Pete Marovich: Searching for Dream Street
Continuing with our series of looking at America, photojournalist Pete Marovich‘s project, Searching for Dream Street, documents small towns in Pennsylvania that suffered from the collapse of the steel industry, a subject that has personal meaning. Growing up with stories about thriving communities of immigrants, supported by mill jobs, Pete examines the realities of places built on long forgotten dreams.
Pete writes about his project:
In 1955, when renowned photojournalist W. Eugene Smith was creating the images of Pittsburgh that would eventually become a book called Dream Street, Pittsburgh was the quintessential Rust Belt city.
According to the 1950 census, Pittsburgh was home to more than 676,000 residents and was the 12th largest city in the country at the time. Steel was the city’s main industry. Aluminum, glass, petroleum and shipbuilding were also part of its economy.
Although Pittsburgh was thriving, the industrial smoke was sometimes so thick that the streetlights came on during the day. The conditions earned the city the nickname “Smoky City.” In an effort to clean up the city’s reputation for being dirty and polluted, civic leaders initiated projects to transform the city, and Pittsburgh began describing itself as a city undergoing a “rebirth.” It replaced its smokestacks with glass skyscrapers and its slums with contemporary neighborhoods. Pittsburgh was recognized as a city in transition.
Pete Marovich is an independent documentary photojournalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He began his photographic journey as a staff photographer at a medium-sized daily newspaper in Indiana and a stringer for the Associated Press. From 1986 to 1999, Pete worked as a contract photographer for major golf publications covering the professional golf tours. His work has been published in Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, GolfWeek and many international golf publications.
He returned to newspaper photojournalism in 2001 and became director of photography at the Daily News-Record newspaper in Virginia in 2005. While at the Daily News-Record, he was named the 2008 NPPA Region 3 Photographer of the year, as well as runner-up in 2006 and 2009. Region 3 includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
Images from his independent coverage of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration were included in Barack Obama: The Official Inaugural Book and are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History. In January of 2010, Pete began pursuing personal documentary projects while working as a contract photographer for ZUMA Press. From 2010 until 2013, Pete was the Washington D.C. Bureau Chief for ZUMA Press, covering the White House and Capitol Hill.
Pete currently contributes to Bloomberg News Photos, The Washington Post, Getty Images, European PressPhoto Agency, United Press International as well as other news outlets.
His photography has appeared in Time, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Financial Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, Sports Illustrated, Woman’s World, The Huffington Post, Politico, Essence, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and other news publications worldwide.
Pete lives in the Washington, D.C., metro area with his wife, Jenny Jones, and their two cats.
Searching for Dream Street
More than 25 years after the crash of the steel industry, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was once the epicenter of steel production in the United States, is said to be experiencing a rebirth, with a rapidly growing economy largely based on healthcare, education, technology and banking.
This may be true for Pittsburgh proper, but the scene looks a lot bleaker for the towns along the three iconic rivers that converge at the city.
Ironically, the steel industry that brought Pittsburgh international fame existed almost entirely outside of the city limits, on the banks of the famous Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. The only exception was a Jones and Laughlin complex on the Monongahela River. Other famous steel mills were located farther upstream in the towns of Homestead, Rankin, Braddock, Duquesne, McKeesport and Clairton. Downstream, along the Ohio River, stood mills in Ambridge and Aliquippa.
After the steel industry crash, many of these municipalities entered Pennsylvania’s Financially Distressed Municipalities Act 47 program that was created in 1987 to help them regain their financial footing after their tax bases were decimated when the steel industry collapsed. Several of these towns including Aliquippa, Braddock, Duquesne and Rankin have been in the program since its inception and are still struggling to exit Act 47.
Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of bringing steel production back to its former glory and this portion of the rust belt helped him win the election. These promises may be hard to keep since there are many reasons other than foreign competition and perceived bad trade deals that caused the decline here, including labor disputes and automation of the manufacturing process.
This is a personal story for me. My mother and father were born and raised in Aliquippa, home to what was at the time the largest steel mill in the world, the Jones and Laughlin Aliquippa Works.
My mother was born to Ukrainian immigrants on Plan 11 in Aliquippa, one of the housing areas J&L built for the steel workers. My dad was born to Croatian immigrants in the area now known as West Aliquippa.
My paternal grandfather worked in the J&L mill for 38 years, and my dad worked in the mill for a short time after returning from WWII and before returning to the Marine Corps.
I have seen firsthand how Aliquippa has declined. My parents and relatives tell stories about how wonderful and bustling the town was before the decline of the steel industry and the closing of the mill.
These stories and memories compel me to tell the story of Aliquippa and the other mill towns and their people. The immigrants who settled in these towns came with dreams of a better life. And for a while, it seemed as though those dreams would be realized in the streets of their new home. But many of the people living in there today are doubting that those dreams still exist.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
Maria Kapajeva: Dream is Wonderful, Yet UnclearJune 21st, 2020
Lana Z Caplan: History Based LandscapesJune 11th, 2020