Boulevard of the Allies is focal point of a rainy day

June 30, 2008

Color and ceremony transformed part of the Boulevard of the Allies yesterday as officials honored veterans and baseball greats and marked the conclusion of a statewide bicycle race.

Flags fluttered and banners were draped along the street as about 1,500 people, including veterans, military service members, local officials and foreign dignitaries, attended an early afternoon ceremony Downtown to rededicate the boulevard, named more than 80 years ago to celebrate the ideal of peace and the people who helped end World War I.

Following the rededication, officials unveiled a new, brighter version of a mural underneath the boulevard ramp at Ross Street. First installed eight years ago, the mural, created by Art Institute of Pittsburgh faculty member Michael Malle, depicts former Pittsburgh Pirates players and managers and Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson.

Later in the day, near Stanwix Street, the boulevard was the site of the finish of the American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania, presented by Highmark Healthy High 5. The six-stage, 420-mile bicycle race began Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Live music and other activities also highlighted the festivities.

The events, supported by an array of local officials, businesses and other groups, were part of a continuing celebration of the 250th anniversary of the naming of Pittsburgh.

The boulevard rededication began under partly cloudy skies with the skirl of bagpipes from the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band. Members of the War Dogs, a local motorcycle club composed primarily of veterans, then joined with Art Institute students and volunteers from PNC Financial Services to unfurl a 30-by-60-foot American flag before a stage set up on the boulevard at Grant Street.

There were reminders of the “War to End All Wars” during the ceremony, including a rendition of “Over There” played by an ensemble from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a presentation of a painting of a doughboy from artist Susan Wagner.

Ambassadors, consuls general and other dignitaries of 11 of 30 Allied nations from that war also were present, and banners remembering those countries lined the boulevard.

But speakers at the event emphasized that the rededication was held in honor of all veterans.

“It’s one small gesture of our deep gratitude,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. Other local officials who addressed the crowd included Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

In his remarks, Brig. Gen. William Waff, deputy commanding general of the 99th Regional Readiness Command in Coraopolis, singled out two local veterans in attendance: Frank Kravetz, 84, of Chalfant, a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber shot down over Germany in World War II who became a prisoner of war, and retired Lt. Col. T. Rafael Lee, 82, of New Castle, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Other highlights included a flyover by a single C-130 from the Air Force Reserve’s 911th Airlift Wing and a 21-gun salute by the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 107th Field Artillery, on the boulevard’s American flag-bedecked ramp leading to Oakland.

The rededication was preceded by visits to veterans in some local health care facilities. They were presented with commemorative coins thanking them for their service to the nation.

At the baseball mural rededication, officials noted that it will now be illuminated and flanked by two commemorative plaques, one celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues in 2000 and another marking the 40th anniversary that year of Bill Mazeroski’s home run that won the 1960 World Series.

Later in the afternoon, spectators packed the boulevard near Stanwix Street to watch the conclusion of the Tour of Pennsylvania bike race, though rain sent many temporarily scrambling for cover.

Allie Scanlan, 12, of Murrysville, who came with her parents, Joe and Diane, and her sisters Kara, 8, and Elise, 9, and a friend, Paige Verona, 9, said she liked the excitement.

The event is “great for the city and, I think, for the entire area,” said Janine Johns, of Washington, Pa., who came with her husband, Matt, and their son Dylan, 13 months.