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Monuments to Negro League players soon to land near Station Square

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 4:21 p.m.
Josh Gibson
Josh Gibson
Cool Papa Bell
Cool Papa Bell
Cumberland Posey
Cumberland Posey
Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige

Josh Gibson and fellow Negro League baseball players from two Pittsburgh teams will finally get the fitting memorial Gibson's great-grandson envisioned more than a decade ago.

Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, and Upper St. Clair artist Dino Guarino, Gibson's partner, have plans to open Josh Gibson Heritage Park next year at Station Square in Pittsburgh.

The park will feature an entrance arch and monuments to Gibson and three other Negro League stars, including Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Cumberland Posey. Players will be memorialized in colorized bronze on brick walls with accompanying biographies. Plans later call for the addition of players Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston and Vic Harris.

Sean Gibson said names and short biographies of other local Negro League players would appear on a bronze plaque.

“These are not statues,” Sean Gibson said. “They're monuments. The difference is they'll be on a brick wall and the actual figure will come out of the wall, so it will be a relief, a 3-D figure.”

The legendary players were members the Pittsburgh Crawfords or Homestead Grays teams.

Gibson, mainly a catcher who played from 1930-47 during stints with the Grays and Crawfords, is credited with hitting 800 home runs and is billed as the sport's greatest hitter. He lived in the North Side and died in 1947 at age 35.

Forest City Realty Trust, which owns Station Square, offered a no-rent lease on space along a sidewalk fronting a parking garage across from the Sheraton Pittsburgh Hotel on West Station Square Drive.

Gibson said the monuments would be slanted perpendicular to the garage and allow room for pedestrians to pass on the sidewalk. LED lighting will provide illumination and a downloadable app will permit visitors to hear biographical information via smartphones, he said.

“After meeting those guys and talking through what their vision for the Josh Gibson Park was, we thought it would be a great fit,” said Jim Larue, Forest City's director of asset management. “We thought it was a great tribute to the Negro Leagues.”

Gibson said the park would cost about $1.3 million. The foundation has raised enough for the first phase, about $800,000 in donations from FedEx Ground, Eat 'n Park and grants from Pennsylvania and Allegheny County.

Guarino, 58, who designed the park, said he chose brick, bronze and steel to represent Pittsburgh.

“The brick represents the labor force of the city and how it was built one brick at a time,” he said. “The bronze represents the city's fine arts community. Steel gridwork represents Pittsburgh steel and iron.”

Each monument is arched at the top to represent Pittsburgh bridges, he added.

Matthews International Corp.'s Bronze Division in Brookline is casting the players using a special colorizing technique, Guarino said.

“It looks a lot nicer than a statue,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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