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North Hills Monthly

Local Developer Hopes to Turn Westinghouse Castle into Luxury Hotel

Sep 01, 2017 08:33AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Artist rendering of the Castle Hotel

Pittsburgh may not have royalty, but it does have a castle.

Located in the unassuming, residential neighborhood of Wilmerding in the Turtle Creek valley, the Westinghouse Castle was constructed in 1893 as the world headquarters for the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, owned by none other than George Westinghouse.

After the company moved offices, the building changed hands several times over the years. Most recently, it sat empty until 2016, when John Graf, president of the Priory Hospitality Group, purchased it at a sheriff’s sale for a mere $100,000. His vision is to convert it into a luxury hotel and event space.

Graf was knocked over when he saw it for the first time. “I was absolutely stunned that this was not in the countryside of France but was plopped in a company town for Westinghouse Air Brake; the juxtaposition was jarring,” he said.

The Westinghouse Castle, a 50,000 sq. ft. building located on two acres of property, was rebuilt in 1896 after a fire, and an addition was put on in 1927. “It is interesting inside; you can see the difference in the eras of the two buildings; one was built at the end of the Victorian era, and the other was built at the end of the Art Deco era,” said Graf.

The hotel will have 40 spacious rooms, two large ballrooms, and one smaller ballroom. “We will also have a restaurant in the lower level that will be open daily, and we’ll create amusements, too, like bocce and croquet on the lawn,” he said, adding that the hotel will also feature indoor games.

Graf said that the layout of the castle as a former office building lent itself well for conversion into a hotel, as the offices are quite spacious. He said that some of the rooms from the 1920s’ addition have floor-to-ceiling wood paneling, beamed ceilings, and a massive limestone fireplace; he calls these the “wow” rooms.

Though the building’s interior still resembles an office, Graf says that with work, it could be pretty spectacular. He does not plan to change the footprint but does foresee a lot of work being done to the interior, such as a new HVAC system and elevators, as well as some work to the exterior.

Graf likens the property to the Omni Bedford Springs hotel in Bedford, PA—Bedford is a town that became a destination because of the existence of the hotel, rather than the other way around. Graf foresees a similar trajectory for the new property, which will be named the Castle Hotel. Its proximity to the city of Pittsburgh, 25 minutes from downtown, should be a selling point for local corporations who wish to use the property for meetings or retreats.

Graf is no stranger to repurposing buildings and transforming them into luxury hotels; his family purchased the Priory, a former Benedictine monastery located on the North Side, in the 1980s. Today, the Priory is a charming boutique hotel and sought-after event space.

His company also manages the Mansions at Fifth Avenue, and it recently purchased the century-old Workingman’s Savings Bank, whose most recent incarnation was as the ARC House, also located on the North Side. Graf plans to turn that site into a brewpub and event space.

Graf is still seeking investors for the castle project, which is budgeted at $11 million. If everything goes as planned, he hopes to be ready to open in the fall of 2019.

According to Graf, officials and residents in Wilmerding have been supportive of the plan. “They are excited to have something coming in that will produce jobs and bring people in from out of town and add new life to the neighborhood,” he said.

He also hopes that the space will be attractive to the wedding market, as he said there’s a fairy tale element to the building. “There is just nothing like it around,” he said.