Another of the millionaires’ mansions that have become part of Chatham University. Built in 1911 or 1912 for steel executive James C. Rea, the Julia and James Rea House is now a student dormitory. Students tell us the rooms are “quirky” in a good way, with high ceilings and odd protrusions, because the house was divided with minimal disruption to the original architecture.
Andrew Mellon’s summer home is now one of several millionaires’ mansions that belong to Chatham University. It is open for students who want a quiet place to study. Mr. Mellon, in addition to being absurdly rich himself, was also Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s, and widely considered the most powerful man in Washington: they used to say that three presidents served under him (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover). He was one of the few competent and relatively honest members of Warren G. Harding’s administration, and for most of the 1920s he was often called the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. Then came the Great Depression, and he was not as popular as he had been.
The house was built in 1897 for the Laughlins of Jones and Laughlin; Mellon bought it in 1917 and set about remaking it to his tastes, adding, among other things, an indoor swimming pool, supposedly the first private one in Pittsburgh.
A mantel decoration.
The sun room.
The back of the house.
The swimming pool was adapted in 2008 for use as the Board Room, with a new handicap-accessible entrance that combined new construction with as much of the existing architecture as could be reused. The architects of the project were Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.
Now Chalfant Hall of the Community College of Allegheny County, and currently getting a thorough renovation. The house was built in about 1900; no one seems to know who the architect was. Henry Chalfant was a successful lawyer whose father was a successful lawyer as well.
Warwick House was built in 1910 for Howard Heinz, son of the ketchup king H. J. Heinz. The architects were Vrydaugh and Wolfe, and the construction budget was $75,000. After the Heinzes it passed through the Hillmans, and now it belongs to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, from which it is rented by Opus Dei, the Catholic organization famed for its albino assassins. But the organization seldom sends the assassins out against anyone but renowned curators; the rest of us are quite safe. At an open house this summer, old Pa Pitt was graciously allowed to take a few pictures of the beautifully maintained Jacobean interior. Above, the window in the grand staircase.
This picture of the front is not the best; the light was from the wrong direction. It means we will have to return soon at a different time of day.
The front door.
The front hall; the door to the library is on the right, the grand staircase on the left.
A little bit of the decorative woodwork in the front hall.
The grand staircase.
Modern American houses forget about the ceiling, as if people never looked up. Warwick House does not make that mistake. This is the decorated ceiling in a side hall.
The former ballroom was converted into a chapel by the late Henry Menzies, an ecclesiastical architect whose specialty was refurbishing modernist churches of the 1960s and 1970s to make them suitable for liturgical worship. He liked to use a baldacchino to give proper emphasis to the altar. (The ballroom was added to the house later, probably in 1929 according to the current residents.)
Architecturally this house is a bit of a mess, but a pleasing mess. It was built in three different stages, the first in 1870 and the last in 1900.
The Thaw family was a bit of a mess, too. William Thaw was a railroad baron who made all the money in the world and had ten surviving children by two wives. Of those children, the one everybody remembers was Harry Thaw, who murdered Stanford White in front of as many witnesses as could possibly be crammed into one nightclub. It was the climax of a career of difficult situations, and in every one of them Harry’s mother used the mighty power of money to extract him from his difficulties. (Harry used money to light cigars with.) You can read about his murder of White and the legal adventures that followed in Harry Thaw’s Wikipedia article; for our purposes it is sufficient to say that the family money saved his hide again, and Clarence Darrow provided him with a nifty new defense called “temporary insanity.” Many who knew Harry Thaw would question the temporariness of the insanity.
This was not the Thaws’ biggest house. Their favorite architect, Theophilus P. Chandler Jr., designed a house for them in Squirrel Hill named Lyndhurst; that one was demolished in the 1940s.
This was the home of one of the founders of the famous Boggs & Buhl department store, which lasted until 1958. A few years after Father Pitt took this picture, this grand house was grandly restored and opened as “The Inn on the Mexican War Streets.” Before the restoration, it had been the parsonage of Trinity Lutheran Church next door, creating a curious spectacle of a parsonage considerably grander than its squat little modern church. But the house needed more maintenance than the church could afford: in fact the new owners spent more than a million dollars fixing the place up.
If you look at this picture, you may have a vague impression that something is missing from this house; but unless you are in the architecture business it might take you ages to guess what it is. There are no gutters and no downspouts. It seems that Mr. Boggs had a thing about gutters. Instead, there is a remarkable internal drainage system that, when it works, carries runoff through the walls, and, when it is broken, pours runoff in a burbling cascade down the grand staircase. That is one of the reasons it took a million dollars to restore this house.
Addendum: The architects were Longfellow, Alden & Harlow; the house was built in 1888.
Flemish Renaissance is not the most common style in Pittsburgh; this is certainly one of our most splendid examples of it. It is one of the surviving millionaires’ mansions on Highland Avenue. Father Pitt’s identification of it as the Elliott–Fownes house is based on two sources. The application for the neighborhood’s historic-district designation in the National Register of Historic Places mentions it as the home of “machine politician Robert Elliott”; a 1912 book has Henry C. Fownes, founder of the Oakmont Country Club, at this address.
Perhaps the grandest Second Empire mansion in Pittsburgh, Baywood was built in 1880 for Alexander King. The house is listed for about three million dollars, and thanks to the real-estate agents you can “experience Baywood” virtually. According to the site, the house sits on “an unprecedented 1.8 acre lot,” and readers are invited to speculate on what the word “unprecedented” means in that context.
This Second Empire mansion had a narrow escape: the third floor burned out in 1987, and the owner died the next year, leaving the house a derelict hulk. It was rescued from demolition at the last minute by serial restorationist Joedda Sampson, who painted it in her trademark polychrome style; it has since passed to other owners, whose pristine white also works well with the design. The house was built in 1871; Frederick Osterling worked on early-twentieth-century renovations and additions.