Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Anthony Furtivo of Franco and Associates paints the numbers on what once was the outfield wall of Forbes Field at Center Field Plaza in Oakland. The wall, built in 1947, has been pointed, capped and painted in anticipation of tomorrow's rededication.
Compromise is the life blood of urban politics. It's the reason parts of Forbes Field were saved as a monument to the ballpark's place in Pittsburgh history.
Tomorrow, the ceremonies marking the restoration of those relics and dedication of a new state historic marker will serve as an unofficial kickoff to the city's four-day celebration of the All-Star Game.
The portion of the old park's brick outfield wall and its center-field flagpole, dedicated as a monument in 1976, have been rehabilitated with a $25,000 state grant.
The story of their preservation begins in 1971, a year after the final Pirates games at Forbes Field, a doubleheader June 28. Offered the prospect of a new municipally funded stadium and the University of Pittsburgh's intention to expand its Oakland campus, the team sold the park, built in 1909, to the state in 1959.
Although abandoned, trashed and derelict, Forbes Field was still very much an Oakland landmark when Pitt advanced its plans to build on the site.
But this was the era of "power to the people," Peoples Oakland, to be specific, one of several citizens' groups opposing the power of Pitt and its threat to the neighborhood.
It had its own architect-designed proposal to turn Forbes Field into a combination of housing, shops, classrooms, concert space and even a community garden.
By 1972, the various community groups had formed Oakland Development Inc., and had solicited support from Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp and Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty, but not Pitt Chancellor Wesley Posvar.
He refused to give up the Forbes Field site but directed Bernard Kobosky, vice-chancellor of both student affairs and public affairs, to deal with the impasse.
"This was a stalemate of major proportions," remembered Kobosky. "The university was under tremendous pressure to expand because we were getting so many student applications."
When Pitt became a state-related school in 1966, it lowered its annual tuition to $450, making it an attractive college choice.
Kobosky was Pitt's representative in negotiations with ODI and the city's Planning Department.
"We were talking for months and months and months. I can't remember how many nights of discussions we had over this," he said.
Bill Mazeroski hits the home run that made Forbes Field famous in 1960.
Click photo for larger image.
Out of these talks came an agreement that kept Pitt's expansion on track, saved -- for a time -- a two-block area between Oakland and Bouquet streets for community use and satisfied -- again for a time -- the city's demand for a solution to lost tax revenues.
As part of the compromise, Kobosky proposed that "remnants of Forbes Field be saved as a symbol of the agreement."
"Three artifacts, the wall, the flagpole and the home plate would stay," he said. "The [demolition] contractor was happy to leave the wall, but then I discovered that the flagpole was gone. I had to call the guy who took it away and tell him, 'Bring it back.' "
Forbes Field was demolished in the fall of 1972. Its home plate eventually found its way inside Posvar Hall (initially called Forbes Quadrangle) under clear plastic in the first floor.
Bricks from the demolished fence, including left-center field where Bill Mazeroski's World-Series winning home run cleared in 1960, were used to outline the wall on the sidewalk and in the street.
"Pittsburghers love this sort of thing, saving old parts of the city," said David O'Loughlin, an attorney who was an administrator in the Flaherty administration. "It helps us recall the times and places of our past."
O'Loughlin credits several other administration members for backing the move, but called Flaherty's support "essential" for sealing the deal.
Called Center Field Plaza, the wall and re-installed flagpole were dedicated Nov. 4, 1976, in ceremonies attended by Flaherty and Posvar.
Nearly 30 years later, that small memory of Pittsburgh's sports history gets a new lease on life tomorrow.
Post-Gazette Book Editor Bob Hoover can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1634.