The Mysteries of the Cloud Factory

Where it lacks in fame, the Cloud Factory makes up with its natural power.

Outdoor site

Transportation: Accessible by public transportation

Address: 4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213

The Bellefield Boiler Plant, also known as “The Cloud Factory” produces heat for the Carnegie Museum and Library, as well as much of the Oakland neighborhood.  It was built in 1907, and initially only heated the library and museum.  However, the plant now heats the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library’s main branch, Carnegie Mellon University, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Public Schools’ administrative building and UPMC’s Childrens and Presbyterian hospitals.  During the colder months the steam produced to heat these buildings puffs out in fluffy white clouds, which is how it originally coined the name of The Cloud Factory.  This steam is only apparent when The Cloud Factory is in operation and therefore cannot be seen during the summer.  However, the smokestack is still impressive during the warmer months.  The Plant produces an extraordinary 240,000 tons of steam per hour.  In 2009 the Plant converted and stopped burning coal, it converted to a cleaner method using all gas fuel.  The conversion was a voluntary decision as gas is easier to work with, and helps the environment.  With coal there was lots of time and energy put into unloading cars with tons of coal.  This change to gas fuel doesn’t stop the production of fluffy white clouds that are produced out of the steam tower, the clouds are in fact still floating away.  These clouds are made from the interaction of hot gases mixing with the cold outside air.

The Cloud Factory got its name from the popular novel by Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  This book brought some fame to the boiler plant because three of the main characters in the novel; Arthur Leconte, Art Bechstein, and Cleveland Arning, all appreciate the Cloud Factory.  They enjoy staring at the fluffy white stream of smoke (which they call clouds) coming out of the smokestack.

The Plant is located in Oakland right by the campus of The University of Pittsburgh, and the Carnegie Mellon University.  Adjacent to the Bellefield Boiler Plant is Schenley Park and Panther Hollow.  Panther Hollow is a neighborhood in the valley of Oakland.  From Panther Hollow you can get a nice view looking up at the Plant, and you can watch the clouds being formed.  Schenley Park is frequented by joggers, families, and friends.  From Schenley Park you can sit on the grass field and watch the clouds forming from the Bellefield Boiler Plant.  Watching the clouds forming and floating away provides a soothing and entertaining sight.  From Schenley Park the Bellefield Boiler Plant stands before the city of Pittsburgh and is a great spot to take pictures or enjoy a nice picnic.  Both areas provide gorgeous views of the Boiler Plant, and are good areas to take photos of the plant.

Barlow, Kimberly. “Bellefield Boiler Plant Converts to Cleaner Fuel.”
University Times, University of Pittsburgh. N.p., 25 June 2009. Web. 18
Dec. 2015. <;.

Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. N.p.: Harper Perennial, 1989.

Krauss, Margaret. “Venturing Inside Oakland’s ‘Cloud Factory.'” 90.5 Wesa FM.
N.p., 6 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Dec. 2015. <

The Mystique and Significance of the Cloud Factory


One of the most interesting places in the city of Pittsburgh has to be the Bellefield Boiler Plant, or also known as the Cloud Factory. The boiler plant got its name from Michael Chabon’s novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, where Chabon made the name Cloud Factory famous. Built in 1907 to provide steam heat for Carnegie Museum, it was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by the architectural firm Longfellow, Alden & Harlow. One of the smoke stacks measured 150 feet and the other more than 200 feet. The plant has burned both coal and natural gas but stopped burning coal on July 1, 2009. Its steam system expanded in the 1930s to service the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning.

Chabon may have coined the name “Cloud Factory” himself, or heard it first from locals before employing it to great effect in his novel. Or he may have borrowed the phrase from Henry David Thoreau. It appears in Thoreau’s essay Ktaadn and the Maine Woods, which was first published in five serialized installments in Sartain’s Union Magazine in 1848. The piece describes a transcendental, “mountain-top” experience Thoreau had in the summer of 1846 while hiking Mount Katahdin in Maine. In any aspect the Cloud Factory is a symbol of beauty and mystique, and Chabon wants us to understand that by bringing the Cloud Factory into a different perspective than that of which most people currently view it as, insignificant and easily overlooked.

Looking at the Cloud Factory through the eyes of Chabon really opens up a new viewpoint of the boiler plant. Others have started to notice the same mystique and beauty of the Cloud Factory as described in figure 1.  

Figure 1 1948 Cloud Factory take from Panther Hollow

This photograph shows the cloudy environment that usually comes with a  mystical view, the cloud factory Is a scene not usually seen in reality but only in someone’s mind or fantasy. The picture of figure 1  was taken in 1948 by construction workers working in  Panther hollow. The workers took the photo because they saw the beauty of the cloud factory, they realize that this is not an everyday sight and a must be treasured. I’d like to think of workers took the photo because they saw  such a magnificent sight and possibly may symbolize that not everything in life is bad and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Although the actual reason for the photo was never given I inferred that it symbolizes a beacon of hope. Clearly the photograph was intended to be the cloud factory. I believe it was taken the top of bridge or another place of higher ground due to the angle depicted in Figure 1. The photo may have been taken to show how large the clouds of smoke actually were and how it engulfed the building surrounding it in one big massive puff. The photo, clearly black and white, was extremely clear for the time period it was taken in.This is due to the fact that it isn’t blurry or static like other photographs in this time period. This shows me how carefully the photograph was taken and how much importance of photograph must of had to the person taking it. The photo must of had some serious significance with the person taking it or else I wouldn’t have been so carefully and steadily taken. The photograph tells me that the cloud factory produces a lot of heat. the cloud factory, not only has attributes of beauty, but also attributes of importance.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 10.58.46 AM
2015 Cloud Factory

Today it pumps heat to most of the major buildings in Oakland. It is owned by a consortium made up of the University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum, the City of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Recent images of the cloud factory depicts the same mystical beautiful and elegant surroundings that the cloud produced by the cloud factory entails.  Honestly I do not believe pictures do it justice, true beauty must be experienced through your own two eyes, and even though the pictures clearly show an aesthetic  view I believe it doesn’t even come close to doing the cloud factory justice by seeing it in person. The recent images are mostly in color and I believe that plays a large part and how much more beautiful and mystical the surroundings actually are due to the cloud factory. the full effect of the cloud factory  must be seen in person but color to the picture helps significantly. the black and white photo is also very beautiful but the color adds  another dimension to the picture that words just cannot describe and seeing it in person makes it 10 times better. Just as Soja said in his article of space and time, we have to start looking at another aspect of things, try it in a different dimension and see if we like it.

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Figure 2 1951 Cloud Factory taken from Junction Hollow

To reiterate my point I have found another photograph displaying the beauty and euphoria of the Bellefield boiler plant or as we all know now, the cloud factory. Figure 2 was taken in 1951 to show progress on construction in junction hollow.  Since the photo was taken in 1951 black and white seems to be fit for the time period.  The purpose of this photograph was to indicate the progress of the construction project in junction hollow, it had no intent on actually containing the cloud factory in the background. The image is fuzzy and not very clear, this shows me that the workers really didn’t have an interest and whatever they were trying to show in the photo. They were most likely just doing their job and really didn’t care about the quality of the photograph, this is a shame knowing one of the great marvels of Pittsburgh is right behind it.  


Figure 2 was most likely taken early in the day knowing that’s when construction workers usually begin and some of the workers seem completely unaware that the photograph was even being taken.Figure 2 incidentally shows me how grand the cloud factory is, the clouds produced behind the workers in this photograph take up the whole sky, the buildings behind the cloud factory are completely blocked due to the massive amount of clouds coming out of the pipes. The workers in the photographs are completely uninterested in anything else besides their job, apparently the mystical view  the cloud factory did not phase them,  but can you blame them, they have to wake up early and go do hard manual labor for minimal wage. I feel if they just noticed the beauty of the cloud factory their day would lighten up just as I said before. I believe it indicates a beacon of hope, it shows an underlying meaning of what life actually is and we can learn a lot from simple plain views that have significant and marvelous images, if we would only just take a second to slow down and realize what beauty lurks in plain sight in our environment and surroundings. Since the picture was taken in 1951 , it shows me how long the cloud factory has been providing heat and comfort to areas in Oakland. Once again real beauty cannot be matched by pictures and must be seen in real life but the cloud factory in the background of Figure 2 shows an underlying beauty not easily seen by many even though the actual smoke can be seen from miles around.

 So now that people realize  the Cloud Factory represents more than just an establishment we can now realize that there is more to a site or establishment than one would  even look twice at. The realization that there is something more than what we see with our own two eyes is a major point that the Cloud Factory stands for and tries to show us, to look deeper than we usually do and realize that the world moves to fast and sometimes we just have to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the actual world as it was intended to be observed as, a paramount of beauty.


Work Cited Page


Barlow, Kimberley K. “University Times.” University Times Bellefield Boiler Plant Converts to Cleaner Fuel Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.


Kraus, Margaret J. “Venturing Inside Oakland’s ‘Cloud Factory'” Venturing Inside Oakland’s ‘Cloud Factory’ WESA, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.


“Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections – An Online Gateway to Thousands of Photographs and Images Documenting Pittsburgh’s Visual Past.”Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections – An Online Gateway to Thousands of Photographs and Images Documenting Pittsburgh’s Visual Past. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.


“Appendix F Agreement Between the Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited and the Tata Workers’ Union.” Labor Problems in the Industrialization of India (1958): n. pag. Eco Currents. Allegheny Public Health Department, Nov. 2007. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.


Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: W. Morrow, 1988. Print.

Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-imagined Places. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996. Print.

The Neighborhood that Shouldn’t be Lost

The day my class was going to visit the Bellefield Boiler Plant, we were also going to stop at Schenley Park and the Lost Neighborhood.  I knew of both Schenley Park, and the Bellefield Boiler Plant, but I had no idea what or where the Lost Neighborhood was.  Leaving the University of Pittsburgh Campus and heading behind the Frick and Fine Arts Building, I wasn’t sure where we were going to go.  After reading the novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, which had discussed the “Lost Neighborhood”, I came to terms with the fact that I would have no idea what to expect until I got there.  The Lost Neighborhood?  Where was this?  Sticking true to its name very few people know where the location of this development is.  We stood behind the Frick and Fine Arts Building on a grass field looking onto steps that led to seemingly nowhere.  Those one hundred and forty-four steps led down to what I was soon to find out was the Lost Neighborhood, also known as Panther Hollow.  I think that part of the reason I grew to love the area so much was because it was a hidden gem.  It was so unknown and had so much character that I wanted to explore it more in depth.  I was curious to learn more about the area.  It had stories and history and I loved it all.  It was an adorable neighborhood and part of its charm was in its secrecy.

Those who have crossed over Schenley Bridge have passed Panther Hollow, many of which didn’t even know of the areas existence.  The neighborhood of Panther Hollow is not actually in   Even those who live in Oakland are quick to forget about the neighborhood because it is down in the valley of Central Oakland, which isn’t frequented as often.  The nickname which described the area was created through Michael Chabon’s critically acclaimed novel from the 1980’s, The Mysteries of PIttsburgh.  Although this novel brought light to this neighborhood, the characters in the book never actually go in it.  The closest the characters go to the region is sitting on the steps above it.  In addition to this novel the area got its name because many have forgotten about it’s charm and cultural significance.  Panther Hollow housed a large population of Italian immigrants primarily from the towns of Pizzoferrato and Gamberale in Central Italy during the early 1900’s.  Although most from this time period do not live in Panther Hollow anymore, due to the age of the initial immigrants, most of whom which have passed away.  Many others married non-Italians and moved out (Krauss).  Despite this, Panther Hollow still shows the roots from its original Italian community.

“I saw that we would end up in our usual place high above the Lost Neighborhood, which we did, silently, taking up our usual slouches against the iron rail…  Arthur sat down on a step and looked down onto the miniature lights of the Lost Neighborhood” (Chabon 267,269)

The steps down to the neighborhood are also called the Joncaire Street steps.  They lead down from the driveway behind the Frick Fine Arts Building to Junction Hollow Trail.  These steps are older and have a substantial about of cracking from their years of wear and tear. There are some markings from graffiti on them making them look more weathered.  These stairs are the quickest route in between the campus of the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Melon and the Lost Neighborhood.  The stairs are frequented by joggers and those that live in the neighborhood needing to get up to the more urban part of Central Oakland.  The steps are frequented by the characters in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and is an intimate meeting spot for them.  These stairs provide a good cardio workout and a direct route to the Lost Neighborhood.

The stairs descending into the Lost Neighborhood

This neighborhood is adjacent to Panther Hollow Lake.  Although the lake is a little farther away the neighborhood it played an important part in the lives of the children who used to live here.  This lake is a pleasant man-made body of water filled with both ducks and lily pads.  The trail surrounding the lake is enjoyed by runners and families alike.  The lake is a nice escape from the nearby hectic urban atmosphere.  On sunny days, the trees’ reflection shines brightly onto the lake’s still water.  The bridge nearby is covered in graffiti, an impressive sight that is frequently photographed.  There are large plots of grass around the lake, which is the perfect place for a picnic on a nice day.  You’ll oftentimes see many people sitting around the lake chatting amongst friends, reading a book, or doing homework.  When the area was primarily Italian immigrants this lake was commonly used for ice skating in the winter.  The immigrants did not have much money and this was the perfect place for free fun.  Although this activity is not done anymore, the lake still has many other uses.

ice skating
“Ice Skaters” Those ice skating at Panther Hollow Lake

The Lost Neighborhood is tightly packed with houses; many of which were built in the early 1900’s and held the new immigrants.  Many of these Italian immigrants built their houses themselves when they moved in to Panther Hollow. This becomes apparent when noting the number sequencing of the houses on Boundary Street. They are not in chronological order. During this time period, nearly 250 Italians lived on this one street. Many of them migrated after hearing about Panther Hollow from their relatives (Krauss).  This word of mouth contributed to the tight knit community of Panther Hollow. A plaque naming the first generation of families who contributed to the cultural significance of the neighborhood was erected commemorating the people who lived there.  Panther Hollow was a self sufficient neighborhood. It had two banks and six grocery stores. Some of the families who lived there also worked in the community, but many others worked throughout the city of Pittsburgh. This plaque stands where a baseball field once existed.  This baseball field and the lake were both prime areas of excitement for the children of Panther Hollow. The Plaque has two short paragraphs describing the importance of these families. These two paragraphs are written in both Italian and English, the two languages that were primarily spoken in Panther Hollow at the time.  The plaque names the families based on recollections of names from the original residents and the Carnegie Library City Directory records that date back to the 1930s census.  A new plaque may be added in lieu of this plaque, and will contain names from a census from 1900-1910 as well.

A dedication ceremony was held in 2007 when the plaque was initially placed in Panther Hollow.  The large celebration honored those that lived and made the Lost Neighborhood an area filled with history.  First generation immigrants who lived in Panther Hollow, such as Carl Giampolo, were celebrated.  Giampolo was considered to be the ‘Mayor of Panther Hollow’. A celebration was held in order to honor both the Italian American culture of the neighborhood, and to honor all that the first generation immigrants had to endure.  From discrimination to poverty, these immigrants made sacrifices to ensure their children would have better lives. When looking at this plaque and the surrounding neighborhood, try and imagine the families listed and their sense of community.  Despite the fact that many of the people living here faced hardships and discrimination from both Oakland’s permanent residents and in the workforce, they never brought their problems back to Panther Hollow.  Panther Hollow was a safe haven for these families, and they all united through their shared cultural identity.

Plaque commemorating the founding families of the community

This space was lived in by these families, and can incorporate the differences between the perceived, conceived, and lived space as outlined by Edward Soja and explained in Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, where he describes “the Trialectics of Spatiality”.  He depicts the way space is defined by each individual as the swirling between these three spaces.  Perceived space is defined by Soja as the space that is tangible.  This is physical space that is easy to describe because it is the same for everyone.  The next space is conceived space which is the nonphysical space.  It cannot be described as easily because it is what is not seen, it is the imagined space that deals with how the viewer feels about the area.  The last category is lived space, this is the space that combines both perceived and conceived.  It is how the space affects the individual’s life.  The neighborhood is now mostly filled up with renters who may be confused about the green, white, and red painted parking sign.  Or the Italian flag painted on the fence next to one of the homes in the neighborhood.  Although this may spark confusion for those passing by, it sparks feelings of nostalgia for those who were a part of the founding community.  The physical space of is the same for both those who lived in Panther Hollow in the early twentieth century, and those who have just visited it now, however, the conceived and lived space varies because of the different experiences that have occurred in this space.  When walking around Panther Hollow now you would see homes that used to be occupied by first generation immigrants however you wouldn’t see people on their porches talking with one another, and you wouldn’t see all the teenagers roaming around together.  The area is much more quiet than it previously was.

Fence showing pride for the Italian Flag

Looking around the area now you can almost imagine the liveliness of the neighborhood in the early twentieth century.  You can picture the kids running around chasing one another, and the families talking outside on their porches.  Although the neighborhood is not the same as it once was, if you read the names on the plaque and look around, you can almost imagine the tightknit community of Panther Hollow in the early twentieth century.


Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. N.p.: Harper Perennial, 1989.

Giampolo, Carolino. “Panther Hollow Dedication Ceremony.” Panther Hollow. N.p.,
2 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Dec. 2015. <

“Ice Skaters.” Historic Pittsburgh. Archives Service Center, n.d. Web. 17 Dec.
2015. <;.

Krauss, Maragaret J. “Why Panther Hollow Has Its Own Dialect.” N.p., 31
July 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015. <

Nelson Jones, Diana. “Diana Nelson Jones’ Walkabout: Joncaire Street Steps
Project in Panther Hollow Makes a Bike-Friendly Link.” Pittsburgh Post 
Gazette. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.

Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined 
Places. N.p.: n.p., 1996. Print.