With the sultry days of summer upon us, the best place to be in the city is in the parks. Greenspace is so abundant in the regional parks (Frick, Schenley, Highland, Riverview) that it's hard to remember much of what we see today was designed long ago. At Preservation Pittsburgh we strive to call attention to the importance the built world plays in our parks just as we do the role it plays downtown and in our neighborhoods. For this reason we recently nominated Schenley Park's two tufa bridges to be City Historic Landmarks.
Constructed in 1908, the bridges were the product of Parks Superintendent George Burke. Burke was an avid horticulturalist, noted for his flower shows and his stewardship of the Phipps Conservatory (the current Palm Court and Fern Room we're part of his 1906 renovations). While exceptional for their plantings, these rooms are particularly notable for the integration of tufa. So too do the bridges.
While today they're known as the "tufa bridges", they were originally constructed as improvements to a recreational horseback ridding path. An article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contains the best description of how both bridges were made:
The main body of the bridge is composed of concrete, reinforced with steel rods. Before the concrete was poured, a frame was erected and the tufa was built up, not being visible from the outside, as it was covered with the broad frame. The tufa supported by the frame formed one side of a mold into which to pour between the two. Another frame was put up, and the concrete was poured between the two attaching itself firmly to the back of the tufa. After the concrete had hardened the boards were taken down and the tufa facing left exposed. It is believed to be the only bridge of this kind in the world.
And they are. Their closest counterparts are the Point de Milieu made of hewn tufa stone in the Fribourg, Switzerland and the Bowling Green Bridge in North Yorkshire, England. Both were constructed of hewn tufa stone in the 18th century and are recognized as an official historic landmarks in their respective countries.
If Pittsburgh's City Council moves to do the same, our tufa bridges will be in good company - only 3 of Pittsburgh's 446 bridges are City Historic Landmarks and two of them (Panther Hollow and Schenley) are also in Schenley Park.
To learn more about the tufa bridges, you can access our nomination here.
If you would like to lend your support for the designation, please email the City's Historic Preservation Planner, Sarah Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the Historic Review Commission's first hearing on Wednesday, August 2nd at 1pm, 200 Ross Street.
If you'd like to help our landmarking efforts, please consider donating to our Landmarking Fund.