Senior Class to restore Rea Coffeehouse


Photo Courtesy of Chatham Archives

The Rea Coffeehouse will no longer be a location reserved for the occasional Glo-Dance or rave. As their senior gift, the class of 2014 will restore the coffeehouse to its former glory.

When the Rea Coffeehouse opened its doors in 1967, it had a piano, a jukebox, vending machines and was furnished to look like an English pub. Before long, the coffeehouse was attracting students from neighboring universities, and local bands and performers graced the small stage on a regular basis.

Today, the coffeehouse sits mostly dark and empty, and students rarely have access to it. “In the last five years that I’ve been here, we’ve used it on and off probably once or twice a semester to host events…but the space hasn’t been kept up as it should have cleaning wise, so there’s a lot of debris down there, dust and some of the old furniture that needs to be removed,” said Ruben Henao, associate director of student affairs and a member of the Senior Gift Committee.

The push to restore the coffeehouse comes after increased demand from students and alumnae that the space be reopened. So far, facilities has checked all units to make sure it will be safe for future use.

The Senior Gift Committee has also planned a clean up day for March 1 where faculty, facilities and students will work together to clear the space.

Once restored, the coffeehouse will feature three sections. The room near the main entrance will be set up like a coffee bar station with tables and seating for students. Though it has not yet been finalized, the committee has discussed installing a juice bar. Events and shows will be held in the next room over containing the stage, and the last section of the coffeehouse will be furnished with tables to resemble more of a study area.

Photo Courtesy of Chatham Archives
Photo Courtesy of Chatham Archives

The walls of graffiti will be cleaned with a gentle cleaner to avoid erasing decades of history, much to the relief of Emily Stimmel, a Chatham alumna from the class of 2003 who has advocated for reopening the coffeehouse in the past.

When Stimmel was a student, the coffeehouse was very active, and she was on the committee for planning its events. After graduation, she founded the “Rea Coffeehouse House History Project” Facebook page and began researching the history of the coffeehouse.

She, along with two other alumnae, visited the Chatham archives and combed through yearbooks and old issues of the student newspaper to piece together a history of the coffeehouse. Much of the information, flyers and photographs they found are posted on the Facebook page.

One of the most exciting discoveries Stimmel made was that Pittsburgh’s first punk show was played in Rea Coffeehouse. John Shanley and his band, the Shut-Ins, had managed to book a gig at the coffeehouse. As they played, the crowd grew so wild, the police shut down the show.

“When you think of punk as such an iconic movement and a well-known phase in music and in Pittsburgh there’s so many other venues that we had at the time where it could have launched, and it was at Rea Coffeehouse,” said Stimmel.

Stimmel also made the shocking discovery that in 1972, the Coffeehouse hosted Chuck Berry during a 50s themed weekend. Chuck Berry was a famous musician and considered one of the pioneers of rock and roll.

Considering its rich history, there are many people rooting for the coffeehouse’s restoration. If all of the work is finished in time, the Senior Toast will be held in the coffeehouse and Alumni Relations is hoping to host a reunion event in there.

“When you have such a cool, unique space, it’s silly not to utilize it,” said Caiden Fratangelo, senior class president and a member of the senior committee. “There’s so much history that Rea Coffeehouse has, but by opening it up again, we’re adding to that history for generations to look back on.”