When the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy took on the restoration of Mellon Square in downtown Pittsburgh we knew it would require some heavy lifting. This phrase took on new meaning January 19th when a forklift was brought in to remove the nine bronze basins that serve as the focal point of the Square’s once stunning central fountain. The task at hand that brisk morning was to free the basins from their concrete pedestals and load them onto truck beds. The basins would then take a short trip through the Liberty Tubes and arrive into the capable hands of Matthews International, where they were originally cast in the early 1950s.
Weighing in at approximately 1,800 lbs each, the nine basins of the Mellon Square fountain are reportedly the largest single bronze basins ever cast. Typically a casting of that size would be done in pieces and then assembled, but these were made in one solid piece. Yet another accolade for Mellon Square – the country’s first modern garden plaza built over a parking garage.
While at Matthews International, the basins will be refurbished. The dark green layer that covers the bronze will be removed and the patina restored to a golden brown color. “We’re letting the restoration of this historic bronze drive the restoration of the whole fountain in terms of color choice,” says Parks Conservancy Park Maintenance and Management Director, Phil Gruszka. The color will be tested directly on one of the basins instead of on a separate sample of bronze since the alloys in this historic metal will create unique variants in color. Once the brown tone of the basins is established, the pale green shade for the fountain itself will be selected.
Lighting was originally part of the fountain’s design, but was done away with in 1987. We are thrilled that the lighting will be put back into place as part of our historic restoration in order to highlight these magnificent bronze pieces. “They will be lit again,” says Parks Curator Susan Rademacher, “and this will help redefine the image of the park as a wonderful place to be at night.”
The process of restoring these sixty-year-old basins will take time. While they are away we can get to work restoring the fountain itself. The basins are expected to make the trip home to Mellon Square once again in late fall of 2012, where they will be perched back atop their concrete pedestals in a fully restored Mellon Square fountain.
Learn more about Mellon Square and our restoration project here. View our flickr page of historic images of the casting of the basins. Help us bring Mellon Square back to life by making a donation to this important project for downtown Pittsburgh. Keep up with our progress on the Mellon Square facebook page.