Pillbox

Neighborhood Navigation - Mexican War Streets

After settling into life at Carnegie Mellon over the past two and a half years, I wanted to learn more about the city that has come to be my home. As students, we mostly stay in the familiar parts of Pittsburgh — Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Shadyside. Perhaps some will venture to the South Side to go shopping, or Downtown for cultural events, but there are many eclectic neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, from Bloomfield to the Strip District to Polish Hill. Recently, I decided to explore the Mexican War Streets of the North Side.

Mexican War Streets? When I first heard the unique name of this historic district, I was surprised and confused. Why would this be the name of a series of residential streets in the North Side? It turns out that there isn’t really a compelling or interesting reason why. More simply, why not?

In the 1840s, as Pittsburgh continued to grow, General William Robinson developed this area, calling it Buena Vista and named the streets after prominent places and people of the Mexican-American War, which was raging on at the time. Robinson was the son of James Robinson, who is considered the first settler of the North Side.

Today, the Mexican War Streets make up a small area of Pittsburgh compared to other regions of the city. It’s simply a row of parallel streets and another of perpendicular ones. In its northern corners, it is framed by two famous art centers, the Mattress Factory and Randyland. It has a Commonplace Coffee at a street corner, but every other building is a townhouse. They vary in architectural styles, but are consistently colorful and unique. Some are red with yellow trim, others have symmetrical purple doors, and some are made of intimidating stone.

Beyond the two museums, there isn’t much “activity” in the Mexican War Streets per se. You’ll see families walking around, or people taking their dogs out, sure. But for someone like me who loves to know the history of how unique things came to be, it was great to simply walk around on a quiet, cloudy winter day and explore.