Preservation Pennsylvania listed the Westinghouse R&D Center in Allegheny County on the 2022 Pennsylvania At Risk. (2023 Pennsylvania At Risk deadline: Feb 28) The vacant site was threatened with demolition for redevelopment for Amazon warehouses. That proposal has been withdrawn and the site awaits a new plan.
This webinar, in partnership with Preservation Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Modern Committee, is an effort to raise awareness about the story of the Westinghouse site, paired with the successful redevelopment of a comparable midcentury suburban corporate campus, the Bell Labs site in Holmdel, NJ.
This is a two part webinar that explores two major examples of midcentury corporate campus design and architecture, once home to innovative thinkers who helped forge technologies that shaped modern America. One is vacant and was nearly demolished for warehouse development. The other has been re-envisioned, revitalized and reopened as Bell Works, a thriving mixed use community hub.
Part I: Westinghouse R&D Center
Speakers Brittany Reilly, founder of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee, and Bill Callahan, Western Pennsylvania Community Preservation Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PASHPO), look at the architecture (designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith between 1953 through the 1980s), design and development of the Westinghouse site, as well as the midcentury trend of landscaped corporate campuses, and the presence of Westinghouse in the region. Bill Callahan will address the regulatory processes that are in play and how the public has engaged in discussions about the potential future of the site.
Part II: Bell Labs Holmdel
Cindy Hamilton of Heritage Consulting Group, the preservation consultant for the Bell Works project, and Alexander Gorlin of Alexander Gorlin Architects, discuss the revitalization of the New Jersey Bell Labs site, which was an inspiration for the design of the Westinghouse project. Learn about visionary architect Eero Saarinen (St. Louis Arch, JFK TWA Terminal), the plan and evolution of the Bell Labs site, and the conditions, opportunities and challenges presented by the site. Hear about process involved with the tax credit process, from the National Register nomination process to the research necessary for the site redevelopment.
This event is presented by Preservation Pennsylvania, in partnership with Preservation Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Modern Committee. These are nonprofit organizations that welcome your support through membership and donations.
Watch the webinar above. Video not showing? Click here to watch on YouTube.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Bill Callahan is the western Pennsylvania Community Preservation Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PASHPO). The PASHPO is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Bill is located at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. The PASHPO is responsible for implementing state and federal historic preservation programs throughout the Commonwealth. Bill has nearly 30 years’ experience working with federal, state and local historic preservation programs in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nebraska and has also worked in the private sector, for several years managing two businesses in an historic downtown.
Brittany Reilly is the founder of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee, advocating for the appreciation of our region’s 20th-century Modern and Postmodern architecture, public art and design (circa 1940s-1980s). Since 2018 she has served on the Board of Directors of Preservation Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization committed to our region’s historic, architectural, and cultural heritage. Brittany is the Executive Director of the Irving & Aaronel deRoy Gruber Foundation and collection, representing the creative legacy of artist Aaronel deRoy Gruber (1918-2011) through exhibitions and special projects – and oversees the Foundation’s support of the arts in Western Pennsylvania.
Alexander Gorlin is principal at Alexander Gorlin Architects, an award-winning design firm with offices in New York City and Miami. The firm is renowned for its ability to create welcoming spaces with a Modernist aesthetic. The practice is founded on the belief that excellent design should be applied to all realms of society. Projects have included housing, as well as schools, religious institutions, and commercial buildings. The firm’s work has received numerous accolades, including multiple Design Excellence Awards from the American Institute of Architects, and has been published in Architectural Digest, Architectural Record, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Additionally, Alexander Gorlin was included in Architectural Digest’s AD100 list of top architects and designers for two decades. In 2005, the American Institute of Architects recognized Mr. Gorlin’s significant contribution to the profession by bestowing him with one of its highest honors, that of promotion to Fellowship.
Cindy Hamilton is President of Heritage Consulting Group. Cindy joined Heritage Consulting Group in 2004 and became president in 2021. In this capacity, Cindy develops strategies for owners to maximize rehabilitation incentives and she represents clients in negotiations through all aspects of the historic tax credit process. With 25 years of experience in the industry, Cindy has a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory process and is adept at identifying creative solutions to achieve favorable outcomes for clients. Prior to joining Heritage Consulting, Cindy worked as a Mid-Atlantic regional historic consultant, listing dozens of buildings in the National Register and managing hundreds of historic tax credit projects. With a background in architectural conservation, Cindy developed specialties in historic building technologies and architectural finishes.
2020 Churchill Borough Visioning project. Local residents weighed in on what they valued and what they wanted to see in the future of the borough. Click for overview document.
Churchill Borough C-1 District Visioning Plan: 2020 Questionnaire results
December 1, 2021, DOCOMOMO US “You can be sure, if it’s Westinghouse…,” by Britanny Reilly
March 11, 2023, Metropolis magazine, “Preservationists Are Investigating the Historical Significance of SOM’s Westinghouse Research Center: Skidmore Owings & Merrill’s former Westinghouse Research and Development Center near Pittsburgh is at risk for complete demolition. Can this important example of postwar corporate architecture be saved?”, by Anthony Paletta
October 6, 2020, Architectural Digest, “12 Iconic Office Designs That Redefined the Modern Workplace”
Bell Laboratories-Holmdel, National Register of Historic Places nomination, NJ SHPO
Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, National Park Service
Website for Bell Works, “Bell Works is the reimagination of the historic former Bell Labs building in Holmdel, N.J. Today, the building is a one-of-a kind destination for business and culture, complete with a blossoming ecosystem of technology, traditional offices, retail, dining, hospitality, and much more.”
Tax Credits: Preservation Pennsylvania and its partners have spent years advocating for the establishment and enhancement of a state historic tax credit. Read our study, “The Missing Key: The Impact and Potential of the Pennsylvania State Historic Tax Credit” (or Executive Summary). We’ll be working on enhancements to the state historic tax credit in 2023.
Tax Credits: Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) reviews all state tax credits over a five-year period. Click here to access the IFO Historic Preservation Tax Credit Report, published in January 2019.
View additional projects at Heritage Consulting Group and Alexander Gorlin Architects
1950s: An Investment in Tomorrow: “Throughout September of 1956, throngs of editors and journalists, educators and students, community members, and Westinghouse executives, employees, and their families convened in what was previously a sprawling pastureland and private country estate in Churchill to celebrate the dedication and opening of the new Westinghouse Research Laboratories, a 72-acre hilltop complex and interior program designed by Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith architects-engineers of New York.” — B. Reilly These early brick buildings nestled into the site’s topography and featured independent lab modules, shaped by the firm’s design for Bell Telephone Laboratories Building No. 2, in Murray Hill, New Jersey,
1960s: Headquarters for Design and New Products: “Less than ten years later and completed by 1962, the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill integrated two new major structures into the Churchill site, along with clever circular parking lots about 325 ft in diameter each and a sleek 200 foot long rectilinear reflecting pool with a fountain surrounded by a tree-lined plaza-pavilion, adding nearly 400,000 square feet to the total area. A ‘Materials Engineering & Patents Building’ containing additional laboratories and what an SOM project profile describes as a ‘Headquarters Design Lab & New Products Engineering Department’ “equipped with facilities for the development of new consumer products and pilot plant equipment installations for manufacturing products” appeared alongside the earlier VWF&S structures. So utterly modern, composed, and light in comparison that the company later ordered the red brick buildings be painted white to reduce their now dated ambience.” — B. Reilly
1970s: “Reinforcing the horizontal ambience of the land“:”Led by SOM Partner and polymath Walter A. Netsch (who developed plans for an unbuilt downtown Pittsburgh ‘People Mover’ run by Westinghouse) Westinghouse’s cultivation of a campus would culminate in 1973 with the firm’s award-winning Administrative Office Building for Research and Development. The goal being to centralize various administrative facilities to “an executive cluster” within a single structure, the design would incorporate three floors of office space and a lower-level cafeteria tucked into the hillside. Netsch, with junior architects Adrian Smith and James DeStefano, continued to develop the master plan with the new 95,000 square foot project following his renowned U.S. Air Force Academy and Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs.” – B. Reilly
For further detail on the history and landscape of this significant site, watch the webinar and read Britanny Reilly’s DOCOMOMO US article.
Bill Callahan noted that the earlier (now withdrawn) warehouse proposal to clear the site triggered a Section 106 consultation, which requires consideration of historic resources. The State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Westinghouse site in Churchill Borough is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Register:
- Is an excellent planning tool
- Provides recognition to historic properties and encourages their preservation
- Promotes community and economic development and tourism
- Provides basic eligibility for financial incentives
The National Register DOES NOT:
- Protect privately-owned properties
- Require private property owners to maintain their property in any given way (No paint color rules, etc)
- Trigger or require local design review
Bill explained that National Register-listed buildings are eligible to use both federal and state Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits. (Part II will provide a case study of these tax credits in use.) He detailed two PA SHPO grant opportunities for historic buildings: Keystone Historic Preservation Project Grants (used for planning) and Keystone Historic Preservation Construction Grants. (Eligible applicants are limited to non-profit organizations and local governments. Deadline for each: March 1)
Historic preservation is a design ethic, a means to manage change, and a tool for economic redevelopment and revitalization.
Studies show that a preservation design ethic yields better returns in employment, income, GDP, and state and local taxes over new construction. A preservation design ethic is a highly marketable and a sustainable choice. Preserving local buildings contributes to community character and “sense of place.” Studies also demonstrate a positive connection between outdoor recreation, nature conservation and historic preservation to support economic development.
Bill recommends reviewing the 2020 Visioning Plan presented by Churchill Borough, which details the community engagement process.
Bell Labs Redevelopment
Bell Labs History
Alexander Gorlin characterized his experience with the Bell Labs site as “an extraordinary opportunity to work at monumental scale on a building of extraordinary historical importance, both for the history of science as well as for architecture.”
Bell Labs was started by Alexander Graham Bell after he was awarded the patent for the telephone in 1876. The company was known for extraordinary inventions and research, “from consumer to apocalyptic,” including the radio telescope, the picture phone, the TelStar satellite, many of which began at the Holmdel site, where research explored both commercial and theoretical realms.
The architect of the Bell Labs Holmdel building was Eero Saarinen, one of the masters of modern architecture in the 1950s. His TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, inspired by Expressionism, represents a soaring eagle. His work at Dulles Airport confuses the eye, as the support goes through the canopy, which seems to float. He also designed a series of corporate campuses, including General Motors in Detroit, IBM in New York and the Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey.
The Bell Labs Holmdel facility was sited on 472 aces, approximately 45 minutes from Manhattan, in a suburban setting intended for access by car. The landscape design, by Sasaki, Walker and Associates, focused on a core 134-acre area, leaving the rest undeveloped. There is a “keyhole” shaped dual roadway, punctuated by a ovoid ring road at one end and a water tower (resembling the shape of the transistor) at the other. The roadway is outlined by an alee of mature trees. The northern portion features a lake, while the other side of the building features a lagoon-like Japanese garden.
The building was vacant for several years and slated for demolition. It was purchased by a developer in 2013 and the team approached a “modernist ruin” in 2014 that was not widely recognized for its architectural merit or history of innovation.
Using Historic Preservation Tax Credits
Cindy Hamilton explained that the historic tax credits are what really provided the equity which allowed for the rehabilitation of the building. Example: Federal tax credit of 20% applied to a $10 million rehabilitation project produces $2 million in federal historic tax credits, a meaningful equity source.
“This award winning project would certainly not have happened without the historic tax credits. It’s a great example of how you can use this incentive for a site like Bell Labs, a midcentury office park.” — Cindy Hamilton
Requirements to use historic tax credits.
- The building must listed in the National Register.
- The building must be income producing.
- The rehab must be substantial.
- All the work must meet the standards known as the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (linked above in Additional Resources).
National Register Listing is required in order to use historic tax credits. Bell Labs may seem like a very obvious candidate for National Register listing, but that was not the case. In 2014, suburban office complexes as a typology hadn’t really begun to be considered historic and not much had been written about the history of office parks. As the team proceeded, three issues required negotiation: identifying the area of significance, identifying the period of significance, and selecting a boundary. (The National Register nomination is linked in Additional Resources.)
The tax credit application process is a pretty straightforward three part process.
- Evaluating the significance of the building.
- A description of the rehabilitation.
- Final certification at the end of the project.
The program is administered by the IRS and all work is reviewed at two levels: state and federal. Every state has a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which is advisory to the National Park Service. The National Park Service is the final decision maker. Watch the webinar for detailed examples of the rehabilitation process using historic tax credits.
Rehabilitation is defined as the act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values. The Rehabilitation Standards acknowledge the need to alter or add to a historic building to meet continuing or new uses while retaining the building’s historic character. — National Park Service
The term “rehabilitation” implies flexibility. All the work has to meet the standards — that’s the site, the exterior, all 2 million square feet of interior. The reviewers interpret how proposed changes will impact character-defining features, based on 10 very general standards applied to every building type. So there is inherent subjectivity in the process of reviewing, so the key is anticipating what the reviewers are the SHPO and the National Park Service will view as important, what they will permit, and what they will restrict.
In the end, this was an incredibly successful project. The key was really understanding the building — what was there and what was important. The team did its research and building investigations. The project team took a very flexible approach, understood what the National Park Service would permit and where they would apply limitations. Based on their extensive research and site survey, they were able to provide justifications for the changes they needed to make.
This project shows the tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate these midcentury office parks.