“Ski Mt. Lebanon!”

by Wallace F. Workmaster

An inquiry from local resident and avid skier Paul Cline in September, 2007, about a “Lost Resort” in Mount Lebanon, about which he had read in the Society’s membership brochure, led to the following information from Bud Stevenson, the original operator of the ski slope located on the present 23-acre site of the Bower Hill Apartments and Condominiums at 1150 – 1170 Bower Hill Road, during the early 1960’s, thanks to interview contacts provided by Frank Haller, Jack Haller, and M. A. Jackson. The recreational facilities discussed are well remembered by a number of older Mount Lebanon residents, but accurate details have been lacking until this point.

Bud Stevenson was a local resident with an idea in the early 1960’s. He was a ski instructor and member of the Ski Patrol at Seven Springs who worked for an advertising agency, and was convinced that other residents of Mount Lebanon and the Pittsburgh area in general would welcome a short ski run on the site of the St. Clair Driving Range operated by Lou Fabian, on part of a former farm on Bower Hill Road, during warmer months of the year.

The property is shown in old plat books to have been owned by P. J. McArdle, thus confirming Bud’s memory; however, given the year of death involved, it’s doubtful if this land was a part of the estate of Pittsburgh City Councilman Peter J. McArdle (1874 – 1940), who perhaps was best known to Pittsburghers as the person for whom a roadway up the face of Mt. Washington, opened in 1928, had been named. It may be that this owner was a descendant or other family member, perhaps an attorney, who may have shared that name or initials. The land for the ski slope had to be leased directly. Fabian’s lease apparently only covered the months when his golf driving range was in operation.

Bud previously had discussed his idea with his wife and with Jean Lamb, a teacher at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind. Ms. Lamb, in particular, felt that sight-impaired children who naturally have a remarkable sense of balance would benefit from the outdoor experience afforded by a short, straight ski run without intervening physical obstacles. They could be transported to and from the site by bus.

Because the proposed ski lift was a non-conforming use under Mt. Lebanon’s zoning restrictions, agreement not only had to be reached with Lou Fabian for use of the night lighting fixtures originally erected for the golf driving range, but also with the McArdle interest as owner of the property, and the Mount Lebanon Board of Commissioners, which readily granted a variance.

Bud named his new business the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center.

The 600-foot long rope tow, with a large pulley and counterweight at its lower end, was powered by a Model 8N Ford tractor. A trailer from the Dick Corporation was used for ski rentals. The same off-street parking beyond the curb of Bower Hill Road which was used by the golf driving range at other times of the year served the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center. Operation was begun in 1961 and continued for three seasons.

A 1993 USGS topographic map prepared well after the construction of the present three apartment and condominium buildings on the site shows a present drop in elevation from 1,180 feet above sea level at the side of Bower Hill Road to 1,040 or 1,060 feet above sea level at what probably were the extreme practical or possible limits for a ski slope, thus representing a drop of 120 to 140 feet in elevation; however, to achieve the maximum drop a turn to the left would have been necessary at the bottom end of the slope. The original intent appears to have been for a straight descent.

Without consulting older USGS topographic maps, it’s not possible to determine what changes in contours were made at the time the present residential buildings, access roads, two swimming pools, a pool building, and tennis courts were constructed, although the impression is that the site may retain something of the general slope it may have exhibited when it originally was farmland.

Others who helped in the establishment and operation of the ski slope in Mount Lebanon included: Phil Dupre, a part-owner of Seven Springs; a Mr. Brady who operated the ski rental shop in the trailer; and Irwin and Madeline Fuchs, certified ski instructors, who left Seven Springs and operated a ski school at the Mount Lebanon slope. Bud Stevenson and his wife were the overall operators of the facility.

Gracie’s, a roadside establishment on the opposite site of Bower Hill Road demolished a few years ago to make way for a more modern commercial development, sold hot chocolate and other refreshments to skiers in need of restoring warmth after an hour or two on the slope.

There’s no record that any of the students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind took advantage of the refreshments offered at Gracie’s, but they certainly enjoyed and benefited from the unique outdoor experience that the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center afforded, as did thousands of other residents of Mt. Lebanon and the Pittsburgh area. It proved to be an excellent place for novices and more experienced skiers to try out new skills or equipment. Bud recalls that some people who had been skeptical of his proposal were amazed by its success.

The Mt. Lebanon Ski Center depended upon naturally occurring snow which proved somewhat problematic. While Bud says that the best natural snow for skiing occurs during late March or early April, it was not an altogether reliable source. Vigorous objections from a resident of the residential portion of Scott Township which adjoins the lower end of the ski slope site to possible noise generated by artificial snowmaking equipment prevented local governmental approval of its purchase and use.

Bud very kindly has temporarily loaned what appears to be the only surviving copy of a “Ski Mt. Lebanon” poster advertising the local ski center to be photocopied for the collections of The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon. After a digital color image has been made by Photography Committee Chairman Kent S. Miller, the original poster will be returned to hang in Bud’s recreation room, a vivid reminder of a now-vanished part of Mount Lebanon’s past.

Unfortunately, no surviving photographs of the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center and its slope or tow presently are known to exist, although they may be in someone’s photo album or an old shoebox. Photographs of the St. Clair Driving Range on the same Bower Hill Road location during warmer months also are being sought for photographic copying.

The property now has been subdivided and is occupied by three large multi-residence buildings, the General Neville at 1150 Bower Hill Road, the Brackenridge at 1160 Bower Hill Road, and what originally was named the Marshal Lenox now is known as Bower Hill III at 1170 Bower Hill Road. All of the original building names were related to the individuals involved in the Whiskey Insurrection in 1794.

The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon seeks to preserve and interpret all aspects of our community's history and operates the Mount Lebanon History Center at 200 Lebanon Avenue. The author of this article was the first president of the Society and continues to be a member of the organization's Board of Trustees. He has lived in Mount Lebanon since 1934 and at Bower Hill III since 1995. This article is reprinted with permission from the Society's web site at www.hsmtl.org.

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