Today’s Westinghouse Park is situated in Pittsburgh’s East End area, in the neighborhood of Point Breeze North and adjacent to Homewood.
Here’s how the park looked from above in 2018.
At 10.2 acres, Westinghouse Park covers an entire city block, bounded on the north (top) by the rail line/busway, Thomas Boulevard on the south (bottom), North Lang Street on the east (right), and North Murtland Street on the west (left), both of which run one block more to Penn Avenue.
But that’s not the whole picture of course. While Westinghouse Park is now more than 100 years old, its history can be traced back more than 150 years. Using the excellent on-line tool Pittsburgh Historic Maps, which correlates historical city plat maps over a Google overlay, one can easily peel back the layers of time.
Here’s how that same acreage was allocated in 1862, when the earliest map of this part of then semi-rural East Liberty Valley was recorded.
The Civil War was raging and the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which has ever since defined the real estate, had been laid down less than a decade earlier.
Yet, ten years later, the area was already being defined and updated, if somewhat belatedly.
Here’s how the property was recorded on the 1872 plat map. Although other records show that the then 21-year old George Westinghouse purchased the 5-acre parcel along the tracks in 1871 (that’s the unassigned square), his name did not appear on the map drawn the following year.
At this point, Lang Avenue and Murtland Street run from Penn Avenue to level crossings at the rail tracks into Homewood, but neither McPherson nor Thomas Boulevards have yet to appear.
During the ensuing decade, as Westinghouse’s fortunes ballooned, so did his real estate holdings.
By 1882, he owned not only the full 5-acre rectangle between the tracks and McPherson Boulevard, but also half of the 5.2 acre tract on the south side of McPherson, which now appears on the map as a proposed street, along with Meade Street two blocks south.
Furthermore, Westinghouse has acquired all of the property between Murtland Street and Dallas Avenue from the tracks to Penn Avenue.
By the time the next plat map was drawn in 1890, the Solitude estate has been defined in its entirety, with the grand house, the stables (with underground laboratories), and a garden conservatory, and several outbuildings. The block of Macpherson Boulevard that previously crossed the estate has been turned into a “paper street.”
Interestingly, there is no indication of the three natural gas wells Westinghouse had drilled in 1884 on the south strip of the property along Thomas Boulevard.
Still no sign of the Heinz estate, Greenlawn, which would be created in the block across Thomas Boulevard to the north of Solitude.
Solitude remained unchanged on the plat map of 1905, but other transformations are happening in the area.
North Lang Street now has an arched stone bridge over the tracks into Homewood.
The property between Murtland and Dallas has been divided into lots for residences, and several homes have been built. Note Gordon Street, which now runs from Murtland west along the tracks.
And there’s Greenlawn, the Heinz estate which took root in 1892 when H. J. purchased a house and parcel along Penn Avenue and starts to steadily expand its footprint on that block.
By 1910, the neighborhood has reached its zenith.
In addition to Solitude, H. J. Heinz’s Greenlawn has taken over nearly the entire city block, boasting its own three-wing conservatory and large stables.
A string of handsome homes have been erected along nearly the entire east side of Lang Avenue from Penn Avenue to Homewood station.
And while the housing development envisioned for the Westinghouse plan is still on the map, few of the lots seem to have been purchased.
Yet the area’s gilded age didn’t long endue. In fact, by the time of the next plat map was drawn in 1923, much of its the grandeur was already gone.
In 1914, both George Westinghouse and his wife Marguerite died, and their son and only child, George III, inherited Solitude, along with the rest of the family’s fortune. Four years later, on November 30, 1918, the property was transferred to the city, via the Western Pennsylvania Engineers Society, to become a park in Westinghouse’s name and under the condition the house be torn down within 6 months. Solitude was razed the following summer.
H. J. Heinz contracted pneumonia and died in May 1919. The next year, while his heirs squabbled over the property, a blaze broke out and, despite being adjacent to Engine House 16, the Greenlawn mansion suffered significant damage. The structure was torn down shortly afterwards, and by 1923 when this last plat map was drawn, plans for what would become the residential block of Meade Place were already on record, including the transformation of the estate’s garage and servant quarters into residential apartments.
In 1939 the city stopped using drawn plat maps and turned instead to aerial photography, which although offering advantages, provides no indication of property boundaries or ownership.
Still there are changes to be observed.
Westinghouse Park generally conforms to its original configuration, but the Lang Avenue bridge over the tracks has been replaced with a narrow pedestrian walkway.
And Gordon Street has disappeared, replaced by the row of warehouses built along the tracks and Lynn Way.
Finally the transformation of the Heinz estate into a residential block doesn’t seem to have advanced much, with most of Meade Place still largely empty.
There’s a 20-year gap before the next photograph.
This image from 1957 did offer evidence of change in the park. The foliage in the center is more dense, while the field along Thomas Boulevard, now wooded, was then mostly open. The old Westinghouse stable building has now served the park for over four decades.
Across the tracks in Homewood, a factory has appeared.
The most salient change the next time the image was taken a decade later in 1967 is that the Westinghouse stable building has been replaced by the utilitarian, cement block structure which has served park users ever since.
By 1993, the park and its foliage appear fairly bare. Perhaps the picture was taken in late fall.
The most significant development is the string of suburban-style home on the new Parkland Way on the north side of the tracks.
Westinghouse Park looks much more colorful in this image from 2018, only partly because its foliage is full. The introduction of color and interactive detailing make a world of difference.
And the park has changed. Now there’s a circular children’s playground near the center, and an asphalt basketball pad near the tracks.
As the neighborhoods around the park get more prosperous and new developments at Stargell Field (immediately across the tracks) and Lexington Technology Center (one block away), the 2nd Century of Westinghouse Park promises to be bright indeed.