special effects, sfx makeup, custom props, costume fabrication


Preserving History: The Beechview Lanterns

Artist Scott Connor stands beside a large wreath wound in red ribbon with a white lantern hanging from its center. The garland wreath is nearly as tall as Scott it, and both stand against a multi-colored garage bay door in the Tolin FX studio.

Dost thou know Beechview?

Mmmm – perhaps not. There are lifelong Pittsburghers who, when Beechview is mentioned, will look quizzically into the distance, squint in the general direction of Dormont and say, “Where’s that again?”

But if you have ever ridden the T on the Red Line running from the South Hills into downtown Pittsburgh, and now onto the North Shore where the stadiums stand, you have traveled right through the heart of this little borough where Tolin FX has set up shop. In fact our building is right on the trolley line, on the corner of Coast and Broadway. Wave if you go by!

Earlier this year, Tolin FX was approached by members of the Beechview Merchants Association about a special project. Each holiday season volunteers decorate the business district with large white lanterns encircled by wreaths. Maybe this particular blogger is biased, being a Beechviewer for nearly the past 20 years, but the Beechview Lanterns are some of the most beautiful decorations in the city. Each wreath is about 4 feet in diameter, and the lanterns are lit inside by bulbs, giving Broadway Ave. a spectacular holiday look with an old-fashioned feel.

Pete Wagner of the famous local eatery The Huddle is the man with the plan when it comes to Christmas decor. He and Steve worked together to come up with a way to rehabilitate the lanterns and give them the loving attention they deserve. Part of the charm of these decorations is their vintage quality. They were acquired in the mid-eighties, over 30 years ago, and they are certainly due for some routine maintenance.

Scott Connor is the lead artist in charge of the lantern project. Each one has sustained some wear and tear, and some staining, which is to be expected of decorations hanging outdoors through multiple Pittsburgh winters. According to Scott there are a total of 40 lanterns to be updated.

“It’s cool to be a part of preserving history,” he says of the project. He likened it to the work he and the Tolin FX team did on the Netflix series Mindhunter.

“We refurbished the seats of an actual airplane from the time period of the show. It’s great to be a part of the preservation process.” To get the lanterns back in shape, he uses a combination of bondo and plaster resin to patch any holes or rough spots. Once the patching is complete, Scott sands the pieces down with a Dremel and sand paper. The lanterns are then taken to the paint booth to be (you guessed it) painted. The last stage of the process will be rewiring them and possible fitting them with LED lights to replace the old bulbs. You can see some process shots below!

At Tolin FX we love to serve our community and we’re proud to be a part of preserving local history. This holiday season swing by Beechview to check out the completed lanterns. Stop in and say hi, or grab a bite at The Huddle. We’d love to see you!

A white lantern hangs amid studio items in the Tolin FX shop.

Recently patched and painted lantern hanging to dry

The artist Scott Connor sits at a table of white lanterns which he is busy sanding and patching to refurbish.

Artist Scott Connor sands a patched lantern.

A table full of white lanterns with various spots and stains awaits sanding and painting.

Before: Lanterns waiting to be refurbished.

A lantern wreath hung on a telephone pole shines against the night sky of Beechview.

Beechview Lanterns from holidays past / Credit: Katie Blackley