For one night, McCook mansion in Shadyside opens its doors

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If you've ever wanted to experience the inside of Shadyside's McCook mansion, here's your chance.

The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh will mark its fifth birthday there Friday evening with an event called "Fifth on Fifth." The group will celebrate its first five years with tours of the Fifth Avenue mansion that, despite a third-floor fire in 2004, remains one of the most lavish and best-preserved survivors of the East End's Millionaires Row.

Plans are in the works to convert the 30-room Jacobean mansion, built in 1907 at the corner of Fifth and Amberson avenues by lawyer and industrialist Willis F. McCook, to a bed and breakfast inn. Jennifer Brady, the daughter and stepdaughter of present co-owners Mary Del Brady and Richard Pearson, will serve as the inn's manager. A member of YPA's board, Jennifer Brady is working on securing investors and financing for the inn and its green renovation. Parking issues also must be resolved.

YPA founding chairman Dan Holland will present a retrospective of the group's activities, unveil its new Top Ten Preservation Opportunities list and present its annual Promise Award to an emerging preservationist. She is Sandee Umbach, founding director of WashArts, a community arts center that holds classes in a historic building on West Beau Street in Washington.

Another Washington County building, the art deco Coyle Theater in Charleroi, is No. 1 on the list; others include the Crawford Grill and Morningside School. A nonprofit, the Mid-Mon Valley Cultural Trust, is working to restore and reopen it. Holland said YPA's role in highlighting preservation opportunities is to promote them and provide support, such as help with grant writing.

Holland said he is pleased with his nonprofit group's progress. YPA has 250 members in 19 states, a 15-member board of directors and an advisory committee of 26.

"I think our greatest success is that we've survived," he said. "We have hosted a wide variety of educational programs and public events. We've branched out and have a much deeper presence in the region, and we're looking to build more partnerships. More than anything we've managed to succeed in focusing attention on not just historic buildings but the demographic we're trying to reach. It's important to get young people involved."

In the fall, with a $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, YPA members will work with high school students in the Mon Valley to produce a video exploring how students could revitalize Main Street communities.

The McCook mansion event, sponsored by National City Bank, runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and features heavy hors d'oeuvres, beer and wine, along with live music from the steel drum band Steel Impressions.

Willis McCook was Henry Clay Frick's lawyer, and like Frick's Clayton, the McCook mansion reveals the scale and splendor of life here a century ago for the city's wealthy elite. After a day of defending the Coke King, McCook's retreat and reward was this fantasyland fortress, with knights in armor and medieval castles depicted in stained glass windows and tiles.

The front doors open onto an oak-paneled great hall, which glows from the spectacular, semicircular bay of tall, curved, amber stained-glass windows at the bend in the grand staircase. To the right is the Neoclassical parlor, with fluted Ionic pilasters framing the walls, and the dining room, with a heavily carved oak overmantel, plasterwork pendant ceiling and stained glass windows, including one that depicts a knight or page wearing the cross of St. George, patron saint of England. To the left are the billiard room and the library.

Designed by the Pittsburgh firm Carpenter and Crocker, the house also has a second-floor chapel, with a vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows portraying the Blessed Virgin and archangels Gabriel and Michael.

The McCook mansion is at 5105 Fifth Ave. Attendees are asked to park in the Shadyside business district, carpool or take public transportation as parking on nearby streets is very limited. Online registration at youngpreservationists.org is $25 and includes a YPA membership. For current members, the cost is $15. Admission without reservation increases by $5 for both groups at the door.


Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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