Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is celebrating its 125th year anniversary. That milestone alone is worth note. However, not content focusing solely on history, they reach into the future while restoring an important part of their past.
81 years ago a fierce storm over Pittsburgh knocked off the top of the conservatory (called an ogee). For reasons unknown, the Ogee was never repaired. Now, 81 one years later and at a cost of around two million dollars, the repairs have been completed along with a restoration of the Palm Court.
It is fitting that Phipps has embraced its past in moving toward the future. The restoration of the “Palm Court” kicks off a month of Quasquicentennial festivities. The highlight of which is a celebration that Phipps’ CEO Richard V. Piacentini calls “the biggest party in 125 years”. The celebration takes place next Thursday, October 18th, at Phipps. Tickets are available on Phipp’s website here.
The “new” ogee adds twenty feet to the Phipps roof. In restoring the building to its original glory, it cuts a more impressive figure on the skyline. The renovations were funded in large part by individuals sponsoring a pane of glass in honor or memory of the person of their choice. There are a few remaining sponsorship opportunities available and you can find more information on their website here.
The restoration replaced 5,000 panes of glass. They drastically altered the profile and provided more natural light which the plants thrive on. We were fortunate enough at the ceremony to view the five thousandth pane being placed to complete the project.
No celebration would be complete at an iconic Pittsburgh institution without some royalty. Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, was on had for the ceremony. While speaking, he made a special point to praise former mayor Sophie Masloff, who was instrumental in the push to save Phipps 25 years ago while it was struggling to keep itself alive and relevant.
He also made a special point to mention that Phipps has taken its original mission and expanded as an institutional pioneer of sustainable architecture, not just here in the U.S., but around the world. As he stated, Phipps isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving. “Phipps represents the future.”
He concluded his speech with the announcement that October would officially be known as “Phipps Month” in Pittsburgh.
Following the ceremony, we were treated to a lovely tour of the facilities. Of particular note to me was the Humpty Dumpty room which recreated a 1960 exhibit. The conservatory previously favored themed rooms. Also of excitement is the tribute to Pittsburgh’s own “father of the undead” – George A. Romero in the Serpentine room.
Mr. Rogers would have loved the Garden Railroad; Memories in Motion which commemorates the moment Henry Phipps donated 100,000 dollars, founding the conservatory in 1893. Is it possible that Mr. Phipps foresaw it becoming one of the greenest buildings in the world and leading a global movement in sustainability? One can only wonder!
In this and many other ways, Phipps honors it’s illustrious past while evolving to lead to a greener future.