I recently had the chance to spend a bit of time with park docent Sam Webb. Sam leads Mellon Square’s lunchtime tours and a few of the Walks in the Woods sessions in Schenley Park that focus on trees. History isn’t my focus at the Parks Conservancy, but it is something that I’ve always loved.
While Mellon Square currently offers an audio tour about park history and design, Sam’s tour dives into greater detail, showcasing the park’s significance and the impact of the Mellon family. I have always thought of Mellon Square as a green escape for downtown workers, but Sam showed me an additional purpose for some of the horticulture. He mentioned that between the park edge and the interior, there are 25 feet of trees and landscaping that muffle traffic noise. Sam is a soft-spoken man, but he is able to lead the Mellon Square tours without a microphone because of this feature. The difference in noise level inside the Square and out on the street corner is really quite dramatic.
We took a moment and walked across the street to observe the Square from the front of Saks Fifth Avenue. It was really remarkable to study the Square from the outside – seeing trees stretching up out of concrete and seeing people buzz past and through the park.
One of the most interesting things I learned in my time with Sam was that the Square has similar lines to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Apparently, Wright submitted an initial design for Point Park that was a parking garage with a park on top. It was rejected, but RK Mellon remembered the design and asked Mitchell & Ritchey to use it for Mellon Square.
Sam’s tour also focuses on the 1950s design of the space, highlighting the surrounding buildings – like the Alcoa building that is made of aluminum. If you’re interested in joining Sam, meet at the AFL-CIO sign at 12:15pm to join this free tour on the third Wednesday of each month.