When I parked my car at the end of Santiago Street, I half expected to find a cul-de-sac devoid of houses. Chris Blackwell, principal planner from the Penn Hills Department of Planning and Economic Development, told me how his department had demolished nearly all the street’s blighted properties in recent years. “There’s almost nothing left down there,” he said. Almost was the key word.
Four houses remain on Santiago Street. Two that are vacant (one, pictured) — windows broken and garage doors kicked in, weeds growing from the gutters and trash bags and discarded furniture heaped in the driveways — two that are not. In one of the homes that appeared to be inhabited, I heard a TV set blaring and could see the dull glow of its screen. There were no signs of people however. Allegheny County assessment records show that a man named Martin Lloyd owns the home. I would have walked the steep staircase leading to the front door, knocked and introduced myself explaining that I was a journalist working on a story, but my fear won out. My knowledge of Lincoln Park’s history of violence, and knowing that people who live in isolated areas sometimes do so for a reason, gave me pause. My fear was probably unfounded, but I listened to instinct in this situation.
The legacy of Santiago Street and its near-death is most likely tied to foreclosures or owner abandonment that took place sometime back in the 1990s, Blackwell told me. Regardless of how it came to be, the municipality of Penn Hills — where Santiago Street is located — now owns much of the vacant property.
Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Penn Hills, Santiago Street is off Mount Carmel Road and dead-ended on one side by a massive property that houses a demolition and excavation company. That essentially makes Santiago Street, and its surrounding streets and alleyways, their own micro-province. The tall weeds that line the hillside at the end of Santiago swayed like prairie grass, moved by the warm August breeze. Wild rabbits darted back and forth between overgrown hedges. In the near distance, beyond a sign that discouraged dumping trash or parking your car, I heard two dogs howl, followed by a man’s voice that occasionally yelled to quiet them. But still I saw no one.
[Photograph © Matthew Newton 2012]