For over a hundred years, South Whitfield Street has been the home of a distinctive five-storey building, the YMCA in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighbourhood. Restored and renovated by Atelier Ace along with Chad Chalmers of hometown outfit Moss Architects, the city landmark is the Ace Hotel chain’s first expansion into the northeast Rust Belt.
Keeping the turn-of-the-century charm and filling common areas and 63 rooms with vintage pieces and custom-designed furniture by local artisans, the Ace Hotel has stayed true to its ethos with their Pittsburgh property, choosing an up-and-coming neighbourhood that is approaching its tipping point.
The entry features original terrazzo floors, dentil moulding, and a stained glass window by Pittsburgh’s Glenn Greene, a modern homage to the city. The bustling main floor is an open space shared by the dining room, reception counter, lobby, and bar. Morning caffeine needs are fulfilled by Stumptown Coffee; an in-house tavern, Whitfield, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner—where diners will find themselves shoulder to shoulder enjoying locally sourced cuisine overseen by executive chef Bethany Zozula and executive pastry chef Casey Shively—and the bar is routinely crowded with people partaking in handcrafted cocktails post-work.
There’s a steady stream of people wanting to peek at one of the hotel’s common areas: the gym hasn’t been altered since its YMCA days, except for new paint on the running track’s metal railings. The weathered wood floors and peeling paint of a fading mural paired with new picnic tables are quintessential Ace style—on Open Gym nights, the public can join in competitive cornhole (for the uninitiated, as the name implies, it’s a game in which players take turns throwing bags of corn at a raised platform with a hole in the far end) and ping-pong, fuelled by cocktails, pints, and—on particularly popular weekends—a DJ’s beats.
Brooklyn design group Uhuru fabricated the larger built-in structures for the rooms, while decor elements include custom-designed Pendleton wool blankets, Woolrich textiles for window benches, a wood luggage rack and stool by Pittsburgh designers Bones and All, and a vintage red East Liberty YMCA chair. The bathroom’s black-and-gold-tiled oversized shower (with thick Wings + Horns sweatshirt robes) is a nod to the city’s official colours, and of course there is musical inspiration: Tivoli radios and Martin acoustic guitars, while larger rooms feature a turntable with a curated vinyl collection.
The original marble staircase does double duty as a gallery, currently featuring works by East Liberty photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. The bold images of community life in previous decades celebrate the neighbourhood’s heyday, a complement to the local entrepreneurs and curious community members who crowd the hotel’s public spaces on weekends, eager to see what the YMCA has become.
There’s even a T-shirt for sale at the reception desk that cheekily suggests an answer: “Ace Hotel Pittsburgh—A Place You Can Go”.
Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, 120 S Whitfield Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA 15206, +1-412-361-3300.
All photos courtesy of Rob Lawson.
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