As a young girl growing up in the city neighborhood of Brookline in the 1960s, I often accompanied my mom and dad on excursions to the new South Hills Village Mall. Located on the border between Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair on Route 19, South Hills Village was the latest concept in suburban shopping, providing an indoor experience similar to, yet distinct from, browsing through downtown department stores.
But it was never the mall that I looked forward to on these trips to suburbia—it was traveling along Washington Road through the picturesque neighborhood of Mt. Lebanon that I truly anticipated. It was gliding past the stately stone Tudor houses and colonial red-brick homes on the luxurious tree-lined streets. It was feasting my eyes on the fine-looking gardens in people’s yards filled with hot pink azaleas in the spring and russet and gold chrysanthemums in the fall. It was escaping to another world somewhat different from Brookline Boulevard and Berkshire Avenue where I resided, even if it only lasted a few minutes until we reached our destination.
Invariably I would pick out my favorite houses and gardens during these journeys. I vowed that someday when I grew up, I would live in one of those dream houses which were like castles in the eyes of a child whose distracted head lingered, more often than not, up in the clouds.
Years later, my childhood aspiration became a reality—though just barely—when I moved into a modest red-brick house on Dell Avenue in 1979 after getting married. I say “just barely” because Dell Avenue is divided by McFarland Road, with Dormont owning one side and Mt. Lebanon claiming the other. Happily, our first house was situated just across the border on the Mt. Lebanon side, so I was a legitimate Mt. Lebanon resident whose property taxes would prove it, if need be.
Still the plain, dingy, red-brick abode with its high awkward peak, non-descript yard, and decrepit old windows resembled a wicked witch’s haunted house more than a Cinderella castle. It wasn’t exactly my idea of a fantasy home. Though it was old-fashioned, it possessed no old-fashioned charm. Yet it served its primary purpose—plunking me down into the neighborhood of my dreams until I could find the home of my dreams.
Thirteen years later, I found it. There it stood, a few streets over on Arden Road, not far from Virginia Manor. A classic grey stone Tudor. The real estate ad described it as “pretty and perfect” on a shady cobblestone street lined with towering oak trees and surrounded by yards with lush foliage. It was precisely like those “castles” on Washington Road I admired as a child. I even dubbed it my “Castle of Arden,” captivated by the name of the street which evoked images of the Ardennes Forest in Europe and the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It.”
When we moved into our Castle of Arden in January 1992, I was so thrilled that I paid no heed to the freezing wintry cold or the snow-packed ground. In fact, the white layers of snow on the rooftop and trees made the setting appear even more magical, like a scene from the Disney movie, “Frozen.” Since then, I have been as contented on Arden Road as a cat curled up by a cozy fireplace, with no plans to leave.
And although I originally moved to Mt. Lebanon simply to be engulfed by beauty, over the years I have unearthed countless other inducements for people to move here and to stay here, as I have done for the past 45 years.
What else do I love about Mt. Lebanon, besides its aesthetics? As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, let me count the ways:
I love the diverse shops and restaurants on Beverly and Washington Roads which give a “Main Street” feel to our neighborhood, rivaling the aura of quaint New England villages.
I love the well-kept sidewalks which permit inveterate walkers like me to roam around the neighborhood seamlessly.
I love Bird Park and Twin Hills Park which offer green spaces and woodland trails for me to explore in all seasons.
I love the outstanding public schools which did a first-rate job educating my son, enabling him to obtain a college scholarship and embark upon a promising career.
I love the Mt. Lebanon Public Library with its abundant resources and programs which consistently engage and entertain me.
I love the volunteer opportunities which help me feel productive in retirement and the thriving community spirit which makes me feel welcome everywhere.
I love the doctors and nurses at St. Clair Hospital who have treated me and my family with competence and compassion on numerous occasions.
I love the reliable municipal services which timely perform everyday tasks like snow removal, leaf pick-up and road maintenance, as well as the crucial work of police, firefighters and paramedics who watch over us and make our community safe.
I love the proximity to downtown Pittsburgh and easy access to public transit, a boon when I commuted to my job in the city for 36 years and a bonus now that I can ride for free with a senior pass.
I could go on singing praises to Mt. Lebanon. And at the risk of spouting hyperbole, I could crow about how our community is the closest you can get to heaven on Earth. Suffice it to say I’m awfully glad I listened to my own wisdom as an imaginative child when I decided to leave Brookline and choose Mt. Lebanon as my permanent homestead.