Buildings facing demolition for new skyscraper yielded a host of merchandise for Construction Junction
Construction Junction's Ben Lloyd with tables removed from a Downtown fast food restaurant. Some of the tabletops were decorated with pictures of famous Steelers players; the only decorated table remaining features Ernie Stautner.
Ben Lloyd of Construction Junction takes a look at tin ceiling panels harvested from buildings scheduled for demolition in the block of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, Downtown. PNC will build its new tower there.
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For a couple of months, Brian Swearingen was an urban Indiana Jones, poking around a group of grimy, old buildings Downtown in search of treasure.
Nothing like the Holy Grail, mind you. What Mr. Swearingen and his colleagues at Construction Junction were after wasn't so much the exotic as the functional -- and the quirky.
"The goofier the better," Mr. Swearingen said as he stood outside an old storefront at the corner of Wood Street and Fifth Avenue.
The buildings, soon to be demolished to clear the way for a new 33-story PNC Financial Services Group skyscraper, didn't disappoint.
From an old wig shop, Construction Junction secured a crop of mannequin heads once used to hold hair pieces. A former jewelry store coughed up a large leaded glass window. And some digging through another building uncovered a tin ceiling.
Not exactly museum-quality finds but just right for the Point Breeze nonprofit that specializes in reselling building materials harvested from work sites and other locations throughout the region.
Mr. Swearingen, field manager for Construction Junction, said the nonprofit looks for functional items that can be resold for residential or commercial use. One rule of thumb: "Small, good; big, bad."
"The first thing you're looking for is something somebody can put in a car," he said.
It doesn't hurt if it's a bit on the zany side, like those mannequin heads, which sold quickly.
"In the store, you always want to maintain a certain amount of eye candy because our store is very functional. But on the other hand, it's a little bit of an entertainment center," Mr. Swearingen said. "You've got to have some stuff laying around that people could go, 'Wow, look at this weird stuff.'"
So out of a former second-floor bingo hall in one building Construction Junction retrieved an old bingo sign.
"That went in two days," Mr. Swearingen said.
From a former Pizza Hut restaurant on Wood Street, workers carefully peeled a sports mural from the wall. It also sold.
"It's not exactly fine art, but it's just the kind of thing people like," Mr. Swearingen said.
The Pizza Hut also yielded railings with brass ends. At the old jewelry store next door, the 36-inch by 48-inch leaded glass window was found in a corner, hidden by six coats of paint.
In the basement, workers found a jewelry press used to flatten metal. New, such equipment might cost $300 to $400. Construction Junction probably will sell the one it discovered for about $25, Mr. Swearingen said.
PNC invited the nonprofit into the 10 properties that the bank purchased on Wood, Fifth and Forbes Avenue to make way for the Tower at PNC Plaza project.
The bank plans to begin deconstructing the buildings in March. It hopes to have the $400 million glass office tower completed by June 2015.
Construction Junction also salvaged materials from a group of buildings on Fifth Avenue before they were cleared to make way for the construction of Three PNC Plaza several years ago.
Mr. Swearingen said the reclamations do more than fuel the eccentricities of the nonprofit's customers.
"We're recycling money in the economy here," he said. "That's one of the biggest things that people miss. When we take your curbside demolition debris and we turn it into money, what that really means is that we've taken a local commodity, we've brought it into a local store, we're paying local taxes and we're turning it into local paychecks."
Those buying the finds include artists, landlords, small entrepreneurs and "just a lot of people out there who are very creative, very driven but money is always tight."
"Their dreams are a lot bigger than their budgets, so we cater to that," he said.
Construction Junction wasn't the only one to benefit from the salvage work. Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse also claimed 1,500 to 2,000 wigs from the old Eastern Wigs store, along with hairpins, combs, wig caps, a wig dryer, hats, purses and other items.
Mr. Swearingen estimated the total value of the items secured from the PNC buildings by Construction Junction probably runs into the thousands of dollars. Close to 80 percent of them already have been sold, he said.
As workers crept around the structures, they discovered an old luncheonette in the basement of the former Rite Aid building, a relic from its days as a five-and-dime store.
They pulled a triple bowl sink and some stainless steel counter tops from some other buildings. Other finds included a postal scale, crown moulding, a seat and table combo with a Steelers top, and a 10-gallon electric water heater.
It amounts to urban archeology in its purest form. But for Mr. Swearingen, the Indiana Jones analogy goes only so far.
"Well, the spiders and the cobwebs and all the creepy crawlies around, sometimes, yeah, that part of it works out," he said.
First Published January 19, 2012 12:00 am