This article appeared in the September edition of La Nostra Voce, the official national publication of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. It was written and submitted for publication prior to any awareness of the proposed road corridor.
By Carlino Giampolo
Panther Hollow was one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods, a place where everyone knew your name or nickname. Early settlers from Pizzoferrato and Gamberale of the Abruzzi region in Central Italy arrived in the late 1800s. Their homes provided shelter not only for their families, but also Italian immigrant boarders who came to America. Nestled in a small valley below the University of Pittsburgh, there was no easy trek to a supermarket, but the neighborhood did have a cow pasture with chickens, vegetable gardens, outdoor bread oven, vineyards, grocery stores and food hucksters most every day.
Though basically a main street boundary with two tiny side streets, Panther Hollow had hundreds of residents, multiple banks, construction yards, coal yard, Italian social club, and an open field for families to pitch tents and celebrate weddings. Dozens of men enlisted or were drafted into World War II while the elderly men at home raised a Victory Garden to support the war effort. The women played as huge a role as the men in establishing the character and personality of the community. From the onset when women stayed home, caring for family and sometimes boarders to the later years of finding jobs outside the home, their gainful work provided for the welfare of their families and the camaraderie of the neighborhood.
In an open field there were trains hauling freight, including stones for the construction of the world’s second tallest university building, the Cathedral of Learning. The stones were then hauled from the neighborhood to the building site by horse-and-buggy and by trucks. The field was also the site for bocce, football, softball, it-taggers and roasting potatoes and marshmallows. Nearby Panther Hollow Lake provided extra recreational activities such as fishing, boating and ice skating. Forbes Field, a five-minute walk away provided more entertainment but also additional employment for residents.
The website www.PantherHollow.us captures on its many links the history of the neighborhood with information. A link lists 141 men’s nicknames and another with 225 women’s maiden names and the names of their spouses. The link PBS WQED showcases a neighborhood broadcast which was nominated for a Natas Mid-Atlantic Region Emmy. Another link is a two hour-narration by a long-time resident. A 2007 plaque reveals 95 Italian family names honoring those who settled in the neighborhood. More than 200 photos, dating from the early 1900s also portrays people and the area. The website will continue to grow because history, names and photos will be added. Panther Hollow is another reason why Pittsburgh has been and will continue to be a special place.