The Beaux-Arts of 1916 Wilkinsburg Station once brought people into the community on the train. Now, after a careful $ 6.5 million restoration, it is hoped that it will once again attract people to the borough.
The main space is under construction for a restaurant tenant, although the site has yet to go to market. It will be quite a special space, with lots of natural light illuminating a vast interior hall and an imposing facade of Italian brick and marble, with a giant clock at the top.
Abandoned in 1965, the station was once an eyesore and a symbol of the rampant neglect and chronic disinvestment that haunted Wilkinsburg.
“The roof was open,” says Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation., the organization behind the project. “After a rain, it was like standing in a lake. After the cleanings were completed, the steel structure was in worse condition than expected. The copper was corroded; there was marble falling from the wall. Lintels fell to the ground. Most of the ledges had all fallen. It was heartbreaking. “
A $ 1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation was the catalyst for the renovation project. It was a challenge grant, so the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. asked the audience for help.
“In six months, we raised $ 175,000 from individuals across the country,” says Evans.
It was a surprising and encouraging vote of confidence in the old station from residents and people everywhere who felt a connection with Wilkinsburg.
The work was carried out by experts from MCF architecture, a historic preservation firm that has worked on some of Pittsburgh’s most iconic restorations, including Heinz Hall and the Clayton Mansion at Frick Art Pittsburgh. Figuring out what to do about the missing roof made the rest of the project achievable. Now there is a skylight where a giant hole once opened to the sky.
Sota Construction Services worked on the project.
“We spent about a year replacing [about half] marble in the building, ”says Evans. “He came from careers in Italy.
A destination restaurant would be the ideal tenant. Once a “dry” community, Wilkinsburg passed a referendum in 2015 allowing restaurants to apply for liquor licenses and helping to lead the way at that time.
“We don’t have a significant number of table restaurants in Wilkinsburg. We would like to have more places here to have a good meal, ”says Evans.
There is a lower level – the former train station baggage area – which also has potential.
“We believe there is an opportunity for craftspeople and space type companies to manufacture at the lower level,” says Evans.
The station is at 901 Hay Street on the East Busway, half a block from busy Penn Avenue.
It’s not the only new thing in Wilkinsburg, or the only old thing renewed.
The Lohr building, built in the late 1800s at Wood Street and South Avenue, has been fully restored as part of a $ 2.5 million project, bringing 10,000 square feet of space to the heart of the borough. Design by Wildman Chalmers worked on the project.
So far, the property has attracted a fast growing tech company, Agot AI, which has more than 40 employees. The CMU spin-off created the Agot AI Kitchen Awareness platform to help restaurants remove bottlenecks and improve the speed and accuracy of food preparation. Also, Partners of the rising tide, a non-profit organization that acquires dilapidated real estate and preserves affordable housing, has moved to the third floor of the Lohr building. The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. is also present in the building.
The renewal of Nancy, a popular restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturdays is on the ground floor. Another commercial space on the ground floor is available for rent.
Home prices in Wilkinsburg have increased recently, to an average of $ 90,000, Evans says. However, property taxes are more than double those in neighboring Pittsburgh.