Essential Pittsburgh

An ongoing series about how Pittsburgh lives—and how it's evolving.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Eric Luster grew up in a three-bedroom 1920s-era home on a quiet dead end street in Homewood. It was a self-described good childhood, but he thought he would have a better future in Atlanta, Ga., so he moved out of town to raise his five children.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

A few decades ago, Terri Baltimore tagged along with a group of architecture students and their professor while they were visiting the Hill District. “And what they said about this neighborhood broke my heart,” she said. “That it was dirty.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Theresa Cygrymus looked around the hall at Prince of Peace Parish, a Catholic Church on Pittsburgh’s South Side, and shook her head. “It’s already nine o’clock, usually we have stuff cooking already," she said. Cygrymus knows the drill. At 78, she’s been volunteering for the church all her life. On a Saturday in late October, Cygrymus and a church group called The Christian Mothers were preparing to churn out hundreds of dozens of pierogis to sell. All the money they make supports the church...

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh is home to many sports firsts: the Pittsburgh Pirates participated in the first Major League World Series, the city was the first to have a retractable dome stadium and the Steelers were the first to win six Super Bowls.

90.5 WESA

Earlier this month, we spoke to a handful of families from across the Pittsburgh region about the upcoming election. We checked in with them after the third and final presidential debate to hear what they were thinking as we move toward Nov. 8.

Patrick Doyle / 90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh group named A Few Bad Apples has three missions. The first is to teach people the lost skills of making use of homegrown fruit.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Along the Allegheny River in an unassuming former car garage sits the 112-year-old Natrona Bottling Company . Established in 1904, the business has distributed thousands of glass bottles with their signature Red Ribbon Cherry Supreme, spicy ginger beer and mint julep.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

To the left of her fridge, Zinna Scott can peer out her kitchen window on Rosewood Avenue in Homewood and see the two open, grassy lots where her neighbors once lived. It’s where she wants to build her dream house.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The Rutherfords are a family not easily pigeonholed. They live in a modest home in Bethel Park. Dad, Kurt, 46, works in the Medicaid division at UPMC. Mom, Leslie, 44, stays home to take care of the house and manage their three kids’ busy schedules.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Donna and Steve Dzurilla live in a single-story home on a quiet street in Lincoln Place. They’re just barely in the city limits, surrounded by neighboring West Mifflin. The walls of their home are lined with photos of places not far from their house, places that mean a lot to their families: the steel mills. Three black and white prints capture the furnace and a few of Homestead Works. A blue filling cabinet in the dining room came from an office at that facility where Steve’s dad worked for...

Megan Harris / WESA

In the fields and forests of Pennsylvania’s Elk County, love triangles, unrequited advances and fevered courtships have a unique soundtrack.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Sara Middleton and Catlyn Brooke both teach cross fit at the Allegheny YMCA on the North Side. They renovated the upstairs studio themselves. Middleton built the barbell racks, as well as a huge structure for pull up rings and high bars. “I fell in love with it and I got certified to teach,” Brooke said. Middleton is the Program Director of Healthy Living at the YMCA and leads a team of personal trainers. Brooke is the full-time aquatics director for the Y downtown. The two are in their mid...

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Jasmine Cook stood in front of her house in the North Side neighborhood of California-Kirkbride. She held her 7-month-old daughter, flanked by her other two children. Her 7-year-old daughter was a self-proclaimed singer-gymnast and her 4-year-old son was a superhero with laser eyes, graciously contained by a pair of plastic red sunglasses. Running around the side yard was a miniature Batman, the boy who lives next door. “All kids around here, nothing else, just all kids,” she said. “Everybody...

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Sitting in their living room in McCandless, Bob and Dena Masterino struggled to answer what is usually a fairly easy question: who are you voting for?

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Amongst some pretty worn-down storefronts in Sharpsburg, seven miles from downtown Pittsburgh, Memories Sportsman and Taxidermy Shop has operated since 1990. In the musty, cluttered space, owner Sam Stelitano, 65, sells new firearms and collectable ones, like original Smith and Wesson’s and Civil War muskets. But look above the rifle-lined counters, and you see his real passion.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

An empty, three-acre parking lot lies at the corner of Station Street and Euclid Avenue. You can’t actually park there. Weeds grow in the cracked cement between lines of faded paint.

Niven Sabherwal / 90.5 WESA

Hobo doesn’t look like your typical bodyguard. With soft brown eyes and a dark chocolate coat, the miniature donkey is quiet, calm and blends in with the herd he protects. That is, until something threatening approaches. “He’s never actually had to chase off a coyote or anything,” said Doug Placais. “But if a dog or anything comes up to the fence, he’s always ready to protect them. He stands alert.” Placais is the co-founder of the Steel City Grazers , for which Hobo is the livestock guardian...

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Seven or eight years ago, Stephen Shelton started worrying about the future. It wasn’t just his own Pittsburgh-based construction company, but his entire industry.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

First in an occasional series exploring Essential Pittsburgh. Jacqueline Wardle was working as the executive chef at Isabela on Grandview, a Mt. Washington restaurant, when she received a beguiling email: Instead of working for someone else, did she want to own her own restaurant?