Postcard circa 1960s
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Chatham Center
 -- 112 Washington Place

Chathem Center was built at a cost of $26 million in 1966, and featured a 660 seat theatre, parking for 2,200 cars, a service station, specialty shops, a bank, banquet and convention facilities, four-and-a-half acre landscaped plaza, and of course the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge with its restaurants, lounge, and health club.

While company executives and planners recognized the need for high-rise in-city lodging facilities akin to hotels (and later at airports), they failed to see the need to create a proper niche for the new breed of upscale HoJo's. Instead of differentiating their new properties like Chatham Center as hotels, they insisted that they were Motor Lodges primarily designed to serve motorists. At one point, a faction in management suggested that a new brand be created for these "hotels," and proposed calling them Red Coach Motor Hotels. Hind sight really is 20/20, for it would have been brilliant!


Above: The newly developed Chatham Center complex, near Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle, will be the site of the company's biggest (408-room) motor lodge. Architect's sketch shows the open plaza, 8-floor office building and our 9-floor motor lodge beside a 19-story apartment house. Howard Johnson's will have its motor lodge lobby, a 187-seat restaurant and a 370-seat Red Coach Grill on the first-floor plaza level.
Right: Time out ... Red Coach Executive Chef Perry DeFelice (center) joins Pittsburgh Banquet Chef Ronald Schmitter and Executive Chef Steve Shandor to admire ice-sculptured centerpiece on buffet table.
Howard Johnson's Landmark: November 1966
Above: The warm charm of early America ... Red Coach uses genuine antiques, old wooden ceiling beams, plaid carpet and brick to carry out Colonial decor which is as much their trademark as the superb, hearty food that is served.

At its height, the complex boasted a traditional Restaurant, a Red Coach Grill and a cocktail lounge. The complex opened in the summer of 1966 with a gala celebration. Both the Motor Lodge and Red Coach Grill ceased being HoJo's brands in about 1976 while the Restaurant kept its name into 1977 before being closed.

Left: Take home your favorites ... Resale area carries out the decor of nearby fountain ... vinyl-covered panels in Bristol blue, chartreuse trim and walnut frames. Outstanding innovation here, the upright freezer, is under study for use in roadside restaurants.
Above: Excellence reaches new heights ... Stunning dining room interior features many firsts. Black and brass overhead lighting fixtures and stately, sophisticated chairs are entirely new designs. Imported mexican hacienda wall panels in walnut add a spacious feeling; beige and off-white draperies add elegance. Upholstered chairs are black pearl; paprika is the new shade selected for the banquettes; brick wall is white.


Nonstandard in nearly every way, Chatham Center was nonetheless a Howard Johnson's. Unique among HoJo's Motor Lodges, the 11-floor 413 room hotel was located on the top floors of its 20-story building. The interior was designed by Ellen Lehman McCluskey who put her stamp of individuality on the site. The design, furnishings and accessories were all meant to reference the English colonial spirit of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Ms. McClusky used 4 different guest room schemes with no two alike rooms adjoining. Mahogany-looking stain resistant furniture was used in all of the guest rooms.

The Restaurant was also beyond the norm. Described as featuring unusual decor and design, its plan was a deviation from the standard roadside restaurants of the day and was said to be more sophisticated in order to appeal to the urban diners that it was intended to attract.


Below: Study in contrasts ... Older buildings across the plaza are reflected in the streamlined modern exterior of our restaurant. Ivory fiberglass drapes screen the fountain.

Above: Imposing facade ... Exterior of the modern building contrasts black aluminum facing on the first nine floors with pearl gray brick for the motor lodge floors on the upper level.

After a stint as a Hyatt, the site had been converted into the Marriott Pittsburgh City Center Hotel. Offering only 402 rooms, each featured pillowtop beds and duvets, as well as large well lit desks with ergonomic chairs and free wi-fi. The site also featured a top rated restaurant called Steelhead Brasserie.
Brochure circa 1980s: Dan Donahue