Mansions on Fifth: Transformation of Shadyside's Willis McCook homes into hotel complete
December 8, 2012 3:00 PM
Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette
The Willis McCook mansion on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside.
The entryway of the McCook-Reed house on Amberson Avenue.
The dining room of the Willis McCook mansion on Fifth Avenue.
By Marylynne Pitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If they gave Olympic laurels to preservationists, Richard Pearson, Mary Del Brady and the 200 union craftsmen who restored two Gilded Age mansions in Shadyside would each get a gold medal.
During a public reception Tuesday, owners of the historic property called Mansions on Fifth celebrated the completion of an eight-year transformation that began when the Shadyside couple toured a stone house that was badly damaged by fire in February 2004. Now, there are 22 suites available, including nine new ones in the McCook-Reed house on Amberson Avenue, where construction finished last month.
The Fifth Avenue manor built by industrialist Willis Fisher McCook, one of the four remaining great houses on Millionaire's Row, opened its 13 rooms in 2010. Next door, the 3 1/2-story home the prominent lawyer built as a wedding present for his eldest daughter, Bessie, began welcoming guests in late autumn.
"Now that we've added nine rooms, that gives us a little flexibility," Ms. Del Brady said, adding that most are deluxe accommodations. The third floor of the McCook-Reed house can be turned into a suite.
Hepatica decorated holiday trees in the entryways of both homes and colorful garlands grace the massive mantels. Even the two hawthorn trees that flank the larger mansion's exterior are in a holiday mood; their branches sprout beautiful red berries.
One of the biggest jobs was installing new mechanicals, wiring, plumbing, heating, sprinklers, cable and Wi-Fi, Mr. Pearson said. The main Elizabethan Revivalist mansion is 20,000 square feet. The smaller house is 9,000 square feet.
In the foyer of the McCook-Reed home, there's a massive oak archway adorned with hand-carved oak leaves and acorns, symbols that are repeated in the newel post of the grand staircase. On the first floor, the refinished oak hardwood floors gleam. The home is already hosting corporate retreats for international companies with local offices.
In the living room, which has quarter-sawn oak wainscoting, a massive glass mosaic frames the fireplace and features grape vines. That motif repeats in piano windows on either side of the fireplace. The art glass is attributed to Rudy Brothers, a firm that made the glass dome in the Union Trust Building. The dining room, which has a coffered ceiling, has become a sitting room for guests.
"Wherever possible, we reused the original historic doors and hardware," Mr. Pearson said. The oak staircase in the McCook-Reed home was not restained. Instead, it was covered with Seeds, a product designed to bring out the original grain and hydrate the wood. Toothbrushes were used for detailing the intricate woodwork.
Side tables, beds and desks were designed by Jan Lott of J. A. Lott Design & Associates and made by American Atelier in Allentown. Ms. Lott's partner, Jill Marcus Balmuth, chose the colors for the McCook-Reed home.
"I just wanted something that would be crisp and clean-looking," she said. "They were historic colors. I didn't want them to be dark."
Team Laminates made the marble-topped vanities in bathrooms, which have terrazzo bases in the showers, massive shower heads and jetted tubs. Bath products are by Gilchrist and Soames.
Stone mansions and Tudor-style homes can be dark, but these properties are filled with light because of the way they were built, Mr. Pearson said. As one of the seven founders of Pittsburgh Steel Co., McCook understood the strength of steel beams. He used them in both houses, and that allowed for installation of many windows, Mr. Pearson said. The main house alone has 155 double-hung windows.
Mr. Pearson is detail-oriented. As soon as he spots a cobweb on a chandelier, he mentions it to Joel Hurley, who moved from the Preston Woodall house in Raleigh, N.C., to become general manager on Sept. 1.
Brunch is served on the first Sunday of each month, and the price per person is $38. There's a Tuesday concert series in the grand hall of the main mansion that starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs to 9:30. The evening includes light fare, dessert and valet parking for $30 per person. Also on Tuesdays, a musical duo entertains in the oak room, a large bar off the grand hall. There is no cover charge for that entertainment.
"We wanted to bring live music to Shadyside," Mr. Pearson said, adding that he wants the properties to be a place where the arts thrive. To that end, an art immersion series allows artists to take classes from local teachers while staying at the property. European and American art that hangs in the mansions is sold through Galerie Werner.
Next spring, Klavon and Associates will begin planting evergreens, shrubs and perennials outside the McCook-Reed house and the main mansion. It was impossible to landscape during construction, Mr. Pearson said.