John Werthman remembers the competitive spirit of high school basketball games that once played out on the court in the South Side Market House.
The space was the home court of his alma mater, St. Michael’s in the South Side Slopes, and rivalries with the other Catholic schools in the neighborhood were intense.
“It brought back a lot of memories being here again,” Werthman said. “There were some pretty good players.”
Decades later, Werthman returns to the Market House, which is now a Healthy Active Living center for Allegheny County seniors. The 126-year-old facility occupies an entire block in the center of the South Side’s Bedford Square and recently reopened after more than six months of renovations.
The original building was designed by architect Charles Bickel in 1893 on a street grid named for Pittsburgh doctor Nathaniel Bedford. Its first purpose was self-evident: to be a market house for South Side farmers who wanted to sell produce and livestock. Eventually, it became a recreational facility where, as Werthman recalled, basketball and other tournaments were held.
“At one time, Pittsburgh was known as a hotbed for marbles,” he said.
Recreation still dominates the activities within the building, although the people taking part are noticeably older. Seniors can take classes in the fitness center, play darts and billiards and even try their hand at piano lessons. Each day, a meal is provided around noon. The activities are part of an effort to keep older residents engaged and independent.
“It’s a congregation spot,” said Eric Schiller, director of the facility. “It provides stability in their later years.”
As a National Historic Landmark the exterior of the facility still maintains its original Romanesque design. But the interior has evolved – a new HVAC system was recently installed so seniors could be comfortable even on the hottest Pittsburgh days. Schiller said because of the long closure, it’s been difficult to attract residents back to the Market House, but he hopes people return and take part in the many activities the space has to offer.