Renovations prove ‘challenging’ for diner at Irwin’s Lamp Theatre
When Keith Reigh began carpentry work on the former diner next to the Lamp Theatre in downtown Irwin, he discovered that giving new life to the old stainless-steel structure proved to be a greater challenge because of six decades of wear and tear — including Pittsburgh winters.
“We found more water damage. It’s become a bigger project than I thought,” said the owner of Reigh Construction of White Oak. As the original exterior and interior was removed, he discovered it was “worse and worse” underneath, Reigh said.
“They kept altering it. They cut holes in the walls, holes in the roof,” Reigh said.
“We had to replace more than we originally thought,” said John Gdula, president of the Lamp Theatre Corp. board, the nonprofit organization that operates the renovated theater. Most of the interior stainless-steel panels were not salvageable and there was water and termite damage in the wood, Gdula said.
Lamp Theatre officials hope to complete renovations by the holiday season at the end of the year, Gdula
The diner, with seating for about 40 people, would serve as additional space for the concession stand and feature a wet bar for drinks, Gdula said. A new doorway will connect the theater and diner, which will not be used to cook food, Gdula said.
For now, the diner’s interior is a shell, with wall panels and the ceiling removed from what had been an eatery attached to Ritter’s Diner in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood.
It was moved in the early 1980s to Station Square, where it served as a photo studio before being stored in a parking lot at the complex. The Irwin Project, an economic development group, acquired the vacant diner for $100.
The diner, without any appliances or seats, was moved to Irwin in April 2017. It sits on a concrete pad next to the Lamp Theatre. A large tarp covers the roof, protecting the interior.
Bringing the diner to its next phase of its life has meant making customized replacement pieces, said Frank Fronzaglio, a laborer for Reigh.
“We have to make every piece, after we figure out what the piece should be,” Fronzaglio said.
Bands of stainless-steel strips and porcelain-coated strips that covered the exterior of the 67-year-old structure were rusted and not easily replaceable. Rotten wood hidden by panels had to be ripped out and new wood installed, Reigh said.
“You can’t buy the originals,” Reigh said of the panels.
Work on the plumbing, electrical wiring and heating and air conditioning still must be done.
When the renovations are complete, Gdula estimated it would cost about $23,000, which does not include money to connect the diner with the theater building. The work would have been more expensive if not for “hundreds of volunteer hours” that have gone into the renovations, Gdula said.
As the renovations proceed, Gdula said the Lamp anticipates having a “soft opening” in late September for the courtyard adjacent to the theater. A concrete pad has been poured, and they are waiting to install a fence and wall, Gdula said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or [email protected]