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Pittsburgh's Cork Company Lofts Replaced Ailing Industry

Chris Berger
November 20, 2012

Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.
Photo: Ed Massey/MI-Home

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By the 1980s, Pittsburgh's manufacturing glory days were over, and once bustling factories served as giant tombstones on the city's skyline. Many Pittsburgh industrial sites have since been razed. Others have deteriorated behind repair. But some have been renewed. The former Armstrong Cork Company factory is one of those success stories, a massive waterfront manufacturing plant that's now home to stylish residences.

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Photo: Ed Massey/MI-Home

↑ Designed by local architect Frederick Osterling, the midrise brick warehouses were constructed in 1901 along the Allegheny River in the city's Strip District. The one-story engine house followed in 1913. Armstrong produced cork used for life jackets, bicycle grips, and bottles of Heinz ketchup—Pittsburgh's famed condiment. At its height in the 1930s, the factory employed about 1,300 people. Only 300 worked there by the time it closed in 1974.


Photo: Graciano Corp.

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↑ Over the following 30 years, a succession of companies tried and failed to redevelop the property. In the meantime, the structures deteriorated, and graffiti painters used the expansive brick walls as a canvas. A breakthrough came in 2005 when McCaffery Interests and Big River Development teamed up to buy the complex. Though it was beaten up, they recognized the factory's historic value—especially in a place so steeped in industry as Pittsburgh—and had it rehabilitated into apartments, the Cork Factory Lofts.


Photo: Graciano Corp.

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↑ Restorers cleaned and repaired the masonry walls. Most of the graffiti was removed, though samples were retained to remind of the buildings' seedy history. The original windows, many of which were missing or damaged, were replaced in-kind. Workers also removed lead paint and asbestos.



Photo: McCaffery Interests

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↑ The seven- and 10-story buildings were converted into 297 apartments. The units, which range in size from 682 to 2,327 square feet, are distinguished by their exposed brick walls, 14-foot tall ceilings, and plentiful natural light.


Photo: Ed Massey/MI-Home

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↑ In the courtyard, the restored, 225-foot tall smokestack stands over the pool, hot tub, and fire pit. The engine house now serves as a gym, party space, and leasing office.


Photo: Ed Massey/MI-Home

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↑ Along the Allegheny, a 60-slip marina is available to residents, and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail leads to downtown, about a mile and a half away. Residents park across the street in a three-story garage, which includes restaurants and a grocery store on the ground floor.


Photo: McCaffery Interests

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↑ Monthly rents range from $1,220 for a studio to $3,940 for the largest three-bedroom unit. Along with the nearby Otto Milk Company Condos and Brake House Lofts, the Cork Factory Lofts have infused life into a forgotten neighborhood—all while preserving a piece of Pittsburgh's industrial past.

· Converted Loft Property in Pittsburgh Wins Adaptive Reuse Award [Multi Housing News]
· The Cork Factory [McCaffery Interests]
· The Cork Factory [Glace + Associates]
· Cork Factory [Antunovich Associates]

Copyright © 2012 Curbed National