🍾 Cheers to Rick Sebak's new cocktail
Plus, a behind-the-scenes look at where “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was filmed.
It’s another Throwback Thursday.
Did any of yinz catch the Oscars? I know, I know. I’m a couple days behind. To be fair, I’ve never really been good at keeping up with pop culture. Besides, I spend most of my time filing through local happenings so I can relay all that ‘Burgh business to you.
But there were a couple local winners we should shout-out: Beechview native Jan Pascale won the Oscar for Best Production Design in “Mank,” and 89-year-old Ann Roth from Hanover won Best Costume Design for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
That’s actually the real reason I’m bringing this up today for Throwback Thursday. Did you know that August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was filmed outside of the old Hipwell Flashlight Factory on the North Side? It’s a popular spot for filming in town and for good reason.
Scroll for more on the history of the building and a behind-the-scenes look at the set.
Now let’s talk about the news.
What Pittsburgh is talking about
3 things to know today
🗳️ Allegheny County is getting a nine-member police oversight review board at the beginning of 2022 that will have jurisdiction over the county’s own police departments. Municipal departments can opt in if they choose. (90.5 WESA)
🏘️ Rising rents and renovations are displacing Pittsburghers, adding to gentrification and harming communities. City Paper staff writer Kimberly Rooney reports on how Pittsburgh’s influx of tech and health care jobs creates a more desirable real estate investment in certain neighborhoods who wish to profit off of the increased area median incomes.
- Quotable: “While some developers raze blighted or vacant properties and replace them with new housing units, others purchase existing units, sometimes displacing those who already lived there, and renovate them before selling or renting them at an increased market value.” (Pittsburgh City Paper)
🐍 Do you have an animal welfare concern? Animal.Law@pittsburghpa.gov can now be used to contact the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and ask questions about pets, wildlife, or general animal safety. This was created in response to some, quite literally, wild animal sightings around the city. But for immediate concerns or animal emergencies, residents should still call 9-1-1. (Pittsburgh Magazine)
3 things to make you smile
🍾 Independent Brewing Company is releasing a new bottled Rick Sebak Cocktail to-go this Saturday, May 1, with the one-and-only Rick Sebak as guest DJ. The drink is made with bonded bourbon, maple syrup, and chocolate mole bitters and benefits WQED, with $2 from each cocktail sold going toward the local PBS affiliate. (Independent Brewing Company)
💛 YogaRoots On Location is teaching social justice through its yoga classes with anti-racism and anti-oppression frameworks with founder Felicia Savage Friedman.
- Quotable: “Oppression is about people not seeing their own power, you know, if people really see their power and see their worth and are encouraged to their best selves, then we won't oppress each other,” Friedman said. “We won't feel that level of competition. We'll see each other's gifts and, and we'll cooperate.” (Pittsburgh City Paper)
🐿️ Pittsburgh artists are paying tribute to the cute critters of Western Pennsylvania with Allegheny Animals with Attitude, or TripleAAAnimals, a “fictional sports league that celebrates the animals in our neighborhood that have no time for human foolishness.(Editor’s note: As a Northsider, the Mexican War Streets squirrels T-shirt gave me a chuckle.) (Pittsburgh City Paper)
📸: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" being filmed on W. North Avenue in June, 2019. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Schwartz.
When August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was being filmed at the Flashlight Factory on the North Side two summers ago, it looked a lot like what you’d imagine W. North Avenue when the factory was first built and bustling with action.
“When they dressed the set with all of the details, it’s like you were walking back in time,” Mitchell Schwartz, co-owner of the building, told The Incline. “They even made it look like a dirt street. It was just amazing.”
📸: The set of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" on W. North Avenue in June, 2019. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Schwartz.
The Hipwell Flashlight Factory is four stories, 48,000 square feet, and dates back to the late 1800s. There, they once made everything — from parts for early flash photography to some of the first bell telephones. Their money-maker, though, was the invention of the first single-cell battery in the early 1920s, which drove Hipwell manufacturing into the flashlight business.
The lights were on for five generations of the Hipwell family business, but it eventually couldn’t survive in the market. The factory sat untouched for nearly five years before finding the right buyers, who now not only call it home to their business but home for themselves, too.
📸: Schwartz with Viola Davis/ "Ma Rainey." Photo courtesy of Mitchell Schwartz.
And while it is unfortunate that Mitchell and his wife, Elaine, had to shut down their event space at the beginning of the pandemic, the factory is still shining with film and television opportunities like this one.
There were two major scenes at the factory: One in front of the street where you can see the exterior fixed up to look like Chicago in the 1920s and one in an alley heading toward the “recording studio.”
When thinking about what it meant to him to have a piece written by a legendary Pittsburgh writer filmed in his backyard, along with the very important message that the story gave of the Black experience, Mitchell said “It was an honor.”
The building has also been the site for several other productions, like “The Last Witch Hunter” with Vin Diesel, ABC’s series “Downward Dog,” “American Pastoral with Ewan McGregor, along with more recent projects like Showtime’s “Rust” with Jeff Daniels and “Archive 81” a Netflix horror series.