Highland Park’s grandeur reborn – Fountain at center of renovated entry
By Ervin Dyer,
Saturday, August 28, 2004
In Highland Park, the past is present.
In the early 1900s, a grand Victorian entryway greeted visitors with imposing bronze sculptures, clustered Ionic columns, a fountain, reflecting pool and lush formal gardens.
Just beyond the entry of the twin stone pillars, there is evidence that that world is returning: polished stone work; sweat-soaked contractors; and the most refreshing sign, a gush of sparkling water 15 feet in the air.
Decades after its demise, the Highland Park Fountain is almost back.
The water seen spouting this week comes from crews testing new pipes that have been laid. Over the next few weeks, the fountain may be on or off, depending on the testing schedule.
According to city workers, no official opening has been scheduled yet.
But under yesterday’s sunny skies, walkers, residents and passers-by caught an early peek.
“It’s beautiful,” beamed Annette Marks, 67, a lifelong resident of the East End neighborhood that was laid out over 300 acres in 1778. “It’s going to be just like it was.”
As a child, Marks remembers Sundays in the park. There were plenty of picnics and leisurely walks with her parents. As a mother, she and her husband, Ron, took their own children swimming and strolling there. The fountain then, in the late 1960s, was in such disrepair it was taken down and covered in soil. Marks’ husband can’t recall there ever being a fountain.
At one point, the pond where the fountain was centered held lilies and, some remember, goldfish.
To see it gurgling again gave Annette Marks, a local museum fund-raiser, a flash of yesteryear. “They’re bringing it all back, reverting to what we had originally. It’s going to do a lot for this neighborhood.”
The spruce-up of the park began six years ago when the Highland Park Community Development Corp. received a $75,000 state grant to help pay for restoration of the garden, fountain and reflecting pool.
To receive the grant, the group raised an additional $75,000 in matching funds in foundation and private donations. Financial assistance also came from Allegheny Regional Asset District funding earmarked to aid the city’s parks.
It is estimated the completed project will cost about $700,000.
“It is quite lovely,” said Maxine Jenkins, a schoolteacher who lives in nearby Stanton Heights and regularly walks near the fountain.
Jenkins did not initially know the fountain was there, but watched its rebuilding. “I haven’t seen anyone sitting down there,” she said of the fountain’s new benches, “and it seems a little impractical to use funds when the city could be doing other things.”
Phase two of the project is expected to begin shortly. It will involve more horticultural work to restore the Victorian Gardens, which will offer a rainbow of seasonal color, said Philip Gruszka, a director with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a group working with the city and Highland Park community groups to rebuild the park.
The city has four grand parks — Highland, Schenley, Riverview and Frick. Highland Park, when it opened in 1896, was the most formal and grand, said Arthur Ziegler, of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
It had a promenade, with the fountain and a lily pond, he said. “It was important” because it helped the newly developed community attract people and traffic to the East End.
It is believed the park was designed by German-born Berthold Froesch, a parks designer who lived in Morningside.
The 500-acre park, with the zoo and open-air reservoir, continues to be one of the city’s most well-used parks for walkers, runners and retirees. “To enter the park with less than an optimum image was not good,” said Ziegler. “This will give everything a new life and set the tone for other restoration in the park.”
As the temperature steamed toward 86 degrees, the fountain was one of the coolest spots at the park yesterday.
“It is certainly tranquil,” said Marette Simpson, a minister from Monroeville, jogging past the babbling fountain on her 3-mile run. “I’m ready to take a dip in it.”
(Ervin Dyer can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1410.)