George Westinghouse memorial needs restoration


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When 55,000 employees of George Westinghouse's companies shelled out today's equivalent of $2.5 million to pay for a memorial to the boss in 1930, they bought the artistry of world-class designers to a site nestled against a hillside beside a lily pond that was fed by Phipps Run in Schenley Park.

It might take close to that much today to restore the memorial and the stream's previous role. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is raising money toward that end and working with the city on a construction budget.

Mike Sexauer, a conservancy spokesman, said people who visit the park have complained about the pond. "We thought the city would be able to fix it," he said, "but the infrastructure was too far gone."

Mowing the pond has been a periodic chore since it stopped holding water a few years ago. City workers mowed it most recently in time for an event that was held Saturday, the anniversary of the birth of the great inventor and industrialist.

A complete restoration would stabilize the walkway around the pond through the memorial and make it accessible to the handicapped. Plans call for lighting, water retention basins, a wet meadow in the lawn behind the memorial and a pond fed by stormwater.

"We have pilot projects designed and grant requests out to fund those," said Phil Gruszka, the conservancy's director of parks management and maintenance.

The restoration design would direct stormwater into the pond from below, and slow down overflow by directing it to a pipe circling the pond before being discharged into Phipps Run below Circuit Drive, Mr. Gruszka said.

Besides the conservancy's fundraising, a group of former employees of Westinghouse companies is also collecting donations.

Rich Ekstrom said he will leave the fundraising to the conservancy and make raising awareness his mission.

On a recent visit to the site, he pointed out plaques commemorating Westinghouse's achievements through invention and improvements on the patents of others.

A New York native who died at age 68 in 1914, Westinghouse was most notable as the inventor of the railway air brake, rotary steam engine, alternating current electricity distribution and distribution systems for natural gas.

At the memorial, a bronze statue of a straight-backed boy with books in hand represents "an all-American boy looking at this great man for inspiration," Mr. Ekstrom said.

The youth faces the central of three bronze panels that depicts in relief Westinghouse in the middle of a mechanic and an engineer.

"One of Westinghouse's skills was the way he respected other people's talents and the way he worked with others," Mr. Ekstrom said. "He gave his people room to grow, and he built them up. He instituted the 55 hour work week and half days on Saturdays," relief from a longer, harder working life then. "He hired the first female engineer, and he brought people to his house for dinner."

Besides being important as a tribute to Westinghouse, Mr. Ekstrom said, the memorial "is a powerful work of art, a valuable piece that should be cherished. We should be showing off this place."

Henry Hornbostel and Eric Fisher Wood designed the high-minded piece and landscaping around it. Hornbostel helped establish the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and designed the Soldiers and Sailors National Miltary Museum, Rodef Shalom Temple, the City-County Building and dozens of other landmarks in the city. Outside the city, his achievements include design of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City.

An engineer and architect, Wood was a World War I hero who became a brigadier general in the U.S. Army and helped found the American Legion.

Daniel French is known for sculpture that includes the seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. His central panel is flanked by panels made by sculptor Paul Fjelde.

The memorial was restored for the centennial of Westinghouse Electric in 1986. The Westinghouse Foundation paid for it, said Renny Clark, a vice chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh who was an administrator for Westinghouse Electric and sits on the parks conservancy's board. The project "touches me in a lot of different ways," he said.

"The memorial reflects the passion of the employees who donated money to build this in honor of an iconic leader," he said. "Everybody understands the pressure on the city's budget, but this needs to be restored. The conservancy is undertaking a great project."

The conservancy will hold a fundraising dinner and presentation Nov. 1 at the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Schenley Park. Individual tickets for $150 can be reserved by calling 412-682-7275 ext. 220. The reception begins at 6.30 p.m., with a presentation about the project at 7 p.m. and dinner at 7:45 p.m.

neigh_city

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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