A heritage of service
The Hill House traces its heritage to the early 1900s, when two of its predecessor agencies—the Anna B. Heldman (formerly the Irene Kaufmann) and Soho Settlement Houses—helped European immigrants, and later Jewish settlers, adapt to their new lives in Pittsburgh.
Then as now, the job of building a community required a complex spectrum of services, touching individuals at every stage of life. The settlement houses were America’s original community centers, forging social bonds among thousands as they lent them a foothold in American society.
From vitality to tragedy
By the 1930s, Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay referred to the Hill District as the “crossroads to the world,” describing a neighborhood that flourished as a center for African-American music, art, and commerce.
Twenty-five years later, however, poorly planned redevelopment dealt tragic disruption to the community. More than 8,000 Hill District residents were displaced, and the neighborhood was severed from the Downtown economy. Civil unrest that followed in the 1960s only deepened the decline.
A new agency, a new idea
The path to recovery began in 1964, when a county study led to a new social agency to confront these problems. The organization was formed from the settlement houses and the Hill City Youth Municipality, a organization offering lessons of leadership to youth. Patterned on the settlement house concept, the Hill House Association was the first agency to combine health, welfare, recreation, and community programs in the city’s African-American community. Its philosophy—unchanged since its beginnings—empowered individuals to change, become models for their family, and gradually reweave the community’s social fabric.
In 1972, the Hill House completed a new headquarters on Centre Avenue which once again established a true center for the community and a place to start for anyone needing help. By bringing other agency partners on site, the Hill House forged the collaborative, “whatever it takes” approach seen in its work today.
Did you know?
Working from the settlement house model, the Hill House pioneered the delivery of integrated social services in Pittsburgh.
A heritage renewed
In 1970, the Hill House Housing Development Corporation (now the Hill House Economic Development Corporation) became one of the first agencies to tackle housing redevelopment on the Hill. The growing housing stock and influx of new Hill residents seen today is testament to its early vision.
A 1997, a first-ever capital campaign under director James Henry raised $5 million in much-needed funds to renovate campus facilities. Succeeding Henry in 2003, new President and CEO Evan Frazier led a strategic planning process that laid the groundwork for a second phase of renewal. The Generations Ahead campaign, launched in 2008, will sustain the work of the Hill House for generations to come.
Today, serving 70,000 people a year—more than 500,000 since its founding—the Hill House is a model of responsible, effective community service. It’s ready to join with a larger community of supporters who can help it secure its future and share its methods of success.
- Pittsburgh’s original settlement houses prepared immigrants to participate fully in American society. Today, in some of the same buildings, the Hill House prepares the people it serves to meet this same opportunity.
- Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
- The Hill House campus has seen many historic performers. Singer Johnny Ray, here on the Kaufmann stage with composer Churchill Kohlman, topped the charts in 1951.
- The construction of the Civic Arena in 1961 cut off the Hill District from downtown and demolished much of its urban fabric.
- In 1975, a new headquarters helped the organization deliver a full spectrum of services. The community quickly embraced the new facility, as reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.