Pittsburgh's Playgrounds in 1930

Kids gather to play on the busy streets of Arlington. Accidents involving children and vehicles were a serious problem.

Children have always needed a place to play, and in the absence of a designated area they will find a suitable place of their own. In the present day, the City of Pittsburgh maintains several fine municipal parks and playgrounds where kids can gather and play safely. Back in the early decades of the 20th century, public playgrounds were a rarity, and neighborhood kids took to vacant lots and street corners to expend their energies.

In 1900, as the city of Pittsburgh grew and families multiplied, the need for public play space grew accordingly. The first public playground in the City of Pittsburgh was located at Second Avenue and Grant Street. Soon, neighborhoods around the city began requesting playgrounds.

The city began installing municipal playgrounds in open lots in the early 1900s. These parks were often rudimentary at best, but they did serve to get the children off the urban streets. A corner lot with a swing set, slide, sandbox, small shelter and some open space was common. Some of the nicer parks included a ballfield or a basketball hoop. Residents themselves often banded together to construct small play areas in open spaces.

Hill District - 1910    Recreation Bureau - 1918
A playground in the Hill District 1910 (left) and a Bureau of Recreation playground in 1918.

15th Street - 1921    Polish Hill - 1921
Children wading in a converted sandbox along 15th Street in the Strip District (left) and the West Penn playground in 1921.

Larimer Avenue - 1924    Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street - 1933
A playground on Larimer Avenue 1924 (left) and another at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street 1933.

This was also a time when automobile and streetcar traffic around the city was increasing exponentially. By the 1920s, with so many kids taking to the streets to walk to school of just to play, the number of vehicular accidents involving children on the streets rose rapidly. Many of these accidents were fatal.

By 1930, the number of roadside fatalities involving children on the way to or from school or at play had reached alarming proportions. The city began a program to upgrade and install new playgrounds, and studies were underway on proposed traffic infrastructure improvements, but progress was slow.

In July of 1930, the Pittsburgh Press ran a ten-day documentary on the lack of adequate playgrounds. Entitled "Why They Plead For Playgrounds," the feature stressed the need for the city to install more playgrounds and parks. Each day, a picture was shown of kids at play in and around the busy streets of Pittsburgh.

Click on images for larger pictures

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Allentown    Soho

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The Great Depression and The New Deal

In response to the plea for playgrounds, the city of Pittsburgh initiated a program to upgrade existing playgrounds and construct a number of public parks with Recreation Centers, pools, ballfields and other facilities. The financial strain of the Great Depression slowed this activity.

With the help of the federal government and President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies, the Pittsburgh parks program was put back on track in 1935. With federal funding and assistance from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Project Administration (WPA), the city and county were soon dotted with several first class recreation centers with facilities for young and old alike.

Brookline Elementary School - 1919
Graphic showing many of the projects completed by the CCC and WPA from 1935 to 1943.

Along with numerous traffic safety upgrades, these new parks helped to dramatically decrease the number of child fatalities involving automobiles. The availablility of these recreation facilities also significantly increased the quality of life for the citizens of Pittsburgh.

Public Playgrounds in Brookline

Here in the community of Brookline, efforts to find space for public playgrounds and recreation facilities were led by Professor Joseph Moore. From 1914 to 1922 there was a playground at the corner of Rossmore and Wedgemere, next to the Brookline Elementary School Garden and a baseball field. Housing development forced the closure of this area.

The Pittsburgh School Board purchased property next to Brookline Elementary School for expansion in 1923. That lot was used as a playground until 1929. Other improvised play areas were located on undeveloped lots throughout the neighborhood, often monitored by nearby residents.

Brookline Elementary School - 1919
A scale model, built in 1919, showing plans for a playground next to Brookline School.

The city acquired ten acres of land in 1932 along the 1800 block of Pioneer Avenue. A year later Joseph F. Moore Playground was dedicated. Work then began on a much larger park facility, but a lack of funding slowed the work during the depression years.

In 1939, with the assistance of the Works Project Administration, park construction began in earnest. Moore Park opened in August 1940 and included a playground, baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, swimming pool and a bath house that also served as a recreation building.

The fountain near the children's
playground at Moore Park - 1958
Children play in one of the spray fountains near the playground at Moore Park.

After World War II the community experienced another building boom and large population increase. Soon there was a call for more public play space. Additional park space was sought in East Brookline. In 1947 the Community Center Association purchased twenty acres of land between Breining Street and Brookline Boulevard. Over the years this land was transformed into Brookline Memorial Park, another first rate public park with several recreational amenities.

Brookline Memorial Park - 2002.
Brookline Memorial Park, located in East Brookline, shown here in 2002.

In addition to the intended public safety message of the plea for playgrounds, the pictures above invoke thoughts back to our own childhood, We couldn't always go to Moore Park of the Community Center, so we'd gather with friends after school on the street near home, and make up our own games. We'd come in for dinner and go right back out. It was an unwritten rule that When the street lights came on, it was time for us all to go home.

Children playing on Wedgemere Avenue - 1925
Children playing on Wedgemere Avenue in 1925.

Even with the numerous recreation alternatives available today, and the abundance of public play space, kids still, as in days gone by, gather near street corners close to home to play ball, ride their bikes, or just run around having fun. Motorists must always remain vigilant when driving along residential streets.

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