Imagine a playground in place of Posvar Hall on Pitt campus. Yes, indeed, a place for kids to play ball in the heart of Oakland. It could have happened after the demolition of Forbes Field in 1970.
Jane Allon and Paul Boas, two Oakland residents in their 20s, proposed the idea to the University of Pittsburgh, which owned the ballpark after the Pittsburgh Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium that year.
“South Oakland, in particular, had very little in the way of open spaces for the kids to play in,” Mr. Boas, who is now a criminal defense lawyer working in Pittsburgh, said recently in a phone interview. “The idea that this historic, wonderful place would be there for a year or more and not used at all seemed to me to be a real waste.”
“Why not open it up for kids to play ball?” a 23-year-old Boas thought back then. Today, he realizes that even in 1970, officials were likely concerned about accidents inside the concrete and metal structure.
The plan collapsed when the state told Allon and Boas they needed $3.75 million in liability insurance.
On Christmas Eve that year, the right-field grandstands of “Clemente Corner” caught fire. It became a five-alarm fire when Pitt security guards couldn’t find the keys to the center-field padlocks, a fire chief told the Post-Gazette that night.
“This fire would only have been a two-alarmer if they could have opened those gates,” chief William Maurer said. The guards arrived within 10 minutes after the emergency call.
After the fire, a group called Peoples’ Oakland cooked up their own battle plan for the space. The group hoped to convert the stadium into part of the nearby community, instead of only a Pitt academic space. Peoples’ Oakland lost, and Pitt ended up building Posvar Hall.
Demolition began quickly, aided by another fire in July 1971. Arson, inspectors concluded. Several youths had been living inside the structure, they said, and the fire damaged a locker room and storage area.
Even though the Pirates won a World Series a year after moving to Three Rivers Stadium (a demolition crew at what used to be Forbes Field was listening on the radio to that October victory over the Baltimore Orioles) buyer’s remorse followed. Compared to Forbes Field, wrote Pittsburgh Press sports editor Roy McHugh, Three Rivers Stadium was bland.
Forbes “had character. It had grass. It had a view beyond the ivy-covered walls, where shade trees grew and Sunday afternoon sun worshippers camped on a hill,” he wrote in June 1975.
Never again would Pittsburgh baseball fans like Paul Boas — who grew up in Squirrel Hill and took many five-minute street car rides to the park — pay $1 to watch a game from the bleachers.