Kaufmann Center Courtyard
A LEGACY OF SERVICE
The Hill House Association was created more than 50 years ago with a mission of improving the quality of life for individuals and families living in the Hill District. But this commitment to community service actually traces its roots back to the early 1900s when the Irene Kaufmann and Soho Settlement Houses were established to help immigrants from Europe and the Middle East find a foothold in Pittsburgh. These predecessor organizations became the largest settlement houses in the city and formed the bedrock for the modern day Hill House.
Then as now, the job of building a healthy and vibrant community required a complex spectrum of services and programs that touch individuals at every stage of life. The settlement houses were America’s original community centers, offering a haven for the uninitiated to seek assistance, pursue education, and forge social bonds. While the Hill House mission does not differ drastically from those institutions, the constituents we serve today and the services we provide have evolved substantially.
As immigrant communities relocated to other parts of Pittsburgh, the Hill District experienced an influx of African American residents during the 1920s and 1930s. These Pittsburghers brought new life to the neighborhood and helped see it flourish as a center for African American music, art and commerce. This transformation prompted Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay to describe the Hill District as “the crossroads to the world.” All along, our predecessor organization remained an integral part of the community.
REVITALIZATION AND RENEWAL
But the decades that followed saw a less favorable light cast over the Hill District. Poorly planned redevelopment projects dealt tragic disruption to the community. More than 8,000 residents were displaced, taking with them much of the neighborhood’s cultural vitality and economic prosperity. Civil unrest in the 1960s only compounded the problem and deepened the neighborhood’s decline. Through these troublesome times, our predecessor organization – which was rechristened the Anna B. Heldman Community Center in 1957 – fought to preserve the Hill District’s rich history and struggling sense of community.
The path to recovery began in 1964, when a county study led to the creation of a new social agency to confront these problems. The organization was formed from the settlement houses and the Hill City Youth Municipality, an organization offering leadership training to youth. Patterned on the settlement house concept, the Hill House Association became the first agency to combine health, welfare, recreation, and community programs that were specifically designed for the city’s African American community. Its founding philosophy — which remains in place today — was to empower individuals so that they may serve as models for their families and contribute meaningfully to the community around them.
The Hill House Association immediately sought to make the Hill District a safe and affordable place to live. In 1969, the Hill House became one of the first agencies to tackle housing redevelopment in our community. The organization made it a mission to attract real estate developers who could refurbish or build thousands of single-family homes and multi-family dwellings that meet the standards of safety and quality that Hill District residents deserve.
And in 1972, the Hill House got a home of its own. The organization opened a new headquarters on Centre Avenue, which once again established a single destination where residents could find social services. Today, our association maintains a series of buildings around the Hill District, including our Senior Services Center on Bedford Avenue, with the understanding that our programs are most effective when embedded in the community they strive to serve.
TODAY AND THE FUTURE
Today, the Hill House carries on this legacy of revitalization with an even broader mandate. In 2011, construction began on a 2.4-acre shopping complex called Centre Heldman Plaza. This shopping center brought the Hill District its first supermarket in more than three decades, as well as several other businesses, retailers and restaurants. Due in part to our organization’s work, the Hill District is once again becoming a bustling center of commerce in Pittsburgh.
Also in 2011, the Hill House Association completed the restoration of the Kaufmann Center, a performance and event space on Centre Avenue. After years of increasing disrepair, the Kaufmann Center now boasts an outstanding performing arts venue that showcases some of the best regional and national talent. The association subsequently launched an ongoing series of performances, concerts, lectures and other events called, “Live from the Hill.” This helps to recapture the Hill District’s legacy as a center for arts and literature, and acts as a catalyst for future performances.
These development projects have allowed the Hill House to expand its social and educational programs in recent years. Our programs that help young people and formerly incarcerated individuals to live independently continue to serve dozens of Pittsburgh residents each year. Our Senior Services Center provides health and social wellness programs to many of our community’s older residents. The Hill House Passport Academy Charter School, which was approved in 2014, provides young people with an opportunity to obtain their high school equivalency.
Much like its predecessor organizations, the Hill House Association today operates as a one-stop-shop for residents of the Hill District. Whether they are seeking education and workforce training, critical health care services or access to the arts, members of our community can find it at the Hill House. We are immensely proud of the programs and services we provide, and the history that has made the Hill House what it is today.