Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center
The Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center was the second showcase project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. The restoration of the century-old structure was completed in 2002. The goal of the project was not just to restore a historic structure, but to turn it into a useful and attractive park amenity that had a positive impact on its environment.
Whenever possible, the original materials of the building were retained and restored, including foundations, exterior brick walls, historic ornamental windows, and heavy timber roof construction. The ceiling is original, and was uncovered after five and a half weeks of working to remove the 16 coats of paint that had been used over the years. The eyebrow windows were uncovered and cleaned and now provide natural interior lighting. Green features of the restored building include an energy-efficient heating and cooling system, thermopane windows for insulation, low-flow toilets and sinks, and a wide roof overhang to shield out direct sunlight.
A façade had been added to the building in the 1960s, robbing it of its original design intent. This façade was removed and the original entrance restored. One new design feature, the back deck, was added in order to provide an additional amenity and allow park visitors to have a “window on the park” where they could have lunch, use wifi, or relax while overlooking the park. Another addition was a wheelchair-accessible restroom on the ground floor to accompany the renovated restrooms below.
Just as significant as the building project was the ecological restoration of the adjacent landscape. The slope behind the building had significant erosion problems due to its steepness and the lack of herbaceous cover. As part of an erosion control project, the Parks Conservancy and its volunteers dug trenches to catch water, laid jute netting to hold soil in place, and new native plants like coneflowers and milkweed were seeded.
Phipps Run is the woodland and wetland area that begins at the top of Panther Hollow near Carnegie Mellon University and leads to Panther Hollow Lake, marking the high point of the hollow. Its reestablishment was the essential first step in renewing the ecological health of the entire area.
Years of storm water runoff had eroded Phipps Run’s trails and silted in the stream bed and historic lily pool. Eventually, the stream actually re-routed itself, flowing over a washed-out trail and a historic bridge from 1939. The flooding made pedestrian access to Panther Hollow Lake from the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center difficult.
In 2003, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City's Department of Public Works began a restoration project in the area. The first phase of work was to redirect the upper part of the Phipps Run stream to its original design, build water basins along its path to control the flow of storm water runoff, and establish a stream-side trail to ease access along the run. Phipps Run marks the high part of the Hollow and the essential first step.
In the lower part of Phipps Run, the Parks Conservancy worked with the Department of Public Works park crew to recreate the stream channel, and volunteers helped reestablish the surrounding wetland by planting thousands of native tiarella and heuchera shrubs along the stream and on adjacent hillsides to increase the stability and sustainability of the area.
Schenley Plaza came to life in summer 2006, revitalized as the grand entrance to Schenley Park it was always intended to be. The new multifunctional Plaza provides an oasis of relaxation, recreation, food, and entertainment to Pittsburghers of all ages. It offers a one-acre grand lawn, PNC Carousel, garden rooms along Forbes Avenue set with Spanish cedar benches, free wifi, clean restrooms, weekly entertainment, and four food kiosks offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Visit the Schenley Plaza pages for more information, including entertainment schedule and private event rental information.
Panther Hollow Lake and Boathouse
At the turn of the 20th century, Pittsburghers were drawn to Panther Hollow Lake and Boathouse in Schenley Park for leisurely fishing and boating, wintertime ice skating, and lunchtime picnics. The boathouse, demolished in 1979, isn't the only thing to have changed. What was once a grand gathering space is now fairly unknown to many Pittsburgh residents, and the site is suffering from pollution, severe erosion, crumbling infrastructure and declining populations of native plants and wildlife. Access is difficult and involves confusing, downhill trails and unstable steps.
For years, the Parks Conservancy, the City of Pittsburgh, and other project partners have been working to ecologically restore the upper sections of Panther Hollow, including Phipps Run, to remedy erosion and rampant invasive plant populations – the first steps in reestablishing a healthy environment that could sustain the lake’s eventual restoration. Plans to rebuild the historic boathouse are also being discussed as the final stage in the valley’s restoration.
The lake, once a glistening water retreat, has silted to a third of its original depth and is inhospitable to many forms of life. The Parks Conservancy is working with Cahill Associates, specialists in sustainable watershed management, and academia from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to understand the dynamics of the watershed, including the flow of storm water runoff and the pollutant load in order to develop the lake and valley’s restoration plan.
The Parks Conservancy has worked with thousands of volunteers to transplant tens of thousands of natives such as tiarella and heuchera in Schenley Park. The majority of the plants were planted to stabilize the deep hillsides that had been eroding into Phipps Run, Panther Hollow Run, and Panther Hollow Lake.