PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions


Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

Allegheny Commons to be retooled

Latest plan for 130-year-old park combines an appreciation of history with a look to future

Saturday, November 24, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For Boston landscape architect Marion Pressley, the challenge of creating a master plan for the North Side's Allegheny Commons park was getting its diverse neighbors on the same page.

She started by getting them in the same building. At the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, just across from the park, the group has met three times in the past 11 months to share ideas about how the historic but compromised landscape should evolve over the next 10 years.

The new master plan for Allegheny Commons recommends rebuilding the lost fountain shown in this 1953 photograph. Located at the park's northeast corner opposite Allegheny General Hospital, the fountain had a principal jet of water 70 feet high with 16 smaller jets around the inside of the basin. The fountain's rim remains, containing a seasonal planting bed. (Post-Gazette archives)

More than 50 of the park's neighbors and interested others gathered earlier this month to hear how Pressley wove their dreams and desires into an inch-thick draft master plan that spells out everything from the park's design history to its future management and maintenance. In between, Pressley documents the park's existing conditions and recommends what should stay, what should go and what should be added to the 80-acre commons comprising North, East and West parks.

To reach community consensus, Pressley began in January by educating the park's neighbors with a slide presentation of maps and photographs documenting how the park evolved over 130 years. She relied heavily on Eliza Smith Brown's written history of the park.

"We all learned a lot about this park from Marion," said Allegheny West resident John Canning.

When the town of Allegheny was laid out in 1788, 102 surrounding acres were designated as common pasture land. By the 1860s, much of the land still was held in common, but the pasture had deteriorated into a swampy dumping ground where pigs roamed wild. The city hired the Manhattan firm of Mitchell and Grant to turn the rough and rustic commons into an elegant 84-acre landscaped park with two grand promenades, specimen trees, fountains, a naturalistic lake and ornamental flower beds.

While the master plan's 30-member steering committee had considered restoring parts of the park to their 19th-century appearance, the community decided to embrace and respect the park's layers of design history, including changes made in the 1960s.

So while the plan recommends reintroducing some of the park's lost 19th-century features, including fountains, formal gardens and a bandstand, it also advises retaining the current look of Lake Elizabeth, which was made over in 1966 to designs by the nationally prominent Pittsburgh firm Simonds & Simonds.

The plan advises converting the lake from a stagnant pond to one with circulating water and a refrigeration system that would allow it to be frozen for winter skating. It also recommends that paddleboats used during the annual Pittsburgh Children's Festival in the park become a permanent warm weather feature.

A new Lake Elizabeth park pavilion would house a 50-seat cafe, rest-rooms, concession space for skate and paddleboat rentals, and a park ranger station. The proposed location is between Lake Elizabeth and the National Aviary, which, the master plan suggests, should manage and operate the cafe and restrooms.

While the aviary is considering both moving from the park and expanding within it, the plan recommends keeping the aviary in the park but within the space it currently occupies, with underground parking and a better blending of the park and aviary landscapes.

The plan further suggests reconstructing the formal gardens that existed north of the aviary, when the building was occupied by Phipps Conservatory.

Retaining the park's active recreation is recommended, with the exception of the little-used Life Course, which is considered an aesthetic intrusion.

Pressley is beginning to estimate what it will cost to carry out the plan, and those figures will be included in the final master plan to be completed next month.

Although the steering committee envisioned a 10-year plan, Pressley said after the meeting that "you'd be lucky if you got everything in 20 years." The most expensive items, she said, will be rebuilding Lake Elizabeth and constructing the new lakeside pavilion.

Priorities to be achieved first are new lighting and improved crosswalks on streets that pass through the park.

Initiated by the North Side Leadership Conference, the master plan is funded in part by the Garden Club of Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh. The master plan steering committee includes representatives from the neighborhood and from the city planning, parks, public works and engineering and construction departments.

"Our hope is that the city will adopt [the plan] as we will adopt it," said committee chairman Tom Barbush.

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy