Those Statues At Highland Park? They're Called Gate Piers And They're 122 Years Old

May 29, 2018

Two pillars at the North Highland Avenue entrance to Highland Park feature classical Greek columns, 56 feet tall. Female figures up top stand draped in laurel wreathes, children clinging to their robes. At the bottom, women hold incandescent torches. Bronze eagles on "ornamental balustrades" flank the piers. 

Another pair of statues at the Stanton Avenue entrance to the park feature bronze men taming horses, a metaphor for man's triumph over nature. 

Listener William Graves wanted to know more about what he called "magnificent statuary" at the entrances of the park. 

Those statues are called gate piers. Their official title is "Welcome."

According to the 1983 book Discovering Pittsburgh's Sculpture by Marilyn Evert and Vernon Gay, there are four gate piers in total.

"The figures are perhaps one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau sculpture in Pittsburgh," Evert wrote.

Giuseppe Moretti, a Florence-trained sculptor, completed the gate piers in December 1896, modeled after pillars in Germany and France, which testifies "to America's tendency always to return to Europe for cultural respectability," according to Evert. The bronze was cast by the Henry Bonnard Bronze Company of New York. 

Moretti was a celebrity artist at the time, responsible for "Vulcan," the largest cast iron statue in the world, located in Birmingham, Alabama. 

In Pittsburgh, Moretti also created the now controversial statue of composer Stephen Foster in Schenley Plaza (which the city removed last month), the bronze panthers that guard the Panther Hollow Bridge, a University of Pittsburgh mascot statue, and several other works. 

Moretti also created a statue of Pittsburgh Public Works director Edward Manning Bigelow, a monument still standing in Schenley Park. 

Bigelow commissioned the Highland Park gate piers for $45,000 -- around $1.3 million today. Bigelow is referred to as the "Father of Parks" in Pittsburgh; he's often credited with creating an artistic vision of the city's recreational space that still resounds today.

This is part of our Good Question! series where we investigate what you've always wondered about Pittsburgh, its people and its culture.

He also helped develop the Pennsylvania state highway system, Boulevard of the Allies, and Grant Boulevard, which was renamed Bigelow Boulevard posthumously in his honor. 

When Bigelow was not reelected to his public works position, the city severed ties with Moretti as its go-to sculptor, according to a biography of Moretti from the Birmingham Public Library. 

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation said the North Highland Avenue gate piers received Historic Landmark designation in 1989. According to the City Planning Office's Historic Review Commission, the Stanton Avenue gate piers received the same in 2002.

Both sets were restored in 1996.

 

 

_