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Walking Tour of Oakland

One of the benefits of a walking tour is how much more you can "see" and take in. When you drive through Oakland, you are usually looking for a parking place and have little opportunity to appreciate the treasure that is Oakland, right here in the center of our hometown. On foot, you are free to ogle some awesome architecture, see sensuous and stately sculpture, and eye evidence of our ethnic diversity.

This loop will take you on about a two-hour stroll through Oakland. If you are interested in a longer side trip, you might also check out our Nationality Rooms Symbol Search or Carnegie Library Scavenger Hunt. Sites marked with an asterisk (*) are open to the public and suitable for a side trip if time permits.

Schenley Drive

The effort to create a Civic Center in Oakland can be traced to Schenley Park. In 1889 the acreage that now forms the park was "rescued" for the citizens of Pittsburgh by E. M. Bigelow. His agent persuaded Mary Schenley to donate 300 acres to the city for a park project. Bigelow's romantic dream became a reality and today includes 456 acres: a project public golf course, swimming pool, playgrounds, shelters, etc.

A good place to begin our walking tour of Oakland is in Schenley Park, at the upper end of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1893).

1. Hall of Botany

Park on Schenley Drive, near the Hall of Botany, in order to take a closer look at this small gem of a building. The orange brick structure is a contrast to the low black "soot covered" wall beside the terrace. This "black" color was once the surface of most of the buildings in Pittsburgh. Foreign tourists even asked the location of the quarry for this "black" stone. Locate the stained glass "flower" details and find two dates as decorations (1901 and MCMI).

2. Sculpture near the Hall of Botany

Enjoy the pools and rose garden while you discover the various figures who silently stand guard: Neptune has beautiful topiary forms above the water of his pool in the summer months; Hygeia by Moretti honors individuals who served in the 1914-18 War. Moretti also did the remarkable panthers who stand at the ends of Panther Hollow Bridge. In the 1700s panthers (mountain lions) actually lived in western Pennsylvania (along with buffalo and elk)!

The figure of Robert Burns by J.M. Rhind is a reminder of all the poetry loved by Andrew Carnegie and his countrymen from Scotland. "To A Mouse" and "Tam O'Shanter" are among the poems named on the base of the statue.

3. Phipps Conservatory *

Walk past the elaborate "lace-like" entrance to Phipps Conservatory (Lord & Burnham, architects). Try to imagine the impact this fanciful glass and iron structure had on the City of Smoke and Steel when it opened in 1893. Some of the beautiful and delicate plants were shown first at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and then brought directly to Pittsburgh. The building is in a style called "Beaux Arts" (pronounced "Boze-Arts") and has many wonderful details. The original front entrance to Phipps has been lost, but the current façade repeats the white circle design motif of the main building's glass structure. It is possible to visit the gift shop to browse, without buying an admission ticket.

4. Flagstaff Hill and Phipps Outdoor Garden

As you walk down Schenley Drive look over the expanse of lawn, Flagstaff Hill, the city's best location to fly a kite on any windy, spring day. Admire the winding curve of a wide boulevard lined with graceful trees (oak, maple, sycamore and ginkgo).

Enjoy the Phipps Outdoor Garden -- in summer weddings, musical events and other functions take place here. Note the oak tree in honor of Mr. Sestili of Sestili Nursery Co.

5. Statue of Christopher Columbus

Follow the path down the hill and you will arrive at the masterful figure of the explorer, Christopher Columbus, by the Pittsburgh sculptor, Frank Vittor. Look carefully at the three ships and discover the motif of "CC" on one boat. One "C" is backwards. For many years a parade of enthusiastic Columbus–sons gathered here on October 12, Columbus' birthday.

6. Schenley Bridge

Walk across the Schenley Bridge, looking over the vast Junction Ravine (150' deep) and all the houses clinging to the hillsides. Visible in the ravine (on the eastside of the bridge) is the impressive Carnegie Institute (Bellefield) Boiler Plant that provides steam heat (and at one time – electricity) to the Institute and other nearby facilities. Coal is still delivered by railroad to the plant entrance. You will pass by a statue of a Soldier from the War with Spain, 1895-1902. The names of countries where the men fought are inscribed: Puerto Rico, Cuba, China and the Philippines.

7. Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building *

Walk into the side entrance of the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building (B. K. Johnston Associates, 1965). If time permits, discover the cool and calming effect of a lovely Italian Renaissance villa's cloister courtyard and garden. The frescoes, sculpture, paintings and architectural detail of this building provide a rich stimulus for the study of studio art, art history and architecture that goes on here. The parts of the building function as: library, offices, classrooms and on the lower level, art studios. Walk out the front entrance and down the gracefully curving steps.

8. Schenley Plaza and Mary Schenley Fountain (1918).

It might seem far-fetched, but you are actually standing on a bridge! Buried beneath this fountain is a stone bridge that crossed St. Pierre's Ravine (1898). The City Planning Commission in 1915 buried the bridge with dirt taken from the "hump" of Grant's Hills (to lower Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh).

As a "terminus" for Bigelow Boulevard, the Schenley Fountain is a fanciful tribute to "A Song To Nature", lyrical figures depicted by a sculptor, V. Brenner, designer of the Lincoln penny. Mary Schenley was only a teenager when she eloped with Captain Schenley but she never forgot her home city. The lovely fountain is a lasting tribute.

Pittsburghers who recall the famed baseball park, Forbes Field, will want to retrace the brick outline of the field's wall (set into the sidewalk) in front of the University of Pittsburgh's Posvar Hall (formerly Forbes Quadrangle).

Continue to Forbes Avenue>>>


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Schenley Drive (statue of Burns in foreground)

Neptune near the Hall of Botany
Neptune standing guard outside of the Hall of Botany


Moretti's panther on Panther Hollow Bridge


Phipps Outdoor Garden


Christopher Columbus by Frank Vittor


Schenley Fountain with Frick Fine Arts Building in the background


A remnant of Forbes Field's right field wall


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