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Panther Hollow Bridge, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is an extremely hilly city, consisting of elevated plateau-like areas incised by deep, narrow ravines. One ravine east of downtown was named Panther Hollow, after the wild cats that once roamed there. More than 120 feet deep, Panther Hollow neatly slices through the area from east to west, separating Schenley Park into southern and northern halves. The Schenley Park Bridge over Panther Hollow, more commonly known to students at nearby University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University as the Panther Hollow Bridge, was constructed in 1897 to connect Schenley Park to the Botanical Gardens.

The most well-known attraction of the bridge is the large bronze sculptures of panthers found at each corner. The four panthers each sit on sandstone pedestals about seven feet high, and each panther is life-sized, about four feet high and six feet long. The panthers stand on bronze rocks and are crouched to attack, frozen in a roar and showing their big bronze teeth. The signature of the sculptor, G. Moretti (for Giuseppe Moretti), is inscribed into the bronze rock at the back end of each panther.

It is often assumed that the sculptures on the bridge were developed as an homage to the mascot for the University of Pittsburgh sports teams, the Pitt Panthers. The chronology of the park, bridges, and universities is revealing, and the opposite happened. The park was established in 1889, and the large Victorian-style Glasshouse of the Botanical Gardens was constructed in 1893. Both Panther Hollow Bridge and Schenley Bridge were constructed in 1897 to facilitate access to the conservatory and Botanical Gardens from the main part of the park to the south and the developing neighborhoods to the north. It was not until 1909 that the scattered buildings of the University of Pittsburgh were consolidated into a new campus on the northwestern side of Junction Hollow, when the university adopted the bridge’s panthers as its mascot.

There is a detailed description of the bridge, sculptures, and adjacent parks provided in Chapter 4 of my book, Bridgespotting Part 2: A Guide to Even More Bridges that Connect People, Places, and Times.

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