We are always fascinated with the seemingly never ending network of Department of Defense-related infrastructure that speckles the United States and especially those installations that are deemed surplus and auctioned off to citizens and corporations at a tiny fraction of their original construction cost. Even overseas, relatively pristine Cold War relics are still being sold off for pennies on the dollar. But regardless of price, it requires a lot of creativity and vision to turn something meant to fight World War III into something personally or commercially useful and attractive. Grist House Craft Brewery of Millvale, Pennsylvania seems to have the creative drive and a plan in place to do just this, deciding to open up their second location in a 70 year old Nike missile command center.
Bob Batz of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that in just over four years, the Grist House team has outgrown their first location and has made the abandoned Nike Missile Master Direction Center their next location. The site is in Collier Township, Pennsylvania at one of the highest points in surrounding Allegheny County. It was home to U.S. Army Nike Ajax and Hercules surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery in the 1950s and 1960s. It's worth noting that the Nike Hercules missile system could be armed with a nuclear warheads.
A number of radar systems have come and gone from the summit since its inception as well. Originally, the radar data from the Nike site was shared with the FAA and the USAF's SAGE network. Today an FAA radar still sits at the center of the site surrounded by the once cluttered sensor and weapons platforms. This part of the site will remain in FAA hands.
The Nike installation had the unique role defending nearby Pittsburgh, a cradle of American industry at the time, from Soviet bombardment if World War III had come. So we aren't talking about a building designed for normal applications, but a large bunker structure that was built to fight during a nuclear conflict. The Missile Master Direction Center was the nerve center for the Pittsburgh Defense Area, which included about two dozen missile launch sites scattered around the city and its outlying suburbs.
The Missile Master Direction Center that will become Grist House Brewery is made up of extremely thick concrete walls that encase a whopping 55,000 square feet. The main floor will become a production center for the brewery. Two basement sub-levels, include a room that was copper-lined to protect mainframe computers from electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) produced by nuclear detonations, will work as a giant barrel aging facility, taproom, and retail store. The destination brewery will include a large deck to take advantage of the views at the elevated locale as well as a dog park and other outdoor areas for people to enjoy the one-of-a-kind site. It's not clear if the brewery will retain the helipad or not, but helicopter wine tours are becoming increasingly popular in some areas of the country.
The facility was originally auctioned off in 2014 by the General Services Administration as part of a set of parcels that make up the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility that was still used by the Army Reserves up until around 2009, although it worked mainly as a storage and office site at the time.
The facility harkens back to a time when many locales in the United States were blanketed with an integrated air defense system supported by alert fighters and throngs of surface-to-air missiles. Those missiles and the infrastructure that supported them was absurdly advanced for their time, but eerily simple by today's standards. Presently, only Washington, D.C. is ringed by radar-guided surface-to-air missiles, a largely unknown reality that you can read more about in this past feature of mine.
So there you have it, another Cold War infrastructure relic that is really a diamond in the rough for the right user. We often hear of sites being sold off that are in remote locations, like missile silos or lighthouses, but this example goes to show you that there are still some gems to be had that are close to relatively urban areas. And what a draw they can be. There are breweries in most larger communities these days, but what brewery can allow prospective patrons to visit a Cold War command bunker atop a vista with breathtaking views?
Good luck to the guys and gals at Grist House Brewing! Thanks for keeping a piece of our military history alive. Hopefully we can make it out there one day to have a cold one!
And with that in mind, can we suggest a special lager called the Grist House Cold Warrior that is exclusive to your new location? I think it would really blast off and knock 'em out of the sky!
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com