Going... going... gone: Forbes Field arches come down

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Forbes Field - or at least a replica of it - has fallen again in Oakland. Three arches resembling the famous ballpark's main gate were dismantled in stages over the past two weeks.

Instructors and apprentices with the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters built the 38- by 12-foot wooden structure in spring 2006 for a celebration marking the restoration of a section of brick wall left standing when Forbes was torn down in the early 1970s. The brick wall was rededicated in time for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game at PNC Park in 2006.

Intended to be temporary, the arches were built from dimensional pine lumber and MDO, a heavy grade of outdoor plywood, but without flashing or pressure-treated wood. As a result, they had begun to rot and one section had broken free from a tree it was attached to. The structure was leaning and might fall on cars parked nearby, said Jim Griffin, director of facilities for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Since the arches were my idea - I was a member of the Forbes Field Working Group - it was my job to take them down. I enlisted the help of two friends with pickup trucks - Sean Kury of Carnegie and Carmine Bellini of Mt. Lebanon - and headed over to Oakland to get started. The arches were leaning but surprisingly intact. Someone had broken most of the lattice work beneath arches made by Chuck Stein of Allied Millwork, but everything else looked OK.

Nearly seven years after I first saw them, I was still impressed by the carpenters' faithfulness to the design by Len Martin of Point Four Ltd., a company that markets books, posters, postcards and other items bearing the image of Forbes Field and Fenway Park in Boston. Using only wood, union training director Rick Okraszewski and other craftsmen created and applied individual rivets, stones and six plaques bearing the logo of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, the Pirates' official name at the turn of the 20th century.

The three cornices over the columns are a clever combination of wood, Styrofoam and paint that look like 100-year-old stone. Forbes Field opened in 1909 and was used by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers, Homestead Grays, University of Pittsburgh sports teams and others.

The instructors who installed the arches were just as careful as the makers, using large carriage bolts and long screws to connect the sections and to anchor the columns to trees and the fence around Mazeroski Field. They even built collars so the trees wouldn't be damaged. Materials were donated by Brookside, H.P. Starr and Paul lumber companies, Pittsburgh Paints, George L. Wilson & Co., Westmoreland Supply and George M. Hall Co.

While we were working, two people approached to ask questions. One was a Pitt student who said he wished the arches could be repaired and left standing as a reminder of the historic ballpark. Though I told him they were too rotted to repair, he called the city's 311 service line and the parks conservancy to complain. The other was Bob Sirko, head coach for Carlow University's softball team. He said he wants to get together with Mazeroski Field's other users - Oakland Catholic High School and a Lawrenceville baseball league - to discuss renovating the field so it could be used for more than practice.

Both men wondered what would happen to the arches. Unlike the real Forbes Field, the replica's pieces were preserved and stored. Like any other real Forbes Field fan, I'm open to ideas for re-use.

homes - pirates

Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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