Priory Hospitality Group president and CEO John Graf already boasts an impressive stable of high-end historic properties across the area, from the opulent Priory Hotel to the stately Mansions on Fifth, and the yet-to-open Priory Vault event space located in the former Workingman’s Savings Bank on the North Side.
His newest project will be the grandest yet: converting the former Westinghouse Castle in Wilmerding into a 40-bedroom, destination resort and hotel known as The Castle Hotel.
Graf purchased the building, the former headquarters for the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, at an Allegheny County sheriff’s sale last year for a sum of $100,000.
The building, designed by prominent Pittsburgh architect Frederick Osterling (of Union Trust Building fame), was completed in 1896 and housed Westinghouse’s air brake company until 1985. It eventually fell under the control of local nonprofit Wilmerding Renewed, which struggled to keep up with the maintenance of the 55,000-square-foot structure.
More recently, the Castle had a cameo appearance in the Russell Crowe film, Fathers and Daughters, for a scene that was filmed inside the office of Westinghouse’s brother Henry.
“The bones of the building are really good,” says Graf. “There’s some water damage, which we were able to ameliorate with roof repairs, some damage to the plaster since there was no heat for a number of years, but otherwise it’s really in pretty good shape.”
Graf envisions the hotel as a rival to regional resort destinations like the Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Nemacolin Woodlands. Preliminary plans for the hotel include a restaurant, spa, game rooms and other amenities.
Graf also stresses that historic elements of the castle–Wilmerding Renewed offered tours of the structure until 2012–will be included in a museum-like portion that will remain open to the public. Conference rooms inside the space will also be made available to local community groups for little to no cost.
“It’s a business that’s going to be bringing outside money into the community,” says Graf, who imagines hiring between 70-80 employees for the project by the time the hotel is up and running, with a preference for those from the local neighborhood.
Graf anticipates the total cost to be $11 million, $5 million of which will come from private equity, with additional funding from various state and county grants as well as historic tax credits. (The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.)
He hopes to open in fall of 2019 with construction beginning in summer 2018. Graf is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the costs of pre-development:
“We want to give the public a chance to have a taste of helping to bring this thing to life,” he says.