Old Westinghouse Christmas tree finds home in Export

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

For decades, it shined like a beacon of Christmas alongside the Parkway East. With thousands of rhythmically blinking colored lights, the Westinghouse Christmas tree was a staple of the holiday season in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh.

“It's a historic tree,” said Export Councilman John Nagoda, who with his wife, Michelle, found the tree last year in a warehouse full of old Westinghouse equipment they purchased through an online auction.

“Tens of thousands of people have seen that tree and now, it's come to Export.”

Borough workers in the Westmoreland County community installed the 35-foot classic tree from the former Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s campus in Churchill last week at the entrance to the future Joseph “Junior” Hall Community Park.

Until the mid-1990s, the seven-building complex along the Parkway East known as the George Westinghouse Research & Technology Park was the hub of Westinghouse's research and technology activity.

“This tree was amazing. Every Christmas since I was a little girl, I'd see it from the road,” said Michelle Nagoda of Export. “You just had to see it.”

The old Westinghouse company sold the Churchill research park buildings in 1985, but continued to own the land. Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1997, and later changed its name to CBS and moved to New York.

The company in 1999 spun off its nuclear business that became the current Westinghouse Electric Co., headquartered in Cranberry. Westinghouse officials couldn't be reached for comment.

The tree actually is a large pole fitted with streams of lights.

The fixture took a lot of work to reassemble after years in storage, John Nagoda said, and it was lit for the first time in Export during Friday's snowy Light Up Export Night event.

“It's been a part of the eastern suburbs for a long time. It was a focal point at the holidays,” said Nagoda, who has been on Export Council since 1975 and buys the contents of storage areas.

He declined to say how much he and his wife paid for the Westinghouse equipment, some of which he keeps and some of which he sells.

As they were going through the storage space, John Nagoda said, he found the tree and an accompanying menorah. They hope to put up the menorah next year in Export.

They said they considered offers to buy the tree, but decided instead to honor local businessman Joseph “Junior” Hall, who died in 2006, by erecting it in Export. Hall was known for his love of Christmas, and bequeathed a $2.7 million trust fund to the borough for beautification projects.

“The fact that (the tree) adorns the entrance to the park that bears his name is carrying on his tradition in a much larger way,” Nagoda said.

The Nagodas, who work with Export's historical committee, said it's fitting that a historic tree now has a permanent home in a historic town and will entertain visitors.

“The tree never blinks the same way twice,” John Nagoda said.

Export Mayor Michael Calder said borough workers have been fine-tuning the sequencing of the lights this week.

Calder said bringing the tree to Export — a first for the tiny borough — would make it a staple of the community's holiday celebrations.

“It's a very visual reminder the that holiday season is upon us,” he said.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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