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).