Historic Pullman-Standard offices for sale again
February 27, 2005 12:00 AM
By Megan Duncan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Frozen in time from the basement to the attic loft, the four-story, cut-stone building has turn-of-the-century
character with its Italian marble staircase, walk-in steel vaults on every floor and department names still etched on
the door glass.
For the past 23 years, the main office building of Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Co. in the Lyndora section
of Butler has stood vacant under three owners. Now, it's up for sale again.
Workers for Pullman-Standard manufactured railroad cars and military munitions in the nearby sprawling plant
along Hansen Avenue for 80 years. The community is even named for the daughter and wife of co-owner John
Hansen -- Lynda and Grace, who was known by the family as "Dora."
In February 1982, the company closed, leaving 2,800 people without jobs.
Chris Gatto, of the Sarver section of Buffalo, an investor and collector, bought the building last year. After a few
attempts to renovate it and after some development proposals fell through, Gatto put the building up for sale.
His real estate agent, John Holloway, of Realty Counseling Co. Inc., said though the building is old, it is structurally
sound and offers space for a variety of uses.
Glass and plaster debris crunch under Holloway's feet as he walks across the carpet on a tour of the building. In
the winter, he wears his jacket because the heat is off. Because of rusted fuse panels, there is no electricity in the
building, but windows taller than the workers who once bustled around offer plenty of light to see the interior. To
both sides of the staircases that run up the middle of the building, behind doors marked with names such as "Dye
Dept." or "Freight Car Engineering," are vacant caverns. On other floors, smaller rooms have patterned green
carpet or shelves where empty bins are marked with numbers. In the basement, behind the "Waiting Room" door,
piles of wooden doors rest on their side. On top of one pile is a disassembled Pullman-Standard sign and an
The deed to the building prohibits the buyer from tearing it down because of its historical significance. While it's not
clear what year the building was constructed, Butler County genealogist Luanne Eisler places the date between
1912 and 1915 based on a photo of employees and maps at the county library.
Joe Hays, 84, of Prospect, who worked at the plant for 42 years until he retired when the company closed,
remembers that the office building was built in 1912.
Hays began work 40 years after Hansen and Jim Brady founded Standard Steel Car Co. in 1902 at the site. After
the stock market crash and Hansen's death in 1929, Pullman Inc., of Chicago, merged with Standard Steel. In 1934,
the name was changed to reflect the joint ownership.
Hays started as a timekeeper before World War II, then joined the Air Force. While he was in Europe, the plant
produced shells, rockets and bombs. He returned to Pullman-Standard in 1946, and eventually worked as a
He was never in the main office building. Hayes worked in the main manufacturing building, which, at a half-mile
long, was considered the longest building under one roof in the country at one time.
"I remember it was cold and noisy," Hays said.
Hays has a big book of newspaper clippings and another binder of newsletters given out by the company on
payday that preserve some of the company's history.
No one has registered the office building for historical status, even though it is eligible. However, the Pennsylvania
Historic and Museum Commission signed an agreement with the Community Development Corp. of Butler County
that led to the demolition prohibition in the deed.
The development corporation owned the property after the plant closed. In 2000, facing huge investment expenses
to repair the building, the corporation sold it and the attached cafeteria to three people for $1.
Two of the people, Keith and Dena Whittenberger, owned a local demolition company. They razed the cafeteria,
which did not have the same history as the office building, and started renovating the interior of the office building
before they ran into financial problems and stopped.
Gatto said he bought the building from the Whittenbergers because of the potential beneath the dust. He
envisioned a bar, a motorcycle shop and a museum in the two rooms that take up the entire top floor, but nothing
got off the ground.
Now, buzz about the office building has started again.
A friend of Gatto's, Valda Wolfe, started researching the building in early February after a walk-through tour. She's
going to try to find as much information about the building as she can in the next few months to give Gatto ideas for
options other than selling the structure.
"I think the whole building has great character," Wolfe said. She especially likes the vaults on every floor guarded
by steel doors and filled with shelving units that reach the ceiling.
At the same time, the development corporation is discussing buying 43 acres adjacent to the building currently
owned by Trinity Industries, said Art Cordwell, executive director of the corporation. The property would give the
office building parking space, which it currently lacks.
Cordwell admitted the building would be a major investment. He estimates it will cost $100 per square foot to
renovate the building for use. The more than $4 million in renovation costs scares away private investment, he said.
"The market won't tolerate that price," he said.
The 44,000-square-foot building has no elevators, its windows are broken and the plaster is chipped away to the
brick in some areas.
To defray the cost of renovation, the corporation is working with the city Redevelopment Authority to obtain state
and federal grant money.
"We still have interest in it because of the historic status," Cordwell said. "It's the first building you see when you
come across the Lyndora Bridge."