Pittsburgh’s North Park Water Tower ~ Photo of the Week

  • Posted on: February 7, 2010
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With the temperatures in the teens, ski masks on, two pairs of gloves, and foot warmers inserted, Tom Persinger and I braved the Pittsburgh nights to see what the full moon would reveal. We started in Pittsburgh’s largest park, North Park. Tom suggested that we check out the old Water Tower, officially called the Allegheny County North Park Water Supply System Standpipe. The only information I can find on this beautiful old tower is what was written on the plaque at the base of the standpipe:
Height of Dome – 101.6 ft
Height of Tank – 81 ft
Diameter of Tank – 35 ft
Storage Capacity – 300,000 gallons
Observation Deck – Elevation 1360.8 ft
Steps from Ground – 154
It was planned in 1935 by Chas. C. McGovern, W.O. Mansfield, and E.M. Barrr.
It was erected two years later, in 1937 by JNO. J. Kane, Geo. Rankin Jr., and Hohn S. Herron. I’ll spare you the controller and county department of works people but it was Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, Project No, PA,1422 0.

The tower is no longer a functioning public works and is open every so often for people to tour and see the observation deck. On this bitter night the gate was locked and as we approached we were surprised to see 50+ cars parked in the lot. What made things even more surreal was that the people getting in or out of the cars were dressed in Medieval costumes. Tom and I figured to have the whole Park to ourselves, but if you are going to share, why not with medieval folk? As it turned out they were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and were performing a play about St Nicholas at the nearby park and rec building.
“The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our “Known World” consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”

Anyway aside from dodging the knaves and wenches who were turning on and off their car lights (uhhmmm those aren’t from the pre-17th century), the water tower was amazing to shoot. The image I chose as the photo of the week was shot on the second night. I went back because it was a much clearer night and I wanted to play with star trails against the water tower. Long exposures taken towards the east or west yield longer and straighter star trails then if you were to expose towards the north and south. Knowing this, I found a western angle of the tower and cropped in a slightly abstract way as to get the feeling that the star trails were shooting out of the water tower’s observation deck, which looks a bit like a lighthouse.
On the first night of shooting during the full moon it was overcast during the first half of the evening. Notice the images below that glow purple, they are from the first night. The mixture of the overcast moonlight and sodium vapor lights created a purple color temperature that I embraced.
We decided to photograph the boathouse next, and on our way we saw people playing platform tennis outdoors under floodlights, 10pm and we were lucky if it was 20 degrees out! And when we got to the boathouse another 20 cars were parked outside. As we set up our shots, 20 bundled up people started walking over to us using their ski poles to balance their rapid walk. As it turned out this group was part of Pittsburgh’s Venture Outdoors organization, who were out on a Wolf Moon hike.  The Native Americans call the first Full moon of the year the Wolf Moon “Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages.” It is usually the biggest full moon of the year according to astronomers it is 30% brighter and 14% wider.  This happens because the moon revolves round the Earth in an elliptical orbit and at the time of the wolf moon it comes closer to Earth than usual. Again, ironically they probably thought we were the strange ones taking pictures in the cold!
I’ll be posting some other night images from our Pittsburgh soon, some of Tom’s are already posted here.
And if anyone knows any more information regarding the history of the Allegheny County North Park Water Supply System Standpipe please share.