SAVED: Lake Elizabeth and Allegheny Commons Park

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Landslide

SAVED: Lake Elizabeth and Allegheny Commons Park

SAVED: Lake Elizabeth and Allegheny Commons Park
Nov 30, 2018

Fifteen years after grassroots advocacy of Allegheny Commons led to the 2002 Allegheny Commons master plan by Pressley Associates, a coalition comprising the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the City of Pittsburgh, Northside Leadership Conference, and the Allegheny Commons Initiative has made significant headway on the plan’s implementation. The geometric paths in the park’s southeastern corner have been rehabilitated, along with the addition of new lighting, new tree plantings, and signage. Work is now focused on the northeastern corner (flanked by North and Cedar Avenues), where a $2.8 million restoration project began in early May 2018. This phase principally involves reconstructing the Alexander von Humboldt fountain in the North Commons to its original 1868 design—a circular stone basin 50 feet in diameter with a large Grecian vase at its center. Four ornamental beds of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, wetland plantings, and bulbs hug the fountain’s stone rim. With its 70-foot-high jet of water, the fountain is one of four that marked the corners of the property when it was originally designed in 1867.

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Allegheny Commons, Pittsburgh, PA - Photo by Jen Saffron, courtesy Allegheny Commons Initiative, 2013

Beginning in the mid–1900s financial difficulties faced by the City of Pittsburgh and, eventually, a declining steel industry led to the fountains being removed. Succumbing to financial constraints and slowly falling into disrepair, the park itself eventually became a haven for drug-related crime. Focusing on a long-term strategy of community participation, the plan to restore Pittsburgh’s oldest park and spur continued revitalization of the Northside community recommends all interventions be made keeping three goals in mind: alignment with neighborhood desires and demographic changes; sensitivity to the original historic design; and scaling the park’s primary role to meet the daily needs of local residents. Ecological interventions will focus on rehabilitation of the lawn, restoration of the extensive tree canopy, and the conversion of the park’s Lake Elizabeth from a stagnant pond to an inviting body of water with a circulation and refrigeration system that would allow it to be frozen for winter skating. The project also seeks to improve derelict aspects of the park, including the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, and to renovate the 1930s stone restroom building by the tennis courts. Planned additions include restrooms at the ball fields, a family-size shelter for picnics in the park’s southwest corner — which existed in the park’s early days — and a lakeside pavilion with a cafe, new pathways, lighting, signage, benches, and an event terrace.

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Lake Elizabeth, Pittsburgh, PA - Photo by Paul Tellers, 2013

Built on free-grazing land during the City Beautiful movement of the nineteenth century, Allegheny Commons was designed by the New York firm of Mitchell & Grant to improve urban living conditions. The historic plan for Allegheny Commons included 60 acres of broad lawns, tree-lined paths, fountains, benches, a picturesque lake, monuments, and ornamental flowerbeds. The lake was, however, drained in 1930 and used as a dumping site for scrap-metal during World War II. The twentieth century brought recreational facilities, including a playground and a swimming pool, and Lake Elizabeth was redesigned in 1966 by Simonds and Simonds. But only one phase of construction was completed, leaving unrealized the multi-level, interlocking pools, the island’s water jets, and the boathouse in Simonds’ plan. Allegany Commons Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.