Brookline Boulevard Proposal - 1949

Brookline Boulevard Proposal, 1949
Click on image to enlarge

The present-day course of the eastern part of Brookline Boulevard took form around 1915 as residential development began in the East Brookline properties, beyond Whited Street. When these housing projects began, Brookline Boulevard ended at Breining Street. From that point there were farm fields and woodlands. For travelers, Edgebrook Avenue, Whited Street and Breining were the only routes that led to the main roads along the Saw Mill Run valley.

As the street layout began to take shape in East Brookline the boulevard was extended beyond Breining, past Birchland and Witt Streets, to the homes along Reamer and Altmar Streets. The boulevard continued to Jacob Street, it's easternmost boundary.

From that point, to reach Saw Mill Run, travelers followed Jacob Street to Whited Street, then down to the main roadway then called the Library Road Extension. This is the same familiar path that drivers follow today.

It is often asked why Brookline Boulevard switches from a four-lane broad avenue (West Liberty to Breining Street) to a two-lane residential roadway (Breining Street to Jacob Street).

The truth is that this was not the intended route of Brookline's main drag.

Early city residential plot maps showing the East Brookline developments indicate that the eastern boulevard extension originally proposed was a four-lane avenue extending from Breining to Birchland that then veered to the right and ran along the valley floor, now part of Brookline Park.

Brookline Boulevard Extension, 1916
1916 Pittsburgh Plot Map showing a portion of the originally planned lower part of Brookline Boulevard's eastern extension.
At the time these plans were drawn, this land was still just farm fields and woodlands. Click on image to enlarge.

The boulevard was planned to run parallel to the existing Pittsburgh Railways right-of-way, established in 1905, that passed through the Brookdale subplot to a point near present-day Overbrook School, where it intersected with the Library Road Extension (Saw Mill Run Boulevard).

In 1930, Overbrook Borough was annexed into the city of Pittsburgh. The Brookdale and East Brookline developments, including the proposed route of the boulevard extension, were then incorporated into the boundaries of Brookline.

Despite the difficulties of the Great Depression, the mid-1930s were a time of many infrastructure improvements within the community. The Brookline Joint Civic Committee put forth numerous proposals that helped initiate several major projects. Among these many changes, the 1935 reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard was perhaps the most important.

Aerial View of East Brookline - 1939
A 1939 aerial view of East Brookline, showing the existing route of the Brookline Boulevard extension (yellow)
and the alternate route proposed by the Joint Civic Committee (red). Click on image to enlarge.

During this modernization effort, the western end of the Boulevard, which followed the path of present-day Bodkin Street, was rerouted from West Liberty Avenue to Pioneer Avenue. A four-lane avenue was constructed along the existing Pittsburgh Railways streetcar right-of-way.

In addition to this change, the Civic Committee also strongly recommended that the eastern end of the Boulevard also be rerouted to follow the originally intended path through the valley. The four-lane extension would, as Committee members proclaimed, "make the boulevard go somewhere." They deemed this extension a necessary part in the growth of the community.

While city, state and federal dollars flowed into projects like the Boulevard Loop construction, sewer and infrastructure improvements, the building of Carmalt and West Liberty Elementary Schools, and the creation of Moore Park, the proposal for the eastern extension of the boulevard was put on hold.

The post-World War II residential building boom brought a new sense of urgency to the thought of an eastern extension of Brookline Boulevard. Throughout the 1940s efforts were made to put the project back on the table.

Brookline Boulevard Extension, 1940
1940 Pittsburgh Plot Map showing proposed Brookline Boulevard eastern extension and the existing route that
ran from Breining Street to Jacob Street. Click on image to enlarge.

The following article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 3, 1949:

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Saw Mill Run Road Link Given Impetus

Councilmen Hear Brookline Boosters; County Aid Sought

Council decided Wednesday to move at once for a city-county conference on extension of Brookline Boulevard from Edgebrook Avenue to Saw Mill Run Boulevard.

In conference the city would seek county financial cooperation in construction of the roadway.

The mile-long $700,000 community-advocated project would intersect saw Mill Run near the Overbrook Junior High School. Council's move to explore county aid prospects came following a hearing of the Brookline Joint Civic Committee.

Spokesmen for the group, which represents ten community organizations, urged the project as a vast benefit to 20,000 people in the Nineteenth and Thirty-Second Wards. They pointed out that it would bring the present boulevard, which ends at Edgebrook Avenue, into full usefullness.

They said that an existing street at the Edgebrook end lends itself to the improvement and expressed the opinion that little property would have to be purchased. The existing street is between Edgebrook and Birchland Street.

Speakers pointed out that of all routes to Saw Mill Run, the Brookline Boulevard extension is the one locally favored. The City Planning Commission, which has disapproved, wants a different route.

Wednesday's hearing ended with President T.E. Kilgallen appointing a committee of four to open informal discussion with the county.

The committee, which already has addressed a letter to Commissioner John J. Kane asking for a meeting, includes Councilmen T.J. Gallagher, John T. Duff, Joseph A. McCardle, and Works Director James J. Devlin. The committee is to report back to council later. So far the probable cost is only roughly estimated.

Inasmuch as it has been proposed to seek county aid the concensus Wednesday was to hold a conference with the county as the first step.

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It is unknown if the conference took place or what the findings of the council committee were, but for one reason or another, the proposal was never followed through with. Brookline Boulevard has continued on it's present path from Edgebrook to Jacob Street ever since.

One could put forth that there were a couple reasons that might have factored into the decision not to build the extension. The strongest negative development was when the Anderson family sold their twenty acres of farmland to the community for use as a public park.

This had a devastating impact on the plans for continued construction in the Brookdale subplot, whose homes were planned along the hillside abutting the proposed route. Only six Brookdale homes were ever built, and just one remains standing today.

Other factors may have included the rapidly increasing vehicle congestion along Saw Mill Run Boulevard, and the close proximity to Overbrook School. Overbrook residents were concerned about the safety of their children, many of whom walked to school along Saw Mill Run.

In the end, for whatever reason, the eastern Brookline Boulevard extension was never built. Whether this had an adverse affect on the development of the community is anybody's guess.

Between 1949 and 1970, Brookline's population increased from 16,000 to over 20,000, with a corresponding increase in vehicular traffic, and it didn't seem to have made much of a difference. Even today, with traffic flow at an all-time high, it doesn't seem to be much of a burden.

Edgebrook, Whited and Breining Streets continue to serve as viable routes to Saw Mill Run, although it can be strongly argued that Edgebrook Avenue is dangerously in need of some extensive improvements.

Taking into consideration the present-day condition of Saw Mill Run Boulevard, and the ever-increasing amount of vehicular traffic, it seems hard to imagine having another major intersection at the proposed junction. Historically speaking, it is an interesting look at what might have been.

Aerial View of East Brookline - 2012
A 2012 aerial view of East Brookline, with the proposed boulevard eastern extension highlighted in red.

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