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PGH: Pittsburgh’s Pimps, Gangsters, Hustlers

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The Short Story of the Pittsburgh Ghetto

A large city in the western part of Pennsylvania, nicknamed the Steel City and known for the prominent sports team that all fly the Black and Yellow, a song made famous by local Hip Hop artists Wiz Khalifa, but this article will shed light on the communities of the Pittsburgh ghetto of the East Side, West Side, South Side and North Side.

A true history lesson of the black communities of Pittsburgh, like the historic and once thriving Hill District, and a history lesson of the streets of Pittsburgh as the city was one of the first East Coast cities to truly adopt a gang culture, whether it was homegrown gangs or the embracing of national gangs.

While the days of gangbangin’ in Pittsburgh are of the past, the city’s street life consisted of numerous gangs throughout the city like the Bloods, Crips, West Side Convicts, and the LAW gang, all who were created in the ‘hoods of Pittsburgh urban areas, areas that have changed drastically from previous generations.

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The East Side Pittsburgh Ghetto Story

Pittsburgh’s largest side, the East Side, is the heart of the Pittsburgh ghetto as the area expands from the once historic Hill District to the unofficially East Side neighborhood of Wilkinsburg,  while having numerous ‘hoods and urban communities in between.

During the era of Pittsburgh’s gangbangin’ days Bloods, Crips, and the once infamous LAW gang (Larimer Avenue Wilkinsburg) ran the East Side by creating some of Pennsylvania’s most active communities, due to the likes of the old Alley Mob, Formosa Way, or the old East Liberty projects that were often referred as the Crack Stacks.

pittsburgh east side pittsburgh ghetto pittsburgh gangs pittsburgh hill district

The old Bentley Drive of Addison Terrace in the Hill District

The once heart of the streets of the Pittsburgh East Side was the community’s old public housing projects, from the Hill District’s Allequippa Terrace and Addison Terrace to Garfield Heights to the Pennly Park Apartments, also known as the East Liberty Towers.

Outside of the housing projects, the reputation within the Pittsburgh ghetto of the East Side included the community of Homewood, which is broken down into Downtown and Uptown, a once rival to Homewood, Lincoln Avenue, a former Crip neighborhood that is located in the Lincoln Lemington Belmar community with subsets or ‘hoods like 2-4-7 or the Afghan Projects of Lemington Heights.

pittsburgh gangs pittsburgh hoods

Lincoln Avenue gang graffiti

As stated above, one of the most respected gangs of Pittsburgh was the LAW Gang.  The true link between Larimer Avenue and Wilkinsburg, which is home to areas like Trillside and City Bound, is unknown but the two neighborhoods created such a reputation that federal agents had to help facilitate the arrests of many of their members. 

Other communities include, the Garfield neighborhood, the former home of the Alley Mob and the Garfield Heights projects, but now the community is only defined around Aiken Avenue.  An ally of Garfield, due to their Blood affiliations, is the once notorious East Hills, a former housing complex that was rebuilt during the mid-2000s after creating a reputation that dated back to the 1970s.

History of Pittsburgh East Side

The true beginning of Pittsburgh black culture and African American community resides in the city’s once historic neighborhood of the Hill District.  Often referred as the “Harlem of Pittsburgh”, the heart of the city’s African American population was truly with the Hill District, especially during the early and mid-1900s.

pittsburgh hill district

A mural that depicts and shows the history of the Pittsburgh Hill District neighborhood

From live entertainment with Jazz and some of world’s most famous black musicians attending the clubs of the community to the numerous of black owned businesses, the Hill District was once thriving community that became one of the city’s most successful communities.

After the city built the Civic Arena in the lower Hill District, during the days of urban renewal, many businesses were destroyed and many residents were forced to relocate into different parts of the city, like Homewood and other neighboring East Side communities, the North Side, and into the city’s public housing projects that were scattered throughout Pittsburgh.

pittsburgh hill district

A mural painted on a vacant row house in the Hill District that visualizes Jazz and the community’s once entertainment district

Gentrification and Today’s East Side Pittsburgh

Today the East Side of Pittsburgh is heavily changing as the city’s black population, in the neighborhoods within the city limits, are moving further east into communities outside of the city, like Penn Hills or the many urban communities of the Mon Valley district.

While in the Hill District, most of the community’s housing projects have been mostly demolished and/or rebuilt, while blocks from Bedford to Wylie have been either left for vacant or slowly in the process of being gentrified.

pittsburgh ghetto

Around the East Liberty neighborhood, which have been part of the city’s black community for generations, are experiencing gentrification along Penn Avenue and other nearby shopping districts that will eventually work its way into the heart of the urban neighborhoods of Garfield and Larimer neighborhood.

The future of the East Side Pittsburgh urban communities and neighborhoods seemed to be destined for gentrification as residents who fled from the inner city during the 1960s and 1970s are anticipating their move back into the urban areas of the East Side, due to its close location to some of Pittsburgh most popular attractions.

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South Side Pittsburgh

Though a large section of the city of Pittsburgh, the urban areas of the South Side were once strictly, the Beltzhoover neighborhood and the St. Clair Village public housing complex.

With the South Side being known for the South Side Flats and Carson Street entertainment districts with bars and restaurants, the other side of the South Side has its own reputation.

A reputation includes the days of the Crips controlling much of the areas around Warrington Avenue or Brownsville Road to the days of the deadly conflict of Z Hoove, a short abbrevation for Beltzhoover, against the Darccide, the alias for the St. Clair Village housing projects.

pittsburgh beltzhoover pittsburgh ghetto

Before gangs and the introduction of drugs, the South Side was home to one of Pittsburgh’s oldest black community’s, Beltzhoover, as the area dates back to the early 1900s.

The black population of the South Side further expanded as many were relocated from the historic black community of the Hill District, after urban renewal, and were forced to move into the housing projects of St. Clair Village and Arlington Heights.

The urban communtiy of the South Side became officially located in two areas, the old neighborhood of Beltzhoover, off of Warrington Avenue, and the main two public housing complexes of the area.

south side pittsburgh beltzhoover
With the troubles and reputation of the housing projects that were developed over the year became the demolishing of two large communities, Arlington Heights and St. Clair Village, which led to the relocation into Knoxville and surrounding areas.

Currently, the South Side is a diverse working class community with multiple racial groups, all mostly residing around Brownsville Road with the urban community slowing expanding into other areas.

Pittsburgh’s West Side Convicts

Pittsburgh’s West Side is the only side of the city that never had any Blood or Crip affiliation within the streets of the Pittsburgh ghetto as the homegrown West Side Convicts claimed the majority of the urban communities of the Pittsburgh ghetto.

At one point, the two biggest neighborhoods of the West Side was Fairywood’s Broadhead Manor and Westgate Village, while also being two of the most reputable neighborhoods in Pittsburgh’s history.

fairywood pittsburgh westside

The old Broadhead Manor housing complex of Fairywood Pittsburgh

When the city decided to remove the housing projects by closing, and eventually demolishing, Broadhead Manor and selling Westgate Village to a private investor that would later cause the eviction of residents, the community of West Side changed.

First, the population of Fairywood largely decreased and secondly, the residents of the two former housing projects relocated into other West Side communities, like Sheraden, Greenway or McKees Rocks.

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The WAR Side: Story of  the North Side Pittsburgh Ghetto

Just a mile north of Heinz Field and PNC Park resides the heart of the Pittsburgh streets, the North Side, which developed such a reputation years ago that many gave this side of Pittsburgh the alias of the War Side.

The North Side’s reputation of the 1990s with the friction between neighborhoods led to this section of the city to be labeled as the “War Side”, a side of Crips, Gz, and multiple well reputable hoods like Hoodtown or the Rhine Street of Spring Hill home to the Three Rivers Apartments.

Before the rise of street activity, the black community of the North Side expanded specially after urban renewal with the construction of the Civic Arena destroyed key parts of the historic black community of the Hill District, which led to a population expansion into the North Side’s housing projects and neighborhoods.

Before the expansion of the city’s black population into Northside Pittsburgh, the black community was only limited to areas like Charles Street, the Central Northside, and other nearby neighborhoods, while also being successful and thriving communities.

northside pittsburgh

A mural depicting Pittsburgh black community, located along Charles Street.

While Lower Manchester had a sizable black population, after the 1960s both Upper and Lower Manchester, divided by Pennsylvania Avenue, became predominantly African-American and a very popular neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s black community.

As half of the Hill District was destroyed, African-Americans were forcing to relocate in the city’s housing projects and two on the North Side are Northview Heights and Fineview’s Allegheny Dwellings, some of the city’s largest housing complexes.

Built during the 1950s and 1960s, these two neighborhoods helped in various ways to contribute to the North Side being referred as the War Side as Northview Heights, a former mixed racial community, became so bad that the area eventually became a gated community.

northside pittsburgh ghetto northview heights

Northview Heights housing complex

During the influx of African-Americans into the North Side a large portion was demolished, the East Street Valley community, due to the construction of interstate 279 that would help relocate the North Side’s white population further north.

With white flight the nearby black communities of Central North Side and Charles Street grew into Perrysville South and along Brighton Road, making everything south of Marshall Avenue to become predominantly African-American by the 1970s and 1980s.

By the 1990s, the streets of the Pittsburgh ghetto of the North Side was in full effect as the S.O.E alliance, meaning either Soldiers of Everybody or Soldiers Over Everyone, with Northview Heights and some of the North Side’s other Crip ‘hoods created one of the city’s tightest bond amongst separate gang areas.

Another infamous area was around Brighton Road, a section of the North Side that was home to Brighton Place and the Mad Cave Crips of Morrison Street and the former Tre 8s of Brightridge, all around the intersection of Brighton Road and California Avenue.

The city of Pittsburgh has historically been known for creating their own homegrown gangs, and one being the Gz that consisted of the Manchester OGz and the Wilson Avenue Gz who were once in an area known as Snapville off Perrysville Avenue.

northside pittsburgh ghetto

The heart of the Wilson Avenue neighborhood

A community that has had its share of indictments and media attention is the Central North Side or Mexican War Streets, a community known as the home of the Hoodtown Mafia.

Hoodtown was one of the city’s most active neighborhoods of the Pittsburgh ghetto, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, as many were centered around Carrington Street, but through numerous arrests during the 2000s and gentrification the neighborhood is mostly a memory.

With the streets and urban communities of the North Side having a close location to both Steelers and Pirates’ stadiums, as well Pittsburgh’s downtown area, the ‘hoods of the North Side are in the current process of redeveloping and gentrifying.

northside pittsburgh ghetto

Upper Manchester in its beginning stage of gentrification

Communities around Federal Street, the Lower Manchester area, and the Central North Side neighborhood are some of the North Side sections that are seeing the most rebuilding, but the process will eventually make its way to all communities that are south of Marshall Avenue.

With the new construction, hundreds of former residents are forcibly relocating farther north into neighborhoods around Brighton Road like Marshall-Shadeland and Brighton Heights or further north along Perrysville Avenue.

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*Note: All information is provided either through people of the community, outside sources, and/or research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

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