Monday, December 9, 2019

Photo of the Day: Lily Pond, George Westinghouse Memorial, Pittsburgh PA

While I was being driven around in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park a few weeks ago, this lily pond practically beckoned me to get out and photograph it. My fascination increased with each step I took, especially when I discovered that a) this was the George Westinghouse Memorial for one of the great figures of America’s Industrial Revolution, and b) that creator of the sculptures here was Daniel Chester French, the genius behind the Lincoln Memorial.

The film The Current War came and went too quickly for me to catch this past fall. When it comes to DVD—especially now that I’ve had a chance to see the George Westinghouse Memorial—I will be sure to see it, for in many ways its subject matter—the struggle between Westinghouse and Thomas Edison over their two competing power systems (alternating and direct current, respectively)—is crucial to understanding the course of American business in the last century and a quarter.

Westinghouse was neither as flamboyant nor eccentric as Edison, but he richly merited this beautiful point of stillness in Schenley Park. In 1930, 16 years after his death, roughly 55,000 employees at his former firms chipped in to raise $200,000 for this memorial—$2.5 million in today’s dollars, an extraordinary amount at a time when the Great Depression was already being felt. (Surely, they were grateful because, in those pre-Social Security days, Westinghouse was among the first industrial magnates to establish a retirement pension system for employees and dependent family members.)

Some 15,000 people came to the ceremony dedicating this memorial, which was designed by architects Henry Hornbostel and Eric Fisher Wood in a modern style but many beaux arts influences. Originally, the pond was supposed to be filled by a natural stream, Phipps Run, but storms forced the pond to be retrofitted as an artificial water feature. Over time, the pond no longer held water.

The firm of Pashek + MTR was commissioned to bring the memorial closer to its original conception. The changes the firm introduced were meant to:

* restore a trail and overlook in the adjacent stream valley of Phipps Run;
* replace the random flagstone paving;
* reconfigure the pond’s mechanical systems;
* converted compacted lawn areas uphill of the pond into meadow rain gardens.

After years of fundraising and restoration, the memorial was rededicated three years ago this past October.

The story of Westinghouse and this memorial merits more details, which I’ll try to provide in the next week with another post or two.

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