Many people are familiar with the Frick Park legend. When millionaire industrialist Henry Clay Frick told his 17-year-old daughter, Helen, that she could have anything she wanted for her debutante party in 1908, she asked for a park where the children of Pittsburgh could enjoy nature. Frick was said to have granted her wish, and Frick Park was born. Although we can’t be sure this is how the park came to be, Frick Park is a direct result of Henry Clay Frick’s gift to the city.
When he died in 1919, Frick bequeathed to the city 151 acres south of his Point Breeze mansion, Clayton, and provided a $2 million trust fund to help create the park and assist with its long-term maintenance. The city began moving in earnest to create the park in 1925, when it acquired 190 additional acres, presumably with the goal to create a park of similar size and scope to Schenley and Highland Parks. The park officially opened in 1927.
Planning for the park originated in the offices of Lowell and Vinal, who developed a preliminary master plan, including trail layout, for Frick Park prior to its opening. Upon Mr. Lowell’s death, the planning process was transferred to the offices of Blum, Weldin and Company. Ultimately, however, it was the firm of Innocenti and Webel, among the most respected landscape architects working in the United States, who made the greatest impact on the park. Their work from 1935 to 1957 involved designing more trails, planning for structures, and ordering green spaces and plantings. They sought to keep more active uses of the park, such as athletics, at the edges, emphasizing the natural experience to be found at the center. They also worked with nationally prominent designer John Russell Pope, who designed the park’s distinctive gatehouse entrance structures from 1931-1935.
The executors of Frick’s will continued to expand the park with periodic acquisitions of land, including the conversion in 1936 of the 84-acre Pittsburgh Country Club into parkland. The next major expansion occurred in 1996, when 106 acres were added to the park as part of the brownfield-reclamation project that converted an industrial waste heap into a residential development overlooking the new parkland.