Historic Spotlight – Armstrong Cork Factory

Over the next few months, YPA Intern Erin Candee will highlight local historic sites and preservation opportunities as a countdown to YPA’s Top Ten event in October. These blogs will offer insight into the sites’ past, present, and future, showcasing sites that are in need of rehabilitation, in addition to those that have been successfully reused, in an effort to demonstrate the value of historic sites in the Pittsburgh area.

Built in 1901, the Armstrong Cork Factory, situated in the Strip District in Pittsburgh, was featured on Young Preservationists Association’s 2003 Top Ten list of best preservation opportunities. Architect Frederick J. Osterling designed the factory also created other notable buildings in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area including Downtown’s Union Trust building and Clayton, the home of industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Production at the Armstrong Cork Factory peaked in the 1930s and by 1974 the company had ceased production. Since the factory closed, many unsuccessful redevelopment plans plagued the site until 2004 when Daniel McCaffery Interests of Chicago purchased the site and funded redevelopment efforts. All three structures on the property were redeveloped and renovated according to the National Historic Landmark guidelines. By 2007, the building, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003, was also added to the Pittsburgh Historic Landmark Foundations’ list of Historic Landmarks. The same year, after two years of construction and rehabilitation, the factory reopened its doors as Cork Factory Lofts, which contained 297 lofts boasting exposed brick walls and 14-foot high ceilings.

The transformation that the Armstrong Cork Factory has undergone is representative of the historic preservation movement in the greater Pittsburgh area. As an area that was once heavy in industry, the closure or departure of many of these industrial companies in the latter part of the 20th Century left behind many factory buildings. Over the years, many of these industrial buildings fell into disrepair due to neglect and lack of funding and ideas for sustainable redevelopment.

The Armstrong Cork Factory’s conversion into high-end lofts really highlights the potential that these industrial factories have for a new use in society while still retaining the character and history of the region. As the Strip District is historically industrial due to its proximity to the Allegheny River, the area has showcased many instances where adaptive reuse has been successful not only with the Cork Factory Lofts but also the nearby Otto Milk Company Condos and the Brake House lofts.

Sites like the Armstrong Cork Factory serve bridges between Pittsburgh’s industrial past and its sustainable future. Reusing and preserving these iconic structures showcases the signature resilience of this region while it to adapt to the needs of the 21st Century.