Westinghouse Castle goes for $100,000 at sheriff's sale
June 7, 2016 12:00 AM
Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette
Wilmerding - The "Castle" - Westinghouse's office building.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After years of planning and courting investors, John Graf finally has his castle.
Mr. Graf, president and CEO of the Priory Hospitality Group on the North Side, bought the Westinghouse Castle in Wilmerding at sheriff’s sale Monday for $100,000. He was the lone bidder.
He plans to renovate the massive property, a five-story sandstone that has been described as Medieval Revival and Romanesque Revival, into a destination hotel and event space modeled on the Omni Bedford Springs resort, although the Bedford County site is on 2,200 acres.
George Westinghouse built the Wilmerding castle in 1890 on two acres at 325 Commerce St. to house his Westinghouse Air Brake Co. It included a pool, bowling alley, gymnasium and library for his employees’ use.
In 2006, the nonprofit Wilmerding Renewed bought it, hoping to pay for repairs by renting part of it out and running tours of its 59 rooms. Geraldine Homitz, a Renewed volunteer and former Wilmerding mayor, said the revenue was never enough.
Maintenance and utility costs were voracious, with $10,000-a-month heating bills that were due in part to mounting disrepair. She said the group last year “conceded we could not make it.”
With Mr. Graf’s purchase, she said Monday, “The whole town is happy. John has worked so hard with us and with the borough. It’s going to bring a lot of people to Wilmerding. It will be such a positive for the town.”
The 55,000-square-foot castle, with an an octagonal clock tower, was one of architect Frederick Osterling’s regional gems. It is listed on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
It was on the sheriff’s sale docket several times this year, but it had accrued more than $550,000 in taxes and liens. No one bid $583,000 at the first sale and no one bid $180,000 at the next.
The old taxes and liens have been cleared, but Mr. Graf is on the hook for this year’s taxes and an unpaid water bill. He said the $100,000 price was reasonable enough, and now he can bring investors on board.
“It was hard to do that before I had control of the site,” he said Monday.
He said he does not consider Wilmerding remote — between 15 and 20 miles from most of Pittsburgh — and that the property “has no equal anywhere” closer than Bedford Springs.
The total rehabilitation will be between $8 million and $9 million, he said.
“It will be a heavy event space, with two large ballrooms and a medium-sized ballroom for everything from corporate retreats and wedding receptions,” taking advantage of the large yard for lawn games and other recreational amenities.
Once he has financing, he said, the renovation will take a little more than a year.
The castle’s boutique hotel will draw on the character of The Priory Hotel, the former St. Mary’s Church and Priory that his parents, Ed and Mary Ann Graf, bought in 1984 and renovated.
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
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