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Exploring the history and future of George Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill

Preservation Pittsburgh
The former George Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill has a storied history as a research facility and major local example of midcentury corporate campus design.

The former George Westinghouse Research Park in Churchill has a storied history as a research facility and major local example of midcentury corporate campus design. A webinar presented by Preservation Pennsylvania, Preservation Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Modern Committee on Wednesday will explore the site’s architectural significance and possible future use.

Construction on the 150-acre site began in 1953. The first structure on the sprawling campus was a red brick, L-shaped building with protruding sections coming off of it. To the modern eye, it might not have looked very modern, said Brittany Reilly, the founder of Preservation Pittsburgh’s Modern Committee and a speaker at Wednesday's webinar. But the lean, low-lying building was a response to the surrounding environment.

“In a way, it’s site-specific,” distinct, and modern, Reilly said, noting that even the landscaping was purposefully designed with walking paths and native plants.

At some point the building was painted white to make it more harmonious with other structures added later. By the 1970s and 80s, the campus included laboratories, offices, programming facilities and more.

“These were spaces where the multidisciplinary setting was really being embraced and encouraged,” Reilly said. “In a way it was ahead of its time.”

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Advancements made on campus included a new metal alloy and a new type of vibrating gyroscope, according to an application for the site’s historic preservation.

Reilly said the complex was a shining example of the mid-century modern, suburban corporate campuses with park-like surroundings that were popular at the time.

“The Westinghouse Churchill site is kind of exemplary of that approach,” she said.

The research park made headlines in 2021 when rumors began that the retail giant Amazon was considering the site as a possible e-commerce distribution center. The plan called to demolish the site and much of the surrounding landscaping. Critics argued that the new facility would not have fit in with the surrounding residential neighborhood. They also worried about increased air pollution, traffic, light and noise.

Amazon and Texas-based real estate developer Hillwood Development Company ultimately canceled that plan in early 2022 after considerable community pushback.

Now, some Churchill residents are hoping to source new ideas to redevelop the site while maintaining its historical integrity.

It is eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, said Churchill resident Cathy Bordner. She helped organize the group Churchill Future, which opposed the Amazon facility.

It was also listed on Preservation Pennsylvania's 2022 PA At Risk list, which spotlights historical places across the state facing “challenges to their long-term survival.”

“I want to see whatever buildings are still structurally sound preserved, rehabbed, reused. Highlight the significance of the site,” Bordner said. “It’s modern architecture. There’s an incredibly large demographic of people who absolutely love that type of architecture.”

The webinar will also include information about the revitalization of the Bell Labs Holmdel complex in New Jersey. Now called Bell Works, the site includes retail, dining and even activities like escape rooms and an indoor golf simulator.

Bordner hopes the project could serve as an inspiration for the future of the Westinghouse Research Park.

“I understand that it’s going to take millions of dollars to redevelop that site, but I also understand that we aren’t the only community that has something like this,” she said.

Bordner noted that other communities have faced similar challenges when attempting to redevelop industrial sites, “and they were successful in getting good projects, getting sites rehabbed and reused and generating tax revenue.”

She said it’s unlikely that the Westinghouse park will be retail space. Churchill is a bedroom community of about 3,000 people, which probably would not be able to keep tenants in business on its own. Instead Bordner said the space could become housing or new office space, or even a film studio. Parts of the building have been used as studio space in the past to shoot movies including “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Concussion.”

“You [could] have a backlot to a movie production company there that is acres and acres big, and you don’t have to cut down any trees to accomplish any of that,” Bordner said.

The site is owned by the local real estate agency NAI Pittsburgh, which ultimately has the final say on how the property is used or if it will be sold or leased.

Reilly said ideally, the site’s next developer will be able to balance its historical and architectural significance with Churchill’s needs for tax revenue and new jobs.

“To me it’s finding the development team that understands the benefit in finding that balance rather than throwing the compelling architecture and the Westinghouse history out the door,” said Reilly.

The free webinar starts at 5 p.m. on Feb. 1. Pre-registration is required. Find more information here.

Corrected: January 30, 2023 at 1:47 PM EST
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at