Passengers stream out of the Wilkinsburg Railroad Station on runs between New York and Chicago. Motorists cruise on State Route 30, the Lincoln Highway, connecting Pittsburgh and New York. Situated in the middle of these two important transportation routes, isthe Penn-Lincoln Hotel. It was designed by local landmark architect, Benno Janssen, whose well known works include the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, the Pittsburgh Masonic Temple, the William Penn Hotel, and the 40th Street Bridge.The 70,000 square-foot, six-story, 150-room tower was dedicated on June 1, 1927. The hotel was advertised as “Pittsburgh’s Most Modern Suburban Hotel.” The simple facade was livened up with 12 outside iron lamps and cast ornaments of cupids, ram’s heads, and lions. The building also housed a restaurant, clothing store, shoe store, and other boutiques. During its heyday the Penn-Lincoln was the center of downtown Wilkinsburg.
The 1970’s brought about a hard time for Wilkinsburg, as the steel industry imploded, resulting in massive mill closures and layoffs. During this downturn, the hotel was transformed into apartments and later vacated in 1995. Ten years later it was purchased by Mario Noce, a Penn Hills businessman, for $70,000 who completed some basic repairs. He was bought out by Deliverance Inc., a local faith-based organization, who then partnered with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. PHLF loaned $135,000 to Deliverance to begin development of the property. A study was completed by PHLF that calculated that it would cost more than $10 million to restore the hotel. Unfortunately, they determined that the high costs of saving it and the lack of a market for a building that size meant that the best option for the property was to tear it down and rebuild on the key corner. The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County board approved a grant of $500,000 to tear down the vacant Penn Lincoln Hotel and its parking garage and lot to make way for new development such as a modern office space with storefronts or an updated apartment building. Before demolition many of the sculptural artifacts embedded in the structure will be saved and relocated to public parks and community gardens in Wilkinsburg.
The community has mixed feelings on the historic building coming down. Some are welcoming the new opportunity for development and felt the building posed a safety threat with crumbling concrete, falling bricks, and broken glass. But other citizens of Wilkinsburg are upset over the removal of such a historic and important building. The demolition is inevitable at this point, but the loss of the Penn-Lincoln will hopefully spur efforts to save Wilkinsburg’s remaining architectural assets.