Restaurant work uncovers Arsenal treasures
When Jeff Catalina began renovations on his new Lawrenceville restaurant, he hired a professional locksmith to open the six safes original to the building's former home, Arsenal Bank of Pittsburgh.
It took the locksmith two days to open them all, and each was empty. Turns out, the real treasure was tucked away in a long-forgotten box in the attic. Inside the box, found by a construction worker Thursday, were more than 500 handwritten checks dating to the 1890s.
“It was just exciting,” said Catalina, 39, owner of Tender Bar + Kitchen. “We're trying to let the history of the building shine through in this concept. The more history we can bring to the forefront, the better.”
Tender will open in mid-March at 4300 Butler St. as an American cocktail lounge and restaurant with a “Gatsby-esque” vibe, Catalina said.
Tender draws inspiration and its name from the Arsenal Bank building it occupies, which served the Lawrenceville community for decades. According to the neighborhood's historical society, the bank organized in 1872. By 1913, it showed total resources of nearly $1.2 million. It survived the Great Depression and merged into what is now PNC Bank in the 1940s. “It was always a solvent bank,” Lawrenceville historian James Wudarczyk said. “It was a relatively small bank.”
Carol Peterson, architectural and community historian, said the building was built in 1883-4 for $17,000 and was a bank until 1943. It was home to a real estate office from then until 1980, then housed a series of small businesses, including a rug shop and gift store. Botero Development, a firm dedicated to rejuvenation of the Lawrenceville community, bought the building about two years ago, she said.
The rectangular checks vary in color from faded white to blue and show scrawling penmanship noting each transaction's date, amount and recipient name. They are stamped as paid in either blue and red. Most are written for amounts under $10, which would amount to about $250 today. Some are in the hundreds.
Wudarczyk would not speculate on the checks' value.
The find fits perfectly with Catalina's mission to maintain as much history of the space as possible. Marble wainscoting removed from the walls now serves as the 18-seater bar in the eatery's main dining area. Red wallpaper with golden accents reach to the room's ceiling, creating an atmosphere of casual sophistication.
An exposed piece of the wall in a corridor leading to another dining area shows the bank vault's security system, dating to 1932. Catalina intends to cover that with Plexiglass so diners can see it.
The basement, formerly a barber shop, will serve as a third dining room.
Tender's menu offers plates representing cuisine from all regions of America, like fried green tomatoes from Alabama and scrapple from Philadelphia. A team of trained professionals will focus on craft cocktails behind the bar. Catalina, who owns Verde in Garfield, will bring that eatery's soux chef, Neal Heidekat, to lead Tender.
Catalina said he hopes to incorporate the checks into the restaurant's decor, perhaps by displaying them in a large picture frame.
Jason Carr, 31, Tender's general manager, said it's “exciting to be part of rebirth of a piece of history. It's exciting to hark back to a time once forgotten,” he said.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers clinch playoff berth with win over Chiefs
- Groom cited at Farmington wedding reception being filmed for reality TV show
- Starkey: Chryst a miserable failure at Pitt
- Banged-up Steelers can clinch with win over Chiefs
- Car wash explosion, fire injures 2 in McDonald
- Sony hack signals new, public front in cyber warfare
- Police seek answers in killing of 2 NYPD officers
- Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches’ firings
- Police investigate alleged institutional sexual assault at Pine youth treatment center
- Pitt players support Rudolph for job
- Pitt football fights to overcome steppingstone status