Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

Transition House, Mount Lebanon

The drawing by Brandon Smith, architect, shows the “transition” house which is being erected in Mt. Lebanon for Dr. A. W. Coffman, of the Robertson fellowship at Mellon Institute. M. C. McCann ins the builder.
Transition House

What, you may ask, is a “transition house”? It is a house designed to look traditional but use the most modern construction methods available in 1936. The idea was that the public could be induced to accept modern construction if it came without the modernist offenses against traditional aesthetics. Architect Brandon Smith—best remembered for some extravagant mansions in Fox Chapel—gave it all the decorative flourishes a 1930s suburbanite might expect from a “Colonial,” but under the stone and brick were super-modern materials developed at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.(1)

Decorative pillar
Front door
109 Markham Drive
Front of the house

Our information and the architect’s drawing above come from an article about the house in the Pittsburgh Press, published when the house was under construction in 1936. The whole article will interest a few architectural historians, so we have transcribed it below.

‘Transition House,’ of Steel and Other Materials, Being Erected Under Direction of Mellon Institute

(Pittsburgh Press, November 22, 1936.)

A “transition house,” built partly of steel and partly of the older and more conventional building materials, is being erected at 109 Markham Drive, Mt. Lebanon.

The theory behind its creation is that the general public may not be quite ready to accept the “all-steel” house, but should be willing to accept the outstanding advantages of the newer materials if enough stone and wood and brick are used to maintain the appearance to which home owners have become accustomed.

The “transition house” should be particularly interesting to Pittsburghers, as practically all the new materials being used in it were developed at Mellon Institute of Industrial Research by the fellowship maintained by H. H. Robertson Co., Pittsburgh building products manufacturer.

Called “Research House”

Mellon Institute officials declare that it could almost be called a “research house.”

The floors of the “transition house” are of “cellular” steel construction. This “cellular” steel has been in use for some time in commercial buildings and bridges, but has not been merchandized in the residential field. Its cited advantages are that it saves construction time and wall height, provides its own ceiling, and, of course, is fireproof and termite-proof.

Bonded Metal, also developed at Mellon Institute, is used to produce unusual effects on some of the interior walls. The material is a steel sheet to which felt is bonded by means of a softer metal. The surface may be finished as desired. For the walls of the study and downstairs hall a wood veneer finish is used. Plastic finishes are used in the downstairs lavatory and one of the upstairs bath rooms.

Hubbellite, latest product of the Robertson research at Mellon Institute, will be used for window sills, porch and bathroom floors, and as a wall finish for one bathroom. Invented by D. S. Hubbell, it is a cement that hardens into a synthetic stone.

A copper-covered protected metal, developed by the research men and used all over the world on industrial buildings, will be used for the roof of “transition house.”

In $10,000 Class

The house will be in the $10,000 class. After it has been erected, and inspected by the public, it will be occupied by Dr. A. W. Coffman of the Robertson fellowship at Mellon Institute. He is the inventor of the bonded metal, and has worked on all the other innovations.

His desire to live in a house built partly of his own inventions, plus the desire of the Robertson Co. to expand its sales into the residential field, led to the construction of the unique dwelling.

Brandon Smith, local architect, was the designer.


See a random picture
and become a better person

You could buy this book
if you wanted a book.

2 responses to “Transition House, Mount Lebanon”

  1. The house at 2382 Saunders Station in Monroeville is either inspired by this or quite a coincidence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *