April 30, 1949: Our first reaction upon seeing this image was one of awe. It’s certainly a stunning picture. Then we chuckled as we read the caption: “This unusual view of the Oakland district landmarks was taken from the Post-Gazette helicopter.”
The Post-Gazette helicopter? Hmmm. Earlier generations of photographers had all the fun.
It’s our good fortune the PG took flight on occasion, if only to provide us with this document of life in Oakland in the late 1940s. Automobiles are parked sardine-like in what is now Schenley Plaza, streetcars mix with automobiles along Forbes Avenue, baseball fans pack Forbes Field and the J&L steel mill roils in the distance. We can’t see the mill because of the smoke, which of course betrays the mill’s presence.
Our files contain several aerial pictures of Oakland. We’re posting three. What struck us about these images is the dramatic change brought about by construction of the 42-story Cathedral of Learning.
In the earliest image, which we suspect was made shortly before Cathedral construction began in 1926, Oakland appears as a collection of stately university buildings encroaching on an area that had only a short time before been mostly rural. The Cathedral would be built on the irregular tract of land in the foreground. In the top left portion of the image, we detect evidence of the construction of Pitt Stadium.
The third image dates from the late 1920s or early ’30s. The Cathedral is incomplete, but we can begin to see how it will soon come to dominate and define the area. In the distance puff the furnaces of the J&L mill, which straddles the Monongahela River. By 1949, the Cathedral towered in all its gothic glory. Today we view this bold structure as an essential part of our city, but its original design met with great resistance within the community. Many felt it was simply too tall.
Oakland has experienced quite a bit of change since ‘49. Gone are Forbes Field and the mill. The parking lot is a park. Our hope is to some day show you these changes. We’ve requested that the editors of the PG establish a helicopter acquisition fund. We’re awaiting a response.