Can it be thirty years?
I am a boomeranger. I grew up in Pittsburgh, left after college and lived on the west coast for nearly two decades. There are quite a few of us in Pittsburgh, and more are returning all the time.
I read an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette yesterday about the Mattress Factory turning thirty. It's hard to believe that it's been thirty years. In 1977, I was eighteen. I had been out of high school for nearly a year. I was working as a sales clerk in McCrory's 5&10 on Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. On April 1st, I received my acceptance letter to Carnegie Mellon University. I don't think that I would remember the date except that my dad pulled a really heinous April Fool's joke on me.
At the time, I was taking studio classes in weaving at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. I had purchased my own loom and was starting to exhibit my work. Mostly with the help of my mentor, Lynne Raphael. Pittsburgh had put together Rennaissance II, an initiative to revitalize the lower Northside neighborhoods of Manchester and the Mexican War Streets. Through this initiative, condemned and abandoned properties could be purchased for a nominal fee and government subsidized loans were issued to bring the properties up to code.
A boon for area artists.
Many, including Barbara Luderowski, purchased properties in the Mexican War Streets. I remember the Mattress Factory. It was an old warehouse with long, open floors. There was a communal kitchen on the first floor and a freight elevator that took you to the upper floors. The Mattress Factory, at that time and through my college years, was a residence for artists.
I came back to visit my parents several times while I was living on the west coast. I didn't always take the time to visit my old haunts and it wasn't until my niece was in high school that I went back to visit the Mattress Factory. She had gone to visit an exhibit with a school tour and was very excited by what she has seen. I was speechless. There was a real elevator. No more kitchen on the first floor. An all of those changes took place in a little more than ten years.
Now the Mattress Factory is a major institution, exhibiting high-caliber work. They have expanded their physical space with an addition to the original building and by purchasing an additional building in the neighborhood. All from such humble beginnings.