Phil Cynar

If you didn’t make it over to the East Liberty neighborhood – and its “Cathedral of Hope” for the holidays in 2011 – it’s that time of year again.  At 2 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 16, East Liberty Presbyterian Church will echo with the sound of [holiday] music featuring the ELPC Chancel Choir and the Fox Chapel Area High School Madrigal Singers and Ambassador Orchestra. Camille Saint-Säens’ Christmas Oratorio headlines the free holiday program entitled a “A Cathedral Christmas Concert.” Good music always sounds even better in an awe-inspiring space, so come and soak up both in the heart of one of Pittsburgh’s truly renaissance neighborhoods. And if the Saint-Säens gets you in the mood for a little more something French, the Paris 66 Bistro is just steps from the church, and you’ll feel like you’re dining on la Rive Gauche.

Situated in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End is East Liberty Presbyterian Church, an impressive house of worship that’s also known as “The Cathedral of Hope.”

For generations the church has embodied sustainability in deeply personal ways to parishioners and residents of East Liberty. Through its religious services as well as a wide range of outreach programs, it’s been a reassuring stronghold in a neighborhood that’s been up, then down, and now up again.

The Best of Times

East Liberty Presbyterian Church has been a beacon in this city neighborhood since its best of times. Flash back to the early decades of the 20th century. Commerce was booming.  The National Biscuit Company, Isaly’s, Stagno’s Bakers and Pittsburgh’s first Sears & Roebuck were among the businesses driving progress and prosperity. The community flourished, too. A destination unto itself, East Liberty boasted movie houses, theaters for music performances (one venue could seat 3,200), department stores, a roller skating rink and plenty of retail shops. From the 1930s through the 1950s, East Liberty’s holiday parades rallied residents; in fact, its 1936 Christmas Parade was declared the largest in the country, outshining even New York’s.

Mellon Family Helps Fund Cathedral-style Gem of a Church

Amid this bright and bustling environment, the Mellon family – a name synonymous with Pittsburgh and its financial industry prowess – spearheaded the church’s construction. They hired Boston architect Ralph Adam Cram and gave him the freedom to build the finest church he could create. In June 1932, Richard Beatty Mellon laid the cornerstone, and the structure rose over the next three years as a grand church in the style of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. It occupied one city block and cost nearly $4 million to construct. Rich features – stained glass, wood and masonry andone of the country’s largest and finest Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs – added to the church’s status as a gem of East Liberty.

The Worst of Times: Urban Renewal Gone Bad

In 1958, difficulties began to descend on East Liberty – ranging from commercial vacancies and urban congestion to competition from the suburbs – and a well-intentioned but ill-fated urban renewal project. The associated disruption, deconstruction and dislocation forced residents and businesses away. Yet, East Liberty Presbyterian stood solid – more of a bulwark at that time than the beacon it was during East Liberty’s glory days.

Hope on the Horizon

Various attempts were made to reconcile what had gone wrong; some were successful, many were not. But in the late 1990s, situations finally began to change for the better. Hope was on the horizon in the form of a new community plan for revitalization that would build on local investment and success to re-create East Liberty as a self-sustaining community. And that is what has happened … and what continues to happen.

“Over the past decade, East Liberty has turned itself into a healthy residential and business destination of choice,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “This didn’t happen by accident, but with thoughtful strides taken by community, business and government.”

The neighborhood’s revitalization is evidenced by a robust market place that now includes national retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Anthropologie, Home Depot and Trader Joe’s, in addition to an array of independent retail shops and restaurants – all springing up around the “Cathedral of Hope.” But the church’s mission to the less fortunate remains strong and as vital as ever. Its Hope Academy of Music & the Arts offers after-school and weekend classes to kids. Parishioners work with a local food pantry, offer support to low-income homeowners through Open Hand Ministries, and address issues of poverty and justice.

No Place Like “Hope” for the Holidays

This landmark is ours to enjoy anytime, but is especially glorious during the Christmas holidays. Hop in your car or board a bus to to catch holiday services.

After you’ve fed the soul, you can nourish the body at any one of an array of nearby restaurants. The Paris 66 bistro features help from a  Pittsburgh technology start-up for those who enjoy wine but would like to expand their tastes. RhoMania’s GrailTM digital platform uses an iPad to help diners make more educated selections. Gift yourself by trying a new glass or bottle of wine, and then finish up your holiday shopping for family and friends at nearby shops, boutiques or big box stores.

It’ll be like the good old (holi)days in East Liberty. Maybe even better.

Ben Kamber
Revelers at last year’s Vodka/Latke bash. Photo Courtesy Ohad Cadji

An evening of dancing and schmoozing, replete with lots of latkes and vodka, await the hundreds of young – and young-at-heart – planning to attend Pittsburgh’s hottest Hanukkah party. Cleverly called Vodka / Latke, this annual “Festival of Lights” celebration hits one of downtown Pittsburgh’s leading venues – SPACE Gallery at 812 Liberty Ave. – this Saturday, Dec. 15, from 8 p.m. to midnight. It’s sponsored by Shalom Pittsburgh, a social group for young Jewish adults.

What do vodka and latkes have to do with Hanukkah?

Latkes are easy. For those unacquainted with these crispy potato delicacies, latkes (or potato pancakes) are a traditional treat enjoyed throughout the eight-day festival. Some people prefer their latkes the conventional way – grated potatoes, onions, salt, eggs, perhaps some matzo meal – fried and served with a dollop of sour cream or a side of applesauce. Others get a whole lot more creative.

Yet, however you take your latkes, one thing’s for certain: by eating them, you are paying homage to the miracle of the story of Hanukkah. As the tale goes, after a series of events in the second century B.C. that left the Jewish temple in Jerusalem defiled, one day’s worth of oil miraculously kept the temple’s menorah lit for eight days – the time needed to spiritually purify the temple. Thus, this miracle of oil is remembered today by eating fried food such as latkes and donuts (called sufganiyot).

As for vodka’s connection to the Hanukkah story, well, let’s just say its ties to the Hanukkah story are a little less agreed upon… (Perhaps it was Judah Maccabee’s spirit of choice during his competitive dreidel spinning sessions).

Either way, Shalom Pittsburgh’s Vodka / Latke 2012 is bound to be blast. Advance tickets are still available for $15 by clicking here. You can also show up at the door and pay $20. Tickets include an open bar (with plenty of vodka), a dance floor (music requests available) and more latkes and other fried Hanukkah treats than your heart (and arteries) could ever desire.

For more information, head over to Hope to see you there!

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or

African American Chamber Board Chair Samuel Stephenson presents a lapel pin to keynote speaker Dennis Yablonsky,

Since the collapse of the steel industry 30 years ago, the Pittsburgh region has transformed itself into a diversified economy. More recently, it is one of just three metros in the country to have fully recovered from the Great Recession that began in 2008.

But there’s still much to be done to connect all Pittsburghers to the opportunities that are here and to close the “skills gap” that could lead to labor supply shortage in the years to come.

Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development,  outlined these challenges and more at a keynote address to more than 300 members of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania at the group’s Dec. 3 annual luncheon.

You can read more about it at the New Pittsburgh Courier, and the Pittsburgh Business Times.

World’s Fair Christmas Trees in the Hall of Architecture

The elaborately decorated Christmas trees at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture are a beloved 51-year-old tradition for the Pittsburgh region. We asked the museum’s Jonathan Gaugler to tell us more about the display and presepio, or Nativity scene. His reflections follow, as well as video from the museum’s David D’Agostino. Thanks to both of them!

“Here at Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Trees are a decades-old tradition carried out through the dedication of the museum’s Women’s Committee. The trees transform the Hall of Architecture – one of the grandest spaces in the city – into a special, festive display. Every year, the decorations and themes of the trees change, and curators set up the presepio differently (see if you can spot the bird’s nest!), but through it all, the museum’s displays remain a treasured Pittsburgh tradition.

“At the center of the display in the Hall of Architecture is the museum’s magnificent 18th-century Neapolitan presepio – a Nativity scene unlike most others. Just before Thanksgiving weekend, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Rachel Delphia quietly begins the days-long process of installing the presepio, a scene that spills out beyond the crèche and portrays Italian village life of the 1700s, including merchants, farmers, mendicant beggars and musicians.

“Details in the presepio bear meanings that would be familiar to viewers in Italy during the 1700s but that might escape notice today. Certain styles of dress, for example, would be unmistakably Sicilian. The band of Turkish musicians playing in the streets would herald the arrival of a ship from the east. And, of course, the craftsmanship of the set is exquisite: the painted terracotta figures have sparkling glass eyes, and merchants’ wares are minutely detailed, right down to salami and hand-tied bunches of grapes. Overhead, angels in silk gowns cascade before the massive architectural cast facade of St. Giles, while other narrative elements from the Christmas story – shepherds, magi and fishermen – are interspersed among the everyday lives of the Neapolitans.

“After Thanksgiving weekend, the Hall of Architecture bustles, as Women’s Committee volunteers set to work with the Museum of Art workshop, employing winches, lifts and muscle to install seven 20-foot trees flanking the presepio. As Tara Safar, co-chair of the Carnegie Trees puts it, the committee is ‘a dedicated group of women who are passionate about the arts and raising awareness of Carnegie Museum of Art to promote its tremendous value in our community.’

“This year’s display takes the world’s fairs as inspiration, coinciding with the exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 right upstairs in the Heinz Galleries. Each tree features handmade ornaments crafted by organizations from around the city, including colorful “space-race” rocket ships made by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh volunteers; architectural wonders, including the Eiffel Tower and Space Needle, crafted by Women’s Committee members; and historical hat styles, as presented by the Parks Conservancy. The opening reception to unveil the trees also offers a fundraising opportunity for the committee, which has contributed to significant projects for the museum over the years, most recently a $500,000 pledge toward endowing the position of the Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, now held by Dan Byers. This year’s Nov. 28 reception drew a rousing 500 attendees.

“With the Hall of Architecture fully decorated, the museum settles for the holiday crowds, especially in the week approaching New Year’s Eve. The building pulses with energy as families take in the decorations before scurrying off to enjoy the museum’s world-class art collection and the Museum of Natural History‘s huge, breathtaking display of dinosaur fossils. We hope to see you at the Carnegie Museums this season!”

Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Rachel Delphia on the presepio.

Neapolitan Presepio from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

The Women’s Committee’s Melissa Ferrari on the Carnegie Trees

Carnegie Trees from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or


In addition to being a recommendation for writing good fiction, the adage, “show me, don’t tell me,” could just as easily be applied to economic development, a practice that includes marketing a location, attracting business to it and enhancing its economic well being and quality of life. Being able to actually see or experience what a particular location – a city or a region – has to offer can help to bring economic development deals to fruition.

The concept of “show, don’t tell” motivated the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) to recently bring eight national site location consultants and capital market experts to Pittsburgh for a two-day familiarization tour. The tour was designed to acquaint these influential individuals – advisors to high-profile corporate clients worldwide on the best locations for business investment – with the spectrum of advantages that Pittsburgh, a “world’s best” destination*, has to offer.

The PRA brings these professionals to town to show, not just to tell them about the assets that make the region a solid investment. At the same time, their visit provides an opportunity for the 10-county Pittsburgh region’s economic development and commercial real estate community to hear about any improvements that could be made to enhance the market’s competitiveness. This year was the first time that the PRA included capital market experts in the tour. Inviting them to participate was in response to increasing interest in the region from outside investors. A prime example is last year’s acquisition of downtown’s iconic PPG Place by North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties, with a total investment of $214.1 million anticipated. Maintaining and increasing this outside interest and investment motivation is a goal.

While in town on Nov. 12 and 13, the group visited American Eagle Outfitters at SouthSide Works and Google Pittsburgh at Bakery Square – two globally recognized brands that have chosen Pittsburgh for either a headquarters or other significant business operation. Interestingly, both of these companies chose former Pittsburgh brownfield sites for their investments.

The group also participated in the developers’ showcase of NAIOP Pittsburgh (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) at Allegheny Center on the North Side. This event, attended by professionals from the commercial real estate and economic development communities, included a panel discussion featuring the site location consultants and capital market experts. They responded to questions from Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Barbara McNees, who moderated the panel, as well as to questions from the floor regarding the state of the region and its attractiveness for business investment.

Watch the video clip below featuring three of the experts participating in the PRA’s familiarization tour to hear their reactions to Pittsburgh and their recommendations for taking the region to the next level.

Additionally, you can read the reflections of one of the tour participants, Dean Barber, principal at Barber Business Advisors, LLC in Plano, Texas, who’s also included in the video.  Barber’s piece, “The Journey of a Hungry Caterpillar,” was recently posted on his blog, BarberBiz. Although he says that he considers himself “a Southerner and a now a nuevo Texan,” Barber writes that he grew up in a manufacturing family and that his father was from Pittsburgh, allowing him to “feel a certain affinity for the city.” He further shares, “ … I must admit that I come upon places that I naturally like. Sometimes I cannot fully explain it, but I just do. Such is the case with Pittsburgh.”

That said, we’re casting our vote for “show, don’t tell” when it comes to selling this region. Clearly, the “eyes” have it.

*National Geographic Traveler, 20 “best of the world, must-see places.” 

Bonnie Pfister
MJ Tocci at Negotiation Academy preview, July 2012

MJ Tocci received the 2011 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award for her mentorship of other women, through both her community involvement and work as a prosecutor and later a coach for fellow attorneys at Trial Run.

Now she has co-founded what is believed to be the first program in the country to look at critical leadership skills through a negotiation lens. Applications are being accepted now for the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women,  which begins training its first cohort of women in January 2013. You can watch a brief video below in which Tocci and Academy co-founder Linda Babcock (economist and author of the groundbreaking Women Don’t Ask) talk about why these skills are especially important for women.

And further down, read an excerpt from an interview with Tocci that appeared in the 2012 ATHENA Awards Program earlier this fall. You can find photos from the academy’s preview in July on our Flickr page.

MJ Tocci and Linda Babcock on Why Negotiation Matters for Women

MJ Tocci Discusses the ATHENA Award, Mentors and Mad Men By Catherine V. Wadhwani for the ATHENA Awards 2012 program

Has winning the ATHENA Award impacted your life?

Yes, greatly. For the first time, I felt like a Pittsburgh insider. I’ve only lived here for about 18 years, so I’m still a “newcomer.” Winning was a shot of local validation from a community that I really respect.

Is community involvement important?

It’s critical. Community involvement grounds you and teaches you new skills. The hardest part is figuring out what you care about and how to channel your resources.

Did you have any special mentors?

Boyd Hines from my first professional job with a neighborhood civil rights organization. I was just out of college and he taught me the value of advocacy.

Carol Carrigan and Bill McGinnis both are now judges in California. I knew them from the DA’s office. They believed in me as a trial lawyer when some people didn’t think women could try serious cases.

Early on, it’s helpful to know that someone whose opinion you value believes in you. It anchors you. But you can’t have “reflected confidence” your whole life. You have to develop inner confidence because the challenges get harder as the stakes get higher.

Also my father. He felt that I could do anything. My mother wanted me to marry and not have a career, but eventually “My daughter the lawyer” became one word.

Linda Babcock, co-founder of the Negotiation Academy for Women

Who inspires you now?

Linda Babcock, who is brilliant and so caring about empowering women. My husband who is very brave and creative. He completely changed careers from being a doctor to being a film director. He is an equal partner in parenting and running our household, which makes a big difference.

My kids. 17-year-old Sam thinks I’m really smart and Zoe, who is 15, cuts me off at the knees. But when people ask Zoe what I do, she tells them I try to make the world a better place for women and girls like her.

Anything that you wish you’d realized sooner?

It’s OK to say no. My generation was sold bill of goods that we can have it all. You can, but not necessarily at the same time.

So what about  “Mad Men”?

I watched the first five episodes in a fetal position. I was young in the ‘60s, but I remember that time well enough. I read an article that said flirting is essential for women’s negotiation skills, using Joan as the example. It’s bad advice.

Peggy knows what it’s like to be one of a few. She’s courageous. She formed an alliance with Don Draper and he had her back. It was brilliant when she finally left the firm because it was time for her to move on. She shows us that even though it looks hard, some risks are truly worth taking.

What advice would you give to men?

Men are part of the change process. We’ll never see gender equality without men being on board. For all of the men out there, we need you. We appreciate you. Look long and hard at the talent around you to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

And for women?
Be careful not to divide yourselves between career women and non-career women. We are all working hard.

Form alliances with men and women. There are influential people who will sponsor you when something important happens, so be purposeful about creating career-enhancing relationships. Those ahead of you can help you meet people who can help you, but you have to ask. Cultivate and manage your visibility. Just being a hard worker is not the visibility you desire. We are teaching women in the negotiation academy how to create and further a brand and how to manage visibility.

Favorite Quotes?

”Never allow a person to tell you ‘no’ who doesn’t have the power to say ‘yes.’ ”  And, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Both by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wadhwani is a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Fox Rothschild LLP and a member of the ATHENA Awards Program of Greater Pittsburgh Host Committee.