By Carlino Giampolo
The Litchfield Consciousness, one of the most destructive for a residential community hosting a university, should never exist in any city, university, or certainly any urban environment. Tragically, it is deep-rooted in the University of Pittsburgh where it originated and in the city of Pittsburgh which is the university’s host. What follows is a thoughtful examination of that consciousness with all of its resultant chaos, devastation, pain, and suffering brought to the host community.
Edward Litchfield was chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh from 1956 to 1965. He was an outsider to the community, as all of the university’s past chancellors have been, who attempted to dictate how the community should live and even whether the community should exist or not.
During his short tenure, he set in motion a wave of ruination for Oakland’s residential community, which continues to fight to maintain its identity and very existence today. He was dismissed by the university trustees in 1965, in part due to placing the university in financial debt. He passed away two years later, but his consciousness is still very much alive today within the university and throughout the city.
Panther Hollow Project
On June 6, 1963, Litchfield unveiled his plan that was known as the Panther Hollow project. It was described as a 21st Century Research Park that would be one of the “architectural wonders of the world,” and become the “nucleus of the nation’s first 21st century city.” The initial phase was to begin at Fifth Avenue and expand down Neville Street, at a width of up to 900 feet and a length of one mile. The project would have cut through Panther Hollow, eradicating the neighborhood and reducing it to rubble. His plan was to build a 21st century “city within a city” while destroying the existing neighborhood within a neighborhood.
His intention was to then continue the project through the Four Mile Run neighborhood in Greenfield, eradicating it as well, until it reached the banks of the Monongahela River.
The main purpose was to create useable income-producing space for the University of Pittsburgh. The plan stated: “The Panther Hollow project was conceived and developed for a high economic purpose: to lay the foundation for and to help build a new and urgently needed supplemental industrial complex in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.”
Panther Hollow Community
The history of Panther Hollow, one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods, is the quintessential story of the immigration experience in America. Early settlers began arriving in the late 1800s, largely from the two small towns of Gamberale and Pizzoferrato – humble peasants in search of honest work and a new life. They were skilled bricklayers, cement finishers, and laborers who built most of the neighborhood. They constructed homes, cemented the sidewalks, and dug out mud two feet deep to build a red brick street for their neighborhood. The women cared for their own families as well as for the welfare of numerous boarders in this new neighborhood. It became a close-knit community in which no one was a stranger and everyone knew their neighbors.
In 1900, over 200 Italians were living in Panther Hollow, and in 1920, at the height of the Italian immigration experience in America, the population grew to approximately 470. When Litchfield decided that Panther Hollow didn’t deserve to exist next to his university, three generations of Italians lived there – the first arrivals who came at the turn of the century, their children, and their grandchildren.
Litchfield was insensitive to that sacred history, and when he announced his grandiose expansion project, the community sprung into action. An organization called Citizens Against the Ravages of Urban Renewal was formed. Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale, whose parents were among the early settlers, travelled to Washington D.C. and spoke before the U.S. Senate on behalf of the organization. Another descendent of the early settlers, Nicholas Diulus, expressed the sentiments of the community when he said that you couldn’t give him enough money to move out of his home and his neighborhood, and that he would fight the project to his last drop of blood.
In 1965, the Panther Hollow project failed.
The Panther Hollow project. (Click on the images to see a large version.)
The Litchfield Consciousness
Since Litchfield’s attempts, history has shown that the Litchfield Consciousness has continuously been deeply engrained within the University of Pittsburgh and the city of Pittsburgh. The university now owns over 100 buildings in the neighborhood, and is currently purchasing new property. Meanwhile, the decline of the longtime residential population is approaching 90% since the university moved from the North Side to Oakland in 1908.
It is important to understand the key components of the oppressive Litchfield Consciousness. The Panther Hollow project illuminates the fact that the keystone of that consciousness is the devaluation of human dignity and the elevation of economic profit as the highest priority. The cornerstone of that consciousness is that of domination, manipulation, and instilling fear.
The Panther Hollow project was an attempt of ethnic cleansing – later extended to residential and elderly cleansing – not cleansing that results in physical death, but rather results in the death of the hopes and dreams of those whom it severely impacts.
The Litchfield Consciousness doesn’t permeate the entire being of a person. It is an insidious consciousness that is compartmentalized and activated in matters pertaining mainly to the expansion plans of the university. It causes a person to lose his or her moral compass. Some individuals who possess the Litchfield Consciousness are considered stalwarts in society, and deserve praise for their many contributions. They can be found attending, preaching, and leading singing in churches, donating to charities, and volunteering to help the needy, among many other wonderful good deeds.
The Litchfield Consciousness, although abhorrent and destructive, was fully accepted and embraced by the University of Pittsburgh. Edward Litchfield was given the high honor of having buildings named after him. The three tallest and largest dormitories of the university bear his name – Litchfield Towers.
The Consciousness Spreads
South Bouquet Street – In 1958, during Litchfield’s reign, the university purchased the iconic Forbes Field for a little over $3 million with the stipulation that the Pirates would play there until Three Rivers Stadium opened. An article in the University Times quoted a university director of public relations referring to that purchase: “. . . the plan was to eliminate the Oakland community in all directions surrounding the site of Forbes Field.”
The article went on to say: “In 1967, to expedite Pitt’s expansion, the General State Assembly (GSA) stepped in and, invoking eminent domain condemned all the buildings in the two-block area south of Forbes Avenue between Oakland Avenue and South Bouquet Street, and sent eviction notices to tenants and business owners there, many of whom were long-term occupants. The GSA also declared that only academic buildings could be developed in the two-block area, a position that became important later.” The two-block area referenced above was located across the street from Forbes Field.
In 1971, the university demolished Forbes Field. Prior to the university’s invoking eminent domain and demolishing Forbes Field, over 200 longtime residents and only about a dozen students were living on South Bouquet Street. Today, only two longtime residents and about 800 students live there. The residential cleansing of South Bouquet Street, including many of the elderly whose families had called it home for generations, is almost complete.
That street is one example of the domination and manipulation inherent in the Litchfield Consciousness. University administrators knowingly used manipulative lies to the community by saying that constructing two Bouquet Garden dormitory buildings in that eminent domain area would remove students from the residential neighborhood. They used the same lies to justify the construction of dormitory buildings in other parts of Oakland, while at the same time increasing their student enrollment to nearly 30,000 students.
Forbes Avenue – The Litchfield Consciousness permeates this street. University administrators are fully aware that the community cannot attract young families or grow a neighborhood when its business district is destroyed by the presence of student dormitories and other university–related buildings. During the current administration, massive dormitories have been – and continue to be – under construction on Forbes Avenue. In addition, the university announced that it is spending $1.9 million to purchase the Allegheny County Health Department Medical Building next to the future student housing site. This purchase is a part of their plan to turn that street into an alleged innovation center. The Litchfield Consciousness continues, with Litchfield’s original words “research park” simply being replaced by “innovation center”.
University of Pittsburgh Faculty – The university faculty is an example of the Litchfield Consciousness that not only dominates and manipulates but also instills fear in others. A culture of fear fills the university. Faculty members are too fearful to say what they honestly feel in matters pertaining to university expansion. When Litchfield announced his Panther Hollow project, not a single faculty voice publicly opposed the plan. Today, none of the 5,000 faculty members has publicly spoken out in opposition to the university’s uncontrolled growth that is decimating the residential community of Oakland. It is phenomenal that 5,000 intelligent faculty members all apparently think alike on matters pertaining to the university’s uncontrolled expansion.
The Mayor – In 2015, the city announced a plan, reminiscent of the Litchfield Consciousness, to build a roadway through the neighborhoods of Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run in order to connect the old Almono site in Hazelwood to the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It would have eventually accomplished what Litchfield had initially wanted to do: eradicate these two neighborhoods. The Litchfield Consciousness attracts the like-minded. The disgraced former leader of Uber was in consultation with the mayor to use the roadway for that company’s autonomous vehicles. The mayor often speaks of his Italian roots and his grandfather’s immigration experience, as well as his desire to protect Pittsburgh neighborhoods. However, the roadway initiative he advocates is a continuation of the Litchfield Consciousness in which glory, greed, and economic profit take precedence over human dignity.
City Council – Pittsburgh City Council members have passed hundreds of bills in the last ten years, but never even attempted to introduce a bill to end the uncontrolled growth of the University of Pittsburgh. The city council is an example of this basic truth: Individuals who choose to dominate, manipulate, or instill fear need victims. The Litchfield Consciousness cannot exist unless there are those who are willing to fall victim to that consciousness. The massive excavation taking place now on Forbes Avenue by a developer from Dallas, Texas to build more students housing is another example of the council’s role as victims. The developer mentioned in a public meeting that he could not do the same project in California because the state laws prevent him from doing so. The Litchfield Consciousness thrives when there are willing victims and good people who choose to do nothing.
Allegheny County Executive Director – At the forefront of the new grandiose plan to make Pittsburgh the innovation center of the world is the executive director of Allegheny County. He is the main supporter for the Allegheny Council approving the University of Pittsburgh’s purchase of the above mentioned medical building on Forbes Avenue. He is also a fervent supporter of the roadway initiative, despite the fact that his mother-in-law was born and raised in Panther Hollow. Sensitivity and empathy to the wants and needs of a community, especially the elderly, are not a priority of the Litchfield Consciousness.
Pittsburgh Foundations – The old Almono site in Hazelwood is owned by three of Pittsburgh’s largest foundations – Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. These foundations are also at the forefront of the roadway initiative through Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run. These leaders’ actions are an example of how the Litchfield Consciousness is compartmentalized. These foundations give millions and millions of dollars to worthy organizations, ensuring their leaders are esteemed in the city. Recently, the Heinz Endowments announced a major donation for a Mister Rogers Neighborhood project. Mister Rogers Neighborhood is as sacred to its followers as Panther Hollow and Four Mile Run are to their longtime residents.
The Media – One of the most formidable protectors of our basic rights is the media: men and women entrusted with accounting for the integrity and identity of our residential communities. Tragically, the media has never conducted an ongoing, in-depth investigation of the University of Pittsburgh which is systematically destroying the residential community of Oakland. Their inaction is another example of how the Litchfield Consciousness can instill fear in others. It is safer for them not to rock the boat and possibly jeopardize the revenue they receive from the university and its supporters, not to jeopardize their relationship with university administrators who are a source of information, or not to potentially uncover wrongdoing which could tarnish the image of the university and the city. It is safer to remain silent and sit by idly as a residential community – which they had been entrusted to serve – vanishes before their very eyes.
Oakland Organizations – University administrators can provide a long list of all they do for Oakland organizations and the community. However, it is astounding that none of them, or very few if any, of their 5,000 faculty members live in Oakland. All of these individuals could live nearby and walk to work, but choose not to live in a neighborhood that they have helped to create. The university’s generosity is very much akin to a dominating husband who showers his wife with gifts in order to maintain control over her. The wife may even deny the abuse, or even defend the husband, when others bring the abuse to light. The deep fear instilled by the Litchfield Consciousness can lead Oakland organizations to mask, deny, or ignore any wrongdoing.
Litchfield Consciousness Begins to Erode
In 2015, when the city announced plans for its roadway initiative, one of the foundation owners of the old Almono site was the McCune Foundation. They have since sold their interest to the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The leaders decided not to continue involvement in an initiative that would severely impact two neighborhoods. Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff and a strong advocate of the roadway initiative, announced his resignation effective in January 2018. He was born and raised in South Oakland and attended a high school with many young men of Panther Hollow. Subra Suresh was president of Carnegie Mellon University in 2015 and another strong advocate of the roadway initiative. CMU is deeply infected with the Litchfield Consciousness and their administrators have laid a path of destruction in North Oakland. Suresh resigned in 2017 and doing so became the shortest tenure of any president of that university. He moved to Singapore with his wife. Karina Ricks was hired as the director of the newly formed city Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. On October 6, 2017, she took a public action that was unheard of: she made a decision that went against the plans of the universities, city, foundations, and their supporters. She chose not to apply for a federal grant for monies that could be used for the roadway initiative.
When individuals take actions to prioritize human dignity, and do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do, they gain self-respect and earn the respect of everyone who shares those beliefs. Thus, the Litchfield Consciousness begins to erode.
Communities get destroyed when good people choose to do nothing.
The Litchfield Consciousness is an outdated consciousness that will have no place in a world becoming new. Not simply an improvement of the same old world, but the beginnings of a New World. Choice is seminal to that change.
The Litchfield Consciousness has always been a conscious choice. Therefore, it will also be a conscious choice of good people to end this destructive consciousness. Choice alongside beliefs are the most powerful raw materials for creating this new world.
What will you choose to do to end the Litchfield Consciousness?