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Oakland loses parking, gains town square in plaza plan

Friday, September 05, 2003

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic

A new design for Schenley Plaza would transform it from a parking lot into Oakland's town square, with a great lawn and gardens.

An artist's conception of changes at Schenley Plaza would turn a parking lot into a town square that is modeled after Manhattan's Bryant Park.
Click photo for larger image.

A preliminary schematic design for the plaza by the Boston office of Sasaki Associates was unveiled last evening to about 50 people at Carnegie Lecture Hall. Construction could begin in the spring.

The $5 million makeover is modeled after that of Manhattan's Bryant Park, which has become one of that city's most popular places to take in a concert, chat with friends, or just relax.

Whether the project moves forward depends on the city's ability to provide -- or another party to pick up -- $750,000 to $1.2 million for road reconfiguration and traffic signals

"The city is paying for infrastructure and frankly, that is problematic right now" because of its current budget crisis, said planning director Susan Golomb.


Schenley Site Plan

See the proposed site plan for Schenley Plaza as an Adobe Acrobat file. The free Acrobat Reader software is required to view this file.


The plan calls for eliminating the current 238 parking spaces but adding 90 new parallel and diagonal short-term, metered parking spaces on the plaza's perimeter.

It establishes new traffic patterns, converting both of the plaza's side streets from one-way to two-way traffic. The block-long interior lane that now allows vehicles to travel west inside the plaza, parallel to Forbes Avenue, would be eliminated.

The on-street parking will slow traffic to make the area safer for pedestrians, said Sasaki landscape architect Alistair McIntosh.

The plaza's main entrance would be at its northwest corner, at Forbes and Pennant Street, leading to a pedestrian path that would run diagonally across the lawn and establish a direct, axial view from the terminus of Bigelow Boulevard to the Mary Schenley Fountain.

The groves of existing London plane trees on the east and west sides of the plaza are seen as places where people will bring their chairs in search of shade. The chairs would be folding, wooden ones like those in Bryant Park and Parisian cafes.

New trees planted along Forbes and across from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh also would be London plane trees, selected for genetic diversity to resist catastrophic diseases that could wipe out the species.

An area opposite the Schenley fountain would be reserved for a bandstand for occasional concerts. The lawn would take on the natural 6-foot slope of the land from its northern to southern sides -- from the Stephen Foster Memorial to the Schenley fountain.

A series of new, small gardens opposite the Foster memorial would take on some of the character of the current plantings surrounding the Foster statue adjacent to the plaza, providing color and texture. The Schenley fountain would be linked visually and axially to Stephen Foster Memorial by a pedestrian path through the gardens, which could be themed, perhaps by nationality.

The plan identifies five locations where vendors could sell food, books or other items, and suggests that the group of trees in front of Hillman Library would be a good location for a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Public toilets and a small service yard also would be located on the western side of the park.

The pergola opposite Schenley fountain that appears in Sasaki's drawings will not be built.

"In discussions with the client group today, we decided the pergola is not necessary because new plantings will bring the fountain into focus" and help frame it, McIntosh said.

The plaza redesign is a project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the Oakland Investment Committee of the Allegheny Conference, comprising the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC Health System, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library, the R.K. Mellon Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, all of which will work to raise the money to build the plaza.

They also are seeking state help.

The final schematic design will be presented at a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at Carnegie Museum of Art Theater.

Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.

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