Collier’s Weekly: The Top 10 Uses for an Old Stone Pier

The foot of the bygone Wabash Bridge is for sale. Here’s what we’d do with it.
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PHOTO BY SEAN COLLIER

The noted con man George C. Parker made a dubious living selling things he did not own to unsuspecting victims. Unlike less imaginative swindlers, though, Parker peddled whole landmarks, convincing his marks that he held the deed to iconic locales such as the Statue of Liberty, Grant’s Tomb and (most famously) the Brooklyn Bridge.

Parker’s habit of selling deeds to the famous span gave rise to an aphorism: “If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.” It’s become shorthand for gullibility. Modern Pittsburghers, therefore, are right to be suspicious of an unusual banner that has popped up Downtown, towering above the Mon Wharf.

“Pier for Sale,” the sign proclaims. “Unique Opportunity.”

It figures — Brooklynites get a whole bridge, but we only get one pier.

As reported by the Trib, though, this is no hoax; the northern foot of the bygone Wabash Bridge is privately owned and up for sale. The stone tower, jutting out of the Monongahela River adjacent to the Wharf, has been used for various purposes — from mooring barges to hosting art installations — since the 1948 demolition of the bridge itself.

And now: It can be yours. For … hang on, let me check the price … a sum in the “mid six-figures.”

While it’s a sturdy and well-located oddity, you may be wondering what, precisely, you would do with a hulking riverfront monument. Fortunately, I have some ideas. You can have them for free, just name the pier after me. (Or at least one of the nicer rocks.)

  1. One-up all of Pittsburgh’s riverfront dining with the only restaurant offering rivertop dining. Believe it or not, this idea has previously been floated; as early as 1958, proposals existed for using the north pier as the foundation for a multi-story restaurant and marina. You’ll instantly outshine all those restaurants that merely offer tables near the water; your patrons will be able to peer down at the waters of the Mon! (The folks who run that floating tiki hut will outrank you in terms of river proximity, but this is pretty good.)
  2. Open a particularly high-stakes escape room. Most such puzzles merely take a condescending photo of teams that don’t make it out in an hour; here, you can dump losers straight in the water! Now that’s a team-building exercise!
  3. Disprove the existence of a century-old curse. It has long been rumored that the Wabash Bridge, and its connected tunnel — still in operation, though infrequently used — are cursed, the product of a tragedy during the rushed construction of the bridge. Whatever you do with the pier, we’d say if 10 years go by without an unfortunate occurrence, you’ll have proved that there’s no such thing as a Wabash curse! If you’re wrong … well, that won’t be nearly as satisfying.
  4. Sneak onto Gateway Clipper rides by leaping from the pier to the top deck. Admittedly, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to save on boat tickets is not a good financial move, but you’d get to startle tourists.
  5. Use the only parking spaces in the Mon Wharf that will never flood. You’d need to build an elaborate ramp to get your car on top of the pier, but you’ll be high and dry! (If the river ever rises to the top of the pier, we’ve got much bigger problems.)
  6. Finally build a landing pad for the long-rumored Mount Washington zipline. We’re beginning to seriously doubt that the civic dream of a horrifying descent from Grandview Avenue to the Golden Triangle will ever happen, but if it did, this would be a nice, straight shot down and across the river. And if a passing barge interferes … well, the kids need to learn about river transport sometime.
  7. Four words: kooky old boat captain. You remember the old ship’s captain in “Mary Poppins,” who converted the roof of his house into a ship’s deck and stood up there all day firing off the cannons and giving weather reports? Do exactly that.
  8. Riverfront stage — facing the river. Whenever there’s a concert at Acrisure Stadium, Point State Park or PNC Park, boats of all sizes line up adjacent to the facility to hang out and hear some secondhand tunes. Give the people what they want: Build a little concert shell up there, pointing to the river for al mare concerts. Link up with Venture Outdoors and sell tickets with a kayak rental!
  9. Put the Wholey’s sign on it. Fish, water — it goes together.
  10. Build a statue of August Wilson. While many Pittsburgh icons are immortalized in stone or bronze, there is no public monument to August Wilson. Pittsburgh’s finest writer certainly deserves a statue, and while a spot in the Hill District might be more appropriate (why not build two?), this would be a fittingly prominent place for the city’s favorite son to sit. A memorial, an honor and a destination — unlike several of the above suggestions, this one I mean sincerely.
Categories: Collier’s Weekly