This past Sunday, George Westinghouse would have celebrated his 167th birthday. Almost 100 years after the passing of this American titan of entrepreneurship and engineering, The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh are honoring his memory, not by cutting cake, but by cutting granite.
This week, we were surprised by what was probably one of the only silver linings in the current government shutdown. McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Lab, a leading national art and artifacts conservation center and the studio that brought Mary Schenley’s fountain and the Highland Park entry gates back to their original splendor, couldn’t work on their scheduled government contracts, which left an opening for them to start work on the Westinghouse Memorial on Tuesday. We like to think of it as a gift to Mr. Westinghouse.
This stage of restoration is necessary not only to clean up the appearance of the memorial, but also make foundation repairs that will allow for additional improvements. Keeping the memorial clean and cared for actually works as a deterrent against future vandalism. When visiting the site today, the contractors remarked at some new graffiti in the center of one of the panels that appeared overnight. One remarked, “It’s like fighting a Sisyphean battle!” Without the restoration, the memorial is a target for even more tagging and vandalism.
During this stage, shifted foundation stones will be reset, cracks and missing chinks in the granite will be repaired, and all mortar and caulk will be replaced. The monument’s granite and bronze surfaces will be cleaned, and the crowning touch will be long-missing gold leaf applied to the carved locomotive and lettering. All of this is a lead-in to the next stage of progress that will take begin in late 2014, when the pond, pathways, and surrounding landscape will be restored and enhanced. A meadow and rain garden will help protect the memorial from flooding, and lighting will subtly showcase the beautiful sculpture and its reflection in the lily pond at night.
All of these improvements would not be possible without very generous donations from Pittsburghers that care about this historic monument. Please consider a donation today to invest in further work to maintain this wonderful Schenley Park staple. And don’t forget to check out this great video on the history of the memorial and drop by the site this month to wish Mr. Westinghouse a happy 167th birthday!