Now apartments, this grand old house, right at the edge of Oakland on the border of Shadyside, is a remnant of the time when what is now the apartment district was a suburban retreat for the well-to-do.
Second Empire House on Neville Avenue, Oakland
Second Empire Houses on Sarah Street, South Side
Two Second Empire rowhouses whose upper floors are fairly well preserved. The one on the right has had some adventures on the ground floor, possibly including a storefront at some point. Note the wooden shingles on the house on the left.
Second Empire Houses on the South Side
A matched pair of Second Empire houses in nearly perfect shape except for the modern dormer windows. The folk-art etching in the lintels is charming.
Second Empire Building at 19th and Jane Streets, South Side
According to old maps, this building was put up in the 1880s. It is typical of the Second Empire style as it trickled down to smaller buildings. Most of it is relatively plain, but note the elaborate brickwork of the chimneys. The dormers may be simplified replacements of the originals, but they harmonize well with the style of the building. Currently the building seems to have four apartments, but it may have been a private house. It is not large, but it stands on a block of much smaller frame houses and thus looks bigger than it is.
W. Daub Building, South Side Slopes
This frame Second Empire building was put up in the 1880s, and old maps show it as belonging to W. Daub. It has seen better days: it has been sheathed in aluminum, and what was probably a storefront looks as though it has been filled in with a contractor’s remnants. If we look at the third floor, we can see a few lingering bits of what was once very decorative folk-art woodwork. Doubtless all the windows and doorways had similarly carved trim until the siding salesman came along. If old Pa Pitt had to guess, he would imagine this was a neighborhood hotel, which is to say a bar with rooms above to earn a “hotel” liquor license. You would hardly guess from the exterior, but there is still a working bar on the ground floor, apparently much beloved by the locals.
Mary L. Bayer House, South Side Slopes
Just about every ugly thing that can happen to an old house has happened to this once-grand Second Empire mansion on the back end of Warrington Avenue. It has been sheathed in artificial siding. All the windows have been replaced with windows and doors in the wrong shapes. Almost all the trim has been removed (if you enlarge the picture, you can find a tiny remnant in the pediment over the front entrance). The porch has been replaced with treated lumber, which manufacturers assure us never has to be painted and therefore is always allowed to decay into even uglier colors than it was originally. The front entrance has been replaced with cheap doors from a home center.
Yet, with all that, there is still a pleasing symmetry to the house that gives it a kind of senescent dignity. At present, it stands in a nice working-class neighborhood where houses are worthless, or at least not worth enough to make any substantial work on this one profitable. But it has a magnificent view of the city, and if someone with a little money were to adopt it, it could be remade into an attractive single-family mansion again, or a more attractive apartment house.
Old Pa Pitt does not know the history of this house. On the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site, it first appears on the 1890 layer, suggesting that it was built in the 1880s. From then until 1923, it is marked as belonging to Mary L. Bayer or M. L. Bayer.
Frame House on the South Side Slopes
A good example of how a frame house can be restored to look very attractive without breaking the bank. The most important thing is to preserve the trim if at all possible, or to substitute new trim that has the same proportions as the old. This house in what we might call vernacular Second-Empire style is on Pius Street.
Second-Empire Row in Allegheny West
A splendid row of Second Empire houses on Lincoln Avenue, with their wood trim picked out in tasteful polychrome paint. They were built in 1872 and 1873.
Second Empire Row, South Side
A modest but distinguished row of Second Empire houses on 22nd Street. Note the patterns in the roof tiles.
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.