” followed by an impressive taxonomy: Springers, Capats, Fat-Hens, Fryers, Young Roosters and Hens, Fresh Eggs.

Isadore “Iz” Cohen of Penn Avenue took over the shop in the early 1940s. After returning from the service in the mid-1940s, he purchased the Plotkin Poultry Market at 2128 Murray Ave. In the early 1960s, he took over Polonsky’s Delicatessen at the corner of Murray and Douglas. The building later became famous as Rhoda’s Delicatessen.

Advertisement announcing opening of the Rubin’s Food Products’ new location on Penn Avenue, prompted by the redevelopment of the lower Hill District, Sept. 21, 1956. (Image courtesy Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project)
At 87 Logan St. was the three-story Block Building, built in 1914. By the time the URA photographed the building in 1955, it appears vacant. Just a year earlier, it had been home to Rubin’s Food Products. Rubin’s had been around some 50 years but “succumbed to the march of progress,” as the company explained in a notice. It moved to 1904 Penn Ave.

In the block past Hazel is a large building with several storefronts. The whole building had once been the Caplan Baking Company, which sent 1 million pounds of matzah across Appalachia each spring, in addition to breads and pastries throughout the year.

By the mid-1950s, 73-77 Logan St. belonged to Penn Kosher Food Products Co. Akiba Zilberberg started the meat supplier in East Liberty in 1948 under rabbinic supervision of his father, Rabbi Abraham B. Zilberberg. He relocated to Logan Street around 1950.

The Logan Street building was the “plant” where meat was prepared. The retail market catering to the public was at 2244 Murray Ave., across from Shaare Torah. In the early 1950s, Zilberberg tried to bridge the geographic divide by offering tours of the Logan Street facility. “You can see first hand how your poultry is prepared for market in the most sanitary plant in operation,” the company announced. All you had to do was ask.

This is just a survey of a few properties along Logan Street. The new collection allows for a near-comprehensive review of the impact of redevelopment on Jewish businesses.

But old Logan Street was not entirely Jewish, of course. By the early 1950s, the lower Hill District was a predominately Black neighborhood. Throughout the collection are images Black-owned businesses like the famous Rosebud Beauty Salon at 45 Logan St., as well as glimpses into some upstairs apartments, mostly occupied by Black families.

In the opening scene of Denzel Washington’s adaptation of “Fences,” Troy and Jim collect garbage through the lower Hill District against the backdrop of these pending demolitions. They stop briefly in front of the Rosebud, and then the camera rises to reveal an incredible recreation of the old neighborhood: the Pittsburgh Courier, the Granville Hotel, the Nesbit Pie Shop, the busy streets, the crowded sidewalks — all of it gone. It’s a reminder of the varying trajectories out of the lower Hill. Not everyone had a Murray Avenue. PJC

Eric Lidji is the director of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center and can be reached at rjarchives@heinzhistorycenter.org or 412-454-6406.

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