Pittsburgh, Pa.
Contact Search Subscribe Classifieds Lifestyle A & E Sports News Home
Local News Jobs  Commercial Real Estate  Opinion 
Commercial Real Estate
Auto Classifieds
Mortgage Rates
The Dining Guide
Headlines by E-mail
City Neighborhoods
Views mixed on city's new West End-Elliott Overlook Park

Monday, August 04, 2003

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Standing on the new observation deck at the West End-Elliott Overlook Park, Dorothy Julian was as proud as she could be of her community's new park and its view of the city of Pittsburgh.

John Lydon, who has lived in the Elliot section of Pittsburgh for more than 70 years, protests the West End Home Assurance Value program Thursday at the dedication of the West End-Elliott Overlook Park. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

"The view at Mount Washington is [nothing] compared to this," said Julian, of Elliott, expressing the homegrown pride for her community's vista, a longtime favorite of photographers seeking the perfect shot of the Golden Triangle.

To reinforce her point, she whipped out of her wallet the wedding photo of her son, Michael, and his wife, Tara, with the Elliott view of Downtown Pittsburgh and its three rivers behind them. They now live in Long Beach, Calif., Julian said, where their friends all want to know what beautiful city they were married in.

"They didn't go to Mount Washington to get their wedding photo shot. They came to Elliott," Julian said proudly.

At the grand opening Thursday, the new park won praise for its beauty.

It took about 10 years and $2 million in city funds -- twice the original estimate -- to transform Elliott's favorite bluff into West End-Elliott Overlook Park, with a meandering walkway, stone benches and an air-conditioned building with restrooms and an observation deck that soon will have a wall of full-length glass windows facing the overlook.

At night, corrugated garage-type doors will be pulled down to protect the glass. If the building is left unlocked, residents say, it will likely be vandalized and youngsters will find new ways to hang off the observation deck, possibility defacing the building and hurting themselves. Someone needs to oversee the building.

But even before the city's current financial crisis, no agreement had been reached about how the new building would be maintained or for what it would be used.

"I have been trying to get people to work through that issue, and I am not getting a good answer," said city Councilman Alan Hertzberg, who represents the district.

"The big issue is who is going to control the building," he said. "The city doesn't want it. We can't take on much new. We can't handle what we have.

"The West End-Elliott Citizens Council doesn't want to do it, but they don't want the West Pittsburgh Partnership to do it, either."

Both nonprofit groups participated in the planning and design of the park and building, but Hertzberg said their relationship has deteriorated. The citizens council, a volunteer group, is distrustful of the partnership, which has a paid staff and is adept at writing grants and getting Urban Redevelopment Authority money to revitalize the West End business community.

Both Hertzberg and the West End Partnership have been criticized by residents of the 12 neighborhoods in western Pittsburgh that have been placed under a new mandatory insurance program. It costs each homeowner $20 a year and is supposed to protect property values.

At Thursday's gala ribbon-cutting for the overlook, protesters of the West End Home Assurance Value program showed up to demand that the program be repealed. The We-HAV program, as it is called, has its own board and director but is administered by the West Pittsburgh Partnership.

Speaking at the event, Mayor Tom Murphy clearly implied that the neighborhood should take responsibility for the new park.

"It is yours. We hope you will take care of it," Murphy told the crowd.

At the heart of the split between the two groups is the question of whether West End-Elliott Overlook Park should be trumpeted as a tourist attraction or a key element in the revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding it.

For years, the West End-Elliott Citizens Council has sold hot dogs and sodas at the overlook on holidays such as the Fourth of July when people gathered there to watch fireworks. In a series of meetings to design the park, they told the architects, Desmone & Associates, that they would like space for a small kitchen on the main level of the building and a kiosk where tourist information would be available.

They also wanted space in the basement where they could hold community meetings.

Hertzberg said a kitchen could be installed in the future. Architects Luke Desmone and Jimmy DeCecco said the basement, which houses air conditioning and heating equipment, can be used for community meetings. But Norene Beatty, former president of the citizens council, said the space is much too small and won't be useful to her organization.

"It would be for a community of about a dozen people," she said.

If the building can be kept open, tour buses could make the overlook a regular part of their city tours.

Hertzberg said the West Pittsburgh Partnership, which played a key role in the design of the building, has talked about various uses for it, including renting it out for weddings or small gatherings.

Dru Imler, executive director of the partnership, said she couldn't predict what was going to happen to the building.

"I think the city wants to involve the community in the management ... but it hasn't been determined," she said.

In addition to the issue of who should manage it, some local residents are not happy with the overall design of the new park.

Carol Anderson, of Crafton Heights, complained visitors now have to walk to the overlook when they used to be able to drive right up to the view. She said the walk is too steep and difficult for her husband, Donald, who uses braces and crutches, not a wheelchair.

"He used to be able to drive up, pull up to the fence and not have to get out of the car," she said.

Imler said the park was designed to meet the codes for handicapped accessibility. But at the ribbon-cutting, Beatty, one of the speakers, said the building's observation deck is not accessible to handicapped people.

"We will be coming back to you about that," Beatty told city officials.

For as long as anyone can remember, the overlook was little more than a turnaround off Rue Grande Vue and Lorenz Avenue with a spectacular view of the city. Formerly called Elliott's Bluff, it was a site where American Indians would watch the settlements at the Point. Longtime residents say they have found Indian arrowheads there.

The overlook was last renovated in the early 1960s, during Pittsburgh's first renaissance.

"It was a drive-by view," Hertzberg said.

For years, he said, the overlook "worked well for couples who wanted to neck. It gave them a great view."

"It is the best view of the skyline," Imler said. "I think it is one of the most powerful views in the United States."

Jan Ackerman can be reached at or 412-263-1370.

E-mail this story E-mail this story  Print this story Printer-friendly page

Search |  Contact Us |  Site Map |  Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise |  About Us |  What's New |  Help |  Corrections
Copyright ©1997-2007 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.