01/04/2018

Randyland

By Dora Dmitriev

Over the holiday break I took a trip to Pittsburgh, PA to visit my friend. The freezing temperatures made exploring Pittsburgh unpleasant, so we tried to stay indoors as much as possible. However, one outdoor attraction made bearing the cold worthwhile.

 

Hug Robot at Randyland entrance

Within an average looking neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s North Side lays Randyland. A colorful oasis with murals, gardens, vibrant animals, toys, and furniture peaks out among the worn-down buildings.

Randyland entrance

In 1996 Randy Gilson bought a house and lot that was scheduled for demolition. As a waiter he didn’t have much money but for “$10,000 bucks on a credit card” the property was his. Back then the neighborhood was a dangerous place to live. But Randy saw potential in his street corner and set out to transform it.

Randyland with some holiday decorations 

Street View

From a young age Randy’s mother taught him that giving back was a necessity. His family was homeless three times growing up and he was on welfare until age 26. He began cleaning his streets while collecting items that could be turned into art. He gathered neighborhood children to help clean the neighborhood and together they created numerous gardens in the Northside neighborhood, well before Randyland was born.

Randy Gilson of Randyland

His lack of knowledge on gardening, painting, and art didn’t stop the now 60-year-old “flower child”. From sewer pipes turned into planters, to a 40-foot-high mural with nature, dinosaurs, and a castle, there is no shortage of imagination! Vintage street signs, mannequin heads, neon painted doors and furniture peek out from the snow.  One wall is painted with a large map that highlights Randy’s favorite neighborhood spots. Every surface that can possibly be painted- is! In fact, Randy boasts that over 50 paint colors are currently in use at Randyland. They were all very cheap since regular people returned the paints when they proved to be “too crazy”.

Painted furniture and doors

Neighborhood Map

Randyland is free to visit and donations are always welcome. In the afternoons you can find Randy happily chatting with visitors, despite the freezing weather. His enthusiasm is overwhelming, and his heartfelt proverbs bring a smile to everyone’s face. Randy shouts friendly greetings to everyone that walks by. His plan is to rename Randyland to R-Land to further unite the neighborhood with his cheerful street art.

One of the large murals

Over 20 years later, the street corner is a community landmark, having witnessed two decades of extreme neighborhood change. The colorful wonderland is easily the happiest place in Pittsburgh.