PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation is teaming up with a maker of hand-hammered giftware to turn part of the steel roof from the hockey club's former arena into Christmas tree ornaments.
Wendell August Forge is making at least 6,000 of the ornaments that feature images of the iconic, igloo-shaped Civic Arena. One design includes the city skyline, while another features the Penguins logo. Each sells for $29, with proceeds benefiting youth charities supported by the foundation.
Wendell August Forge, based near Grove City, purchased part of the 170,000-square-foot roof and is cleaning and cutting the thin sheet metal into pieces that artisans will bang into ornaments, said company president Will Knecht (pronounced "connect").
"As you can imagine, with 50 years of grime, it's as much work getting the panels cleaned and prepared as it is making the ornaments," Knecht said. "But it's worth it. The stainless steel polishes up so beautifully."
The Penguins now play in Consol Energy Center, across the street from the Civic Arena that opened in 1961 and is being razed.
The team has taken some heat from historic preservationists who failed in lawsuits to save the arena's retractable roof, which was an engineering marvel at the time. Those groups had hoped to force the Penguins, who have redevelopment rights to the site, to re-purpose the building and keep the roof intact.
In the meantime, this latest Penguins order is also helping Wendell August Forge recover from a devastating fire last year.
Since moving from Brockway to Grove City in 1932, 88-year-old Wendell August Forge has become a western Pennsylvania fixture and minor tourist attraction. Visitors watch as artisans hammer thin sheets of metal onto steel dies, eventually fashioning the material into everything from ornaments to light switch covers and bread trays.
All that nearly vanished when a fire on March 6, 2010, caused more than $8 million damage, threatening a business which then had 65 employees and annual revenues of $6 million.
The company immediately moved into temporary space at an industrial park and managed to survive, in large part, because the Penguins and other customers remained loyal.
Two days before the fire, the Penguins had ordered 25,000 metal replica tickets commemorating the team's last game at the Civic Arena on April 8, 2010. Rather than finding another vendor, the Penguins let Wendell August fill that order and a similar order for metal tickets commemorating the team's first Consol Energy Center game later that year.
Wendell August Forge has since grown to employ more than 120 people, and is exploring whether to build a new facility near the Grove City Premium Outlets mall along Interstate 79.
"We have partnered on other projects with them throughout the years," said team spokesman Tom McMillan, who expects the relationship will continue.
Knecht said the company plans to make other items he can't yet disclose from the roofing metal for the Penguins Foundation and Trib Total Media Inc., publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and a sponsor of the team.
Wendell August Forge could probably sell 50,000 of the Penguins ornaments, Knecht said. But he said the company is taking the time "to do it our way, old-fashioned, hand-hammering them."
"It's not something we're going to rush," said Knecht. "We're not going to change how we do things."