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Pittsburgh Council approves site for Gene Kelly statue

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Let's start singing and dancing in the rain."

Pedestrians cross the traffic island in Liberty Avenue, Downtown, in Gateway Center. A pole in the center of the island marks the approximate location planned for the city's statue of Gene Kelly. Click here to see location. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)

So quipped City Council President Bob O'Connor yesterday, just after council unanimously approved the use of a traffic island in Gateway Center as the site for a statue of Pittsburgh-born movie legend Gene Kelly, famous for his singing and dancing roles in the 1940s and '50s.

The site is on Liberty Avenue between the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers and the State Office Building. O'Connor said the statue would welcome visitors as they come off the Fort Pitt Bridge ramp into Gateway Center.

Kelly, who grew up in East Liberty, is probably best known for his role in the 1952 movie "Singin' in the Rain."

The proposed statue will depict Kelly hanging off a lamppost, holding an umbrella and smiling up at the rain -- his signature scene in the movie, when he sings the title song and splashes around in puddles on the street.

 
  Sound off on a statue

Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Copenhagen has its Little Mermaid, and Philadelphia has its William Penn. But what, or who, should be the symbol of Pittsburgh?

A statue of Gene Kelly singing joyously in the rain was approved yesterday for the traffic island most visible as commuters and visitors drive out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and enter Downtown at the gateway to Pittsburgh.

Kelly, a notable singing and dancing star who hailed from East Liberty, was clearly a native son who made Pittsburgh proud. But should his image be cast in so prominent a position?

If you think his statue is the right one for the gateway site , let us know. If you think otherwise, tell us whose image would be more appropriate as representing Pittsburgh.

Mail your opinion to us at: Gene Kelly Query, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

Or e-mail us at localnews@post-gazette.com.

Please include your address and phone number.

We need your opinions by noon Monday. We'll publish the results a week from today.

   
 

The statue, which will cost about $500,000, all in private funds, will be crafted by Susan Wagner, the sculptor who did the statues of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell that stand outside PNC Park.

Getting approvals for the statue has taken two years, said Aviva Radbord and Melissa Rossiter, two members of the Gene Kelly Statue Foundation.

Several locations in the city, mainly in East Liberty and the Downtown Cultural District, were scouted before the Gateway Center land was chosen.

"This is a gateway to the city," Rossiter said. "Now when tourists and visitors come through the Fort Pitt Tunnels and down the ramp, the first thing they'll see is Gene Kelly swinging on the lamppost."

O'Connor said the chosen site wasn't the one preferred by him or other council members but added that "We didn't want to slow down the process" by insisting that it go somewhere in the cultural district.

"We'll give Mr. Kelly a great home," he said. "He's a treasure for the city."

Approval for the project also was needed from Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment, which controls reproductions of "Don Lockwood," the character Kelly played in the movie, and from Kelly's widow, Patricia. Deputy Mayor Sal Sirabella said she came here last year to meet with Mayor Tom Murphy and was an enthusiastic supporter of the project.

"Now the fun part starts," Rossiter joked, referring to the upcoming effort to raise $500,000, which will likely take a few months. Sirabella said a fund-raising effort is expected next year, linked to the Civic Light Opera production of "Singin' in the Rain."

Once the money is raised, it will take Wagner nine months to complete the statue. Rossiter couldn't estimate when it would be in place.

It took a while to determine to which private agency the city would deed the Gateway Center traffic island, Sirabella added. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy stepped forward to take ownership, he said.

If the traffic island remained in public hands, problems could arise with other groups that might want to put political or religious signs or displays there, Sirabella said, as happened with the Nativity scene a few years ago on a nearby Gateway Center plot. Critics said the creche shouldn't be on public property.

The land was transferred to the conservancy at no cost.



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