History of Shalercrest chronicled in local man’s book

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Pittsburgh’s factories overhauled production during World War II to provide steel, cement, weapons and vehicles to assist with defense efforts. To combat a severe housing shortage among workers seeking defense work, the government built housing projects throughout Allegheny County.

One such plan is the 251-unit Shalercrest, built in 1940 on Mt. Vernon Road.

“You had to work in the industry, like in the steel industry or whatever. My dad actually worked in a Dravo (Corp.) shipyard building LSTs (amphibious landing vehicles) for the war down in the Ohio River,” said George B. Kruth, a Shalercrest resident from about 1943 to 1952.

Kruth of Shaler wrote “Shalercrest: A Defense Housing Project: A Historical Perspective, 1940-1955.” Readers may purchase the book for $24.95 at the Shalercrest community center and Shaler North Hills Library, where they also may borrow it with a library card.

While researching his book, Kruth, 77, a retired information technology employee, combed through township meeting minutes, during which he discovered that officials initially opposed the development joining Shaler’s “bedroom community.”

Nonetheless, he said, the federal government convinced officials that the location was ideal for workers employed at local steel companies.

“There were a dozen major steel companies between Etna, Sharpsburg, Lawrenceville, Blawnox, and so that’s what the government was doing: They were trying to locate strategically where the work was,” he said. “So, these people, basically, at that time, very few people had a car. They either walked down in the case of Shalercrest — it’s about a mile, mile and a half from Etna — so they walked to work.”

“It was a large community — different people, a lot of kids. It was just great times,” Kruth said of his Shalercrest years. “Everybody knew everybody. It was a true community spirit.”

The townhouses contained between two and four bedrooms and had oak floors and gas furnaces, the latter of which Kruth recalled as an impressive feature for the time.

“Our family had nine children and we lived in a three-bedroom unit,” he said. “We had four girls, four boys and the baby in the crib with Mom and Dad. And we survived with one bathroom. They were state-of-the-art (units), and they were built exclusively as middle-income facilities.

“Green areas made people very proud of what they had and provided mobility between the units because you could walk or ride your bike or whatever. It was a very safe place.”

The Allegheny County Housing Authority, involved in the building’s operations, contracted people to run a Shalercrest grocery store. Residents visited an activity center for dances and another area to enlist in the military.

Following the war, the government sold Shalercrest to residents in 1954 under the federal Mutual Home Ownership Plan. Today, residents may hold co-op shares or rent their apartments.

Sharon McRae, Shaler North Hills Library director, challenged Kruth to write his book when he was disappointed by the lack of information on the development.

He spent more than three years perusing old newspapers, township meeting minutes and Shalercrest architect Clarence Stein’s archives. His nearly 350-page book contains photos of friends and family at Shalercrest and provides a peek inside the plan.

“George is definitely filling a missing piece of our community history. We have enjoyed his journey and are thrilled that he is a published author,” McRae said. “We are coordinating a ‘Meet the Author’ program with him so that he can talk about his book and his process. He already spoke to a big crowd at our ‘Let’s Talk Local History’ series at the Elfinwild Presbyterian Church last October.”