As an Art and Design major, one of the rudimentary lessons I learned was that sometimes, “less is more.” I have been studying all of the photos I have from Duquesne and have concluded the following:
As much as I love the City of Duquesne, the buildings and environment weren’t exactly “pristine” or “breathtaking” by today’s standards. The early century buildings that were “down street” were showing signs of age by the 1950’s and 1960’s. So many of the edifices were blackened by the decades of mill dust and smoke that they were exposed to, and had all acquired the same ashen pallor.
As technologies and utilities had advanced, the buildings and the streets had begun to sprout countless wires that carried anything from electrical power to telephone conversations to cryptic messages in Morse code! Thick black wires crisscrossed overhead, creating Tic-Tac-Toe grids in the sky.
Well before the idea of underground utility cables had surfaced, oversized ceramic connection posts marred each building’s exterior surface. Unfortunately, the posts were not always applied in a uniform and balanced manner, so buildings began to look as if they had contracted a very bad case of smallpox with white eruptions dotting their surface in a random basis.
There wasn’t a single building in Duquesne that was exempt from the daily exposure to the elements from the mills, even the churches fell victim. When I was a student at Holy Name, nothing about Holy Name Church’s exterior really stood out. Although it was huge in a little boy’s eyes, nothing about the exterior of the building made an impression as the interior had. Again, the brick and stone façade looked just the same as the convent, the school, the Post Office and virtually every other building within the same proximity to the mills. Blackened, ashen, and rather dismal looking, Holy Name Stood for decades before an astonishing transformation took place during the 60’s.
One summer, I recall being over at my dad’s garage. Across the street at the church, I remember seeing workmen busily piecing together scaffolding around various sections of the church’s exterior. I was convinced that they were building some really big Monkey Bars for our use once we had returned to school in September, but was set straight by Dad. He explained that they were going to clean the outside of the church by sandblasting it.
Over the course of many weeks, years and years of soot and discoloration from the mills were dissolved from the church’s façade. Just like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, a golden hued church emerged to grace South First Street. To this day, probably 50 years later, the Holy Name is standing as majestically and brilliantly as the day it was built.
Sadly, not every building in Duquesne received the same reawakening as Holy Name did. Beginning with the Duquesne’s redevelopment projects of the 60’s, piece by piece, the Duquesne of our youth was dismantled and driven off to unnamed places to become landfill for unknown structures. Fortunately, we will always have the remnants of the place we hold dear, tucked away in our minds and in fortunate photographs that remain as testimony to days now lost in time.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you, a patchwork of images that are sure to evoke some of those warm memories that keep Duquesne alive in our minds. Each of us passed these icons hundreds of times as we were growing up, but probably never gave them a second thought! Only now, in retrospect do we realize how much we miss them and the town that they part of…..