Reporting Ken Rice
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — What if we weren’t one great City of Pittsburgh, but two great cities? “Pittsburgh” south of the Allegheny River and “Allegheny City” on the North Side.
North Sider Dan Rooney says it could, and maybe should have stayed that way.
Joining a wave of Irish immigrants, the Rooney family settled not in Pittsburgh but in Allegheny City – what we now know as Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Now, three generations later, the boy who grew up to become U.S. ambassador to his family’s homeland has written the history of the area where he was born and raised and lives today.
“The North Side is special, a special place,” said Rooney.
Ambassador Dan Rooney’s affection for the North Side is contagious. To take a walk down Beech Street with him is to see it through his eyes – the grandeur of the homes that date to the 1830s. When he says the Allegheny West neighborhood was home to more millionaires than anywhere else.
“Not only in Pittsburgh, not only in the U.S., but the world,” said Rooney.
Allegheny City in the late 19th century was thriving, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania.
Its neighbor across the river noticed. Eager to keep pace with other rapidly growing cities, Pittsburgh moved to annex Allegheny City and the two towns voted on it.
“You had Pittsburgh voting eight to two in favor of the merger, you had Allegheny City nine to one against,” he said.
But, Pittsburgh had more people – and when they pooled the votes – the merger won. In 1907, Allegheny City ceased to exist.
“I would have voted against it,” Rooney said. “But we have to say this – we’re now Pittsburghers.”
Technically, yes, but signs of stubborn Allegheny City pride remain.
Today, Rooney’s least favorite parts of the North Side would be some of the newer parts, like Allegheny Center, a failed attempt at a shopping mall that wiped out the heart of old Allegheny.
His favorite parts are the old parts, like Allegheny West and the Mexican War Streets – an area once so rundown it was about ready for demolition, only to be saved and beautifully restored.
And the park – Pittsburgh’s oldest – Allegheny Commons.
Maybe its enduring charm can be a bridge between the prosperous days of Allegheny City and a new era of prosperity for Pittsburgh’s North Side.
“The North Side is so convenient, to get to the city, just cross the bridge. We have a subway now that we can do it. You can walk; Patricia and I walk over there many times,” said Rooney. “Could be a tremendous place to live.”