From Here, You Can See North Park

The view from North Park's observation tower provides visitors the chance to see lovely scenery surrounding the large mass of nature.

Throughout the past year, I’ve spent several days in North Park. This is unusual for someone like me who’s from the South Hills, but WQED cameraman Frank Caloiero lives in Ross Township and brags about the joys of that park so much that I thought I should check it out. We decided to investigate what’s different about each park and create video stories celebrating the two big chunks of nature in the polar-oriented hills of Pittsburgh.

North Park is bigger: 3,075 acres of wooded playground, which is more than 1,000 acres larger than South Park. But size means nothing.  In the northern suburbs, residents love the bike trails, hiking paths, gigantic swimming pool, the lake that’s being renovated, the tennis courts and the golf course, too. There are vintage picnic groves just as in beautiful South Park, but there is an unexpected hilltop structure there: the Observation Tower.

I first heard about it from Gary Rigdon, chairman of the Friends of North Park, who said, “I thought I knew the park really well, and when I went up there, I wasn’t expecting to see anything I hadn’t seen before—but it was like ‘Holy cow! This is unbelievable!’”

The Observation Tower, an old metal tube-like structure with a dome roof, was built in 1937 with the purpose of storing and supplying water to the park. A dedication plaque lists the names of long-gone county commissioners as well as data such as storage capacity. Its official name was the Allegheny County North Park Water Supply System Standpipe.
“It’s a water tower,” Rigdon explained, “but what makes it unique is there’s a set of stairs that you can walk on to get all the way to the top. And the view—the view from that deck is really fantastic.” But the stairs are blocked and locked nowadays. “It’s closed to the public because it’s not really safe,” he said.

But Caloiero and I know that, sometimes, exceptions are made for TV crews who can take pictures and share the experience with many people.  We called and asked for special permission. By the time we arrived, a county policeman already opened the padlock on the stairs, and we climbed the 154 rusty, creaking steps that led to the observation platform. 

After seeing the door open, four or five other people sneakily followed us.

The covered deck itself has a stylish terrazzo floor decorated with cool mosaics of zodiac symbols and a compass point—all around a circular bench where visitors can sit and appreciate the panorama. That’s what people go for: a bird’s-eye view of countless trees, the nearby golf course, houses to the north and the glorious, natural splendor of the park.

It’s impressive—even to my Southern eyes.

Thanks to Allegheny County Parks and the Pennsylvania Department of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Rick Sebak plans to tell more about North and South Parks this month on “It’s Pittsburgh,” which airs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on WQED-TV.

Categories: Rick Sebak