A Multifaceted Modern Legacy: An Historic Resource
Through until the 1990s the Churchill campus served Westinghouse corporation and affiliates until they sold the bulk of the property in 2012. It came to be owned by NAI Pittsburgh/Churchill Crossings with some areas occupied by tenants and a portion offered as facilities for film production.
Why this complex, with each of the historic structures and remnants of the landscape intact, may not flourish into something of a Bell Works scope (the reimagined modernist Bell Labs by Eero Saarinen with landscape by Sasaki, Walker, and Associates in Holmdel, New Jersey on the NRHP as of 2017) - utilizing historic tax credits to create a cultural resource and a community asset - merits more discussion (perhaps a full blown design charrette) and a much closer look at the ongoing situation on the ground.
The Westinghouse Churchill site holds an outstanding and particular place in local and national history. With over 30 facilities during the period in the greater Pittsburgh region and an ever-growing influence, it's not difficult to imagine the presence of Westinghouse having had a profound effect on the local Churchill community, its development and sociocultural atmosphere. Perhaps the most evidently visible of which; Churchill remains to have one of the most distinctive clusters of midcentury modern residential homes in the region - many built for Westinghouse employees, executives, and newcomers to the neighborhood and many that have found proud stewards. From these residential streets, some members of the community grow increasingly concerned with a new corporate giant; Amazon.com, Inc; one they fear will not come close to honoring the terrain and milieu of Churchill. During 14 virtual public hearings before Churchill Borough Council, a variety of perspectives (predominantly in opposition to the proposal) were thoroughly voiced, agreeing on at least one thing – a transformation of the site stands to have radical impact.
Beyond the complete demolition of the existing structures, there is a significant focus on the environmental aspect, for the new plan aims remove over 1,400 mature trees which Westinghouse helped to cultivate and level the topography of the site replacing it with a synthetic, impervious plateau to support the 2.9 million square foot facility partially surrounded by retaining walls.
In January 2021, upon review of the Historic Resource Survey Form, the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission, State Historic Preservation Office confirmed the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C in the Area of Architecture, Criterion A in the Areas of Industry and Science, and under Criterion Consideration G as a property achieving significance within the past 50 years. Contingent on whether federal permitting will be required and mainly pending the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determination of jurisdiction, Section 106 may come into effect, at which point, more shall be assessed regarding this vital aspect of Pittsburgh history and evaluation of alternatives and mitigation.
Sources & Recommended Reading
Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, 1892-1981, MSP 285. Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
American Institute of Steel Construction. Architectural Awards of Excellence. New York: American Institute of Steel Construction. 1975. 26-27.
Ball, Robert. Historic Resource Survey Form, George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park, Key #212849, November 17, 2020.
Bridges and Tunnels of Allegheny County and Pittsburgh, PA. “Parkway East Interchange – Churchill.” Accessed November 1, 2021.
Churchill Borough Municipal Records, Churchill, Pennsylvania.
Heidekat, George. “How Westinghouse Brought Midcentury Modern to the Pittsburgher on the Street.” Carnegie Museum of Art, Storyboard, November 16, 2015.
McLearen, Douglas C., Chief, Division of Environmental Review, Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office to Michael Tincher, Copperhead Environmental Consulting, January 29th, 2021.
Paletta, Anthony. “A New Urbanist Developer Gives Saarinen a Reboot.” Bloomberg CityLab, April 17, 2018.
Parkway East Transportation Corridor Network. “Project Facts – History.” Accessed November 1, 2021.
“Pittsburgh’s Modernist Moment.” SOM Medium, September 19, 2019.
“Research Laboratories for Westinghouse.” Progressive Architecture 34 (October 1953), 15-16.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Library, Records and Information Services, Chicago, Illinois
Van Trump, James D. "Castles Toward Tomorrow." Charette 42:6 (June 1962), 22-27.
Vitale, Patrick. Nuclear Suburbs: Cold War Technoscience and the Pittsburgh Renaissance. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2021.
Westinghouse Electric Corporation Records, 1865-2000, MSS 424, Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
About the Author
Brittany Reilly is the founder and Chair of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee in her fourth year on the Board of Directors of Preservation Pittsburgh and prioritizes projects at the intersections of 20th-century modern architecture, design and visual arts. She curated the Regional Spotlight on Pittsburgh for Docomomo US in January 2021. Brittany is Executive Director of the Irving and Aaronel deRoy Gruber Foundation.
A special thanks To Susan Sterrett, a Churchill resident who first brought this issue to the attention of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee of Preservation Pittsburgh as a site with 20th-century modern cultural resources at risk.