Revolving doors

Revolving doors are efficient, fun and possess a certain charm – but few remain in Washington County

February 2, 2013
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
The revolving door at WesBanco on South Main Street and East Beau Street in Washington is one of two still used at businesses in Washington. Order a Print
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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
Jim Main of West Alexander on Wednesday exits Salatino’s River House Cafe in Charleroi, one of the few businesses in the area that still have revolving doors. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
The revolving door at the Observer-Reporter newspaper on South Main Street in Washington is one of two left in town. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
The revolving door at the Observer-Reporter newspaper on South Main Street in Washington is one of two left in town. Order a Print

Salatino’s River House Cafe in Charleroi gets plenty of notice for its steak burgers and craft beers.

But it also has heads spinning over one of its most unique features: a revolving door.

“It’s become almost our trademark. People associate us with our revolving door,” said Lori Coury, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Michael Coury.

At the few Washington County buildings where revolving doors serve as a main entrance – the Washington Observer-Reporter and WesBanco at the Washington Trust Building are the others – visitors often comment on their charm.

Recently, a woman visiting from the state of California asked O-R receptionist Patty Thompson for permission to take photos of the revolving door and the interior of the newspaper building.

“People love it. They mention it all the time when they come inside. They’re so impressed with the front of this building,” said Thompson.

But the revolving door, invented in 1888 by Theophilus van Kannel of Philadelphia, is also remarkably energy efficient and helps reduce our carbon footprint.

In 2006, a team of graduate students at MIT conducted an analysis of the swinging and revolving doors in one campus building and found that the swinging door allowed as much as eight times more air to pass through the building than the revolving door. According to the MIT team, the college would save almost $7,500 in natural gas a year – enough to heat five houses over the same time frame – if everyone used the revolving doors.

There’s more: The revolving door would save the equivalent of nearly 15 tons of carbon dioxide.

Revolving doors consist of three or four doors, called wings or leaves, that are spaced an equal distance from each other around a central shaft. They rotate in a circle inside of a cylinder, so the door always remains sealed.

Notes Steve Lowe, a controller at International Revolving Door Co. in Indiana – which installed the revolving door at Salatino’s decades ago, when it was the upscale Miller Department Store – the company motto is “Always open, always closed” for a reason.

“Revolving doors don’t allow a great amount of air to come in or to escape. When you leave or enter a building through a swinging door, there’s a lot of heat lost during the winter and a lot of cold air lost during the summer,” said Lowe, whose company bought Van Kannel’s Revolving Door Company in 1907 and has installed revolving doors from Detroit to Dubai.

Lowe touts other advantages of revolving doors, including improved pedetrian traffic flow, no slamming doors and increased security options.

Revolving doors, too, are a matter of style.

“It’s like driving a Cadillac instead of a sedan,” said Lowe. “It’s a status symbol and practical at the same time.”

Coury said when she and her husband renovated the restaurant in 2007, the architect planned to take the revolving door out of the building because it wasn’t handicapped accessible. The Courys refused, adding a swinging door instead.

“I said to the architect, ‘This door is staying,” said Coury. “It wouldn’t be the same without the door.”

Salatino’s revolving door has caught the eye of a movie production company, which recently shot footage of the glass door and the restaurant’s interior for the opening scene of a motion picture.

Soon, visitors to Salatino’s can purchase T-shirts with a picture of the revolving door on the front and an Albert Camus quote on the back that says, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.”

“We love our revolving door,” said Coury.

WesBanco and its brass revolving door are located in the historic Trust Building, which was built in 1902 and based on a design by architect Frederick Osterling, who designed the nationally registered Washington County Courthouse and Henry Clay Frick’s Point Breeze mansion, according to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The revolving door is a source of conversation for customers and for former Washington County residents who return home for holidays and vacations, according to WesBanco manager Vicki Pinkney.

“I have people who sit at my desk and tell me that they used to play in the revolving door when they came in with their parents when they were little,” said Pinkney.

Observer-Reporter publisher Tom Northrop said the company replaced its revolving door 15 years ago – the original wood door was rotting – with a wood and brass revolver after considering installing swinging doors. The door and installation cost $16,500, but Northrop believes the price tag was worth it.

“We liked it aesthetically,” said Northrop, who also pointed out that customers rarely fail to enjoy the revolving door.

“Just the other day, a woman and her husband stepped into the door together and as soon as they started moving, they realized two people shouldn’t be in there. They kept laughing and taking tiny steps, like Tim Conway when he played the old man on the ‘Carol Burnett Show’.”

Which raises the question of revolving door etiquette: Who enters first?

According to Barbara Neeld, a concierge at Omni William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh, traditionally, the man enters first so that he can start the door spinning.

“I would want the man to go through first because he could control the speed of the door,” said Neeld.

She’s right, according to Sue Fox, author of “Etiquette for Dummies,” with one caveat: a man would let the woman enter first if the door is already spinning, then enter the section behind her and push to keep the door moving.

“It’s funny,” said Lowe. “Revolving doors serve a higher purpose. But they’re a lot of fun.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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