Last updated: December 11, 2013
Events are held on the second Tuesday of each month,
FREE at 7:30 p.m.,
The Church of the Redeemer,
located at 5700 Forbes Avenue
If you have any suggestions or ideas for speakers or topics to put on our agenda, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 14, 2014(Tuesday)
"Squirrel Hill's Mansions"
Speaker: MELANIE LINN GUTOWSKI
Writer, Researcher, Historian
Melanie Linn Gutowski is a writer, researcher and historian originally from Stanton Heights. Her history writing has appeared in Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other local and national publications. She holds a bachelor's degree in history of art and architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's in Professional Writing from Chatham University. Melanie currently works as a docent at Clayton, the Henry Clay Frick estate in Point Breeze.
from Arcadia Publishing -- book by Melanie Gutowski
In the 19th century, the positioning of Pittsburgh as a major manufacturing center and the subsequent rise of the areas steel industry created a wave of prosperity that prompted the beneficiaries of that wealth to construct extravagant residences. Wealthy enclaves sprang up in the citys East End, across the river in neighboring Allegheny City, and into the countryside. Pittsburghs Mansions explores the stately homes of the areas prominent residents from the 1830s through the 1920s. Businessmen such as H.J. Heinz, Henry Clay Frick, and members of the Mellon family commissioned elaborate homes from the preeminent architects of their day. Firms such as Alden & Harlow, Janssen & Abbott, and Rutan & Russell left their marks on the citys landscape, often contributing iconic public buildings as well as expansive private homes. Though many of the residences have since been lost, Pittsburgh's Mansions offers a look back at the peak of the citys prominence.
Also, see post-gazette article August 24, 2013 "Pittsburgh's Mansion details grand
homes of the past and present"
February 11, 2014(Tuesday)
"History of Coffee Tree Roasters and Commentary on Coffee"
Speaker: BILL SWOOPE, JR.,
Co-founder and Co-Owner of "Coffee Tree Roasters"
Info from Post-Gazette Article February 21, 2013
By Teresa F. Lindeman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A few months ago, a contingent of Japanese coffee professionals looking for insights into the specialty coffee business ended up in the South Hills Industrial Park in West Mifflin, a gritty site near the Allegheny County Airport.
There, inside a renovated industrial building, burlap bags packed with green coffee beans from countries around the world are piled up, ready for roasting so they can be sold either in one of the region's Coffee Tree Roasters shops or to wholesale customers of Iron Star Roasting Co., both co-founded and co-owned by Bill Swoope Jr.
In Japan, it's been a challenge to convince customers that some coffees are worth more than others, with a slowing economy hitting the industry hard. "It's all price-based competition," said Mr. Swoope.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., specialty coffees rose from about 37 percent of coffee cups in 2011 to 46 percent in 2012, according to the National Coffee Association, based in New York. Many Americans cut back on their gourmet coffee fix during the economic downturn, but others aren't willing to give up the small luxury, according to a recent survey by BIGinsight for Stores magazine.
Proof that there's continuing demand for better coffee, fast-food operator Burger King last week announced it had overhauled its coffee offerings, with the new brews blended by Seattle's Best Coffee.
In general, customers in the U.S. know more about coffee than they did 20 years ago, Mr. Swoope said. "They're the most educated in coffee than they've ever been in their lives."
So is he, considering all he's learned since that first time a friend took him to a coffee shop in Portland, Maine. He says he called his father, also named Bill, and said, "This place is great. We can do this in Pittsburgh."
The family-run enterprise started with one coffee shop in Squirrel Hill in 1993 and has grown to include five shops with another set to open in Pleasant Hills next month. The shops plus the wholesale operation and a service company called Espresso Solutions now employ between 80 and 100 people, a mix of part-time and full-time.
The staff roasts about 500,000 pounds of coffee beans every year, or about 4,000 of those 132-pound burlap bags, rather more than the 10 bags ordered to supply that first store in 1993. Deliveries of the roasted beans are made as far away as State College, Erie and Washington, Pa.
Growth of specialty coffee in the U.S. hasn't just happened naturally. Mr. Swoope credits industry powerhouse Starbucks with helping show Americans the differences in coffee made from freshly roasted beans rather than from mass-packaged grounds sold in jars and cans. Pittsburgh also has an active community of homegrown specialty coffee shops -- some of which Mr. Swoope's business works with -- that are invested in educating customers.
Consumers who know about the differences in coffee from, say, Rwanda and Costa Rica, and think about how those beans should be roasted might be willing to walk a little further -- and pay a little more -- to get their daily fix.
"Coffee is a convenience product," said Mr. Swoope, who heard somewhere that the optimum distance for shops drawing customers is about 150 yards. It's why there are so many Starbucks so close together.
His hope is that at this point enough customers have become enamored of better quality coffees that they'll seek them out. His business was up 10 percent last year, an encouraging sign.
The Japanese visitors are looking to achieve solid results as well. Hidetaka Hayashi, president of Hayashi Coffee Institute in Tokyo, was quoted in the Specialty Coffee Association of America's news outlet in January as saying one of the goals of the trip was to "study why U.S. specialty coffee roasters can expand their sales and enjoy reasonable profit" in the recent economic climate.
Mr. Hayashi is a board member for the Cup of Excellence international competitive program run by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence in Missoula, Mont., and Mr. Swoope is on the alliance's advisory panel. Other stops on the recent tour of Japanese professionals included Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Vermont and Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina. The Specialty Coffee Association, in Long Beach, Calif., helped organize the trip.
Coffee has long been a commodity product. The base price is now in the $1.40-a-pound range. That can shift wildly, depending on crops in various parts of the world, demand from coffee-drinking countries and on how much speculators are willing to pay. At the moment, there's concern about a fungus that could threaten next year's crop in Central America.
These days, the demand for certain varieties has pushed up prices to levels that wouldn't have been seen years ago. Coffee Tree Roasters had Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at $42.99 a pound in mid-February, a price supported by the fact that there's limited production, Mr. Swoope said. Hawaiian coffee, prized because it's the only coffee produced in the U.S., was going for $29.99 a pound.
Being able to offer something different helps separate specialty coffees from mass market versions. Mr. Swoope thinks a sun-dried variety from the Costa Rican estate La Minita that he carries is only sold by four roasters in the world. He buys half of the supply.
On a recent day, he was awaiting information on a coffee from El Salvador that another buyer had come across and hoped to split. "It's more volume than he can take," said Mr. Swoope.
Soil, weather and other factors all affect the flavors of beans. Mr. Swoope has traveled to countries such as Costa Rica, Indonesia and Rwanda to find good varieties. Next year he hopes to go to Papua New Guinea.
Every step along the line from the farm to the customer can affect the taste of the coffee. Beans can be "washed" or "semi-washed" or "dry processed," all of which has to do with how they are separated from their fruit and sorted. In the Coffee Tree Roasters warehouse, roasting machines raise the temperature of the beans, while workers check color and listen for the series of cracks that come as moisture escapes.
At different points, beans are put through cuppings, the name for an analysis process. The elaborate system, which resembles a wine tasting, involves checking the aromas of roasted beans that are ground. Hot water is added. After a set period of time, taste testings begin.
Probably the best place to drink a cup of coffee is on the farm where the beans were grown. "That coffee's never going to taste any better than what it is on the tree," said Mr. Swoope.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or at 412-263-2018.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am
March 11, 2014(Tuesday)
"The History of Tree of Life* Or L'Simcha Congregation"
Speaker: DAVID DINKIN
Information from Heinz History Center:
In 1864, Pittsburgh’s earliest Jewish congregation, Rodef Shalom, formally adopted the reformed American minhag (custom) for its religious services. That same year, several members of the congregation, who were opposed to the reformed services left Rodef Shalom and formed the Etz Hayyim (Tree of Life) Congregation. Chartered in 1865, the small, Orthodox congregation met for several years in temporary spaces, including the home of Gustavus Grafner, the congregation’s first president. A small piece of land in Sharpsburg, Pa., to be used as a cemetery, was acquired by the congregation during its first year. In 1882, the congregation purchased a former Lutheran Church on Fourth and Ross Streets, in Pittsburgh’s downtown, for use as a synagogue. The congregation began to use the English name, Tree of Life.
In 1886, the Tree of Life Congregation joined the Jewish Theological Seminary Association, aligning itself with the Conservative Jewish movement. In 1906, the growing congregation laid the cornerstone for a new, larger synagogue on Craft Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. The new synagogue opened in 1907 with seating for 750.
Members of the Tree of Life Congregation were active volunteers and supported many Jewish social service efforts. Alexander Fink (1818-1892), president of Tree of Life from 1873 to 1892, founded the Hebrew Benevolent Society and later served as president of the United Hebrew Relief Association. The Tree of Life Sisterhood, founded in 1906, began an volunteer sewing group, donating linens and clothing to local organizations including Montefiore Hospital, where the sewing group was headquartered in later years. Beginning in 1910, the synagogue hosted the meetings and activities of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, until the group moved to a rented space in the Dispatch Building, downtown, in 1912.
At the end of World War II, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community was largely centered in the city’s East End neighborhoods. The congregation began construction for a new synagogue on the corner of Shady and Wilkins Avenues in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood where many of its members were now living. In 1946, Charles J. Rosenbloom, president of Tree of Life, donated the land for the synagogue and supplied the cornerstone, made of limestone from Palestine, for the new building. The congregation’s former synagogue on Craft Avenue was purchased by the Pittsburgh Playhouse theater company and renovated into a live theater auditorium, which continues today as the performing arts center of Point Park University.
In more recent years, membership to the Tree of Life Congregation has declined due to aging members and growing Jewish suburban communities. Or L’Simcha, a small Conservative congregation, organized about 2007 by a group of people who had previously belonged to Beth Shalom Congregation, began holding religious services in a room in the synagogue. The two congregations merged in 2010 and are now known as the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation. The congregation continues to rent unused space in the large synagogue. Currently, Dor Hadash Congregation, a Reconstructionist congregation, holds its religious services and activities there.
April 8, 2014(Tuesday)
History of the Nationality Rooms of the University of Pittsburgh
Speaker: MICHAEL WALTER,
Nationality Rooms Tour Coordinator
From the Website: Nationality Rooms
The rooms were designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County and are supported by these cultural groups and governments..... A steady stream of people -- often families of three generations -- come to see the world-famous rooms, which evoke pride in their own heritage and warm appreciation of other cultures.
The Nationality Rooms are a collection of 29 classrooms in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning depicting and donated by the ethnic groups that helped build the city of Pittsburgh. The rooms are designated as a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation historical landmark and are located on the 1st and 3rd floors of the Cathedral of Learning, itself a national historic landmark, on the University of Pittsburgh's main campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Although of museum caliber, twenty-seven of the 29 rooms are in almost constant use as functional classrooms and utilized daily by University of Pittsburgh faculty and students, while the other two (the Early American and Syrian-Lebanon) are display rooms which can be explored only via guided tour.
The Nationality Rooms also serve in a vigorous program of intercultural involvement and exchange in which the original organizing committees for the individual rooms remain as participants and includes a program of annual student scholarship to facilitate study abroad. In addition, the Nationality Rooms inspire lectures, seminars, concerts exhibitions, and social events which focus on the various heritages and traditions of the nations represented.
May 13, 2014(Tuesday)
"History of Randall's Toyes and Giftes"
Speaker: JACK COHEN, owner of Randall's Toyes and Giftes
S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes is Pittsburgh's largest specialty toy and gift store. They are a family run chain and are currently celebrating their 43rd year in business. Their headquarters is located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh.
Jack Cohen says he opened the store in Squirrel Hill 25 years ago and it has remained at this same location. With three Pittsburgh locations and an online store, you are sure to find the perfect toy for any age at SW Randall. KDKA staffers say SW Randall is “what an old-fashioned toy store should be.”
The stores website says they are Pittsburgh’s largest specialty toy and gift store with over 20,000 items in stock. From dinosaurs to dolls, there seems to be something for everyone. “You’ll find a UNIQUE selection of toys – things you’d never find anywhere else,” said another staff member. SW Randall also says they chose their products for their safety, quality, and play value, so items purchased here are sure to bring years of enjoyment.
June 10, 2014(Tuesday)
"The Civil War in Pennsylvania: Stories Through Photographs"
Speaker: MICHAEL KRAUS,
Curator of Collections at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum
Michael Kraus, Curator of Collections at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum and author of "The Civil War in Pennsylvania:A Photographic History", will present a moving portrayal of the personal side of the Civil War by telling the stories of the soldiers’ experiences through photographs taken during the conflict.
Info on Michael G. Kraus from:"National Civil War Museum" website
Michael Kraus’s interest with history began when he was ten with the discovery of a 3000 year old Native-American stone ax which he found in the dirt while playing behind his parent’s home in Western Pennsylvania. From that moment the question of who was here before us and what happened to them awakened Michael to a lifelong affinity for historical artifacts and the background stories they hold.
Kraus’s interest expanded over the years to focus on military history particularly the American Civil War. In a recent Pittsburgh newspaper interview, a reporter referred to him as the “go to” person for all things Civil War as Michael is recognized in the field not only as an authority on historical artifacts, but also as a long time re-enactor, who attended his first re-enactment event in 1966. He continues to enjoy re-enacting holding the rank of captain of the 116th Pa. Volunteer Infantry, Company “I” Irish Brigade. Capitalizing on is living history expertise Kraus was tapped by several film companies as an on location historical consultant. Michael has worked on, and appeared in, “Gettysburg” in 1993 and “Cold Mountain” in 2003. Other media credits include being the co-writer of a nationally distributed documentary DVD series titled: “Civil War Minutes” (recently broadcast on PBS) and as military antiques appraiser for “Pittsburgh’s Hidden Treasures” an antique road show type program on KDKA Television.
Michael Kraus graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Fine Art and in 2009 was recognized by the university as a distinguished alumnus. For nearly 20 years Michael has worked as a sculptor combining artistic talent with a passion for history. Kraus has been commissioned to create at least six large public bronze monuments with historical themes.
Currently, Mr. Kraus is the Curator of Collections at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Info on Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial from "National Military Museum" website
Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial is a National Register of Historic Places landmark in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is the largest memorial in the United States dedicated solely to honoring all branches of military veterans and service personnel. It was conceived by the Grand Army of the Republic in the 1890s as a way for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to honor the dwindling ranks of its American Civil War veterans. The Memorial today represents all branches of the service and honors both career and citizen soldiers who have served the United States throughout its history.
Architect Henry Hornbostel designed the memorial in 1907. Dedicated in 1910, the building is in the Beaux-Arts style and is heroic in scale. It is located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh and adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh campus and its Cathedral of Learning.
The Memorial houses rare and one-of-a-kind exhibits that span the eras from the Civil War to the present day conflicts. Since 1963, it has operated the “Hall of Valor” to honor individual veterans from the region who went above and beyond the call of duty. Today the hall has over 600 honorees, and among them are the Medal of Honor, The Kearny Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross winners.
For more information, visit website Soldiers & Sailors Memorial
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