Linda Petrilli says she felt it as her car emerged from the Squirrel Hill tunnels and she saw downtown in the distance. “I felt like I was home.”
Domenique Comparetto reports that she and her partner were only planning to be here while he went through training. “But the longer we’re here, the less I want to leave.”
Sue Buse’s first impression was of a town with a sense of community. “It was just a feeling, not an intellectual decision.”
They’re among a surprising number of local residents who took a leap of faith and moved to Mt. Lebanon without any previous ties. They came here not because of a job offer or family or friends’ recommendations. They chose Mt. Lebanon without knowing a soul, trusting that they’d be able to fit in and make friends.
The search that led them here focused on different goals—good schools, cultural opportunities, distinctive housing, easy access to the city—but had one goal in common: finding a home.
Quality of Life
James (Bob) Hagerty is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who works from home on Jefferson Drive. Back in 2005, he was living in Westfield, New Jersey, but commuting to the Journal’s offices in lower Manhattan every day. The stress took a toll, and he began looking for another job in a place with a shorter commute, less expensive real estate, fewer traffic jams.
“I was looking for a place with affordable housing and good schools for my kids,” Hagerty explained. A co-worker suggested he switch to the paper’s Pittsburgh office (now closed), and Hagerty agreed to the transfer.
“I had never even visited Pittsburgh when I agreed to transfer here,” he said. “I called a Realtor in Pittsburgh and told him I wanted to live in a place that had top-quality schools, rail links to downtown Pittsburgh, and shops and restaurants within walking distance. He told me Mt. Lebanon was the only town in the Pittsburgh region with all three of those.”
After the move, Hagerty found personal connections through adult baseball leagues and volunteering at the library, where he has been involved with the fundraising beer tastings for a number of years). His wife, Lorraine Li-Hagerty, is now an administrator at Carnegie Mellon University. His daughter is currently a senior at the high school and his son is a junior at CMU.
His only complaints are a lack of diversity in Pittsburgh as a whole, and he hasn’t found really good Chinese food.
Hospitals and Kindred Spirits
Sue Buse, Theodan Drive, has lived in some pretty glamorous places during her long career as a geriatric case manager, hospice therapist, manager of a consulting business, personal chef and party planner. Her list of towns includes places in Colorado, southern California, and just outside Seattle, Washington. When it came time to retire in 2017, she knew she wanted to be closer to her family, which is all on the East Coast.
“I loved Seattle, but it was just too far away from everybody,” said Buse. “I missed the change of seasons, plus I wanted a place where my family was within a
Buse is a native Pennsylvanian, raised in a small town in the northeastern part of the state. First, she checked out the Bethlehem/Allentown area (medical facilities not great), Philadelphia (too expensive) and State College (too small). Finally she considered Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh offers all the amenities of a big city, like cultural events and great medical centers, but also has a low cost of living and is easy to get around,” she said. “Plus, it has an instructor in the type of Pilates I do—the only one in the whole state!”
Buse first condo-shopped downtown, then looked at a few suburban areas. But after a Realtor steered her to Mt. Lebanon, she realized that Washington Road with its shops and restaurants had the Main Street feel she was looking for. She loves the library.
To make friends, Buse volunteered and joined organizations like Mt. Lebanon Newcomers & Neighbors. “I found women there who are both intellectually stimulating and fun, as well as great role models. I’m keeping my eyes open to learn from these people.
“When I moved here, it seemed like I had come home. There’s a sense of community here—you could immediately tell.”
Closer to Home
Miranda Jodka of Iroquois Drive is an expat. Born and raised in London, she was working as a brand manager when she met her husband Will on vacation in India. Originally from Indianapolis, Will was an architect working for an American company in the Middle East. After a long-distance relationship, they married and lived in Dubai.
But the Jodkas found it difficult living so far from both of their families, so in 2016 they decided they wanted to move either to the U.K. or the U.S. Will’s company happened to have an office in Pittsburgh and was amenable to his transferring here, so they made the commitment, although neither of them had any ties to the city.
“We got on Google and asked where in Pittsburgh is good for kids and has good schools. Mt. Lebanon came up, but we looked in the city initially,” says Miranda, the mother of Annabelle, 8, and Joe, 6. “There wasn’t a lot of good housing in the city, and it was quite expensive, plus the public schools didn’t seem great.”
After they arrived on these shores, they drove down from visiting Will’s family in upstate New York. “We said to the Realtor, ‘Show us everything!’ We ended up buying the second house we saw.”
Miranda found Pittsburgh dramatic and spread out. “Driving into Pittsburgh for the first time, it reminded me of European cities. It has a spectacular vista. I like the hodgepodge layout, too. It made me feel very much at home.”
The Jodkas report they found it easy to make friends. The kids started nursery school at the Jewish Community Center, and Miranda began working at the JCC and got involved with the synagogue.
They found Mt. Lebanon a comfortable fit. “One lovely thing is that most Americans are Anglophiles, so they’re very curious about me. They were all watching The Crown and asking me questions,” said Miranda. “Our little neighborhood is exceptionally welcoming, with many kids the same ages as ours. We wouldn’t change a thing, it’s been fantastic. We made the right choice, I can say without any equivocation.”
A Homey, Warm Feeling
Linda Petrilli spent much of her working life as a critical care nurse in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City. As a single woman, she decided she did not want to spend her retirement there.
After doing some online research in 2015, she visited Portland, Maine; Albany, New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; Ithaca, New York; Asheville, North Carolina; Sedona, Arizona; and Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, in New Mexico. Some places seemed too small, some too isolated, some too far from her sons, who were on the East Coast. None seemed quite right—until she began to consider Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is a real city. My best friend grew up in Center Township in Beaver County, so she used to talk about Pittsburgh a lot,” said Petrilli. “I had no Pittsburgh connections at all. But it felt kind of familiar, because my friend had talked about it. I started doing some real estate investigation online. I even knew how Mt. Lebanon voted in every election!”
Petrilli drove here to look at houses. “As I came into town along 376, I knew: This is it. I hadn’t even seen Mt. Lebanon yet! I remember going with the Realtor along the streets here looking at houses, and it just felt like home. It was such a warm feeling right from the get-go. I loved the old trees and the housing stock.”
Petrilli ended up buying a house on Woodhaven Drive and set about making connections. “I did three things right from the get-go: I enrolled in the [Osher Lifelong Learning program] at CMU, I joined Mt. Lebanon Newcomers & Neighbors and I started volunteering at the library. I found all my friends in those three places.”
She remains enthusiastic about smaller cities. “The cost differences between here and larger cities are significant. And Pittsburgh has such incredible cultural institutions, a relic from a time when it was bigger and more important. Even more than that, the ease of living here is wonderful. A quick drive into the city, no tolls, cheap parking.”
“I think people here are pretty nice,” she continued. “As a single woman, I haven’t felt that anyone here would take advantage of me, the way they might in other places. People here are a little more small-town honest.”
Whitney Jalali and her family were living in Bakersfield, California, in 2015, when they decided they needed to get back to the East Coast. Her father was ill, and they wanted to be closer to family.
“My husband, Jalal, who is an engineer, took whatever job he could get, so we first ended up in State College. Then a better job came along and we jumped at the chance to be in Pittsburgh,” said Jalali. When they considered where to buy a house, though, a number of factors were important to Jalali, who is the mother of Shilan, 6, Rayan, 4, and Nadia, 20 months. “I wanted something with a close, community feel. Aesthetics were also important to me—I love old houses. Then we ended up buying a house on Halsey Court built in the ’80s!”
Another big factor were the schools. “I grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the school system was not the best,” said Jalali, a pediatric nurse practitioner currently working with COVID patients. “I wanted my kids to get the best of the best as far as teachers and courses were concerned.”
At the time they were looking, finding a house was challenging, and they thought the taxes were high. “Sometimes we questioned whether it was worth it. But where else would we go? No other place around here has this community feel. Sidewalks are important to me. That’s kind of where you congregate, especially with kids, and meet the neighbors. Also I like having Uptown. I don’t want to be in some far-flung neighborhood with no central business district.”
Jalali feels they made the right choice. “In any other major city, the taxes are even higher. We can get downtown here in 15 minutes. I think Pittsburgh is the perfect size.”
Domenique Comparetto and her partner, Steve Comstock, considered many places when he received a medical retirement from the military in 2019. She had grown up in Ohio, but Pittsburgh didn’t immediately come to mind until Steve found an auto mechanic training program here.
“We had a list of places we thought about moving to, and we went through the list of pros and cons. We ultimately chose Pittsburgh because of the cost of living, multiple options for college and trade schools and proximity to my family in Ohio,” Comparetto said.
“We had absolutely no connections here when we moved. We had stopped for lunch one day in Mt. Lebanon after viewing houses in Green Tree. That was my only experience with Mt. Lebanon before moving day. I had only seen the house through video before we got the keys.”
Comparetto, who lives in the Cedarhurst area, acknowledges that moving to a suburb like Mt. Lebanon without kids is a bit unusual. “It’s very family-oriented here. But I’m kind of used to being a woman my age without children. So yes, I’ve been able to meet people.” She connected with a community group on Facebook, attends a church on Washington Road and frequents Hitchhiker Brewing, where she finds it easy to chat with other patrons.
“Although we moved here thinking we didn’t know anybody, after we had been here about eight months, my best friend came to visit and we found out that her cousin lives right over on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard. Someone from my hometown in Ohio!”
Comparetto is a freelance marketing consultant. Comstock is a mechanic for Jaguar/Land Rover.
“I am happy that we are here,” said Comparetto. “I love living in or near cities. I love the views, the architecture and the variety of activities and events. We have made some wonderful friends. I love the variety of specialty shops and local businesses.
“I like it that we’re so close to the city, but it feels like its own small town. I can walk up to the restaurants on Washington Road or the farmers’ market. I’ve never lived in a place like this before.”