The Making of Three Rivers Stadium – 1967-1970 Bob Rathke

Jul 19, 2017 | | 4 comments

In the 1960’s the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers played at Forbes Field in Oakland, although some Steelers games were played at nearby Pitt Stadium. Forbes Field was less than ideal for football games, and limited parking in congested Oakland was always a problem for fans of both teams.

By the late 1950’s the need for a modern, larger facility with ample parking was gaining support from both sports and government interests. One of the more unusual proposals was for a stadium built over the Monongahela River at Smithfield Street. A post card depicting the Monongahela stadium was even circulated around Pittsburgh, but because of high cost the stadium plan never got past the proposal stage.

I still have one of the 1958 post cards, seen below. The view is to the southeast, and downtown is on the left. It appears that the historic Smithfield Street Bridge as well as the P&LE Railroad station (now Station Square) would have been casualties of the Smithfield Street stadium construction.

Three Rivers Stadium concept drawing.

At regular intervals between 1967 and 1970 I photographed progress being made in the construction of Three Rivers Stadium. My photographic construction timeline begins at the Manchester Bridge where its north viaduct provided an excellent elevated location for photographing the expansive stadium scene.

This is the downtown end of the Manchester Bridge looking north across the Allegheny River. A small slice of the stadium site can be seen on the opposite shore of the river at the right side of this photo taken in October, 1968. The ramp in the left background connected the Manchester Bridge with the Point Bridge over the Monongahela River, out of this view to the left. The roadway link between the two bridges was directly over the site of the Point State Park fountain that was constructed after the bridges were demolished. The curved ramp in the left foreground connected the Manchester Bridge to Fort Duquesne Blvd. at Gateway Center.

A view of the Manchester Bridge in 1968.

A view of the North Side end of the Manchester Bridge looking east toward downtown in January, 1969. The Stadium was being built to the left of the arch viaduct that connected the Manchester Bridge with Allegheny Avenue on the west side of the stadium site.

A view of the Point, Manchester Bridge, Point Bridge, West End Bridge & Three Rivers Stadium in 1969.

I took this photo in October, 1967 as streets and buildings on the stadium site were nearly cleared. The view is from the Manchester Bridge looking north toward Ridge Avenue. The Channel 11 tower and studios building on Fineview is visible in the distance on the right side of the photo.

1st Ward land-clearing for Three Rivers stadium in 1967.

Looking to the northeast in August, 1968 we see the east side of the stadium foundation work in progress. The orange structure in the background is the double deck roadway to/from the Fort Duquesne Bridge. In the distant left to center, note Allegheny General Hospital, the Clark Bar sign on the D.L. Clark Company building, and the barrel roof on Allegheny Center Mall.

A view of foundation construction for Three Rivers Stadium in 1968.

Now, turning the camera to the northwest, we see the foundation work on the west side of the stadium. Note the blue sign at the base of the building being demolished at the north end of the Manchester Bridge.

A view of progress of Three Rivers Stadium’s foundation in 1968.

Here’s a close-up of the first version of that sign in October, 1967. Note that in 1967 the new stadium was called “Municipal Stadium”, and the illustration on the sign depicted the original design for a stadium with an open outfield facing the river.

Sign for the new Municipal Stadium in the 1st Ward in 1967.

By April, 1968 the “Municipal Stadium” sign was replaced with a new sign containing an abstract image of a circular stadium, but the name of the new stadium was still not on the sign. However, a third sports team – the Phantoms in the National Professional Soccer League – was added to the names of the new stadium’s tenants.

Sign showing future tenants to occupy the new stadium in the 1st Ward in 1968.

In June, 1969, river barges delivered the prefabricated steel supports for the stadium’s upper deck.

A view of the steel supports for the Stadiums upper deck in 1969.

During the summer of 1969, steel for the upper deck was installed on the stadium’s concrete substructure.

A view of Three Rivers Stadium’s shell in 1969.

By September, 1969 the structural shell of the stadium was nearing completion. Note that although the Point and Manchester Bridges had been closed to traffic after the new double-deck Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges were completed, the old bridges still spanned the rivers in 1969. The Point Bridge was closed in 1959 and demolished in 1970, while the Manchester Bridge was closed in October, 1969 and demolished in September, 1970.

A distant view of Three Rivers Stadium construction with a view of the Manchester & Point Bridges.

I took this photo on July 16, 1970, a couple of weeks after the Pirates’ first game at Three Rivers Stadium.

A look at Three Rivers Stadium on July 16, 1970.

At that same time, demolition of the Point Bridge over the Monongahela River was in progress.

Demolition of the Point Bridge in 1970. From Southside to the Point.

The following two photos were taken at the Pirates-Mets game on June 22. 1971. The first photo captures only part of the original scoreboard that dominated the area above the center field wall. In 1983 this scoreboard was removed and replaced with a smaller scoreboard at the top of the upper deck above center field. Additional seating was then added to the space where the large scoreboard had been located.

Pirates-Mets game on June 22. 1971.

A unique feature of Three Rivers Stadium was the two banks of ground level seats along the right and left baseball foul lines (4,000 seats in each bank). To convert the baseball field to a football field, each of the crescent-shaped banks was moved to create 8,000 seats close to the football field side lines. In the photo below, one of the movable seating sections is seen along the third base line during the June 22, 1971 Pirates baseball game. The photo depicts the original TartanTurf field surface at Three Rivers Stadium that was replaced with AstroTurf in 1973.

Roberto Clemente (21) is standing on first base during the June 22, 1971 Pirates-Mets game. The Mets won the game 3-2, but the Pirates went on to defeat the Orioles in the World Series that Fall.

A view of Roberto Clemente at 1st Base on June 22, 1971 vs the Baltimore Orioles.

A pleasant view of Three Rivers Stadium and the North Side in August, 1970. But….

A look at Three Rivers Stadium with a North East view of the Northside in 1970.

Just 30 years later – on February 11, 2001 – Three Rivers Stadium was imploded and the Pirates moved to the new PNC Park east of the Three Rivers Stadium site, while the Steelers moved to the new Heinz Field west of the old stadium.

The Phantoms soccer team didn’t need to move. That franchise folded after only one season (1967) at Forbes Field.

Bob Rathke-2017


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4 Responses

  1. Pittsburgh ,is very fortunate to have these facilities ,on the N.S.,as a kid had to travel to the Oakland section to attend sporting events baseball,football& hockey you are lucky nowadays.

  2. Hello Bob
    I worked at the stadium at a Munch’s Lunch’s food trailer during the construction of the Stadium and saw a lot of things there I will not forget.
    The protest coming across the Manchester bridge and the police lined up with batons drawn and the aftermath of that confrontation.
    A man rolled over by a truck and the job shut down and his eventual death,from the injuries he sustained.

    Huge river rats around that job site that my brothers and I shot with 22’s from the roof of the trailer on Sunday morning when cleaning the trailer for the next weeks business.

    1. Do you have any pictures of federal and north whenever they where getting rid of the streetcar tracks and installing that concrete? Late 60’s early 70’s

  3. Hi my father was Thomas Hartley,a bricklayer foreman 10th generation on the construction…do you have any photographs of the workers? He had a blue truck with lights on the top…the first game I saw was a school field trip when Willie Stargell played! Our family reunion is June 2019 Thank you! Roberta

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