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Groups seek $2.5M for North Side's historic West Park fountain

| Monday, March 30, 2015, 10:54 p.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
A statue of Fame sits atop the 1871 Soldiers Memorial overlooking Lake Elizabeth in the West Park section of Allegheny Commons, Monday, August 18, 2014.

North Side community groups have enlisted the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in a quest for $2.5 million needed to rebuild a fountain in historic West Park.

Organizers hope to have the fountain in place and spouting water at East North and Cedar avenues by 2016. The project is part of an ongoing effort by the Allegheny Commons Initiative and North Side Leadership Conference to restore the 64-acre park to its Victorian splendor.

The park, known as Allegheny Commons, once boasted four fountains, but all fell victim to city budget cuts and financial constraints over the years, according to city officials. Jim Griffin, director of the city Parks and Recreation Department, said the fountain at North and Cedar was demolished years ago.

The Parks Department used the basin as a retaining wall in Riverview Park,” he said.

Organizers have raised about $700,000 in private donations to build a fountain on the same site, which retains water piping from the old one. Mayor Bill Peduto said community groups working with organizations such as the Parks Conservancy to raise private donations is critical in preserving historic assets.

“It's the only way that we are going to save the treasures that have been handed to us,” he said. “We just don't have enough money in the city budget to do all the things that we'd like to.”

The park was built in 1867 in what was then Allegheny City, which was eventually annexed by Pittsburgh. The property had been a public grazing pasture since 1788.

The New York design firm of Mitchell and Grant developed the park's original lawns, tree-lined paths, fountains, monuments, lake and flower beds. Development cut the park's size from its original 110 acres.

Longtime North Side residents, including City Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Patricia Rooney, remembered visiting the park as children and ice skating on Lake Elizabeth.

“We were raised in this park, nurtured by this park and sustained by this park,” said Rooney, wife of Dan Rooney, Steelers chairman and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

John Francona, who chairs the Allegheny Commons Initiative Steering Committee, said volunteers established a master plan for the park and have so far shepherded improvements along a section bordering Cedar Avenue. He estimated it would cost about $25 million for a total park restoration.

The Parks Conservancy will oversee design and construction of the fountain and landscaping in the area around it.

“We're very, very pleased to be a part of the restoration of Allegheny Commons,” said Meg Cheever, the conservancy's president and CEO.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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