Work begins on the historic Northeast Fountain at Allegheny Commons. Photo by Joe Riebling.

A crowd that included Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy president and CEO Jayne Miller gathered this morning in Allegheny Commons to break ground on the rebuilding of the historic Northeast Fountain at Pittsburgh’s oldest park.

The Commons was designed in 1867 to create “breathing places” for the residents of what was then Allegheny City. The goal in rebuilding the park’s dramatic fountain and the area around it is much the same: Not just to beautify the park, but to create an outdoor public gathering space for the whole community.

“The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is working in partnership with the Allegheny Commons Initiative, the Northside Leadership Conference, and the City of Pittsburgh to bring this fountain back to life,” Miller said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “When completed, the Northeast Fountain project will transform this highly-visible corner into a greenspace overflowing with vitality and promise.”

The effort “is the first project of a long-range master plan developed with community input to restore Pittsburgh’s oldest park and to spur continued revitalization of the Northside community,” she said. “We expect this park improvement will have significant impact on the community on many levels, including health and the local economy.”

Despite the weather, today’s groundbreaking drew more than 100 attendees. Photo by Joe Riebling.
Despite the weather, today’s groundbreaking drew more than 100 attendees. Photo by Joe Riebling.

The rebuilt fountain will mirror the original 19th-century design, including a 50-foot circular stone basin, a rim of heavy cast stone, a large Grecian-style vase in the center, a tall principal jet and 16 smaller jets. Beyond it, in a return to the park’s original design as a Victorian landscape for strolling and relaxing, a garden with walkways, benches and lighting will be added.

“The founders of Pittsburgh’s public parks understood well the value of fountains in urban parks,” Miller said. “With their sprays and splashes of sparkling water, fountains delight the senses and provide a respite from the harsher sounds and sights of the surrounding urban environment. They bring together friends, family, and strangers, and serve as a point of entry into the larger park landscape.”

The park has been revised and remodeled more than once since its creation in the 19th century. In the 1930s, the path system was modified and play areas were added. In the late 1960s, landscape architecture firm Simonds & Simonds proposed updates that included Lake Elizabeth. Allegheny Commons was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

The Allegheny Commons Master Plan, completed in 2002 by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, included the Northeast Fountain work as the third of a series of projects.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...