Caste Village Through the Years
The “Village” Concept
The concept for an indoor-outdoor shopping “mall” to serve post-war families buying homes in suburban developments came from our founder, Felix Caste, who was the primary developer and builder of thousands of homes and apartments in Whitehall and surrounding communities from 1932 through 1992.
In planning the shopping center, Mr. Caste sought to recreate the village market in his native Italian town where residents came together for dining, shopping and socialization. The idea was to provide basic family needs in a comfortable and attractive setting that encourages people to mingle.
While the name “Caste Village” is posted on the main entrance sign, most locals said “meet me at The Village” when making plans to go to the shopping center. The village concept carried over to recruiting tenants who were customer-service oriented long before that expression became part of our popular culture. Mr. Caste was at “The Village” every day, talking to merchants and customers to make sure this facility accomplished his goals.
Caste Village has always been a trend-setter — from its original plan to replicate the founder’s village market, to its expansion to meet the basic needs of suburban families, to its current position as a regional destination for shopping, dining and services.
Opening in 1951 with extensive media coverage, Caste Village was one of the first “shopping malls” in this region, and its unique role in creating a comprehensive “planned” suburban community is chronicled in the archives of Carnegie-Mellon University’s School of Architecture.
Family-Owned and Community-Based
Caste Village has grown and changed to meet the needs and expectations of its customers, but one thing has not changed – family ownership and community commitment. Caste Village is a family business and the current owners either live in or have close ties to the local community.
Caste Village provides a “home base” for local residents and is the site of many community celebrations. We host traditional events that bring neighbors together like our fireworks displays (July 4th and Holiday Light-Up Night), Family Movie Nights and Halloween Spooktacular treats for children. Other community activities at Caste Village include the Sunday afternoon Car Cruise, Whitehall Farmers Market, and Dance Workshop performances.
Caste Village supports many local charities. We provide a home for Project Linus, a charitable organization whose volunteers handcraft cozy blankets and distribute them to abused and sick children. We also donate our facilities and resources to help charitable events such as the Whitehall Library Craft Fair, Breast Cancer Research dinner, the Autism Society fundraiser, MS Fun Walk, and Relay for Life.
Recently, we donated used bowling equipment and furnishings to the nonprofit Kentucky Mountain Mission Recreation Center which serves clients with physical and emotional disabilities.
Convenient and Accessible
Caste Village has an open storefront concept, making it easy find convenient parking and to get around. PAT buses stop at our main entrance and nearby senior living facilities provide shuttle bus service for residents.
The indoor “Commons” area provides a comfortable place to sit and chat with neighbors, read the newspaper and catch up on television news and sports – while just a few steps from casual eateries and a coffee bar.
Ready for the Future
The owners of Caste Village make significant investments to maintain, upgrade and enhance the physical plant, basic infrastructure and utilities. Planned improvements include: new signage and store identification, painting and re-pointing the brick façade, paving the parking lot, and landscaping the Commons patio. And, we are working with the Borough on improvements in drainage systems and storm water management.
BUILDER INNOVATOR HUMANIATIAN
The life story of Felix Caste is similar to that of many Italian immigrants who came to America seeking opportunity for a better life.
Felice Castagna was born in 1899 and raised in the rural Italian village of Frosolone in Campagnia Province. As a young boy, he helped his family raise livestock and manage the garden. In 1914, at age 15, Felix and his brother Antonio left Italy for America where he was given his American name, Felix Caste.
Felix and Tony spent some time in upstate New York and eventually settled in Pittsburgh’s South Side, where they learned to speak English and honed their skills in carpentry and masonry by building prefabricated “kit” homes sold by Sears & Roebuck.
In 1922, Felix and Tony used the profits from the kit houses to purchase land in an area outside Pittsburgh that would become known as Mt. Lebanon. During that decade, he and Tony began building their trademark stone houses, including two “twin” houses for their growing families. Despite the Great Depression sweeping across America, Caste homes were in high demand because of their craftsmanship.
Through hard work, thrift, shrewd decisions, creativity and some luck, the business thrived. In 1933, Felix and Tony formed the company called “Caste Brothers” and built some of the most prestigious and beautiful homes in Mt. Lebanon and Virginia Manor.
Felix was known for his keen instincts and ability to see what could be rather than what is. In the mid-1940s, Felix purchased a large tract of land in an area that would become Whitehall Borough. Development of this property became the hallmark of Caste vision and foresight. Caste Brothers built thousands of new homes around Whitehall, targeting young GI families settling down after the War.
Mr. Caste knew these families would need access to churches, schools, parks, and stores, and he decided to create a “shopping center” that replicated the village market of his Italian town where people came together for provisions, dining and fellowship. His vision led to construction of one of the first outdoor shopping malls in Western Pennsylvania, known as “Caste Village.”
Caste Village started with 12 merchants – including a gas station, small grocery store, shoe store, hardware store, beauty salon, florist/gift shop, and bakery. The grand opening was heralded as a regional milestone in local newspapers. Mr. Caste donated parcels of land around the shopping center so the growing community could build churches, schools, a fire station and a community park. He was truly one of the “founding fathers’ of Whitehall Borough.
One of his proudest accomplishments was bringing bowling to the South Hills. Starting with Village Lanes in 1954 and culminating with Princess Lanes in 1974, Caste Village became a popular destination for local bowlers and families seeking recreation. Princess Lanes hosted professional bowling tournaments and was the site of a popular television show. Felix Caste was a regular visitor and enjoyed competing with the neighborhood bowlers.
Felix Caste’s family became involved in his business: one son was the architect and designer of most Caste projects; his other son managed the shopping center and other ventures; his daughters and sons-in-law were involved in several development projects; and two grandsons worked in development and management. Mr. Caste’s grandchildren are the owners and managers of the Caste Companies today.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Caste Companies built a professional office building and the first luxury rental apartments in the South Hills, as well as a nursing home. At the end of his active career, Felix Caste started the “planned” residential community of Steeplechase not far from Caste Village.
Mr. Caste was known for his unpretentious manner, sense of humor and constant activity. One of his favorite expressions was “Non state fermi” which translates as “Don’t sit still.” He visited the shopping center, apartments and construction sites every day, and was often seen climbing into a bulldozer in work clothes and boots. In addition to bowling, he enjoyed baseball, boating and wrestling.
Felix Caste loved to meet people and learn about their experiences, dreams and struggles. He traveled extensively and could start a conversation with anyone. He had many lifelong friends and colleagues, and was actively involved in civic and charitable activities — including Knights of Columbus, Kiwanas, Lions Club, Homebuilders Association, B-W Chamber of Commerce, Whitehall Council, St. Anne and St. Gabriel Churches, and established a scholarship fund to help young people in Italy.
While he valued success and productivity, family and community came first for Felix Caste. He worked every day, but always made time for his 16 grandchildren and their friends. He believed the keys to a good life were family, nice home, good job and being involved with others – and he built communities where residents could achieve these goals.
Felix Caste succeeded because of talent, vision, hard work, and willingness to try something new. He was a quiet motivator who encouraged others to use their talents and resources to create places where people can live, work and thrive. The communities that he built six decades ago remain viable today and remind us of his contributions as a builder, innovator and humanitarian.