|Commissioning Entity||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Owner||University of Pittsburgh|
Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, real estate developer Franklin Nicola, and Barney Dreyfuss, then owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club, conspired to relocate the Pirates’ home field from Exposition Park to a new ballpark in the Oakland neighborhood, Pittsburgh’s growing civic and cultural center. Construction began on March 1, 1909, and Forbes Field opened just four months later on June 30, 1909. Designed by landscape engineer Charles W. Leavitt, Jr., it was the first ballpark constructed largely of steel and concrete, and was built mostly on filled land. The primary façades, with their numerous round-arched openings, addressed the nearby Carnegie Institute and other prominent buildings in the Oakland Civic Center; the ballpark abutted a modest residential neighborhood of small houses on the west, and the outfield wall towered above a deep ravine to the south.
Forbes Field became the long-time home of the Pirates and of the team’s star players including Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Paul Waner, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell. Forbes Field was also home to the Negro League Homestead Grays for a time; the Pittsburgh Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute of Technology, and Duquesne University played football there; and the ballpark hosted many other sporting, political, performance, and community events. After the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, People’s Oakland developed a proposal to reuse Forbes Field for retail, student housing, classrooms, gardens, recreational facilities, and other purposes; but instead, one of the premier ballparks of its era was almost totally demolished in 1972.
Forbes Field hosted four World Series including the 1909 series a few months after it opened. The venue’s premier moment was Bill Mazeroski’s bottom-of-the-ninth-inning game-seven series-winning walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series, a moment that looms very large in Pittsburgh sports lore. A famous photograph by George Silk, of LIFE magazine, captured University of Pittsburgh students cheering on the Pirates from the pinnacle of the Cathedral of Learning, which overlooked Forbes Field.
Today the site is focused on a sequence of extant sections of Forbes Field’s original outfield wall, constructed of brick supported by concrete posts. Painted signs mark 436 FT and 457 FT distances from home plate (no cheap home runs!). The original flagpole stands in what was fair territory near the center-field wall. Brick tracing is inlaid on the ground to mark the location of the outfield wall where it no longer stands. A plaque marks the spot where Mazeroski’s home run cleared the wall; and a medallion shows Mazeroski turning third base and heading for home plate. The home plate from the last game at Forbes Field, played on June 28, 1970, is displayed under Plexiglas in the University of Pittsburgh’s Posvar Hall, at what was thought to be its original location (though it is now thought to be mislocated by about 60 feet according to local members of the Society for American Baseball Research). Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission markers commemorate Forbes Field and Barney Dreyfuss. The Mazeroski Field youth baseball diamond is appropriately laid out behind the outfield wall.
Fans gather at the site each October 13th to listen to a public broadcast of game seven of the 1960 World Series and to celebrate the Pirates’ momentous victory all over again. Bill Mazeroski and other former Pirates have been known to attend.
By Martin Aurand, architecture librarian and archivist, Carnegie Mellon University
Bonk, Daniel L. “Ballpark Figures: The Story of Forbes Field.” Pittsburgh History 76:2 (Summer 1993), 52-70.
Charles Wellford Leavitt, Jr. (1871-1928) was initially trained in civil engineering, but called himself a landscape engineer in a career and practice that encompassed landscape architecture, civil engineering, and city planning. Leavitt opened an office in New York in 1897.His notable works included extravagant gardens for the estate of steel industrialist Charles M. Schwab, in Loretto, PA, and many other private gardens. He designed city plans, cemeteries, public parks, and university campuses for communities around the country, and served as chief engineer for Palisades Interstate Park. He designed horse racing tracks at Belmont, Saratoga, and elsewhere, which earned him the job to design Forbes Field, his only ballpark.