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What Pittsburgh Looked Like in the 1980s: Capturing the Essence Through These Timeless Photos

The 1980s was a pivotal time for Pittsburgh. The city was deep in the throes of transition, saying goodbye to its industrial past and hello to a future of innovation and technology. The decline of the steel industry in the 1970s had left a significant impact, but Pittsburgh, true to form, rolled up its sleeves and got to work on rebuilding and reinventing itself.

The city’s economy was evolving. While steel had been the heart and soul of Pittsburgh for so long, the ’80s saw the city pivot towards new industries. Healthcare, technology, and education were becoming the new backbone of the city’s economy. Universities and medical centers were growing, attracting top talent and driving innovation. Companies like Westinghouse were also making waves in the technology sector. The technology sector also began to flourish during this period. Companies like Westinghouse were leading the way, and the city started to become a hub for technological innovation and research.

Daily life was a blend of the old and the new. The city’s sports culture was a constant source of pride and unity. Pittsburghers rallied behind their beloved Steelers, who were riding high on their successful streak in the late ’70s. The Penguins were also starting to make a splash in the NHL, setting the stage for the arrival of superstar Mario Lemieux mid-decade.

Culturally, Pittsburgh was a vibrant tapestry. Music flowed from record shops, live venues, and the homes of dedicated fans, with genres ranging from rock and pop to jazz and emerging hip-hop. The arts scene was also thriving. The Andy Warhol Museum became a cornerstone of the city’s cultural landscape, celebrating the life and work of the iconic Pittsburgh-born artist.

In the midst of change, Pittsburgh’s culinary scene remained a constant. The iconic Primanti Bros. sandwich, loaded with meat, cheese, coleslaw, and French fries, was a testament to the city’s hearty and unpretentious palate. The Strip District continued to be a foodie paradise, offering a variety of ethnic cuisines that mirrored the city’s diverse population.

Education played a critical role in the city’s transformation during the ’80s. Institutions like the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University were growing, attracting students from across the country and around the world, further enhancing the city’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy.
Meanwhile, the city’s government and civic leaders were instrumental in facilitating Pittsburgh’s economic transformation. Initiatives aimed at urban renewal and economic diversification were launched, leading to the revitalization of the city’s downtown area and the development of new industries.

#1 Street views in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#2 1980s car dealership in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#3 Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial on 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1989.

#4 Street details in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#5 John’s Bar in Evans City, Pittsburgh area, from the 1980s,

#6 Downtown Pittsburgh street scenery, taken in July, 1981.

#7 Street details in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#8 Smithfield Street Bridge with One PPG Place in the background, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1983.

#9 One PPG Place skyscraper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1983.

#10 Director Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster on set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1989.

#12 Street scenery in 1980s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#13 Street views from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1980s

#14 1980s suburb scenery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#15 Moose Building at 47 East North Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1989.

#16 Mural Grill sign in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1980s

#17 American family home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980s,

#18 Family home in 1980s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#19 Street details in 1980s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1981.

#20 Oakmont Country Club Golf Course and Clubhouse, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1982.

#21 Pittsburgh skyline with Allegheny County Courthouse and Civic Area, 1983.

#23 Office buildings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980.

#24 Office structures in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980.

#28 Industrial road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980.

#34 Skyline scenery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980

#36 Palermo’s Shoe Repair sign on Butler Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1989.

#37 Moose Building at 47 East North Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1989.

#38 Scenery of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1980s.

Scenery of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1980s.

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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13 Comments

    • The downtown skyline changed a lot in the 80’s with the construction of PPG Place, Oxford Center, the Mellon Bank building on Grant, Fifth Ave Place and a couple of others. But there hasn’t been much change since then. The PNC building with the slanted top and the still under construction FNB building in the Lower Hill are the only two tall buildings that have gone up recently.

      I suspect that with the current office space glut the skyline won’t change much for awhile.

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