Pittsburgh is chock full of historic buildings and monuments, but there’s a move to get recognition for more of its green spaces, too.
Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985. But the group Preservation Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the city, are trying to get three more large, historic parks listed by 2020: Frick Park, Highland Park, and Riverview Park.
LISTEN: Three Pittsburgh Parks Vying for Spots on the National Register of Historic Places
Matthew Falcone is the president of Preservation Pittsburgh. Though the tagline on their website reads, “Preserving a world made of steel, made of stone,” Falcone says cultural preservation has a lot to do with green spaces like parks, too.
“We look at parks the same way that we do at buildings and structures like bridges,” he says. ”What story did they tell? And how does that story fit into the larger narrative of who we are as Pittsburghers?”
For example, Highland Park was the brainchild of Edward Bigelow, the Director of Public Works in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s.
“It was his vision that Pittsburgh would have not only a system of parks, but a way that they could be accessed together. The idea there was there would be a bit of a circuit around the city, and Pittsburghers could go and visit all of these different parks that largely had grown kind of independently,” Falcone says.
That’s Bigelow Boulevard, now a main thoroughfare through the city of Pittsburgh.
“And it goes from downtown to a park [Schenley Park],” Falcone says. “I think when we think of roadways, you know, it’s how can we get from our home to work. And in this case, it was, how can we get from the city to greenspace.”
And Highland Park is tied into the history of the city’s public drinking water system. It was built around reservoirs that are still in use today. As is the mysterious Carnegie Lake, though not in its original form.
“It was originally a middle pumping ground to take water from the river and then bring it halfway up, and then fill Carnegie Lake, which at that time encompassed also the swimming pool area and the volleyball courts,” Falcone says.
The idea was that the water would later be moved further up to a filtration system, but that never happened, as engineers focused on newer technology.
“But you still have this kind of relic that people look at today, and they’re like, ‘Wow that’s a lot of concrete.’ Carnegie Lake has changed over time,” Falcone says.
Now the smaller lake is used for recreation, and fish are being reintroduced into the lake, creating a more natural environment.
“And something like that–it’s that wonderful synthesis of what was and what is, and what we need,” Falcone says.
There is a public meeting on Monday, August 20th at 5:30pm in the Frick Environmental Center about the first steps in getting Frick Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Highland and Riverview parks will follow. Falcone says each park is being thoroughly researched and documented through photography. They’ll make their case to the State Historic Preservation Office, and then the completed nomination will be adjudicated by the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board. If it deems the nomination worthy of listing, the National Park Service will formally list it. The whole process takes about a year.