Thursday, August 24, 2006

Slavs of Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh is one of the few places in the country that eclipse New York for Slavic goodness. Nearly every Slavic group is represented, and a Slavic vibe is everywhere. Where else will you find a full radio dial of Slavic programs, and cut-throat competition among Slavic folk dance troupes? Here are just some of the highlights, since a full treatment would require its own webpage:

A good place to start for general information is
Global Pittsburgh, which lists information and resources for various groups in town, among them the Bulgarians and Macedonians, Croats, Poles, Russians, Serbs, Slovaks and Ukrainians. If you’re looking for tours, check out Pittsburgh Neighborhood Tours, and the Visitors’ Bureau Andy Warhol’s Pittsburgh tour, both of which feature local Slavic sites prominently.

Tourists love the
Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning (the tallest educational structure in the world until Krushchev’s 1959 visit, which led him to raise the spire of the main building of Moscow State University to take the title). The Slavic Nationality Rooms are: Czechoslovak (Room 113), Polish (126), Yugoslav (142), Russian (153) and Ukrainian (341). The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center (1212 Smallman Street, Strip District) also has some Slavic artifacts on display.

Of the numerous annual events, the most popular by far is the
Pittsburgh Folk Fest, which regularly sees participation by Bulgarians, Croats, Poles, Rusyns, Serbs, Slovaks and Ukrainians. This past summer (2006) marked its 50th year. And local amusement park Kennywood has Nationality Days each summer, and there are several Slavic ones: Carpatho-Russian Day (since 1930), Serbian Day (1917), Slovak Day (1920), Slovene Day (1995), Polish Day (1931) and Croatian Day (1917). The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures also organizes a number of events throughout the year.

Earlier this year, the
Bulgarian-Macedonian Cultural Center (449 West 8th Avenue, West Homestead) celebrated its 70th anniversary. One of the reasons it’s made it so long is that it’s kept up with the times. The 1980s and 1990s saw declining membership in folk dance troupes and fraternal organizations and a general drop off in Slavic cultural activities. The Bulgarian-Macedonian Cultural Center was the first ethnic organization to really recreate itself as a sexy nightspot for young people and a serious destination for tourists.

Local Carpatho-Rusyns organized into the
Carpatho-Rusyn Society are hoping to have similar success when they open the National Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural and Educational Center in the currently-under-renovation St. John Greek Catholic Cathedral (Dickson Street, Munhall). Meanwhile, their annual event at the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky Street, North Side) has made great strides in making Rusyn ethnicity more interesting to young people both within and outside the community.

In October, local
Ukrainians will also be opening a museum, at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church (Seventh and Carson, South Side). And next year the Slovaks will get their own museum as well.

Croats are also well represented in Pittsburgh, with
The Croatian Fraternal Union (100 Delaney Drive), the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation (East Ohio Street, North Side) and churches and other institutions. Serbs socialize at the American Serbian Club (2524 Sarah Street) and Gypsy Café (1330 Bingham Street, South Side). There is also a Serbian soccer team, the Fudbalski Klub Nikola Tesla. Some of the Polish groups include the Polish Hill Civic Association of Pittsburgh, the Polish Cultural and Political Association of Allegheny County and the Polish Falcons of America-National Headquarters.

Czechs, Slovaks and Rusyns have a particular attachment to Pittsburgh. In 1918, Czech, Slovak and Rusyn leaders signed the Pittsburgh Agreement, heralding the birth of Czechoslovakia when the First World War ended (most of the Rusyn territories were later occupied and then annexed to the Soviet Union after World War II). There’s a memorial in the lobby of the Dominion Tower (625 Liberty Avenue, Downtown), though the agreement was actually signed in the nearby Moose Hall, destroyed in 1984. For something a bit more social, try the local Slovak club, the
John Kollar Slovak Literary and Library Society, a.k.a. the Kollar Club (3226 Jane St, South Side).

Just outside of Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania’s smallest municipality: SNPJ Borough, population 1. Years ago, the Slovene fraternal organization
Slovenska narodna podporna jednota wanted to set up a campground, but the county where the land was situated was dry. The only solution was to secede, and so was born SNPJ Borough. Today, the town is home to a recreational center and the SNPJ Slovenian Heritage Center.

One strange thing is that for all the Slavic places in and around Pittsburgh, there aren’t very many Slavic restaurants (though most of the social clubs do serve food). One notable exception is
Pierogies Plus (342 Island Avenue, McKees Rocks). There are a couple of Russian grocery stores as well, such as Gourmet Market (2733 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill) and Ethnic Foods, Taste of Europe (4374 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill).


tin450 said...

That was a very informative blog. I know Pittsburgh as a place. But my! Your blog has surely revealed great things about this place. Everything is detailed! Did you miss anything?

Bg anon said...

I'm really impressed with the blog. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Another newish Slavic restaurant:
Roxolana's Garden Ukrainian Restaurant - Pittsburgh (North Side)

SlovakAmerican said...

This is such a great site! Please keep up the good work.


cindy said...

Also try Euro Greetings at 2400 Smallman Street in the Strip District. They have great pierogi and other slavic specialties.

Alexandraina said...

:) "..cut-throat competition among Slavic folk dance troupes.." :) You have no idea how right you are, with a Rusyn group, multiple Junior Tamburitzan /mainly Croatian/, Ukrainian groups, and Bulgarian..things can get crazy, but we love it, it's so fun!

Anonymous said...

You couldn't say it any other way about the cut-throat competition. For example the Pittsburgh Slovakians and the PAS Pittsburgh Area Slovaks seem to always be competing! You can also mention that you can major in Slavic Studies at Pitt University now. Also the Serbian Club in the South Side is always packed with young people! You can also find many church services throughout the city held in Slavic tongues. There is the International Village festival in McKeesport's Renzihausen park that has multiple Slavic food boothes. And I think the only reason why there is not a Slavic restaraunt in town is because everybody's baba makes their own food. lol. And if your Slavic you most likely go to a church where the church members get together and make the food themselves!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the University of Pittsburgh is the only University in the nation to have a degree in Slavic studies. Also Slovak is taught at Pitt and the only other place you can study Slovak at a University is the University of Indiana. Probably the main reason why there aren't many Slavic Restaurants is because every Slavic church in Pittsburgh makes their own food and usually sells Pirohi all year. The second reason for not having a Slavic restaurant is that most slavic households make their own Slavic food and would rather make it at home than eat somewhere else. My old high school still serves Halusky at the concession stand during football games :). I just read someones annonymous message and truly they're right since I mostly said what they did. lol! One thing to note. The Gypsy cafe has a live gypsy band every thursday that is definitely worth going to! They are awesome and you can request most any Slavic song and they would know it!

Anonymous said...

If you are from Pittsburgh or of Slavic descent, you need to read a new book that was just released this month. The Devil's Garden: A War Crimes Investigator's Story by John Cencich.

Anonymous said...

Another newish Slavic restaurant and market
Fredo's Deli and Market
1451 Potomac Ave, Pittsburgh
They have cevapi, pita swirl and other specialties.