Westinghouse Park in November 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The draft plan for upgrades to Westinghouse Park contains nods to the park’s origins 100 years ago, when it was the home of inventor and businessman George Westinghouse Jr.

The park, which takes up an entire block in Point Breeze North, has the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks running along its southern edge.

The tracks are key to the park, because that was where Westinghouse would board his private rail car when he was traveling. A sign near the Northwest corner of the park reads “Foamers Point,” which is a nod to railroad enthusiasts.

The park includes tunnels that ran from Westinghouse’s home to the tracks and to the carriage house containing his underground laboratory — which was free from the spying eyes sent by other inventors of the day, most notably Thomas Edison.

The draft of the plan to redesign Westinghouse Park shows a path where the underground tunnels still run and, possibly a stone wall outline of Solitude, Westinghouse’s mansion, which may also be marked with gardens. During a meeting in March, the draft plan was presented to the Point Breeze North Development Corporation by Marti Battistone, an environmental planner with Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning.

In another nod to Westinghouse, who improved the safety of the railroads with his invention of the air brake, Battistone said the city is considering installing a new playground with either a train theme or possibly oil well play structures referencing Westinghouse’s work in natural gas. He invented regulators for natural gas, in part, by building a gas derrick in his yard.

Graphic courtesy of the City of Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Park Plan website.

The new Westinghouse Park

Concepts for the park’s redesign, which include a ramp from the walkway over the railroad tracks and East Busway, came from meetings and community outreach conducted by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Grounded Strategies, and were supported by a grant from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Battistone said.

The plan also highlights the designation of the park as an arboretum, with paths of pavers from the main walkways to significant trees in the park. The ramp from the pedestrian bridge over the railroad and the busway also serves as a point of interest in the arboretum because the preliminary design calls for it to be built as a walkway through the tree canopy.

“That would connect to a new system of paths. A somewhat revised walking loop,” Battistone said, adding that the city is considering installing exercise stations along the walking loop.

The draft plan also calls for rebuilding the park building, moving it slightly toward the playground and adding an overhang with benches underneath so that people can sit near the playground in the shade. Bathrooms would be accessible from outside the building.

Another aspect of the redesign is that the basketball court will be moved and a pavilion will be built nearby.

Battistone said the city wants to maintain the large lawns in the park used by the public.

The plan also calls for adding a pipe rail fence along the edges of the park and bollards on the paths so that people won’t drive their cars into the park.

Start of the What’s the Point .5K race at Westinghouse Park, an annual fun run. Photo by Ann Belser.

Addressing park maintenance

Answering a question about park maintenance, Battistone noted that the city, in redesigning the parks, acknowledges that much of Westinghouse Park’s deterioration, along with the poor conditions at other parks, is due to deferred maintenance.

“What we have seen as the city has really taken an effort to renovate a lot of its parks across the whole city is that with this sort of renovation comes a lot of new and renewed ownership and usership and commitment to maintenance,” she said.

Battistone added that the draft plan is an example of dreaming big for the park, and next the plan will be given to the Department of Public Works which designs, builds and maintains the parks.

That department will determine the feasibility of the design and maintenance.

She said the landscape architects in the Department of Public Works do a good job of making sure that the city only builds what it can maintain.

The plan and a survey about park improvements can be viewed on the city’s website.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.