A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of photographing Jennifer and Jon’s wedding at the Heinz History Center on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. As I’d been a guest at a party at the History Center years ago, I knew that it was just the kind of venue I love: unique and nontraditional.
And it did not disappoint. Rather, it exceeded my expectations in every way. I was so impressed that not only are the History Center’s physical premises excellent, but the service is exceptional. Too often I have seen details overlooked, and customer satisfaction undervalued. Not so here. And that was all the more impressive considering the tough schedule the staff had the day of Jennifer and Jon’s wedding. You see, earlier in the day, there had been a fair in the Great Hall. So at the very end of business hours, the History Center staff had to quickly remove all of the tables, chairs and other items associated with the fair, and quickly set up chairs for Jennifer and Jon’s wedding ceremony, which was held in the Great Hall.
Then, after the ceremony, they had to remove all of the ceremony chairs, and re-set the Great Hall for Jennifer and Jon’s wedding. This meant bringing in all of the dining tables, setting up the chairs, and setting up tables for three serving stations. Plus bars, gift table, cookie tables and clearing out space for the band. All in less than an hour!
Jennifer and Jon’s guests were upstairs enjoying their cocktail hour in the Campbell Gallery while this transition took place.
They made it look easy. Below, you can see that the room is nearly set, and with time to spare!
I give a lot of credit to event coordinator Lori McElhatton, who oversaw everything. Lori works closely with brides and grooms planning their weddings at the History Center. I immediately noticed that while Lori is employed by the History Center, she also looks out for what brides and grooms want, and does whatever she can to see that they have the celebration of their dreams.
I asked Lori to answer a few questions about weddings at the History Center.
Christina: The Heinz History Center is not your typical wedding venue, and offers a myriad of different rooms for brides and grooms to choose from. Can you offer some guidance on how to help them choose which part of the Center to use?
Lori McElhatton: Many factors enter into determining which room is most suitable for each couple. Main point being amount of guests so they are all comfortable. Then whichever the bride and groom prefer, for example the Mueller Center which is bright and cheerful with a deck or the Great Hall which reflects History with the exhibits in view.
CM: Indeed… it’s not often that there is a Conestoga wagon and classic car in the background of a table at a wedding reception!
CM: Do you have a favorite part of the Center for events?
LM: No, each event is unique and I try to create something compatible for the client in order for their guests to enjoy the experience.
CM: Your exclusive caterer, The Common Plea, can provide all kinds of different meal types. Can you recall what some of your favorite setups or menus have been?
LM: The Common Plea has won many International Awards for their creative designs from small candy tables, multiple home made cookie tables and specialty martinis. The excellent food presentation and taste speaks for itself.
CM: And having a twisty slide behind the cookie table is not a common sight.
CM: Are guests permitted to visit the museum before or during events?
LM: Absolutely, that is the added value of having an event at the History Center . The fact that guests are permitted to tour during events works as an added attraction and increases attendance.
CM: Where else can you photograph your guests in an antique roller coaster car from Kennywood?
CM: How involved are you with brides and grooms during the planning process?
LM: Once the decision is made to have a wedding at the History Center I am available from that point on. I am at their beck and call up to and including the actual wedding reception. I am very “hands on” until their last guest walks out the door. It becomes very personal to me that this will be the happiest and most remembered day of their lives. As an event manager I must say the experience is extremely rewarding!
CM: Do you personally attend and oversee all weddings?
LM: Yes. From beginning to end.
CM: Indeed, in the third photo above, Lori is in the lavender jacket, overseeing the reception setup. And below, she’s on the left, helping to coordinate the bridal party and parents entering the reception.
CM: What led you to want to be an event planner?
LM: I have always enjoyed working with and for the public. My past experience has been with Air Canada managing charter services for the state of Florida and Director of Sales with Holland America Cruise Lines. I have always provided customer service and thoroughly enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Working with the public is something you must enjoy naturally; I don’t think it can be taught.
CM: What is your favorite part of your job?
LM: All of it! The personal caring, the personal involvement, the challenges and the satisfaction upon completion. It is a job where you never stop learning. What more could you ask for? I look forward to it every day.
CM: Lori, thanks for sharing with us.
Heinz History Center
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Christina Montemurro Photography is a top-rated photography studio specializing in special events, including weddings and bar mitzvahs, serving the greater Pittsburgh area. Christina’s focus is on creating genuine, heartfelt, relaxed images, with extraordinary attention to detail and customer service. Contact Christina now to check availability for your engagement session, wedding, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. Christina has been rated among top Pittsburgh photographers. You can read reviews by Christina’s past brides and grooms here and here.