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March 30, 2006

Historic Forbes Field site to be ‘spruced up’

Next week, ballparks around the country will begin hearing “Play ball!” — the familiar refrain that marks the return of Major League baseball.

For many years — from 1909 until mid-1970 — the home of the local nine was Forbes Field, which sat on the land that now sports Posvar and Mervis halls. Part of the 12-ft.-high, ivy-covered red brick outfield wall was preserved at its original site (adjacent to Mervis Hall) as a monument to the “House of Thrills,” as Forbes Field was known locally.

An effort to spruce up the wall and its immediate environs, spurred on by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, is gaining momentum.

This month, the site of Forbes Field has been awarded historical marker status by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, of which Ferlo is a board member.

Commission spokesperson Jane Crawford said, “Forbes Field is being cited as the first all steel and concrete ballpark in the country and as a multi-purpose facility,” including playing host to Steelers games, boxing matches, traveling circuses and political speeches, Crawford said. Supporters of the efforts to clean up the wall area include Pitt, Mayor Bob O’Connor, the city public works department and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, she said.

Ferlo has secured $25,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development toward the project, a spokesperson for the senator said. The wall and its companion flagpole will be assessed for damage and repaired in time for the Major League All-Star Game to be played at PNC Park in July.

“The plan is to have a dedication ceremony as part of the All-Star Game activities,” said Paul Svoboda, Ferlo’s communication aide. “The scope of the project for the future, however, is being looked at by a planning committee that has met several times on the Pitt campus and includes representatives from Pitt.”

According to Paul Supowitz, Pitt associate vice chancellor for commonwealth/city-county relations who sits on the ad hoc planning committee, the group is looking at how best to integrate the monument space with its revitalized neighbor, Schenley Plaza. “It just seems logical to have some connection with the plaza. But the first step to get the project in motion is to assess the wall for damage,” Supowitz said. “It’s actually in pretty good shape, though a few parts may need re-pointing and part of it is a little separated, for example.” There is a commitment that any improvements would be true to the original materials, he added.

“The area really has historical significance and it should be kept up,” Supowitz said. “We want to get all the ideas out on the table. We may set up a design contest to see what ideas people have, although that’s a little way into the future,” he said.

Other suggestions include establishing a walk of fame to commemorate Pittsburgh’s rich baseball and historical traditions and displaying baseball memorabilia nearby, Svoboda said.

—Peter Hart

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