In 1918, the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania gifted the city of Pittsburgh a 10-acre stretch of green space that sits right on the dividing line between Homewood and Point Breeze North. The land had once belonged to American inventor George Westinghouse, and the new city park was named after him.
“The only stipulation … was that it couldn’t just be used for a children’s playground,” explained Jeff Wetzel, who chairs the Point Breeze North Development Corporation, flipping through a photocopy of the deed. “So it had to be available for everybody to use.”
Soon after its creation, Westinghouse Park was the site of big band concerts and orchestral performances. But in more recent decades, a debate has simmered about whether the park should be available for large events. That debate, recorded in newspaper articles from the 1990s and 2000s, revolved largely around noise and crowds brought by large community gatherings. In one 1994 article, a Point Breeze North resident complained about "excruciating rap music." In a 2005 story, a neighbor said the residents of Point Breeze North cleaned up trash left in the park after children from Homewood played football there.
The park, which goes by the name Homewood Park just as often as it does Westinghouse Park, is designated a "passive park," said Jerome Jackson, executive director of community group Operation Better Block. That designation has disallowed large groups from gathering, whether that was for a rally, a cookout, or a peewee football game.
“Residents have continually been in a battle, so to speak, about being able to use that park as part of our community," said Jackson.
The Homewood neighborhood recently completed a comprehensive community planning process with the city, with residents setting specific goals in areas including mobility, sustainability, urban design and development. One of the goals is to remove the park's "passive" designation.
Mike Gable directs the city’s Department of Public Works, and has been with the city for 40 years. He said the passive park designation was unofficial and is absent from the city code. He pegs the restrictions to an old directive when he was in the then-Department of Parks and Recreation, when they were told not to issue permits.
But it's not clear who is responsible for creating the "passive" designation from the park.
“I’ll guarantee you it wasn’t anyone from Homewood," said Jackson. "And the city didn’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to make it a passive park.’ Someone had to request that.”
Gable said in about 2015, the city’s law department looked into the passive park designation and decided it was not OK to prevent people from using Westinghouse. But Jackson said no one ever told Homewood.
“If it truly has been designated a non-passive park or just a regular park now I think our residents would love to be able to just use it.”
The park shelter still cannot be booked through the city’s online portal.
WESA's Liz Reid contributed to this story.