How The Westinghouse Castle is Finding Happily Ever After as an Arts Academy
Once on the brink of ruin, the imposing Wilmerding headquarters of George Westinghouse’s air brake company is undergoing extensive renovations.
Lights, camera, action! After a major facelift, the curtain is opening on the new home of the Westinghouse Arts Academy Charter School at the old “Westinghouse Castle” in Wilmerding.
Designed by famed architect Frederick Osterling, the massive, stone Romanesque/Renaissance Revival building looming over Wilmerding will become home to the nonprofit Turtle Creek Valley Arts, which in turn will sublet most of the property to the Westinghouse Arts Academy, a public charter high school that provides comprehensive arts programing.
Turtle Creek Valley Arts will retain use of the building during non-school hours and offer arts-based educational services to the community; it will also operate the building as an event facility for weddings and other gatherings.
Built in 1890, the Westinghouse Air Brake General Office was once headquarters for one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic entrepreneurs, George Westinghouse. After years of vacancy and deterioration that brought it to the brink of ruin, the first phase of renovations to the building recently were completed.
Last July, the Allegheny Foundation awarded the Turtle Creek Valley Arts $1 million to help bring the landmark back to life, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Prior to that, Westinghouse Electric Corp. granted the nonprofit $475,000.
Because the castle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the restoration team took special care to ensure the history of the building lives on, even in its new venture. They also worked closely with the local officials to ensure all improvements followed historic building regulations.
“We went through and had to uncover so much,” says Richard Fosbrink, CEO of Westinghouse Arts Academy. “When we started it was covered in trash. Think of the big dumpster bins —
we had five being removed per day!
“We had to remove graffiti, the old ’80s wood panels from covering marble, and even take brown paint off other marble.”
Prior to a grand opening celebration on Feb. 4, Fosbrink led an open house tour for the media and pointed out parts of the building that were original, and others that were rebuilt after a fire in 1896. He excitedly showed off an original revolving door on the front of the building,
“It was a pain, but we got to keep it,” he says.
Many of the artifacts uncovered during the renovation are now on display, including panels from when the castle was a museum, the building’s original blueprints, vintage furniture and even an original Westinghouse sewing machine.
Although students, located down the road at the academy’s current location on Marguerite Avenue in Wilmerding, already are attending some classes at the castle, it should be fully functional by next year, according to officials. Once complete, the castle will house a pottery studio, a makerspace with 3-D printers, a screen-printing press, a photography studio, a digital media/film production studio, and a program and events center.
Facilities for a culinary arts program also have been installed in the castle and will be ready to go at the start of the art academy’s 2024-25 school year.
“I hope to see this building become an asset to the community, a place where people gather to take art classes, attend a community event or performance, or hold a celebration in the event center,” Fosbrink says.
During the open house tour, students were stationed throughout the newly renovated building and shared information about the history of the building, the renovation process, and the future. Each classroom showcased art, from paintings and sculptures to musical pieces and clothing, created by students.
“In many ways, this building represents the community and its resilience,” Fosbrink says. “Our grand opening marks the end of just one phase of construction, but I feel like it’s also the beginning of a new era of excitement and growth for the community as well.”