Scene From The Suburban Slums: ‘This Is All Gone Now’

For the last several months, I’ve been researching the topic of suburban decline for a series of nonfiction stories I’m working on. I’m looking at what is traditionally viewed as first-ring suburbs, or the first wave of planned communities beyond the city limits. My focus is on the eastern suburbs outside of Pittsburgh, an area I’ve lived nearly all my life.
This morning I stumbled across a great set of photos by Dorsett Studios that chronicles the old East Hills Shopping Center in Penn Hills, a suburban borough currently in the grips of a two-decade decline. Photo sets like this have been crucial for me when doing research because they not only add historical context, but because they act as an informal archive of places — like East Hills Shopping Center — that no longer exist:

This might have been the Radio Shack store, circa late 1980’s. This is all gone now. The bandstand and banners, the pedestrian walkways were named for U.S. Presidents, the Parking areas were named for Pittsburgh Pirate baseball players. The “Arcade” shops included a pet store and a Hobby shop, where I bought my Kites, Models, toy soldiers, and Trains.

(Photograph: Dorsett Studios. Caption: East Hills Shopping Center in Penn Hills)

  • Derek Miller

    Mathew the location above is the old east hills fruit market, to the left out of sight is the old pub. Straight ahead yellow brick building is the old G C Murphy s. i grew up in east hills when it was a cool suburban hood. park hill Dr moved there 1969 writing a story on how i grew up there.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this information Derek. It’s great to have more details to bring this vacant picture to life. I grew up in Wilkinsburg, and have very faint memories of going to a few of the shops in East Hills as a kid. But even by then, in the 1980s, it was mostly vacant. Good luck with your story. Would love to hear more about it.

  • Derek Miller

    Hi Matthew, revisiting this about the store above. The name of the fruit market was Riggs, the owner was a short Italian man very kind. Used to throw couple pieces of fruit in a paper bag and give it to neighborhood kids.

    The lanes of the center were named after US Presidents. I just finished a story I wrote about the demise of the old center and of course what contributed to it. Which was the 1972 shootings of two white suburban cops by the emphamous Rose Dinkins.

    Crazy how this once beautiful place is just a memory…

  • Derek Miller

    EAST HILLS the Good Life Disrupted, is the title of my screenplay, fitting for the reason that the one time slogan for east hills was ” East Hills the Good Life With Time to Enjoy It” so in actuality the community’s prestige was disrupted.

  • deaconyao

    I lived in East Hills for a few years as a small child and grew up nearby in Penn Hills. I remember shopping with my mother and riding my bike there as a kid, and walking to the McDonalds as a teenager. Thanks for documenting this icon of my childhood.

  • deaconyao

    Interesting. Keep us posted about the screenplay.

  • Derek miller

    Thought you might appreciate this. March 25th 1972 was like 911 for east hills after cop killer Rose Dinkins committed her acts. This is what started the decline…

  • Derek miller

    East Hills was never the same onward.. Finishedmy script East Hills the good life Disrupted.

  • george dawes

    I also grew up in that area. Lived on Mt Carmel Rd from 1954-73. My parents lived there until the 90’s. It was a great place to be a kid. There were several farms near us, it was like living in the country. I delivered the Penn Progress in the 50’s, caddied at Longue Vue and worked for a local landscape company in the 60’s and 70″s to help pay for college.The mall was build when I was in grade school in the old Our Lady of the most blessed Sacrament grade school. I enjoyed walking to the mall and old Eastwood movie theater and swimming at the Eastwood swim club.The entire are began to go downhill in the mid 70’s and all of our neighbors moved away due to the increased crime rates.. Many moved to Plum Township. The only thing remaining now is the Golf club.