The Parks Foundation is excited that the first phase of the restoration of a beloved North Park attraction – the Observation Tower – is underway. Once complete, this historic site is expected to reopen to the public after 30 years.
Designed in 1936 as a water storage tank, this popular attraction gave visitors who climbed its distinctive, 154-step spiral staircase a 360-degree view of the expansive park surroundings. The 102-foot structure features vintage terrazzo flooring and a domed ceiling. Eventually, disrepair led to the tower’s closing to the public.
Restoration of the tower was recommended in the 2002 Allegheny County Parks Comprehensive Master Plan. The project took a step forward when the Babcock Charitable Trust committed $400,000 to the Allegheny County Parks Foundation toward this restoration. The Parks Foundation is the non-profit partner to Allegheny County.
The opportunity to once again share the views of North Park from the deck of the Observation Tower led to the generous gift from the Babcock Charitable Trust. As descendants of E.V. Babcock, the trustees saw the value this project will have to those enjoying the park, much as Mr. Babcock did nearly 100 years ago when he established the park system as a county commissioner.
– Caren Glotfelty, Past Executive Director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation.
The Observation Tower has undergone an extensive structural assessment and overall determined to be in good condition. Some minor structural repairs will be included in the scope of work. The interior and exterior of the tank will be sandblasted and repainted. The design intent for selecting the new exterior paint color will consider the original 1936 appearance based on historic photographs. The ironwork railings along the staircase and the domed overlook will require additional features to make them compliant with current codes and assure public safety.
A design contract for the structural assessment and construction drawings was awarded by Allegheny County to Buchart Horn Architects at a cost of $108,660. The design progressed to final construction documents and was publicly bid by Allegheny County in December 2022 to hire a construction contractor. Unfortunately, all bids were largely overbudget and construction was unable to begin as planned in 2023.
Currently, the Parks Foundation is fundraising to secure the additional $1 million needed to complete construction. Total project budget for design and construction is anticipated to be around $2 million, with almost $1 million already fundraised. After funding is secured, the project will be re-bid for construction.
Allegheny County is expected to match the $400,000 grant awarded by the Babcock Charitable Trust.