Moving into the Strip District? Pittsburgh’s Spare Room in the Heart of Robotics Row

Pittsburgh’s Strip District is well known for its thriving markets and restaurants, and recent years have propelled it in new directions. Thanks to injections from companies like Apple and Uber, the District is undergoing a renaissance between 11th and 51st Street, a stretch known as Robotics Row. With the development has come luxury apartments, new businesses—and a large influx of new homeowners.

Without a doubt, the Strip District is in the midst of a transition. Within a few more years, many of the old or empty buildings along Liberty may soon be renovated into hi-tech offices for Fortune 500 companies.

But with any sort of economic transition comes a life change for the people behind it. Whether they’re moving into the neighborhood, moving out of the neighborhood, celebrating a new life, or bidding farewell to an old one, the people fording new ground need a place to store their extra belongings.

Enter Pittsburgh-based Guardian Storage. Over the last few decades, Guardian Storage has seen customers through life’s wildest roller coaster rides. When it built its Strip District location in 2009, it was in preparation for this very moment; Guardian Storage is primed to help individuals and companies move into the Strip District’s flourishing community.

Thanks to dozens of units in the heart of a major metropolitan location, there’s no telling what you’ll come across in Guardian’s Strip District property. The location has housed everything from a genuine, ancient Egyptian sarcophagus to one of the world’s largest bottle cap collections to the Pittsburgh Light Up Night Christmas tree.

There’s a good reason so many interesting artifacts find themselves behind Guardian Storage’s secure walls: The company is dedicated to guiding customers through some of life’s biggest upheavals. Whether a customer is going through a divorce, a marriage, a death, or a move, they need a clean, secure location to store their treasured belongings.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Human Connections in Unlikely Places

Life-changing transitions never come when we’re ready, so how do you protect the valuables—and the memories attached to them—that you’ll pass along to future generations? One woman recently stopped at Guardian Storage with a beautiful, antique wooden dining table.  Though a passerby might see it as a simple piece of furniture, this particular table was the only remaining belonging of her grandmother, who sailed 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on a two-week journey to the United States as a first-generation immigrant from Italy. After her grandmother died, the table was passed along to her mother. But when her mother passed, it came to her. She wasn’t sure what to do with a table that she didn’t have space for, but also held so many memories of her childhood. Though there were many friends and family members with space in their attics and basements, that wasn’t the sort of environment she wanted to place a priceless family heirloom. After all, she wanted to one day pass it down to her own daughter in the same condition she received it. When she found out about Guardian Storage and its high-quality facilities, she was relieved. “I didn’t trust anyone else with this,” she told Guardian Storage.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have cried on my shoulder,” says Brittany Wetzel, the Property Manager in the Strip District. “We are always aware that a customer is likely dealing with a struggle of some kind, so we take the time to provide that extra support. We want to make sure that at least this part of their journey is as easy as possible.” Marketing Manager Candice Puzak compares Guardian Storage to a New York City apartment building with a concierge instead of a keypad. “As soon as you enter the building, you’re greeted by a friendly, familiar face keeping an eye on the property and assisting you in a variety of ways.”

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Guardian’s commitment to the customer experience is no accident. Owner Steven Cohen insisted on creating a calming, stable environment for people going through difficult transitions when he opened his first facility more than 30 years ago. In the late 1980s, when the majority of self-storage operations focused solely on revenues—often to the detriment of security and customer service—Cohen realized people who use storage were doing so during a major life change. Realizing this unmet need became Guardian’s goal: to provide self-storage locations that invest in caring, professional individuals and safe, clean properties. From day one, Cohen has insisted upon the highest-quality building materials and hiring only the most capable, professional staff members.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Primed for Growth: Transitioning with Businesses

Thanks to its abundant storage and wide array of business services (like complimentary conference rooms and free use of their moving truck), Guardian Storage is a terrific partner for businesses of all sizes. In fact, entire businesses have run out of rented units at Guardian Storage. But it’s not just the units that make a difference. After renting a space, customers have immediate access to a moving truck, free WiFi, a conference room, and a front desk manager who will accept packages—all complementary. It’s a collection of perks many take advantage of.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Nonprofit organization SisterFriend is one of many such groups. Founded to provide feminine hygiene products to the homeless, founder Tamara Whiting originally stored all the supplies in her dining room. It wasn’t long before the donations engulfed the table and eventually the entire room. That’s when Whiting and SisterFriend moved the supplies to Guardian Storage. The additional space has liberated SisterFriend to focus on operations instead of jamming donations into someone’s house.

Though headquartered in Salt Lake City, premium cold-weather gear provider KÜHL Clothing uses Guardian Storage’s Superior, CO location to house much of its merchandise. Once or twice a year, KÜHL, “takes over” the office space, reserving the conference room and transforming the lobby into a runway to model its latest products to potential retailers. With its centrally located properties, using Guardian Storage as both storage and showroom has been the perfect cost-efficient solution for KÜHL.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Guardian Storage is even there for sole proprietors. At one Guardian Storage location, a professional video game player relies on the space afforded in a unit to test and review the latest releases. Thanks to Guardian Storage’s flexible unit options, he’ll be able to expand into additional, bigger units as his business grows.   

Whenever square footage is a need, Guardian Storage provides a solution.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Trees from the American Revolution: Experiencing History

Guardian and Desmone’s redesign was leaps and bounds beyond what the building once was. To walk through the building today is to travel through history. Since the building was constructed in 1904, there are intriguing features you no longer see from when the building was a mattress wholesaler. Though the building’s age presented numerous hurdles for Desmone Architects, Cohen was determined to restore the building to its original charm.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

The wooden support beams you’ll see throughout the building are from the original build, and many are too big to wrap your arms around. They’re essentially entire trees, making the building a sort of forest from an era long past. Based on their size alone, some experts estimate the trees used to make the beams were already 100 years old when the building was originally constructed. This means that the beams could potentially date back to the American Revolution!

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Just as impressive are the enormous cast-iron braces that were custom designed to support both the beams and the building’s massive weight. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but the beams and braces were once coated in layers and layers of paint when Guardian Storage contacted Desmone Architects to renovate the building. All surfaces needed to be sandblasted to reclaim their former (and current) glory.

The windows are another unique feature of the Strip District location. Cohen insisted on maintaining the building’s original beauty, so instead of bricking up the windows—as you’d expect from a typical storage facility—Desmone replaced the outdated windows with double-paned, insulated glass to allow more light into the front office and the hallways. This required a large financial investment from Cohen coupled with some ingenuity on Desmone’s part. Because the original windows weren’t a standard size, each replacement had to be carefully measured, documented, and custom made.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Farther down the halls, you’ll find massive retrofitted steel doors leading to each staircase. While they’ve been modified to meet today’s fire-code regulations, they still retain the original weights suspended by chains to make them easier to open. Just as charming: Cohen decided to keep an enormous built-in safe installed long ago by the building’s original tenant. Look closely, and you’ll notice the safe was built at a time when it was acceptable to spell “Pittsburgh” without the “H.” These are just two more ways Desmone and Guardian are bridging the gap between the old and the new.

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Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

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Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs


Guardian’s Vision: Embracing the Customer

When you step into Pittsburgh-based Guardian Storage’s front office in the Strip District for the first time, you might think you’re in the wrong building. There’s no shockingly white commercial floors or harsh fluorescent lights. Instead, you’re greeted with natural lighting from enormous windows, an expansive desk hosted by a friendly face, plenty of space to move around, and a drink bar where you can enjoy coffee and tea. All of it is surprisingly modern for a building that’s more than 100 years old. Despite its age, Guardian Storage readily addresses all concerns a customer might have.


One of the first things you’ll notice in the lobby is the security. Behind the front desk sits numerous screens maintaining constant surveillance on all angles of the building—including each hallway and elevator. With this kind of coverage, you need not worry about your belongings being stolen or damaged.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs


“I can’t believe the condition of my belongings! There’s no dust on any of my things!” It’s something Guardian Storage employees hear all the time from thankful customers. But how is it possible? The company keeps maintenance staff on hand to regularly clean the buildings from top to bottom. Combined with a state-of-the-art HVAC system, Guardian Storage isn’t your run-of-the-mill storage facility. Topping it off is the company’s strict rules for storage. Certain items that could create problems, like fire-damaged goods, aren’t allowed in.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Attention to Detail

Before a Guardian Storage facility opens to the public, there’s an important final step: The store manager and maintenance manager walk through the entire facility with a notepad and a tape measure. Together, they measure each and every unit to ensure all customers receive what they pay for, down to the inch.

That step is crucial, because it double-checks work that’s been in progress for a long time. Designing a storage facility is a constant game of give and take—creating the right balance of hallways wide enough to accommodate carts (especially around turns and elevators,) and enough of the right unit types and sizes needed to meet local needs.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Part of a Bigger Transition

It would have been much easier for Guardian Storage and Desmone Architects to take the old building and stuff it top to bottom with storage units. After all, cheaper building costs and more storage space would translate to higher profits. Instead of preserving the building’s history and charm, Guardian Storage could have optimized to squeeze every single penny out of the space.

But that’s not Steven Cohen’s style. Guardian Storage has always been about what’s best for the customer in transition, providing convenient, complimentary services to simplify life and business. It’s this customer-centric focus that has afforded Guardian Storage so many years of success, and it’s this same focus that will propel the Strip District property forward as the neighborhood continues its exciting transformation into a hi-tech hub.

Photo Credit: Abby Spriggs

Want to learn more about Guardian Storage and its wide range of services? Visit their website for a full picture:

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Curious about how Desmone brings other local visions to life? See how Desmone is transforming Pittsburgh touchstones like the old Kaufmann’s building or the Arcade Comedy Theater.

Curious about how Desmone Architects can balance your business objectives and desires to deliver your ultimate vision? Contact us to discuss your goals, or look through a few of our past projects to see our capabilities. Stay tuned for our future blog posts to see how we’re changing the Pittsburgh skyline every day.