Carpenters re-create entrance to Forbes Field

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It's not a house, but it was home to Pirates, Grays, Steelers and Panthers.

So when the Forbes Field working group was looking for someone to build a replica of the legendary field's entrance, the carpenters union was the first stop.

At the union's apprentice training center on Neville Island, Rick Okraszewski and the other instructors usually work with apprentices on framing, trim and cabinet installation. The apprentices were much more excited about building Forbes Field.

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
A replica of Forbes Field's entrance gates has been erected near Mazeroski Field in Oakland.
Click photo for larger image.

"They dove into this project as if they were building something for themselves. They told their dads and their grandfathers what they were doing," said Mr. Okraszewski, who recalls skipping school one day as a teenager in the late 1960s to see a Pirates' opening day at Forbes.

Most of the apprentices weren't even born when the legendary ballpark in Oakland was torn down in the early 1970s. When their instructors explained that it was an old stadium, a few of the twenty-somethings smiled.

"Rick, we think Three Rivers Stadium is old," one said.

Groups of eight apprentices worked alongside instructors over a three-week period to build four open "steel" pilasters and three "stone" arches 12 feet tall and 38 feet wide, with each "stone" cut out and applied individually. They even copied the three corbels/keystones over the arches and six "bronze" plaques bearing the logo of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, the name used by Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss at the turn of the 20th century.

The public got to see the replica yesterday at the Forbes Field Celebration, standing near the restored outfield wall, leading into Mazeroski Field. It will remain there through the All-Star Game on Tuesday and perhaps, if the city approves, through Oct. 13, when Pirates fans gather at the wall to relive the Bill Mazeroski home run that won the 1960 World Series.

Every piece of the replica was made from dimensional pine lumber or MDO, a very heavy grade of outdoor plywood used as backing for signs. Chuck Stein of Allied Millwork built the interior arches on either side. The lumber was donated by Brookside Lumber, its affiliate H.P. Starr, and Paul Lumber Co. in Bloomfield. Pittsburgh Paints donated the latex paint and George L. Wilson & Co., Westmoreland Supply and George M. Hall Co. donated expertise and other materials.

From the carpenters union, Mr. Okraszewski was joined by instructor Wayne Babjack, training coordinator Ray Vogel and Jack Brooks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters, the union's formal name.

Millions of people passed through the arched entrances of Forbes Field from the day it opened in 1909 until its last game, the second half of a double header against the Chicago Cubs on June 30, 1970. Those who attended games there will appreciate the replica's details, including individual "rivets" on the pilasters, scrollwork in the corbels and grout lines between the "stones." Credit the skill of the carpenters, and the thoroughness of its lead designer, Len Martin.

With partner Dan Bonk, Mr. Martin runs Point Four Ltd., a company that markets books, posters, postcards and other items bearing the image of Forbes Field and Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox' venerable ballpark. Mr. Bonk and Mr. Martin have spent more than 10 years collecting old photos and blueprints and researching the field Dreyfuss had built to replace Exposition Park on the North Side.

In 1995, Point Four published a book, "Build-It-Yourself Forbes Field," that allowed the reader to construct a 1:25-scale replica while enjoying facts and anecdotes from the people who loved the ballpark.

Mr. Martin, a member of the Forbes Field working group led by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, was approached by another member -- me -- about scale drawings of some of the arches. With a few small changes to his drawings, the two outside arches became a players entrance and a ticket window.

Mr. Martin, an engineer who believes Dreyfuss and the field's builder, Nicola Building Co., may have been inspired by similar arches on the University of Pittsburgh campus, was elated to see his drawings brought to life by the carpenters.

"Seeing them that size was pretty incredible. They did a wonderful job on this re-creation," he said.

He is particularly pleased with the corbels and PAC plaques, which are based on line drawings he made from photographs. He admits to an ulterior motive in allowing the working group to use his drawings -- the hope that someone might show him a real piece of Forbes Field.

Each of the arches around the stadium's facade was topped by one corbel and two of the PAC plaques, which appear in photos to have been made of bronze or some other material painted to look like bronze. That means there were more than 100 corbels and plaques. Yet, Mr. Martin has never turned up an intact example of either one.

With all the signs, seats and other items that were rescued from the wrecking ball, he hopes that someone saved at least one of these architectural artifacts or some other part of the facade.

In the meantime, Joe Vivirito of Bella Mura Inc. has made a realistic replica in wood and plaster of one of the corbels. Looking as weathered and deteriorated as a piece of concrete that saw thousands of ballgames, it may be on display in the History Center's booth at Fan Fest.

Until someone comes forward with the real thing, it and the carpenters' replica may be the closest Mr. Martin or any of us get to a chunk of Forbes Field.

For more information or to contact Len Martin and Point Four Ltd., call 412-826-0118 or go to www.pointfourltd.com.


Kevin Kirkland can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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