Editor’s Note

It’s probably not a common thing to celebrate the birthday of a tunnel, but 2024 is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Liberty Tubes. While your initial reaction may be “So what,” that tunnel opening was the spark that led to the development of the majority of homes in Mt. Lebanon.

Stay with me for a moment as we go into The Heinz History Center archives. The tunnel groundbreaking was in December 1919, and crews removed 400,000 tons of dirt to create what was, at the time, the largest concrete traffic tunnels in the world, with a length of 5,889 feet. (That record would fall to New York City’s Holland Tunnel.) The public got its first view on September 8, 1923 (a dog ran inside and beat the two-legged visitors to the debut.) It opened for general traffic in January, 1924. No Liberty Bridge yet, so you had to wend your way down Mount Washington to the South Side.

The tunnel development wasn’t without controversy or issues. In fact, 100 years ago this month—May 10, 1924, to be exact—12 people were overcome by fumes (despite being given the all-clear by a group of canaries) because the Tubes had no ventilation system. That was remedied. Other public controversies included defining the traffic. Streetcars or no streetcars? No streetcars won, although original traffic included horse-drawn wagons as well as pedestrians and cars.

Historians at the Brookline Connection say county officials wanted to charge tolls, to pay for the $6 million cost, until it was pointed out that the huge jump in real estate assessment in Dormont and Mt. Lebanon brought on by the building boom already filled county coffers.

The anticipated tunnel opening and building surge in Mt. Lebanon provided some of the background for our application to the National Register of Historic Places.

“The numerous residential plans that were surveyed either in anticipation of or as a result of the 1924 opening of the Liberty Tubes (tunnels which provide automobile access to the area from Pittsburgh) are located throughout the historic district and represent the significance of the area as a premier example of an early automobile suburb. Many of the plans feature curvilinear roads, generous lots, shared greenspaces (traffic islands and parklets), and an attention to sightlines and visual appeal,” the application states.

As you are probably aware, we received that historic district designation in 2014.

The next time you’re headed into the Tubes on your way Downtown or to Oakland, give a little Happy Birthday wave to the tunnels for starting the chain reaction that very well may have led you to make your home here.

One last plug on transportation: Let’s be safe on our roads. Read Merle Jantz’s story and learn about Mt. Lebanon’s new traffic safety initiatives.