Gustine’s view of Pittsburgh remains a positive one By Jim O’Brien
Jim O’Brien column for Pittsburgh Business Times
There is a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh from the offices of Frank Gustine Jr. high above his boyhood hometown of Green Tree. Standing by his desk on the seventh floor of Seven Parkway Center, Gustine can see the city skyline – from left to right – Fifth Avenue Place, PPG Place, U.S. Steel Tower One Mellon Centre and even the iconic Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh. Directly below is one end of Green Tree and Gustine offers some stories about the neighborhood. He knows the campus well, as one of the last of the school’s three-sport stars in the late ‘60s, and, in his mind, he can still see his father’s famous restaurant on Forbes Avenue, under three of Pitt’s student dormitories, even though it’s now called Hemingway’s. Frank Gustine’s name is familiar to most Pittsburghers because Frank Gustine Sr. was an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1939-1948) and was good enough to play in three All-Star Games. Later, his father was one of the city’s most popular and respected restaurateurs from 1952 to 1982. “I learned from my father how to interact with people and how to treat them right,” said Gustine Jr. “My father said you had to be honest and have integrity.” He credits Bill Baierl, the late automobile magnate, for helping him establish his own business. When the Pirates departed Oakland in the ‘70s for Three Rivers Stadium on the North Side, Gustine’s remained a popular place for the Pitt community.
Frank Gustine Jr. parlayed his father’s name and his own success in sports at Pitt into a successful business career. When he graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s degree in economics he did what a lot of athletes did, and sold rings and yearbooks for Balfour and Taylor Publishing for three years. Then he met and impressed Ron Puntil, a vice-president for Oliver Realty, with his engaging demeanor and conversational ease, and got into the commercial real estate business. He’s been at it ever since, except for a two-year hiatus from 2002 to 2004 when he was retired. He soon tired of that life. “I love my wife and I love my children and grandchildren,” says Gustine, “but I love to work and I love people.” So he started up another business, transitioning from The Gustine Co. to FWG Real Estate, headquartered in Seven Parkway Center on Greentree Road. His company owns seven of the eleven buildings at Parkway Center. It’s a mile and a quarter from his boyhood home, an impressive graystone manse on Greentree Road where his younger brother Bobby still lives with his wife Nancy and their six children. Frank Gustine believes the Parkway Center Mall that has closed after losing key tenants will be leveled and give way to new buildings, both commercial and residential. “It will be better,” he said. “I think he missed the challenges of the workplace and the sense of accomplishment,” says his wife, Linda, the lovely mother of their three daughters, and the grandmother of their three granddaughters and, at last, a grandson. Says Frank, “We finally got a boy in the family for me to coach.” Frank has a front-row seat at courtside for Pitt basketball games at the Petersen Events Center where he “helps coach” the Panthers and is a big booster of Jamie Dixon, the head basketball coach. Frank likes the personnel on the Pitt basketball team this year and sees improvement over last season. He remains hopeful that Paul Chryst will rebuild the Pitt football program, and feels that
Joe Jordano has done a great job with the Pitt baseball team, and Rande Stottlemyer with the wresting program. He wants them all to be winners. Standing at the window in his office, Gustine sees a Pittsburgh that is in the midst of Renaissance III, with new buildings coming up downtown, more residences and apartments in the midst of the skyscrapers, and a solid real estate market. There are the usual framed prints of Pittsburgh’s skyline and the political, business and sports icons of the past throughout the FWG Real Estate hallways and lobby. There’s a large photo that shows his father Frank Gustine Sr. with two Hall of Fame Pirates, Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner. The son is now 65, but retains his boyish smile and his great respect for his parents. “On my father’s tombstone it says ‘HE WAS A TRUE GENTLEMAN.’ ” There was a strong competitive side to his father as well, and his boys inherited that trait. “You might knock us down, but you couldn’t step on us.” Frank Gustine Jr. first gained fame as a star athlete at Canevin High School and then lettered in baseball and football for three years at Pitt, and for his sophomore season in basketball. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity sports in those days. “I met a lot of people through sports,” he says, “and it’s been my meal-ticket ever since.”
Author Jim O’Brien has a new book called “Immaculate Reflections” about all the Pittsburgh sports teams. His website is www.jimobriensportsauthor.