The author of the play “Fences,” August Wilson, grew up in the city’s Hill District and aimed to write a story that captured his neighborhood. In fact, “Fences” is one of nine plays written in Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” that was set in the Hill District.
The play, which was released in 1983, centered around a black family in Pittsburgh circa 1957. Not only did it explore racial issues at the time, it encapsulated an entire way of life in the city while examining themes like love, success, and death.
Denzel Washington—who not only acted in but directed the movie—aimed to recreate as authentic a setting as possible for the film. In scouting locations for the movie, filmmakers were inspired by the photography of Teenie Harris, who spent much of the 1950s shooting around Pittsburgh.
For those looking to tour the side of Pittsburgh featured in “Fences,” here’s an August Wilson-inspired itinerary to the city.
Hill District, Pittsburgh
In the early part of the 20th century, the Hill District neighborhood was a hotbed of jazz and a major cultural center for African American life in Pittsburgh. But by the 1950s, the “Lower Hill” section of the neighborhood was razed to make the Civic Arena, displacing 8,000 mostly black people in the process.
In filming, it was important to Denzel Washington that the scenes be shot in the same neighborhood for which they were written. The Maxson household—where Troy must build his fence—was a private residence at 809 Anaheim Street. Other filming locations in the neighborhood include the Warren United Methodist Church and storefronts on Wylie and Liberty avenues.
Wabash and Steuben streets in Pittsburgh’s West End were transformed into a bygone era with vintage cars and extras in 1950s garb. The neighborhood—originally named Temperanceville—was a dry town until it became part of the city of Pittsburgh in 1874.
Today it’s a mostly residential neighborhood, which made it perfect for filming.
Oakland’s Lytton Avenue was used to film scenes meant to take place in a wealthy neighborhood.
The neighborhood is now one of Pittsburgh’s largest (considered the third biggest “downtown” area) and houses several of the city’s most prominent museums, hospitals and universities, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Allegheny County Courthouse
The courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh was home to the beautiful, panning mural shot in Fences. The mural is called “Industry” and was painted by Vincent Nesbert in 1934, portraying the steel workers who helped build the foundation for Pittsburgh’s economic boom.
The mural just one of a series of five which decorate the courthouse’s second floor lobby.
The emotional funeral scene at the end of the film was shot in this Hill District cemetery. The Lutheran cemetery underwent massive renovations in 2013 after it had become neglected and overgrown with weeds.
The cemetery is the final resting place of more than 5,000 people, including Civil War soldiers, WWI veterans and (appropriate for the “Fences” story) Frank “Piano Mover” Smith, a Major League Baseball pitcher.
Outside of the city, a small family farm in Burgettstown was transformed into an Alabama cotton field for the movie.
The farm itself is near Hillman State Park, about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh and often used as hunting grounds.