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North Side gets behind Commons cause

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bonnie Pfister
Friday, September 14, 2007

The North Side’s Allegheny Commons — designated as public grazing lands a year before George Washington became the nation’s first president — today celebrates a small but significant first step in a proposed $16 million revitalization guided by a master plan.

A four-acre parcel at the southwest corner of East Ohio Street and Cedar Avenue has undergone $400,000 of upgrades, part of a pilot project demonstrating improvements that could come for the 80-acre West Park.

“This is a way for us to take a section of the park and do a whole lot of improvements and see how it looks,” said Christina Schmidlapp, part-time development director of the project since 2004, working from the offices of the Northside Leadership Conference.

“It will be a living advertisement of what we want to do, and for us to see if it makes sense for us to make a park like they did in the 19th century.”

Located a quarter-mile from the Allegheny River across from Downtown, the green space was designated as public grazing lands, or commons, surrounding the borough of Allegheny in 1788, according to the Allegheny Commons Steering Committee. It was beautified as a park for Allegheny City in 1868, annexed to Pittsburgh 40 years later and incorporated into the city’s park system. Allegheny Commons is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is a city historic district.

Community groups in 1999 convened a public meeting to discuss upgrading the park, and by 2002 other stakeholders — including Allegheny General Hospital, the Aviary and the Children’s Museum — helped develop a master plan. Local businesses, including insurance company Babb Inc., the Steelers and Citizens Bank, helped to fund the salary of Schmidlapp, who will move into a money-raising mode. Alida Baker will become project director.

Money for the improvement has come from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and The Buhl Foundation, and the city Public Works Department, which provided $200,000 and labor to rebuild walking paths and upgrade lighting. The planting of 70 trees and other landscape care in the park was paid for by the Laurel Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation and the Garden Club of Allegheny County.

Walking through the park on a brilliant September afternoon, Tonia Davis said Thursday she has noticed the improvement in the five years since she moved to East Allegheny Commons. The park is better maintained and has become a gathering spot for children’s parties.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said Davis, a home health worker and part-time Wendy’s restaurant staffer. “When I moved here, it was nothing but drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs. I didn’t want to come out of my house. I’m proud to live here now.”

A ceremony is scheduled in the park at 4 p.m. today. The master plan can be found at

Bonnie Pfister can be reached at or 412-320-7886.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633