While Pittsburgh is known for its four Carnegie museums, there are some really cool free museums located in the heart of the city’s North Side that are worth a visit as well. Within a few blocks of each other sit Randyland, an outdoor museum at the home of artist Randy Gilson; Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff, a museum filled with collectibles from the 1950s on, and Bicycle Heaven Shop & Museum, the world’s largest bicycle museum and bicycle shop.
When Gilson first moved to the Mexican War Street district of Pittsburgh more than 40 years ago, he started planting gardens and taking care of neighbors’ yards to beautify the area, while also using it as a way to help himself focus. Diagnosed with ADHD, he found that painting, as well as creating art out of recycled objects, gave him an outlet. He always welcomes visitors who come to see his vibrant, art-infused courtyard, which on any given day is as much Pittsburgh street party as it is viewing area. The home—which he bought for $15,000 and which is now worth approximately $1 million—attracts people from all over the world; one fence wall is dedicated with welcoming signs in more than 100 different languages. Other sights include mannequin heads, brightly colored chairs strung from the ground to the roof, and a row of rocking horses; and on most days, you can also talk with Randy, who likes to share his inspirational story with visitors while jumping into group selfies. (1501 Arch Street, Pgh., PA 15212)
A few minutes down the road, Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff is a tribute to the artists that created some of the most memorable music of the 1950s and 60s, and it is curated by no less than Johnny Angel himself. A well-known Pittsburgh performer and lead singer of Johnny Angel & the Halos, he has shared the stage with The Marvelettes, Ben E. King, Lou Rawls, Mary Wilson and more. Angel began collecting signed records, clothing and other items from the people he performed with over the years, starting at the age of 15, and when his attic, basement, second floor, mother’s house, sister’s house and a warehouse was full, he decided to create a museum honoring his idols that everyone could enjoy. The result is an impressive collection of musical history, up to and including the shirt right off of Jimmy Merchant’s back, which was given to Angel when the member of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers was having dinner at his home. When you visit, make sure to talk to Johnny if you get a chance; there’s nothing he likes more than reminiscing about all of the talented artists he’s met, and he’s a wonderful storyteller as well as a talented musician. (1800 Preble Ave., Pgh., PA 15233)
Life in the Fast Lane
Whether you’re into bikes or haven’t been on one since you rode on a banana seat, there’s no cooler place than Bicycle Heaven Shop & Museum, which is located right next door to Johnny Angel’s. Back in 1991, Craig Morrow found a bike in the trash that he decided to repair; flash forward almost three decades, and Morrow is now the curator and owner of the world’s largest bicycle museum. Seeing all of the bikes on the ground floor is impressive; going up to the second floor where the museum continues is overwhelming. Not only is the sheer amount of bikes astounding—it numbers around 3,000—but you could spend hours just checking out the different types—everything from an 1862 Boneshaker to the bike that Pee Wee Herman rode in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. It’s also the only place in the world to see four Bowden Spacelander bicycles—each worth about $18,000 now ($50,000 in their original condition). And make sure to stop into the Groovy Cranky Panky Socket Room as well—part art project and part, well, bike parts, it’s a psychedelic ride back into the 60s. (1800 Preble Ave., Pgh., PA 15233)
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