House on South Side tour redone by third generation

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Until she was 5, Barbara Rudiak shared a daybed with her sister and two brothers in this 1910 woodframe house in the South Side Flats. Her brother John was the tallest so he slept longways with his three younger siblings lined up perpendicular.

Today, the place where she slept as a girl is part of a spacious first-floor apartment, and Ms. Rudiak sleeps in a master suite that takes up the entire third floor. She believes her parents and grandparents, who lived on the third floor in the 1950s, would be pleased with the recently finished renovation of the family home.

"But they would have been apalled at the cost. They would say, 'Why did you spend so much?' "

22nd annual Historic South Side Home Tour

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today.

Tickets: $20, available at 10 a.m. at UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center, 2000 Mary St., South Side (15203).

Parking: Free parking in UPMC employee lot, 21st and Josephine streets.

Information: Proceeds benefit South Side Community Council.

You can't put a price on the satisfaction she feels at preserving and adapting the house her grandfather, John Bakowski, bought in 1928. And you can't measure in dollars the pride she feels in returning to her old neighborhood. But for $20, you can see how it turned out. The house, a finalist in the 2012-13 PG Renovation Inspiration Contest, is one of 11 stops on today's Historic South Side Home Tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Houses on the tour range from ornate Victorians to new condominiums, but only this one has been in the same family for three generations.

"It's very much a family home, in the best and worst sense," said Sarah Drake of Park Place, who was both architect and interior designer. She and Ms. Rudiak walked through the house many times before work began in September 2011.

"We talked about my emotional attachment to the house," Ms. Rudiak said. "What do you lose? What do you keep?"

She is most grateful to her parents, Regina and Joseph Rudiak, for what they kept intact.

"When everyone else was getting picture windows, they wouldn't do it," she recalled. "We thought they were cheap, but in reality they liked what the house looked like -- Thank God!"

This house is one of the few in the South Side to still have its narrow wood siding and tall, narrow windows. Ms. Rudiak asked painter Marty Gayda to keep the same shade of yellow that the house had always been painted but to switch to a more subdued green. She and Ms. Drake decided to add purple as an accent color on the trim, all of which is original.

Ms. Rudiak insisted that contractor Joe Rulli of Vista Contracting strip and refinish the original front door and preserve as much of the old siding as possible. On a rear addition sided in brick, HardiePlank fiber-cement siding was installed to match the original siding.

"We had to fill and sand a lot of holes and gouges in that front door," Mr. Rulli said, adding that it was sealed with marine varnish.

When she learned she couldn't put back the wooden front steps she knew as a girl, Ms. Rudiak opted for bluestone blocks and a wrought-iron railing made by Heritage Industries. "I almost cried when I saw the steps and ornamental railing," she said.

The interior, however, is dramatically different than it was when she was growing up. In typical Pittsburgh fashion, several generations lived together -- her family on the first floor, an aunt and uncle on the second and grandparents on the third. The family also took in tenants sometimes. Ms. Rudiak remembers people sleeping in the hallways.

Early on, her contractors focused on removing walls, leveling floors and shoring up ceilings with steel beams. When the windows couldn't be repaired, they were replaced with Pellas and the surrounding trim replicated. The first floor was turned into a long, open apartment that will be available in June. The top two floors were turned into Ms. Rudiak's living space. Formerly chopped into little rooms, they now are open and inviting, with painted white trim, ebony-stained oak floors and walls painted a comforting Benjamin Moore shade known as "Pigeon."

"It's a very chameleon-like color -- blue, gray or lavender depending on the light," Ms. Drake said.

The heart of the home is the second-floor kitchen, whose white cabinets, stainless-steel appliances and granite counter tops are bookended by two gas-burning fireplaces.

The third-floor study and master suite are just as beautiful. Open shelving made from oak stained the same color as the floor holds quilts, books and family photos. A skylight brightens the new master bathroom. A study in the front features another gas-burning fireplace and a 1940s desk with a special sliding shelf for a typewriter. The bedroom is in the back, thanks to advice from city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, the owner's niece.

"I've told her 'This is your inheritance,' " Ms. Rudiak said.

She left this house when she was in her 20s to take a teaching job in Bellevue, where she lived for more than 30 years. She was an administrator at Martin Luther King Elementary in the Pittsburgh Public Schools when the district offered her the job of principal of Phillips Elementary in her old neighborhood. She wondered if she could go home again.

"Within days, the neighborhood embraced me," she said, smiling. "The older people were so proud of me."

Ms. Rudiak held the job from 1992 to 2006 and believes she made the school better. Her mother, whom she could visit on her lunch hour, noticed an immediate change:

"Before you moved back, I was Gina Rudiak," she told her daughter. "Now I'm Dr. Rudiak's mother."

Now the district's interim chief of student support services, she inherited this house when her mother passed away. When she is in a hurry, she takes the back streets so she won't run in to someone she knows. That strategy usually fails.

"She knows everyone," Ms. Drake said, laughing.

Ms. Rudiak nods, smiling. "It feels like home" -- again.

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Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978. First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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