“If you don’t play, you don’t stay!”
Cheerily announced by Randy Gilson as he hugged
and took selfies with visitors, that’s the sovereign rule
for experiencing Randyland, his wonderland home and
garden in the resurgent Mexican War Streets district of
Amid toys and visual delights such as mural-splashed
building sides, plastic flamingos and welcome signs in
dozens of languages hand-painted by visitors, joy animates this free-admission folk art landmark.
In 1982, Randy founded the Old Allegheny Garden
Society to return beauty to his then blighted community.
Creating “pop-up nature reserves” of flower-filled whiskey barrels, his concepts of turning “waste into wonder”
and “people projects by people” attracted a following.
Over time, the Society has produced some 800 barrels,
50 vegetable gardens, eight parks, trees and more.
Randy, also welcoming guests as a waiter at the
Westin Convention Center hotel, is emblematic of the
attention-getters, past and present, who give Pittsburgh
its resilient energy and unique visitor appeal.
The story continues throughout Western Pennsylvania, including the Frank Lloyd Wright country of the
nearby Laurel Highlands and beyond.
Art and culture remain integral to Pittsburgh’s ongoing turnaround from now distant Smoky City days.
Post-industrial decline halved the population from its
700,000-citizen heyday, leaving behind a vast urban
infrastructure ripe for artistic takeover.
Randyland, about a mile from downtown, is one
Northside treat for groups. Another nearby is the acclaimed Mattress Factory. Formerly a Stearns & Foster
mattress warehouse, artist Barbara Luderowski’s boundary-pushing center of installation art features provocative works along with flexible event spaces.
Housed in an industrial park by the Pittsburgh-to-D.C.
bike trail in the Chateau district, Bicycle Heaven is the
world’s largest bicycle museum and sales/repair shop.
Founder Craig Morrow’s nearly 4,000-piece collection
ranges from rare antiques to bicycles from Hollywood
films. Amid bicycles, Beatles and Elvis memorabilia,
bobbleheads and much more, the upstairs can accommodate events for up to 500 people.
Next door is Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff & Music Museum. Lead singer of The Halos—founded in 1966 and
still going strong—Angel is one “ginchy” (’50s slang for
cool) dude often on hand to share stories amid his Doo
Wop, soul, pop and rock memorabilia.
Staying on the North Shore, the Andy Warhol Mu-
seum features the definitive collection of the Pitts-
burgh-born Pop Artist’s works on seven floors and an
underground area. Versatile function spaces for 20 to 300
people are complemented by gallery access, tours and
activities such as making Warhol-style art or starring in a
Warhol-esque “Screen Test.”
The Warhol is one of Pittsburgh’s four Carnegie
Museums, along with the nearby river-facing Carnegie
Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
BY JEFF HEILMAN
lure groups with a blend of arts,
heritage and natural beauty
THE STRAND THEATER,