Bigelow Boulevard

Bigelow Boulevard - 1936.
Bigelow Boulevard, shown here in July 1936, runs east-west from downtown Pittsburgh to Oakland. The cut along
the face of Bedford Hill required the creation of massive retaining walls to stabilize the hillside.

Bigelow Boulevard, originally known as Grant Boulevard, is a three and a half mile "rapid transit" roadway carved into Bedford Hill that connects downtown Pittsburgh with Schenley Park in Oakland. It is a lasting tribute to the city's most famous urban planner, Edward Manning Bigelow, known as the "Father of Pittsburgh Parks."

The Boulevard, conceived by Bigelow in 1891, was the beginning of a twelve mile drive, which included Beechwood and Washington Boulevards, in a transit route that connected both Schenley and Highland Parks. Bigelow had an overwhelming desire to establish large scenic parks near the city and make them accessible to the everyday factory workers and their families, a privilege often reserved for the upper class.

Edward Bigelow was appointed City Engineer in 1880 and in 1888 became Director of Public Works, a position he held for three terms, the last ending in 1906. During his tenure in office, Bigelow forged major improvements in the City's urban boulevards, waterworks, and parks.

Edward Bigelow in 1890.
Edward Bigelow

When Bigelow took office, the only public park in the city was a block-long area along Second Avenue between Grant and Ross Streets, now the ramp of the Blvd of the Allies. Soon after, he quietly began acquiring land in various parts of the city for public park use. In 1889, these parcels became Schenley and Highland Parks.

In an 1895 city bond issue, $500,000 was appropriated for the construction of two boulevards. Construction of Grant Boulevard started in 1897. Beginning at Seventh Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, the boulevard extended along a cut in the face of Bedford Hill eastward to Forbes Avenue in Oakland. Some of the roadway existed in one form or another already and just needed improving. Other sections required a massive undertaking for the times.

At the top of the rise, near the Seventeenth Street (Penn) Incline, the course of the boulevard ran along Crescent Street, then Arch Street to Polish Hill. A short part of Mingo Street and a cut through the hill below Ridge Street led to Oscar Alley. It followed the alley to Craig Street then veered off onto open land owned by the Herron, Aspinwall, Davidson, Schenley and Frick estates until reaching Forbes and Fifth Avenues in Oakland.

1890 map showing path of Bigelow Boulevard through Polish Hill.
An 1890 map showing the path of Grant Boulevard through Polish Hill.

The course of the roadway began at Seventh Avenue with a new section built to Farber Street. It went uphill along a former Pittsburgh and East End Railway trail, which was on the hillside above the Pennsylvania Railroad yards and below the Bedford Basin. This section required a massive and dangerous cut, and the earth proved unstable and prone to landslides.

A massive retaining wall was eventually built along the hill below the roadway, extending all the way up the grade. The wall proved a formidable undertaking that required the building of an incline to transport the quarried blocks from the rail yard below. Engineers required blocks that were extra large and thick to hold back the forces of nature. This required the further installation of a small guage railway to move the blocks from the incline.

Construction of the roadway took nearly two years and was beset with delays. Lawsuits against the contractor file by the County, State, and Pennsylvania Railroad over the costs relating to the persistent landslides and the increased cost of the resulting construction of the retaining walls dragged on for months.

The eastern end of Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland - 1910.
The eastern end of Bigelow Boulevard passed by the Soldier's Memorial, the Pittsburgh Athletic Association,
and the Schenley Hotel before ending at Forbes Avenue, near the entrance to Forbes Field. To the
left is the Carnegie Library and Museum, the Technical School and Schenley Park.

Grant Boulevard approaching Herron Avenue - 1916.    Grant Boulevard and Herron Avenue - 1916.
Grant Boulevard at Herron Avenue in 1910 (left) and again in 1916. The West Penn Hospital was located
down the hill just to the left from the 1850s until 1919, when it moved to nearby Bloomfield.
The West Penn Recreation Center and park is now located where the hospital once stood.

Bigelow Boulevard in 1915.
A stretch of Bigelow Boulevard, heading in the direction of downtown Pittsburgh, in 1915.

Originally estimated to cost $1 million, the final bill was adjudicated to be $1.5 million. The long-awaited boulevard was completed and opened to traffic on March 31, 1901. Aside from the travel benefits and ease of access to the rural wonders of Oakland and Schenley Park, users commented on the spectacular views of the Strip District, Allegheny River and the lands along the north shore.

Grant Boulevard, as it was known at the time, was a major success. It led to the rapid development of the Schenley Farms area. Residents flocked to see the attractions in Oakland and traffic congestion soon became a problem.

Determined efforts by the Pittsburgh Railways Company to install trolley lines along the boulevard soon began. In 1904, a decision against the transit company was handed down in court and the scenic drive remained an open roadway. Then, in 1912, the roadway was extended to Webster Avenue in downtown due to the removal of The Hump at Grant Street.

Proposed Grand Portal that was to be erected
at the Seventh Avenue entrance to Bigelow Boulevard.
The portal was never built. Submitted in 1911.
A 1911 proposal for a Grand Portal at the Seventh Avenue entrance to Bigelow Boulevard. It was never built.

The success of Grant Boulevard led the City Planning Commission, in 1913, to recommend the construction of Monongahela Boulevard, better known as the Boulevard of the Allies, to increase vehicular capacity to the eastern communities. Beginning in 1915, Grant Boulevard was designated as US Route 22/US Route 30 and became part of the national Lincoln Highway. In 1916, the roadway was renamed Bigelow Boulevard after the death of Edward Manning Bigelow. The US Route 22/30 designation was switched to the Boulevard of the Allies in 1926.

Herron Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard in 1916.
Herron Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard on May 13, 1916.

Repeated landslides caused problems with both vehicular traffic and with the Pennsylvania Railroad line that ran along the base of Bedford Hill. Engineers were unable to stop the persistent deterioration of the hillside. In November 1920, a disastrous landslide prompted the city to begin restoration efforts along the roadway. Retaining walls were built both above and below the boulevard.

Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919.    Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919.
Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919. Landslides were a recurring problem.

Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard in 1919.
Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard approaching the 17th Street Incline, below Ridgeway Street, in 1919.

Proposed retaining walls - 1919.    Proposed retaining walls - 1919.
In an effort to shore up the hillside along Bigelow Boulevard, plans were presented in 1919 for a series
of retaining walls both above and below the roadway. These are the artist's renditions.

1919 renovation plans for
retaining wall construction.    1919 renovation plans for
Seventh Avenue entranceway.
Architectural plans for the construction of retaining walls along Bigelow Boulevard - 1919.

1919 renovation plans for
retaining wall construction.    1919 renovation plans for
Seventh Avenue entranceway.
Architectural plans for the construction of retaining walls along Bigelow Boulevard - 1919.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1920.
Conditions along Bigelow Boulevard below Bedford Dwellings, approaching the Penn Incline on September 7, 1920.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.
Construction of large retaining walls in February 1921 at Crescent Street.

Bigelow Boulevard - June 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - June 1921.
Drainage rocks stacked high above the 6" drainage pipe that ran along the back of the wall.

Bigelow Boulevard - March 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - June 1921.
Construction of large retaining walls in 1921 helped control the problem of hillside deterioration.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.
Construction of large retaining walls in 1921 helped control the problem of hillside deterioration.

Bigelow Boulevard - March 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - June 1921.
Construction of large retaining walls in 1921 helped control the problem of hillside deterioration.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1921
Retaining walls and drainage basins were built both above and below the roadway to shore up the hillside.

Bigelow Boulevard - March 1921.    Bigelow Boulevard - Jan 1922.
Construction of large retaining walls in 1921 helped control the problem of hillside deterioration.

Plaque erected after the 1921 road repairs
honoring Edward Manning Bigelow.

The Gulf Gas Station at Bigelow
and the Bloomfield Bridge - July 1921.
McFarlan's Gulf service station at the corner of Bigelow Boulevard and the Bloomfield Bridge in July 1921.

1928 proposal for a pedestrian bridge
over Bigelow Boulevard, below Ridgeway Avenue.
A 1928 proposal for a pedestrian bridge over Bigelow Boulevard, at the bottom of the Ridgeway Avenue steps.

Bigelow Boulevard - July 1922.    Bigelow Boulevard - December 1929.
Bigelow Boulevard along the Bedford hillside in 1922 (left) and approaching Herron Avenue from the east in 1929.

Bigelow at Kirkpatrick Avenue - 1924.
Bigelow Boulevard at the intersection with Kirkpatrick Avenue and Brereton Road in 1924.

Bigelow Boulevard - June 1931.    Bigelow Boulevard - December 1923.
Bigelow Boulevard just after the intersection with Craig Street, heading east towards Oakland, in 1931 (left)
and the boulevard just below Andover Terrace near Centre Avenue in 1923.

Bigelow Boulevard - 1930.
Bigelow Boulevard rising towards the Penn Incline.

Bigelow Boulevard/Ridgeway Avenue Steps - 1930.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1935.
Bigelow Boulevard at the Ridgeway Avenue steps (left) in 1930, and looking at the start of the boulevard in 1935.
Bigelow began at Grant Street, went one block up and turned left. The remainder of the road is Webster Avenue.

Bigelow Boulevard at the 30th Street Steps in Polish Hill - 1930.    Bigelow Boulevard - 1935.
At the 30th Street steps in Polish Hill in 1933 (left), and a home at 2556 Bigelow Boulevard,
near the Kirkpatrick Street intersection that was torn down in 1939.

By 1936, the roadway had again deteriorated to the point where motorists refered to it as "no man's land." A major renovation project began. A concrete surface was laid and new lighting installed. The scenic Bedford Hill overlook park was constructed alongside the boulevard. The grand reopening was in December 1939.

Bigelow Boulevard proposal - July 1933.
A proposal for the Bigelow Boulevard intersections at Sixth and Seventh Avenues, put forth in 1933.

Bigelow Boulevard construction - May 1939.    Bigelow Boulevard construction - May 1939.
Workers tearing up the roadway on the way up from Washington Street to Seventeeth Street (left) and progress on
the deep cut into Herron Hill near Kirkpatrick Street on May 19, 1939.

The Herron Hill cut on Bigelow Boulevard - July 1939.
The old Bigelow Boulevard (left) and the cut for the new roadway. The hump caused by the cut into the hillside
left members of the Pittsburgh Motor Club lamenting the loss of the scenic view of the Allegheny River basin.

Bigelow Boulevard construction - July 1939.    Bigelow Boulevard and Bedford Avenue - Oct 1939.
The cut on July 7, 1939, (left) and Bigelow Boulevard from above in October showing the cut made into Bedford Hill.
Removing the hump caused by the excavation of the hillside added another $50,000 to the project cost.

Bigelow Boulevard construction - July 1939.    Bigelow Boulevard construction - Aug 1939.
The new roadway under construction at the Penn Incline on July 26 (left), and road work on the rise along Bedford Hill.

Bigelow Boulevard construction - Nov 1939.    Bigelow Boulevard construction - Dec 1939.
The new roadway and lighting on November 10 (left), and engineers inspecting one of the supports for the
Penn Incline, on December 9, that was protruding into the roadway and deemed a hazard that delayed
the opening of the roadway for another three weeks while the incline support was reconfigured.

Drawing of Bigelow Boulevard and Crosstown Boulevard - June 29, 1938.

Model of Bigelow Boulevard and Crosstown Boulevard - July 7, 1939.
A model of the proposed $1.65 million grade separation project to link Bigelow Boulevard to the
$5.5 million Crosstown Boulevard, which was approved by the County Commissioners on July 7, 1939.

Drawing of Bigelow intersection at Seventh/Sixth Avenues - Nov 24, 1940.
A 1940 drawing showing the format of the new Seventh Street intersection and ramp to Sixth Street.

Drawing of Bigelow intersection at Seventh/Sixth Avenues - Jan 20, 1941.
A 1941 drawing showing approved plans for the new Sixth/Seventh Avenue intersections.

Bigelow intersection at Seventh Avenues - Aug 1946.
A large Clark Bar sign at the intersection of Bigelow Boulevard (elevated) and Seventh Avenue in August 1946.

Billboards at Herron Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard - April 1941.
Billboards at Herron Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard in April 1941.

In the two decades that followed, the majority of the roadway remained basically the same, with occasional improvements. More dramatic changes have occurred twice. As the 1950s drew to a close, the construction of Crosstown Boulevard forever alter the downtown end of the boulevard.

The western end of Bigelow Boulevard in 1950 from the
Crosstown Expressway looking east towards Oakland.
The western end of Bigelow Boulevard, in 1950, near the future Crosstown interchange. Bedford Avenue to the right.
A decade later, during the boulevard project, nearly all of the buildings below Connelly Tech were removed
and the hillside cut back to make room for the series of retaining walls, ramps and bridges.

The path of the future Crosstown Boulevard - 1951.
The location of the Crosstown Boulevard ramps for the Liberty Bridge and Boulevard of the Allies in 1951.
Most of what lies to the right of Shingiss Street would be removed by the end of the decade.

The bridge carrying Bigelow Boulevard over the expressway to Seventh Avenue was built in 1960. The rest of the Crosstown bridges and ramps were finished in 1962. Then, in 1986, new traffic patterns were installed at the Bloomfield Bridge intersection and the offramp from the Veteran's Bridge was built.

Liberty Bridge and Crosstown Boulevard - September 17, 1959.
The southern end of Crosstown Boulevard, at the Boulevard of the Allies and Liberty Bridge on September 17, 1959.

Crosstown Boulevard - September 9, 1962.
A hazy clipping showing nearly the entire length of the Crosstown Boulevard project September 9, 1962.

Bigelow Blvd at Crosstown Boulevard - September 20, 1962.
This is where the western ramps for inbound and outbound traffic at Crosstown Boulevard
and Seventh Avenue, shown here on September 20, 1962.

Bigelow Blvd at Crosstown Boulevard - September 20, 1962.
The western end of Bigelow Boulevard at Crosstown Boulevard on September 24, 1963.

Crosstown Boulevard construction - Aug 1962.    Crosstown Boulevard construction - June 1964.
Workers constructing the Westbound offramp for Bedford Avenue on August 15, 1962 (left),
and the Bigelow eastbound entrance off Crosstown Boulevard on June 2, 1964.

Crosstown Boulevard - November 23, 1964.
Crosstown Boulevard, Bedford Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard on November 23, 1964.

Among the interesting sites motorists encounter as they drive along Bigelow Boulevard is a partially completed ramp known as the "Ghost Ramp." Original plans for the Crosstown/Bigelow interchange included preliminary work on entrance and exit ramps that would connect Bigelow Boulevard to the I-579 expressway, which was still in the planning stages.

The original design for the highway included a full interchange at Bigelow. Years later, when the Veteran's Bridge and I-579 were completed, the proposed ramp was not used. The mysterious Ghost Ramp remains as part of the retaining wall.

The Ghost Ramp in 2001.    The Ghost Ramp in 2001.
The Ghost Ramp at the western end of Bigelow Boulevard, shown in 2001.

Today, over a century since it was first opened to traffic, Bigelow Boulevard is still one of the most traveled roads in the City of Pittsburgh. The scenic roadway provides commuters with easy access between the eastern communities and the city center.

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