The Pittsburgh That Could Have Been: Part ‘Star Wars,’ Part Paris

An Arc de Triomphe over Bigelow Boulevard? A Central Park in the Strip District? Twin towers downtown? It could have happened.

Photos via the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania


A recent Post-Gazette blog post showing two early proposals for the complex that would eventually become Three Rivers Stadium piqued my interest enough to send me down the Internet wormhole. For hours, I hunted down other proposals for projects that never made it past artistic renderings or to-scale models.

An Arc de Triomphe over Bigelow Boulevard? A Central Park in the Strip District? Twin towers downtown? It could have happened. Read on. We’re going to an alternate universe.


Bring us to Yinz guys’ leader

This illustration shows a trilon that Baltimore architect David Wallace proposed to city leaders for Point State Park back in 1961.

My verdict: That thing is straight out of science fiction. I’m really glad the idea was nixed in favor of a fountain because that “trilon” is clearly where the aliens go to phone home, right?


We could all be taking crazy selfies with William Pitt right now

Fifty years before the trilon was proposed, way back in 1916, this sketch was presented showing an enormous statue of our city’s namesake William Pitt, sitting on a throne of sorts while looking over the rivers at the Point.

The verdict: While the design is stunning and quite imposing, it’s a bit much, right? The pedestal is so tall that Billy Pitt could practically see the Pacific from that vantage point, and he’d probably be all, “I see you, Portland. Suck it.” I’m all for a version of this statue appearing somewhere in the city, but at a much smaller scale, because keep in mind … while he is responsible for installing General John Forbes to lead the British troops near the confluence, and for funding the effort to capture Fort Duquesne from the French, William Pitt never actually set foot in Pittsburgh. Personally, I’d rather see a Gene Kelly statue.


You’re gonna hear me roar

This proposed bridge is a bit of a mystery because it’s not known precisely where it was meant to be built. It’s a bit similar to the George Westinghouse Bridge. Notice the details such as the street lighting, the pedestrians admiring the view, the inscription, the Pittsburgh coat of arms and, of course, the huge stone lion.

The verdict: I wish this bridge existed. It’s beautiful. Also, no offense to the Dollar Bank cats, but we don’t have enough giant stone lions in Pittsburgh. Rawr.


What produce terminal?

The Strip District’s produce terminal is in the news as a fight rages as to whether it should be saved in the name of history or razed in the name of redevelopment.


However, had things gone a little differently back in 1966, it may not have existed at all. This is what the area bound by the Allegheny River, Bigelow Boulevard, 10th Street and 21st Street in the Strip District would look like today. This is the proposed Mall of Penn Park. That’s the Gulf Tower you see down on the horizon amidst other city buildings. The contoured buildings are called “terraces” and would’ve likely featured apartments and office space that afforded views of the river and reflecting pools. The Pennsylvania Railroad was to be the developer of this “beautifully landscaped, well-planned extension of the Golden Triangle.”

The verdict: I love the reflecting pools and clean lines of trees, as they’re reminiscent of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. And while the contours of the curved buildings are a bit too modern for my architectural tastes, this rendering marks the first time I can actually see how developing that area of the shoreline could bring some interesting aesthetics and desirable real estate to the Strip. I was all for tearing down the Civic Arena, but I’m conflicted on this one. You guys figure it out in the comment section. Keep it clean.


Pittsburgh’s Twins

This is the proposed Grant Plaza from 1978, consisting of “twin towers of 700,000 and 725,000 square feet respectively, with a 190,000 square foot glass-enclosed atrium connecting the towers.” It was to be built between Grant and Smithfield streets but never came to fruition.

My verdict: These are interesting-looking skyscrapers, but I’m wary of the stability of tall buildings on legs. The sturdy, flat-bottomed Oxford Center is a perfectly fine, less-wobbly alternative.


We’ll pronounce it Ark Day Tri-omp

The entrance to Bigelow Boulevard from Seventh Street downtown is boring. It’s a ramp. Whoop-de-doo.

But look at what it was proposed to be back in 1911 in a rendering by Stanley Roush, the city architect who also designed the ornate Smithfield Street Bridge portals and the City-County Building.

The verdict: Hope you don’t need any capital letters or exclamation points anytime soon because I plan to use them all in my 10,000-word screed lamenting the fact that this thing was never built. *punches the caps lock key*


The Hill could have been alive

The development and redevelopment of the Hill District has long been a contentious topic here in Pittsburgh, with a majority of the city agreeing that the residents of the Hill District were, in a sense, tossed aside when the Lower Hill was developed to make way for the Civic Arena.

However, things could’ve been different. There were grand plans to make the Lower Hill something more. Something better. Something like this … the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where the new Symphony Hall would have been located. It was obviously never built.


Or this ambitious 1953 rendering of the entire lower Hill as a modern hub of culture, retail, office, green and living spaces. This concept was presented by architects Mitchell & Ritchey, reflecting their vision of a true extension of the Golden Triangle that never came to be.

The verdict: Read about the destruction of more than 1,300 Hill District homes and businesses in the name of redevelopment back in the 1950s, displacing over 8,000 residents, and you’ll too conclude that promises were broken. This photo shows a paradise that was never even partially realized. There’s no going back and fixing history, so here’s hoping the Penguins’ future development of the area around the Consol Energy Center at least repairs some of the decades-old damage.

Categories: PittGirl