Historic Liberty Ave. building to be restored

Photo by Claire Murray | Asst. Photo Editor. A 19th century building on Liberty Avenue is set to receive a series of renovations.
Photo by Claire Murray | Asst. Photo Editor. A 19th century building on Liberty Avenue is set to receive a series of renovations.

By Kaye Burnet | The Duquesne Duke

The 19th century building on Liberty Avenue that currently houses Jimmy John’s will get a facelift, courtesy of new owners Brett Weinheimer and Silvio DiLisio.

Weinheimer, who owns Jimmy John’s in partnership with DiLisio, bought the property in early January for $1.4 million.

Weinheimer and DiLisio plan to begin major restoration in 2015. Although they want to expand the Jimmy John’s, they do not have specific plans for the upper stories of the building, Weinheimer said.

“At this time, pretty much everything’s on the table,” Weinheimer said.

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation construction manager Tom Keffer has worked on similar projects before, and estimates the restoration will take six to 12 months and could cost anywhere from $350,000 to more than $1 million.

Weinheimer said he is willing to pay the cost.

“Do we want to eventually make money off the building? Yes. We’re business people. But we don’t want to make the repairs quick and cheap,” Weinheimer said.

The building was constructed in the late 1800s, according to Frank Stroker of the Pittsburgh Historic and Landmarks Foundation.

Compared to its towering office building neighbors, the four-story loft stands out.

“What’s unique about this building is really the lot it’s set on,” Stroker said. “The way the street grid was laid out gives it a triangle shape.”

Jimmy John’s and Wendy’s occupy the first two levels. A McDonald’s was built directly into the side of the building, obscuring some of the original brickwork.

Steely gray metalwork decorates the front of the building. There are rows of large windows, which Weinheimer said are part of the building’s charm. All of the ornamentation appears to be original, according to Stroker.

The rear of the loft is more dismal, featuring plywood panels or cinderblocks in the windows and stained, dirty brick. According to Weinheimer, “We are definitely going to have to change some things to bring it up to code, but we want to do so in a way that’s historically sensitive.”

Inside, there are original elevator materials built by a Pittsburgh company, and an old water heater that was probably state-of-the-art when it was fitted into the building in the early 20th century, according to Weinheimer.

There is another triangular 19th century building on Smithfield and Liberty that houses Montecellos. Stroker said the loft is different because of its residential design.

“The fact that the building was partitioned with brick walls makes it seem like it served as apartments at some time,” Stroker said. “The Smithfield building, and other similar buildings, were all designed as offices.”

Other historical Pittsburgh sites that have been renovated recently include The Market at Fifth Avenue, a series of apartments and shops in Market Square that date back to the 19th century.