[ by Nick Lackner, City Center Self Storage ]
When we started searching for a location for our new self-storage facility, we had a long list of stringent criteria to satisfy. We wanted a secure facility close to downtown Pittsburgh, but not so close that parking and congestion would interfere with customer access. We wanted a building that could grow with us as our business grew. Environmentally conscious, we wanted a building that had a low carbon footprint. At the same time, we understood the importance of climate control for our prospective tenants. The consensus recommendation, from real estate and self-storage professionals, was that only a new construction would meet our needs.
How wrong they were!
City Center Self Storage recently opened for business as a brand new Pittsburgh self-storage facility housed in the historic Pittsburgh Terminal Warehouse and Transfer Company, better known today as River Walk Corporate Centre. Built between 1904 and 1906, the Pittsburgh Terminal Warehouse was constructed as a complex of three brick buildings with funding from some of Pittsburgh’s leading industrialists. The structure cost over a million dollars to build, took more than two years to complete, and kept two independently-owned brickyards working throughout construction.
When completed in 1906, it was the largest and one of the busiest warehouse complexes between New York and Chicago. According to a 1915 newspaper article, “the great Terminal Warehouse and Transfer Company plant…has been studied for its marvelous design and efficient service by warehouse companies from all sections of the United States.” In one year, the complex “used more than 19,000 freight cars in handling materials.” The cold storage system “cared for nearly 23,000,000 pounds of commodities, and in the same period, between 350,000,000 and 400,000,000 pounds of general merchandise were handled.”
Together, the renovated structure meets contemporary needs while paying respect to the historic character of the complex. City Center Self Storage leverages many of the building’s original design characteristics for its Pittsburgh self-storage business, including its proximity to downtown Pittsburgh and especially its climate control. When the facility was built over 100 years ago, modern heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems did not exist.
Turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh storage tenants valued safe, climate-controlled storage, just like self-storage customers today. Three layers of brick make up the exterior walls and provide natural insulation from heat and cold. The floor plans are long and wide, allowing lots of interior spaces to be tucked safely away in the middle of the building. And the cork-lined cold room is still there in the center of the facility, providing something truly unique in Pittsburgh self-storage.
The Pittsburgh Terminal Warehouse complex is now on its way to national prominence. At the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board Meeting in Harrisburg on Feb. 5, 2013, the building was unanimously approved for recommendation as a National Historic Place. One especially exuberant board member praised it as “an amazing resource in great shape.” The board’s recommendation will be sent to the Keeper of the National Register, who will make the final determination on whether to list the complex.
We love our history, and it’s on display here every day at City Center Self Storage. Our conference room has historical photographs that catalog the building’s early usage. We’ve even started a collection of turn-of-the-century postcards from visitors to Pittsburgh. Back then, this building was as prominent as Heinz Field or PNC Park is today. It was a source of civic pride back then. Placement on the National Register reaffirms its importance not just to Pittsburgh, but to the entire country.