Sale of Westinghouse Castle sparks optimism in Wilmerding
June 17, 2016 12:00 AM
The Priory is interested in purchasing the Westinghouse Castle and transforming it into a hotel/banquet facility. The historic building was built by George Westinghouse in 1890 at a community library and recreation center for employees of his Westinghouse Air Brake Co.
Wilmerding - The "Castle" - Westinghouse's office building.
After a fire destroyed the interior in 1896, it was rebuilt to serve at the company's offices. The building has been unchanged since the east wing (left) was added in 1927.
By Patricia Sheridan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
”What businesses? There’s nothing here,” said Wilmerding resident Erich Whitted, when asked if he thought the renovation of the Westinghouse Castle by John Graf would make a difference to local businesses.
Mr. Graf, president of the Priory Hospitality Group, bought the castle for $100,000 at a sheriff’s sale this month with plans to rehab, restore and reuse the former Westinghouse Air Brake Co. office building as a hotel and events venue.
”It can only be a plus for the community,” Mr. Whitted said.
“We have Angies Restaurant, Johnny’s Restaurant and the Station Brake Cafe, and people come from miles around just to eat in those restaurants,” Steve Shurgot, Wilmerding council president, said.
He acknowledged that the small town doesn’t have a lot of land for many big businesses.
”We don’t have room for a Wal-Mart or something like that, but we have popular restaurants in town which can only benefit from this,” he said.
The town doesn't really have a centralized shopping district. A Dollar General store and a pizza place are near the castle, but not much else.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Vincent Caligiuri, a 10-year resident of the town, said about the castle on Commerce Street. ”When I first moved here, I thought, this can’t be a bad place with that here,” said Mr. Caligiuri, who came to Wilmerding from East Liberty. ”You won’t find that nowhere. It’s something you can be proud of.”
The castle, with a grand clock tower that has kept time and still tolls on the hour, has watched the fortunes of the borough wane since it was erected in 1896. Surrounded by old-growth trees and modest residential homes and apartment buildings, signs of its decay are evident on the building’s exterior. Mr. Graf faces a monumental task to restore architect Frederick Osterling’s creation to its former glory. Mr. Shurgot admitted it needs “a little bit of work right now” but is confident that Mr. Graf is up to the task.
Estimates for transforming it into a boutique hotel and event venue are as high as $10 million. A stroll around the outside of the property indicates that much work needs to be done. Weeds, broken glass, rusting fire escapes and rotted window frames all need attention on the grand brick and limestone building. Inside, the structure has been plagued with plumbing problems and the resulting water damage when a toilet overflowed and caved in three floors, down to the first floor.
It has been closed for over two years with no water and heat.
But, the bones are good.
”The fireplaces are beautiful. It was nice, I tell you,” said Geraldine Homitz, who was mayor of Wilmerding from 1985 to 1997. She also was volunteer operations manager of the castle when it was owned by Wilmerding Renewed Inc., which operated the George Westinghouse Museum inside the building and offered tours.
“Everybody is all excited about this,” she said.
”The place is a real mess,” she confessed. ”The big ballrooms — the plaster is all falling down, but the plans for the place sound spectacular.”
She believes Mr. Graf’s plans for the property are more up to date than using it as offices. ”As you know, more and more people work from home now and offices are becoming almost extinct,” she said.
Mr. Shurgot agreed.
“We are really excited about the castle. His plans are phenomenal,” he said. “We think as close as we are to Route 22, the turnpike, 48 and Route 30, that it’s easy to get to, and it will be a great venue.
Borough council anticipates that with the castle attracting visitors for weddings and events, people will see potential in Wilmerding and may want to open small shops there.
“A developer might want to turn the empty school building next to the castle into shops for residents and visitors,” Mr. Shurgot suggested.
”It’s not just going to impact Wilmerding. We think the whole area is going to flourish,” he added.
But this isn’t the first time residents have hoped the castle would attract an economic revival.
In 1985, Barbara Hiquet, who was manager of administrative services for the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. at the time, talked about the American Production and Inventory Control Society using the castle as a conference center.
’’APICS will be a real economic shot in the arm for the community and we are delighted,’’ she was quoted as saying in The New York Times.
Mr. Shurgot expressed a cautious optimism about the latest plans for the castle.
“I mean, we know we aren't going to gain a lot of business from it, but maybe people coming into town will enjoy the businesses and restaurants that are here and maybe they will like it so much they might want to call Wilmerding home,” he said.
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