South Park will be losing some long-standing but timeworn landmarks this summer.
At last week’s meeting of the South Park Council of Friends, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and District 6 Council Member John Palmiere announced plans to demolish five abandoned buildings in the park.
The Duck Pond House, McConkey House, McConkey Barn, Sedota House, and Schoonamaker Hall were built as part of South Park’s old fairgrounds; in the past, a county fair was held there every Labor Day weekend.
The orange brick buildings with their old-fashioned architecture are a familiar sight to park visitor Joanne Elstner, more than 40 years ago, she used to attend the fairs.
“People would just come from miles and miles around,” said Elstner. “They utilized all the buildings and the racetrack and just everything.”
However, the fair was discontinued and the buildings have stood abandoned for more than 10 years.
County Councilman Palmiere said he thinks the demolitions are long overdue.
“This has been on the back burner for a while,” said Palmiere. “We’ve been wanting to do this, and the buildings have been in disrepair, for a good while now. We just didn’t have ample funding to do it.”
Funding will come from Range Resources, a natural gas drilling company, which recently made a deal with Deer Lakes Park to do non-surface gas drilling under the park. Money from the drilling will be used for new construction and renovations in several parks, including South Park.
“We are redoing the oval down there, the old fairgrounds,” explained Palmiere. “That’s being worked on currently, that’s going to be done sometime in the fall. We are re-doing the ball fields down there, the track, and taking down those old broken down bleachers in the stadium there, repairing some of the walls that really have been deteriorating.”
Bids for the demolitions have been put out. Once a contractor is selected, an asbestos evaluation will be done for each property to determine whether any hazardous materials pose a risk to workers. The contractor will be responsible for obtaining any health department or local permits.
Palmiere described the buildings as an “eyesore,” but Elstner said the inner deterioration of the fairground buildings is not obvious from the outside.
“From the outside, they look great,” said Elstner. “You would not know that they’re in such disrepair.”
Elstner’s memories of when the buildings were used to host bake sales and quilting exhibitions for the county fair make her want to keep the buildings.
“For myself, I would prefer a restoration only because of my sentimental feelings towards it all,” said Elstner. “I like the old look rather than a new constructed building.”
Palmiere said he thinks the renovations would be too little, too late as the buildings have deteriorated to the point that they are unsafe.
“I think that was discussed in the past, but I think the buildings are just beyond that,” said Palmiere. “It’s a matter of safety for people using the park. It’s best that they’re taken down.”
August 1st is the target date to begin demolition. However, Schoonamaker Hall’s close proximity to Catfish Run Creek means that Department of Environmental Protection clearance will be necessary before the hall can be torn down, which could set back demolition plans for that building.