'Pittsburgh's Mansions' details grand homes of the past and present

Melanie Linn Gutowski turns her love for old houses into a new book

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As a child, Melanie Linn Gutowski took art classes at Baywood, the Alexander King estate in Highland Park. The experience left her with a lasting love for art and the grandeur of old houses.

A docent at The Frick Pittsburgh for the past five years, Ms. Gutowski is the author of "Pittsburgh's Mansions," released this week by Arcadia Press.

She was inspired to tackle the project because visitors to Clayton, the Frick family home, often ask her where the Fricks, Mellons and Thaws lived when she leads tours.

In the eye of a storm

Designed by architect George Orth and completed in 1900, Wilpen Hall was the Sewickley Heights summer estate of William Penn Snyder Sr., founder of Shenango Furnace and Shenango Steamship Companies. The home and property are at the center of a lawsuit that involves three generations of the Snyder family. Wilpen Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. See story in Sunday's Post-Gazette.

The 30-year-old author, who grew up in Stanton Heights, lives in Sharpsburg in a red-brick, Queen Anne-style house built in 1905. She earned a degree in 2005 in the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in professional writing from Chatham University in 2011.

A great many local estates are gone, but "it is remarkable how many of them have been repurposed," she said in a telephone interview.

Truly. Shadyside Hospital founder Dr. James H. McClelland's house is The Sunnyledge, a Shadyside bed and breakfast. Across the street from it stands the restored English manor of Willis McCook, known for being Henry Clay Frick's attorney. The McCook mansion is now part of a boutique hotel called The Mansions on Fifth.

On the North Side, the West North Avenue mansion of department store founder Russell Boggs was restored in 1998 and became the Inn on the Mexican War Streets. The William Penn Snyder family's former brownstone on Ridge Avenue holds an insurance agency's offices. Iron maker A.M. Byers' mansion, also on Ridge Avenue, is part of the Community College of Allegheny County.

And there's Hartwood, the former home of philanthropist Mary Flinn Lawrence, which is open to tours and part of a public park run by Allegheny County. Visitors to The Frick often ask Ms. Gutowski if it's possible to tour other local, historic homes. This 127-page book serves as a visual tour.

Black-and-white pictures show homes in Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Sewickley and the North Side. The last neighborhood, once called Allegheny City, held some of the fanciest homes in Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age. Second homes built in Sewickley, Sewickley Heights, Edgeworth and other suburbs are also featured.

David M. Kirk's Shingle-style home still stands in Sharpsburg. Until a few years ago, it was occupied by a Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge. New owners have painted it and planted flowers, Ms. Gutowski said. Mr. Kirk, along with fellow Scotsmen Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Morrison and Robert Pitcairn, donated a statue of poet Robert Burns that still stands near Phipps Conservatory in Schenley Park.

The book's cover shows Lyndhurst, the Squirrel Hill home of William Thaw Sr. One of his children, Alice Cornelia Thaw, was married in the house in 1903 to the Seventh Marquess of Hertford and became the Countess of Yarmouth. Lyndhurst was demolished in 1944. Its entry hall featured the requisite grand staircase trimmed in ornate ironwork, tapestries and stained-glass panels.

These mansions, Ms. Gutowski said, "were all built at a time when energy costs were so low. Coal was cheap and labor was cheap. Even the middle class could afford household help."

Helen Clay Frick watched as the homes of many of her childhood friends were torn down, the author said.

"She knew as early as the 1920s that she wanted Clayton to be open to the public and wrote plans on how the tours would be held," Ms. Gutowski said.

Even the Fricks did not keep all of their properties. A summer house in Pride's Crossing, Mass., was torn down in 1969. However, the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the parking lot at Clayton came from that estate.

Ms. Gutowski is especially glad that Baywood, the Alexander King estate in Highland Park where she took art lessons, is still standing. Frank and Maura Brown spent 11 years restoring the Second Empire mansion, which was built in 1880 and is on the market for $1.99 million.

"It's like sacred work to me. They took this house and they so lovingly restored it," Ms. Gutowski said.

"Pittsburgh's Mansions" is available at local bookshops and at www.arcadiapublishing.com for $21.99.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published August 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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