11 Things You Didn’t Know About Mellon Square: Part 2

May 29th, 2014: The grand rededication of Mellon Square.

Fifty-nine years after the ribbon was cut for the newly constructed Mellon Square, Pittsburghers once again celebrated their Downtown emerald oasis. After a $10 million makeover, the Square is back, looking handsome and vibrant once more.

ribbon cutting

The ribbon cutting during the Mellon Square rededication.

As we revel in the reopening of the green heart of the Golden Triangle, join us in celebrating this unique space with part 2 of our series of lesser-known features and facts of the Square. (And again, thanks to Parks Curator Susan Rademacher for providing the information below!)

6. Walking on the wild side

A number of Pittsburgh’s city parks were home to animals wilder than deer and pigeons. The Pittsburgh Zoo sits in Highland Park; Riverview Park had enclosures for bear and elk. While Mellon Square was being dreamed up, there was a serious discussion about having live animal displays in this city greenspace.

Among the most talked about potential animal exhibits was one for sea lions. Looking at the sketch below, you can see the circular swimming area and platforms drawn up for flippered park denizens:

sea lion platforms

7. Hand-picked flowers

No detail was overlooked when it came to Mellon Square’s restoration — including what would be putting down roots there. After taking out a majority of the dead or dying trees and seeing that some greenery was struggling to survive, our park management team decided on more appropriate flora that is rugged and hardy, but also fragrant and textured. Here’s what you’ll see growing there:

Magnolia stellata

Bearberry

Girard White azalea

Chamomile

8. Iconic inspiration

The design and landscaping of Mellon Square sells itself. And over the years, it’s been used to sell products, such as Fort Pitt Beer. It’s also been used in photo shoots, movies, and even a medium for a love letter.

fort pitt beer

An old ad for Fort Pitt Beer, found during a local Pittsburgh resident’s home renovation, features Mellon Square’s signature cascading fountain. Image courtesy Laura Aguera.

The cover for the Three Rivers Cookbook featuring a painting by Susan Gaca.

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Winter in the summer! Batman was shot right beside Mellon Square. Other movies, like The Mothman Prophecies, were shot in the Square.

hello bonnie

The text under this Post Gazette clipping reads, “Novel! A swain, as they once were called, apparently performed this feat – or shall we say feet? He walked in the snow at Mellon Square, Downtown, forming the words, “Hi Bonnie.” Who is Bonnie? Perhaps she’s employed at the Penn Sheraton Hotel, from which this photo was taken, and she can look out upon her boy friend’s message.”

9. Investment impact

What’s that old real estate adage? We know it had something to do with location…

When the idea for Mellon Square was put on the table, many property owners in that part of town complained about diminishing property values from lost parking and demolition of the then-deteriorating buildings on that block.

Quite the contrary.

Just as a gorgeous public park is a magnet for new investment, a park that’s rough around the edges pushed investment away. Vacant properties around the Square have started to come back to life in the short time that the Parks Conservancy has been renovating Mellon Square. Said Jeremy Waldrup, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the recent renovation has created an investment uptick to the tune of $200 million around the Square. With the reopening of the Square and a plan to refresh the storefronts on Smithfield Street, new investment and tourism are soon to follow.

cartoon

Crowds flock to the Square in 1955, much like they do today.

10. Bonsai approach

We’ve already talked about the careful planning that went into each of the plant types in the Square. Learning from flora failures there in the past, our stellar gardeners will be using what we like to call the Bonsai approach to keep the trees, shrubs and flowers in the Square growing for a long time to come. This means not letting them get too tall, helping them stay healthy, and making sure they withstand the temperature extremes in the open Square.

bonsai

A tree being planted in the Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

11. Planning for the future

The chronic issue with Mellon Square has been it’s lack of sustained maintenance. When the Parks Conservancy first assessed the Square, the fountains had not run for years. (They were only put on when a worker was on site to manually check on the fountain every hour because none of the automated controls worked.) The unique terrazzo (the triangle pavement) was grimy and chipped. The stairs were in deplorable condition. Water was leaking into the parking garage below.

Without a long-term maintenance plan, the restoration of the Square would have been done in vain. But with a new, thoughtful plan — and a $4 million maintenance budget — in place, Mellon Square will continue to shine on for generations to come.

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Mellon Square is now open for all to enjoy. Check our Facebook and Twitter to see pictures of the opening ceremonies and festivities, mark your calendars for upcoming Mellon Square events, and of course, visit the Square the first chance you get!

Content for this blog was adapted from a presentation by Parks Curator Susan Rademacher.

Some of the Parks Conservancy gang on opening day.

11 Things You Didn’t Know About Mellon Square: Part 1

Walking into Downtown Pittsburgh’s “elegant outdoor living room,” as Mellon Square was called by architectural historian James van Trump, it’s easy to see why it’s such a well-loved greenspace. Sixty years after it’s original opening, Pittsburghers are just as excited for the grand reopening next week.

Beyond the welcoming feel of this vibrant park, Mellon Square has an exceptionally unique history. Did you know that the Square is located over a prehistoric stream? That it’s a Mad Men masterpiece? That sea lions were a part of some of the early plans?

As we count down the days to the Square’s grand rededication, join us in digging into historic Mellon Square. (Many thanks to Parks Curator Susan Rademacher for providing the information below!)

1. Mellon Square was radical green infrastructure

Pittsburghers, sorry to tell you, but the American Sign Language sign for our city was decided during some of our filthiest years. The sign for Pittsburgh is the gesture for dusting dirt off of your shoulder — and we don’t mean in the Jay-Z kind of way. Presumably, in the way that steel workers, city workers, and just about everyone dusted themselves off after a day in the sooty air.

In addition to the dismal air quality, Pittsburgh had the kind of traffic that would turn the Golden Triangle into a nightmare on the daily. A comprehensive traffic study identified the block that now houses Mellon Square as an ideal location for a parking garage. Thinking big, Richard K. Mellon had a better idea — put those unsightly parking spaces underground, and give the people of Pittsburgh greenery, space, and a place to enjoy their city. With Mellon’s decision, the first modern garden plaza on a parking garage was born.

before Mellon Square

Existing buildings and parking had to be removed for the construction of Mellon Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1951.

aerial MlSq

An aerial shot of the completed Mellon Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1955.

2. Strong women shaped the Square

Like so much of Pitttsburgh’s park history, wise women played an influential role in shaping Mellon Square. Two in particular — Sarah Mellon Scaife and Constance Mellon — had a direct pipeline to Richard King Mellon while he was dreaming up Mellon Square.

the girls

Sarah Mellon Scaife (left). Constance and Richard K. Mellon (right).

While staying at the William Penn Hotel on one trip to Pittsburgh, Constance Mellon, Richard’s wife, couldn’t even see the Mellon Bank Building across the street because of the smog. She urged him to do something, or no businessperson (or his wife, for that matter) would want to live in a city that was so heavily polluted.

Sarah Mellon Scaife, Richard’s sister, was not impressed with the initial paving design — a plain rectangular pattern — for the Square. After visiting Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, she returned to challenge the Mellon Square designers to come up with a more intriguing pattern. And thus, the iconic terrazzo pavement that resonated with the nearby ALCOA building (now the Regional Enterprise Tower) came to be.

3. What lurks beneath…

Fundamentally, the six stories of parking was built atop a prehistoric stream bed. The stream bed predicated where all of the support structures were placed and determined where to put the trees and heavy loads on the plaza. Looking at the Square from a birds-eye vantage, you can get a rough sense of where the stream was by where the trees are planted.

Construction

Construction of the garage and Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1954.

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The Square at the time of restoration groundbreaking. Photo by John Altdorfer, 2011.

4. Nine-of-a-kind basins

Have you ever taken a good hard look at the nine gorgeous bronze basins in the Square? These 3,500-pound behemoths are reportedly the largest basins cast as one single piece. It’s common in bronze casting to create pieces in multiple casts before welding them all together. The basins in the Square were made up of one cast, which by today’s safety standards would not be allowed. And so, these are reportedly the largest single bronze basins ever cast.

Refurbishing these basins during the Square’s restoration was no small feat. Moved with great care to Matthews International where they were cast, all nine basins are back to their original splendor. Read more about that here.

Bronze Basins from Matthews_3

Finishing the surface of one of the nine bronze basins for Mellon Square. Image courtesy Matthews International.

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Positioning the last basin after its repair and refinishing by Matthews International.

5. Classy and sophisticated

When opened, Mellon Square had a quintessential Mad Men style. A promenade for men in flat-brimmed fedoras and ladies in white gloves, Mellon Square provided the perfect backdrop for classy Downtown gentlepeople. Designed by the distinguished firms Mitchell & Ritchey and Simonds & Simonds, Mellon Square has been named one of America’s Ten Great Public Spaces.

Picture1

Mellon Square after opening. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

With the rededication of the Square next week, we’re looking forward to this restored image of classic glamour, Downtown’s emerald oasis. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating this gem being polished back to its dazzling splendor!

For more information about the rededication, visit our website and check back here next week as we finish off the list of Mellon Square things to know!

Content for this blog was adapted from a presentation by Parks Curator Susan Rademacher.

Successful Cities, Fabulous Parties, and the Rededication of Mellon Square

Exploring a city for the first time can feel like making your way through a party.

There are all those new people around you, yes. That’s an easy comparison to draw. And the senses — smells of cooking foods, seeing new faces and places, noise and music.

What I’m talking about is the less obvious ways we experience these new settings: The excitement of being somewhere unfamiliar; feeling welcomed or lonely; sensing that you’re a stranger in a strange place or like you’re somewhere you belong.

Photo by John Altdorfer

Listening to a recent TED talk by Amanda Burden, New York City’s chief city planner, I remembered that I often forget that so much of a city’s experience has been designed (much like a party). The way one feels in a city — welcomed, hurried, gritty, safe, what have you — is shaped by the hands of those who created that space.

Pittsburgh is not New York. New York is not Pittsburgh. But listening to that TED talk, all I could think about was how one wonderfully designed Downtown space fit into so much of what she said.

“When I think about cities, I think about people. Where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work. So, even more important than the buildings in city is the public spaces in between them.”

Photo by John Altdorfer

How could she not be talking about a space like Mellon Square? Amidst four walls of skyscrapers, this public greenspace’s roof reaches to the sky, yet is cozy enough to be called “an elegant outdoor living room” by the architectural historian James van Trump. An elegant outdoor living room that is loved and used by so many people year after year, at that.

Mellon Park’s timeless and welcoming design makes it a true treasure in Downtown Pittsburgh, and a place to recharge and appreciate. Currently, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is putting the finishing touches on a complete renovation, giving this public space the attention it deserves. Amidst Ms. Burden’s stories of creating New York’s High Line and Battery Parks, she throws the audience a pearl of wisdom: “Public spaces always need vigilant champions, not only to claim them at the outset for public use, but to design them for the people that use them, then to maintain them to ensure that they are for everyone, that they are not violated, invaded, abandoned or ignored.” The Parks Conservancy’s renovation of Mellon Square will be completed next month — the continued maintenance of that space will keep it shining for years to come.

Ms. Burden finished out her talk with a fantastic point that I’d like to echo. She says, “I believe that a successful city is like a fabulous party. People stay because they are having a great time.” People definitely want to stay in successful cities like Pittsburgh. Successful cities also warrant fabulous parties. Next month, we invite you to join us for the rededication of Mellon Square on May 29th. We’ll be celebrating our successful city and the rebirth of an iconic public space.

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The original party in Mellon Square. The dedication of the Square, circa 1955. Photo courtesy the University of Pittsburgh Archives.

Parks Tour – What We’ve Been Up To…

Let’s take a tour.

When I sat nervously in my now boss’ office to interview for my job a little over a year ago, I told him with heartfelt sincerity that I wanted to work for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy because the organization had in one way or another touched the lives of everyone in this city. I touted my connections to various Conservancy projects – I lived in Highland Park as a teenager when the reflecting pool and fountain was filled in with dirt and drab shrubbery. I saw the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center with its patina of cracked paint and vending machines standing where flower beds now lay. As a Pitt student I watched an Oakland parking lot’s metamorphosis into Schenley Plaza. Last year I was married in the newly restored Walled Garden in Mellon Park.     

Many Pittsburghers are familiar with the Conservancy’s numerous projects in our parks in partnership with the City or are connected to our volunteer and educational programs. What is remarkable to me in my three hundred and however-many-days with this organization is how the Conservancy’s reach continues to grow. Every once in a while, our office staff has the opportunity to power down our computers and go out into the parks to see the progress first hand. With the expertise of our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher, Parks Maintenance and Management Director Phil Gruzska, and Director of Education Marijke Hecht in tow, we get to discover new park spaces and connect to our current projects and the people they impact.

Since you and I have become such good friends, I thought it might be nice for you to come along as well to see what we’re working on…


McKinley Park

The historic stone wall and stairs at Delmont Ave. will be restored

I must admit that I’d never been to McKinley Park before this visit, but I could see immediately why it is so beloved by the Beltzhoover, Bon Air, and Knoxville neighborhoods that frame this lush green space. Once part of Melchoir Beltzhoover’s farm, the future park became a popular picnic spot with early German settlers. It was first known as “Butchers Grove” following an oxen roast held there by butchers and slaughterhouse employees on July 4, 1875. In that same year, the developers Benjamin McLain and Thomas Maple purchased the Beltzhoover Farm and began laying out neighborhood streets and housing lots. Soon, the land reserved for green space was dubbed Maple Park for Thomas Maple. In 1898, the historically German borough of Beltzhoover was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh, which also bought Maple Park from McLain and Maple. The park was given its current name following the assassination of President McKinley in 1901.     

Rendering of the proposed restoration of the Delmont Ave. entrance, by Carlos Peterson

For the past 16 years, the Parks Conservancy has focused its work in Pittsburgh’s four historic Regional Parks – Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley while also working in other parks as our resources allow. Our current improvement plan for McKinley is a first step into this very special neighborhood park. The project will be focused at the park’s Delmont Avenue entrance serving the community center, playground, and basketball court. There we will repair the historic stone entry wall and steps. The project will also feature a first in Pittsburgh when we repave the parking lot using special porous asphalt which will absorb storm water, eliminating the need for piping and halting soil erosion. Strategically placed rain gardens will assist, as well as provide beautiful landscaping for the entry. Work in McKinley is currently slated to begin in September 2012.       

Mellon Square

On June 13, 2011, we broke ground on one of the Conservancy’s most ambitious capital projects to date – the total restoration of downtown Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square. In 1955 this 1.37-acre modern garden rooftop plaza was the first of its kind to be built in conjunction with a new parking garage. The Square was designed by the esteemed landscape architecture firm of Simonds and Simonds in collaboration with the architects Mitchell and Ritchey. Today the Square is a favorite gathering place for downtown residents and employees, but its shine has dulled significantly over decades of use. 

Terrace construction

We are in the process of restoring all aspects of the Square including the custom triangular graphic paving known as Rustic Venetian Terazzo, the planters and landscaping, both the Central Fountain and the Cascade Fountain, and lighting. Additionally, we are converting a former planter into a new Terrace above the shops along Smithfield Street creating 15% more useable space in the Square. This idea was included in one of the early design concepts from 1950 and we saw it as an excellent solution to a problem space. The new Terrace will also provide views of the dramatic Cascade Fountain not previously possible. 

The Central Fountain demolished

I hadn’t been inside the Square since our groundbreaking ceremony over a year ago and I was taken aback by the size of the vacant space that had once been occupied by the Central Fountain. This beautiful feature of the Square is being completely rebuilt, complete with its lightshow. The restoration of the fountain’s huge bronze bowls is safely in the hands of their creators at Matthews International. The complexity of the construction is also remarkable, with access to some of the Square’s plumbing as far as three levels deep into the underground parking garage.

Rendering of the completed Mellon Square by Robert Bowden

Final completion dates are directly tied to the moving target that construction often becomes. Currently the Terrace is slated to be complete in mid-August and the Cascade Fountain in mid-September, with total completion anticipated in the spring of 2013. We appreciate the patience and support of Mellon Square’s dedicated users as we complete this important project to benefit downtown Pittsburgh. You can watch our progress via flickr.


Cliffside Park    

Cliffside Park’s current play space

The aptly named Cliffside Park descends from Cassatt Street in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood to overlook the Allegheny River. The space beams with potential for gorgeous views and a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city above. A favorite community space for birthday parties, quilting clubs, and family gatherings, the park has fallen into an unfortunate state of disrepair. Limited accessibility through a single steep park entrance, overgrown plants, and deteriorated equipment have all marginalized a space that should be a part of the Hill District’s outstanding regeneration. 

Rendering of proposed restoration of Cliffside Park, by Carlos Peterson

The Parks Conservancy became involved at Cliffside as a result of our partnership with the Hill House Association in producing the Greenprint plan for the Hill. Current design plans for Cliffside include making the entire park universally accessible, managing storm water through a runnel and rain gardens to prevent further erosion of the hillside, redesigning the play equipment to take advantage of the landscape’s natural slope, constructing a half-size basketball court, landscaping, and establishing an Overlook by removing the overgrowth of invasive plant species and pruning trees. With additional funding we also hope to include a pop-up fountain similar to the ones found in PPG Place and the South Side Works, but on a smaller scale.

Plans are currently being finalized with enthusiastic community support.  We anticipate that we will be able to break ground on this exciting project early in 2013.

The Environmental Center at Frick Park

Located off Beechwood Blvd in Squirrel Hill

Frick Park has long been Pittsburgh’s premier natural classroom. In the 1930s, Helen Clay Frick funded the first Frick Nature Center. Its educational program earned national recognition as one of the most outstanding conducted by a park system in the country. The program moved from its original site in an old home along Beechwood Boulevard into a new building near the historic gatehouses in 1979.   

For decades, the program continued to thrive in its new home. Unfortunately, that building was burned by arsonists in 2002. For the past 10 years, a dedicated team of Citiparks educators have continued work out of the gatehouses and trailers to provide programming that puts kids in touch with nature. We believe the people of Pittsburgh deserve better.             

The current Frick Park Environmental Center workspace

The new Environmental Center at Frick Park will include both indoor and outdoor learning spaces, expanded staff, programming, and improved public access. The construction of the main building will take on the remarkable Living Building Challenge which requires (among many other things) that the building generate all energy and capture all rain water right on site.  We also plan to restore the two historic gatehouses and the landscape designed by Innocenti and Webel in 1927, including the circular fountain which is currently being used as a planter. Alongside the main building, amphitheater seating will be built into the natural slope of the hill to provide space for relaxing, classes, and performances. The parking area will be reconfigured with trellises which will shade cars while overhead solar panels simultaneously capture the energy needed to operate the Center.

Rendering of the proposed Environmental Center with amphitheater and wetlands, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Most importantly, the new Environmental Center will continue the long tradition of outdoor education in Frick Park. The current program serves approximately 3,000 visitors annually. Our hope is that we can increase this number to 20,000 by the fifth year of operation in the new Center.  We will all benefit from this greater impact because these young people will establish meaningful connections with nature which encourages them to become citizens who conduct their lives with thoughtful consideration for their impact on the natural world.

We are currently in the final stages of design which reflects several years of community input through workshops and meetings. We hope to break ground on this vital project sometime in 2013, once final funding is secured and construction plans are completed. We are also working on an operating agreement with the City. You can see more images of the Environmental Center design by the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson here.

 

Kathleen Gaines is a Development Associate at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Please visit our website to make a donation to any of these important park projects. Be sure to designate your gift to the project you choose, or become a member to provide vital operating funds. To learn more about our work in Pittsburgh’s Parks check out our 15th Anniversary Magazine.   

 

Mellon Square Update – History on the Move

The basins in the Mellon Square fountain in summer

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.

construction photos by Rebecca Chiappelli

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

 

Mellon Square Reconstruction a Colorful Process

As construction in Mellon Square progresses, downtown inhabitants have no doubt noticed some colorful changes. The demolition portion of our First Phase of restoration in Mellon Square is over, “We’re on to reconstruction,” says Parks Conservancy maintenance and management director Phil Gruszka. “It’s all about the orange, black, and blue now. Then we start pouring concrete.”  

orange waterproof membrane

  

The orange Phil is referring to is a waterproofing membrane being laid under the concrete to ensure its longevity – especially in the planters which will be retaining water regularly. The black is a sealant applied to where the membrane overlaps.

The blue is lightweight construction foam. One of the focuses of our First Phase of construction is the implementation of a new terrace above the Smithfield Street shops. This new patch of green will increase the Square’s usable space by 15%. The construction foam will be placed followed by a lightweight concrete which will make the terrace structurally strong, but still light enough to be over the shops.

Blue construction foam

Learn more about our restoration of Mellon Square here. To make a donation of support to this project please visit our donations page, or call us at 412.682.7275. 

Follow our progress in photos at our flickr account’s Mellon Square set

All photos by John Altdorfer

Mellon Square Groundbreaking June 13,2011

Mellon Square from above photographed by John Altdorfer on 6/13/11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The clouds parted just in time on Monday for the groundbreaking of our first phase of restoration of Downtown’s historic Mellon Square. Sitting amongst the Square’s daily lunchtime visitors, our committee, donors, and supporters heard remarks from the PPC’s Executive Vice President, Richard Reed, Committee for Mellon Square Co-Chairmen, Daniel I. Booker, and George C. Greer, with closing remarks made by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

As the rest of the staff and I prepared for the ceremony to begin, I watched the Square come to life with the pulse of its everyday life. A convergence of the people who climb down from the sky high buildings of Downtown Pittsburgh to feel the sun in their noon hour. We believe that parks are the most democratic spaces, and if you find a quiet bench to observe Mellon Square at lunch, there really is no more vivid picture that this is true. As I watch I imagine each of these stranger’s stories. The business tycoon sits eating his tuna salad in Armani a few feet from the man who empties his trash. They smile at each other when they have to duck to avoid a bloated pigeon as it carelessly flaps by them from a tree to the fountain ledge. Three women sit together in their burgundy hotel uniforms, speaking in a language that the college kid a few feet away from them snapping photos doesn’t understand. Each of them has found their own space, simultaneously enjoying the brightest part of their day.

Fans of Mellon Square learn about the restoration

Here at the Parks Conservancy, it goes without saying that we love Mellon Square. Each restoration we undertake is a work of passion, fueled by the genuine desire to see our beloved city flourish, but it’s the people who visit it every day who are the Square’s most avid fans. We had put up a banner and a stage, complete with neat rows of white chairs in front of it. Many of those who entered the Square as part of their sunny day routine gave the set up a startled look and settled in an area where they could look on protectively as they chewed their food. We began to approach these people with our colorful informational flyers. “Do you come here a lot?” I would ask. Most would answer, “yes.” When I explained why we were there, I could see the stress leave their faces; we were there to help.            

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl made remarks durring the groundbreaking

I noticed many of these onlookers stayed to hear the presentation long after their lunch bags had emptied. “To be a competitive city, you have to provide and maintain high-quality public spaces,” Booker pointed out from the stage. Indeed, the completed restoration of Mellon Square is projected to increase the real estate value of buildings within 500 feet of the urban park by 71 to 106 million dollars, and increase annual consumer expenditures in the area by more than 2.5 million dollars. Mayor Ravenstahl pointed out that the construction of the Square was a central project to Pittsburgh’s dramatic Renaissance I following World War II. The start of this restoration could be a part of the city’s next big move as “we are embarking upon what we believe is our third renaissance,” Mayor Ravenstahl said. 

The first phase of the project is dedicated to the once breath-taking Cascade Fountain, staircases, lighting, plantings, and a new terrace overlooking Smithfield Street. In addition to adding some more green to Downtown’s pavement palette, the terrace and its adjoining green roof will increase the usable space of the square by 15 percent. So while we may disrupt the square for a little while, we will as always leave something a little more lush in our footsteps.  

Kathleen McGuire is a Development Associate for the PPC

Photos by John Altdorfer

Read more about the Mellon Square Restoration at www.pittsburghparks.org/mellonsquare. And check out photos from the groundbreaking at www.flickr.com/photos/pghparks. Like our facebook page to follow our progress at http://www.facebook.com/mellonsquare