Crawford Grill unveiled as newest feature of Miniature Railroad & Village
Carnegie Science Center unveiled its new addition to the Miniature Railroad & Village® following a special lunch for community leaders.
A model of the original Crawford Grill has become the third Hill District landmark in the miniature display, joining Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Pittsburgh Courier building.
To create the Crawford Grill model, Curator of Historic Exhibits Patty Everly did extensive research using newspapers of the time, and painstakingly studied photos from the Charles “Teenie” Harris collection now housed at Carnegie Museum of Art. In 2001, the museum purchased the complete Teenie Harris archives of 70,000-plus images of life in and around Pittsburgh’s Hill District. She worked with colleagues at the Museum of Art to make contact with some of Crawford Grill’s patrons and local historians and musicians.
It was said, in its day, that you could hear the Crawford Grill before you could see it. In the model, when the front door swings open, jazz from the Crawford Grill’s heyday pours out. Crawford Grill had a neon sign on the front, and the model has one that’s simulated neon.
Outside the miniature, a mirrored upright piano is being delivered; in the Crawford Grill, a mirrored piano sat on the bar. The soda pop advertising art on the side of the building and the menu in the window are perfect miniatures of the original as captured in Teenie Harris’s photos.
Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords of baseball’s Negro League, opened the original Crawford Grill in the early 1930s on the corner of Townsend Street and Wylie Avenue in the Lower Hill. The grill suffered a fire in 1951 and was demolished in 1956 as part of the Civic Arena development project. But in the early 1940s, Mr. Greenlee and Joseph Robinson opened a second location on the corner of Wylie and Elmore Street, just a few blocks from the original club. Mr. Robinson, followed by his son, William “Buzzy” Robinson, ran the second location for nearly six decades.
Black and white audiences packed the Crawford Grill on a regular basis. The Rooneys, the Kaufmanns, and even the Kennedys were patrons. Martin Luther King Jr. visited, as did Frank Sinatra. Athletes like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Muhammad Ali were also among the clientele. Performers included Chet Baker, George Benson, Miles Davis, Walt Harper, Thelonius Monk, Stanley Turrentine, and Max Roach.
The Miniature Railroad & Village® has been a staple at the Science Center since 1992. It was first created by Charles Bowdish and displayed at his home in the 1920s. In 1954, the display moved to Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
Relocated to Carnegie Science Center in 1992, the Miniature Railroad is as popular as ever. Each fall, a new model is added to the display to further expand its presentation of the region’s history spanning the last few decades of the 19th century and the first several decades of the 20th century.