Owner looks to restore landmark triangular building on Liberty Avenue

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Downtown has been a big part of Brett Weinheimer's life for years.

When he was a child, he and his mother took trips on the trolley to the city center, where they would visit candy stores and have lunch at the Tic Toc restaurant in what was then Kaufmann's department store.

Now Mr. Weinheimer has his own restaurant Downtown, Jimmy John's at 506 Liberty Ave., and just made his first property acquisition -- the four-story building that houses the establishment.

Mr. Weinheimer purchased the uniquely shaped triangular structure at 502-510 Liberty Ave. for $1.4 million earlier this month, with the intention of doing a full restoration.

"It's really a dream come true that I can be this involved in Downtown Pittsburgh," he said.

The structure, referred to as a loft building, dates back to around 1880-1885, according to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. A 1889 real estate map listed the owner as Jas. A. McKee.

Built with brick walls and wood floors, the building has a prominent perch near the corner of Liberty and Stanwix Street across from Fifth Avenue Place. It has always served commercial purposes, with shops on the ground floor. It now houses Jimmy John's and a Wendy's restaurant. In the past, retailers have included Foto Hut and a Roy Rogers restaurant.

The upper floors, with the exception of second-floor seating for both eateries, are vacant.

Mindful of the building's history, Mr. Weinheimer said that he is planning to restore the facade and its rear exterior, where plywood largely substitutes for window panes. "I really want to return it to its former glory," he said.

The history is evident on parts of the third and fourth floors with remnants of the building's past. The original elevator equipment, manufactured by the Marshall Elevator, with its belt, chains and pulleys, remains largely intact.

Floral-type wallpaper in the rooms closest to windows overlooking Liberty Avenue suggest that the building once held some type of tenement or apartments. Instructions for Beaver Bestwall, "the superior plaster wall board" dating back to the early 1900s, is stuck to one panel.

There also are decaying beadboard and wood floors, two vacated elevator shafts, and a hot water heater and toilets and sinks that Mr. Weinheimer thinks could be part of the original construction.

The upper floors, in an advanced state of deterioration, are in desperate need of attention.

"We want to take our time, come up with a plan to restore it the right way and make it a signature building for Downtown Pittsburgh," Mr. Weinheimer said.

He has yet to decide on a use for the upper floors, but is considering both offices and apartments. The structure, he said, is one of the first historic buildings a visitor sees coming off the Fort Pitt Bridge into Downtown.

"Preserving it is extremely important to me," he said.

The facade was last restored in 1998. Mr. Weinheimer has yet to get an estimate on how much the latest restoration will cost. He probably won't start the work until at least next year but is committed to keeping the "soul of the building" intact.

"To me, it's probably going to be the project of a lifetime," he said.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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