Point State Park Construction
1950-1974

Point State Park in 2011.

Point State Park sits at the apex of the Golden Triangle, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. In colonial days, this was the location of mighty forts that were at the center of the conflict between the French and English for control of the region. Later, it was at the center of a conflict between the native Indians and the European settlers, traders and British soldiers who sought sanctuary within the protective walls of Fort Pitt. During the industrial age, it evolved into the center of the Pennsylvania Railroad's mighty shipping empire.

Today, it is once again at the center, this time of Pittsburgh's historical and cultural heritage. Point State Park is a place where everyone can connect with Pittsburgh's past and marvel at the picturesque vistas of the modern-day city. This thirty-six acre, tree-lined park is one of the feature attractions of downtown Pittsburgh. If you've been to the 'Burgh, you've most likely been to the Point.

A small park at Pittsburgh's Point in 1927.
In 1927, this small plaza at Pittsburgh's Point was a nice place to sit and gaze at the river traffic.

Click on images for larger photos.

Pittsburgh In The 1940s - The Smokey Steel City

Since the earliest days of the city of Pittsburgh, it was known as the "Smokey City." During the colonial days of Fort Pitt, a sooty pale hung over the Golden Triangle from the use of coal as a primary heating source. As the town grew and industry flourished, the use of coal increased exponentially, and soon the entire region seemed to be covered in a toxic mix of smoke and ash. With the fires of the steel mills blazing day and night, some refered to Pittsburgh as "Hell With The Lid Off."

As the years went by, it became evident something needed to be done to change the face of the city. In the late 1930s, environmental legislation was passed to assist in cleaning the air and waterways. Attention also centered on the look of the city itself. Attention soon turned to finding a solution to the grimy outward appearance of the Golden Triangle landscape itself.

In October of 1940, Mayor Cornelius Scully announced plans to build a state park on the land near the point. Once a bustling industrial area, by the early 1940s the tip of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle had become a commercial slum.

It was the seen of rampant urban blight and rapidly deteriorating property values, largely occupied by the warehouses and freight yards of the Pennsylvania Railroad, along with seedy saloons, abandoned buildings and the downtown connecting ramps to the Point and Manchester Bridges. City planners decided to erase it all and rebuild Pittsburgh's Point from scratch.

Pittsburgh - 1943
The City of Pittsburgh in 1943 was a dirty, grimy industrial town, producing steel and ships for the U.S. war effort.

The Point - early 1940s  The Point - early 1940s
In 1945 the area around the Point was populated mainly by warehouses, freight yards and aging buildings.

Pittsburgh's Point in 1949, the year before
the start of the Point State Park project.
Pittsburgh's Point in 1949, the year before the start of the Point State Park project.

The Moses Plan

This renovation effort was just part of a grand design by renowned New York architect Robert Moses, known as "The Moses Plan", that would not only transform the condition of the downtown area, but improve the entire landscape of the City of Pittsburgh.

The Moses Plan included new and modern bridges, towering skyscrapers, civic and cultural development, and a vastly improved road network linking the city with the suburbs.

The thirty-six acre Point State Park project and the adjacent twenty-three acre Gateway Center project were two of the major ingredients in the modernization and beautification effort that is commonly refered to in Pittsburgh history as Renaissance I.

Model of Point State Park - 1951.
A Community Development meeting at the Duquesne Club in 1951 included a model of the proposed Point State Park.

Early Artist's Conception Of Point State Park

The Pittsburgh Regional Planning Commission put forth the following proposal during the Point Development Study. The initial plans called for replicas of both Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt to be built.

Point Park Proposal - 1945

Park construction followed this original plan to a large degree, however the replica forts were toned down considerably and the fountain at the point took on a slightly different look.

Point Park Proposal - 1945

Historical Renaissance and Urban Renewal

The city began purchasing property in 1946. In all, 133 properties were purchased at a cost of nearly $8 million to acquire the entire sixty acres of the proposed redevelopment area. On May 18, 1950, demolition work began.

A ceremony preceded the demolition
of the first home to clear the land
for Point State Park on May 18, 1950.
A ceremony was held on May 18, 1950 before demolition of the first building to make way for the Point State Park
and Gateway Center redevelopment projects. The long-awaited transformation of downtown Pittsburgh had begun.

After ten years of planning, Governor Duff and Mayor David Lawrence were on hand to give the signal for the wrecking ball to begin the razing of a 103-year old abandoned home. From that moment on, land clearing proceeded at a rapid pace. By 1954, most of the buildings occupying the park area had been removed and preliminary construction work began.

Building the retaining wall at the Point.
Construction workers building the wall at the tip of Pittsburgh's Point.

Construction of retaining walls along
the Allegheny riverbank in 1954.  Clearing and leveling the land in 1955.
Construction of retaining walls along the Allegheny riverbank and land clearing went quickly in 1954.

Preliminary work proceeds in 1955
on the Allegheny Riverbank walls.  By 1954 much of the thirty-six
acres of Point State Park had been
transformed into a barren landscape.
By late-1954, much of the thirty-six acres of Point State Park had been transformed into a barren greenspace.
The only buildings left standing are the historic Fort Pitt Blockhouse and the caretaker's residence.

Construction of the retaining wall at the Point  Sign touting the new Point State Park.
Constructing the embankment at the Point (left) and a sign touting the historical significance
of the Point State Park project. It is "for the education and enjoyment of all the people."

Retaining walls were built along the river's edge, followed by some grading and seeding of the park property. The roadways leading to the Point and Manchester Bridges were the left in place, but everything else, with the exception of the blockhouse and caretakers resident, had been removed. This initial preparation work was completed in 1956 and the park project was put on hold.

After the construction of the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges, the Park Portal Bridge, and all of the connecting ramps between the two spans, had been completed in 1963, work once again resumed on park construction.

Pittsburgh's Point in 1957, showing the
completed piers of the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Pittsburgh's Point in 1957, showing the completed piers of the Fort Pitt Bridge.

The Point in 1959, showing construction of
the Fort Pitt Bridge and the Hilton Hotel
A head on look at the Point in 1959, showing the Fort Pitt Bridge ramps and the Hilton Hotel under construction.

Construction of the eight-lane
Portal Bridge began in 1961.
Construction of the eight-lane Portal Bridge that connected the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges began in 1961.

The Allegheny riverfront in 1964.
The Allegheny riverfront and the Manchester Bridge near the Point in 1964.

Pittsburgh's Point State Park would include ample green space and natural landscaping, including a Great Lawn, for recreation and other outdoor festivals. The park also featured the Portal Bridge and reflecting pond, paved promenades along the riverfront, and a stepped wall or stone bleacher section along the Allegheny River.

Diagram of the Fort Pitt Museum.

The park would be highlighted by a grand fountain at the tip of the Point. To represent the historical significance of the Point during the American colonial period, Point State Park included the Fort Pitt Museum and the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, replicas of two Fort Pitt bastions (including some of the original walls), a Fort Duquesne outline and several historical markers.

For The Education and Enjoyment Of All The People

By 1970, most of the park's main features were in place, with the exception of the tip of the Point, were the old Point and Manchester Bridge spans and cross ramps were still in place. The bridges were dismantled later that year, allowing for the final phase of park development to take place.

Pittsburgh's Point in 1969.
Pittsburgh's Point in 1969.

Point State Park in 1970, prior to the
demolition of the Point and Manchester
Bridges. Most of the Park is complete,
with only the fountain area to go.  Point State Park in 1970, prior to the
demolition of the Point and Manchester
Bridges. Most of the Park is complete,
with only the fountain area to go.
Point State Park in 1970. It would take four more years to complete the entire project.

Dismantling the Point Bridge - 1970  Demolition of the Manchester Bridge - 1970
The Point and Manchester Bridges were removed in late-1970, making way for the final stages of Park construction.

Pittsburgh's Point in 1971 after
the demolition of the Point bridges.
Pittsburgh's barren Point in 1971, after the demolition of the Point and Manchester Bridges.

Point State Park in 1972.
Point State Park in 1972, showing construction of the fountain and the pump houses.

Finally, on August 30, 1974, Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty, along with several other city and state officials, were on hand for the dedication of the signature fountain at the confluence of the three rivers, signalling the end of the thirty-four year effort to construct Point State Park.

The fountain at Point State Park
has been one of Pittsburgh's
signature attractions since 1974.
The fountain at the Point has been one of Pittsburgh's signature attractions since 1974.

Since Point State Park's official opening in 1974, it has provided recreational space for workers, visitors, and residents in downtown Pittsburgh and also acts as the site for major cultural events in the city.

Major attractions include concerts, the Venture Outdoors Festival, Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Richard S. Caligiuri Great Race, First Night Festivities and Three Rivers Regatta.

The Point - July 4, 1976  The Point - July 4, 2014
The Point is packed with spectators for the Independence Day fireworks display in 1976 (left) and 2014.

Possibly the most anticipated yearly event is the Independence Day celebrations, when thousands upon thousands of visitors cram into the park for the annual Zambelli fireworks display. The fireworks spectacular is now the closing event of the Regatta.

In 2006, the park attracted nearly two million visitors. Point State Park is a registered National Historic Landmark, operated by the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.

Point State Park during the
Three Rivers Regatta.
Point State Park is the site of many large festivals, including the Three Rivers Regatta.

Point State Park Renovation
(2006-2013)

In 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, announced a $25 million plan to renovate Point State Park. The plans called for improving the green spaces within the park, expanding recreational opportunities, preserving and enhancing historical structures, facility upgrades and other general improvements.

Before and after the renovation.
The city side of Point State Park before and after renovation, showing the level lawn and new bastion outline.

The major visual change was in the outer park area, on the city-side of the portal bridge, where the bastion walls and mote were removed in favor of a bastion outline and a continuous level lawn. This change made this part of the park more accomodating to larger gatherings. The majority of the this work was completed in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration in 2008.

The Richard S. Caligiuri Great Race - 2011
The outer lawn area during the Richard S. Caligiuri Great Race festivities in September 2011.

The entire project, including new landscaping, refurbishing the Portal Bridge walkway and reflecting pool, upgrades to the museum, renovation of Point State Park's signature fountain and a number of other infrastructure improvements, was scheduled for the Spring of 2013.

Renovation of Point State Park, 2012.
Many improvements are being made to the landscape and amenities around the historic Point State Park fountain.

Finally, on June 6, 2013, the fountain was re-dedicated. City officials and spectators were treated to a spectacular laser light show to highlight of the event. A rainbow emanated from the fountain prior to the big event. When the water was turned on, the crowd marveled at the restored beauty of Pittsburgh's landmark attraction.

The Golden Triangle - June 6, 2013

After nearly three years of inactivity, the Point State Park fountain once again soared skyward, marking the official completion of the renovation project. Pittsburgh's Point never looked better, and was once again the city's premier recreational playground and tourist destination.

The Fountain on June 6, 2013.    The Point State Park Fountain.

Pittsburghers are fortunate to have such a wonderful park to visit for a relaxing walk along the riverside or to just sit down and admire the stunning visual displays of the landscape and features of the City of Pittsburgh.

The Golden Triange - Summer 2013.
Point State Park and the City of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle in the Summer of 2013.


Outline of Point State Park - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Point State Park - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Point State Park.

Wikipedia: Point State Park.


The Fountain's Glacial Source

First Night fireworks at the Point.
The First Night fireworks display at Point State Park is wonderful way to ring in the new year with a bang.

The fountain in Point State Park, which sprays water up to 150 feet in the air, draws upon fresh water from an aquifer that passes beneath the park known as the "Wisconsin Glacial Flow", an ancient river channel now filled with sand and gravel as a result of the glaciation and consequent re-routing of Pittsburgh's rivers. This Ice Age aquifer is often refered to as Pittsburgh's "Fourth River."

This underground river is also the source of fresh water for several of the buildings in the Golden Triangle. The tapping of this water, which is crystal clear and naturally free of impurities, is one of the ways that the City of Pittsburgh is pursuing to bring new, and old, buildings into compliance with LEED green certification guidelines.


Other Proposals for Development of Pittsburgh's Point

Throughout the years, beginning in the early 1900s, there have been proposals put forth for development of Pittsburgh's Point. Some are quite elaborate and others a bit more reasonable, but all focus on the importance of The Point as one of Pittsburgh's most iconic locations.

A proposal put forth by City
Engineers in 1915.
A proposal put forth by The Department of Public Works for a plaza and small park in 1915.

1913 Proposal by City Engineers.  1930 proposal for a Memorial Park.
A 1913 proposal (left) including traffic improvements, romanesque columns and monument, and a pedestrian plaza;
A 1930 design (right) including - (1) a towering illuminated monument, (2) pioneer museum and park, (3) town hall,
(4) historic monument site and park, (5) site for future structures, (6) water park/boat landing, (7,8,9) parking.

1930s proposal for a small park at the Point.  1939 Moses Plan for Pittsburgh's Point.
The Art Commission of Pittsburgh, in the 1930s, proposed this small pedestrian park (left) at the Point;
The design put forth by Robert Moses (right) in 1939 as part of the far-reaching "Moses Plan."

1945 design by Frank Lloyd Wright
for a Point Park Civic Center.  1961 proposal featuring a towering trilon.
A design put forth by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1945 (left) for a massive Point Park Civic Center;
A 1961 (right) proposal that would replace the fountain with a towering stainless steel trilon viewing platform.

1930s design that mirrors the
eventual boundaries of the park.
Another proposal, put forth in the 1930s, that includes nearly the same 36 acres in use today.

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