Mexican War Streets tour features gorgeous gardens and handsome homes
September 7, 2013 8:00 AM
Ivy covers the front of a smaller house next door to the house where Eric French and Katie Hancock now live. It is the backdrop for their courtyard garden and the scene of many long lunches, dinners and neighborhood parties.
The living room was a front parlor when the house was built, then became part of one of three apartments. Eric French renovated the house after first renovating the one next door.
John Walters of Iron Eden created the balcony on the back of the house.
The courtyard garden in front of the house next door, which Eric French also owns, is a side garden for the house he now shares with Katie Hancock.
The dining room of the renovated Victorian on Monterey Street.
Katie Hancock in the garden of the Mexican War Streets home she shares with Eric French.
One of its best features of the garden is an L-shaped grape arbor that supports wild grapes and sweet autumn clematis. Mr. French and Ms. Hancock say the arbor with a dining table beneath it is a favorite spot for long lunches, late dinners and many parties.
The first-floor bathroom features a glass vessel sink.
The kitchen of Eric French and Katie Hancock, whose house is on the Mexican War Streets Tour.
By Kevin Kirkland Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Eric French has the ideal North Side home -- a beautifully renovated Victorian with a side yard. But he was not popular with the guys on Monterey Street when he created a garden in record time.
"He came in with Bobcats and a crew of guys and knocked it out in a week," said next-door neighbor Randy Zotter. "Our wives are watching, looking at us and saying, 'Well? Well?' "
44th annual Mexican War Streets House & Garden Tour
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 15.
What: Self-guided tour of 13 houses and four gardens.
Tickets: $18 in advance, online only at www.mexicanwarstreets.org; $20 on day of tour at the ticket booth on Monterey Street at West North Avenue.
They have forgiven him now, of course, and the house and garden that Mr. French shares with Katie Hancock is among 17 featured on the 44th annual Mexican War Streets House & Garden Tour on Sept. 15. The self-guided tour of 13 houses and four gardens runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 on tour day.
Mr. French, president of Eisler Landscapes, had the equipment and know-how to create a courtyard garden on the fly. But finding a house set back from the street far enough to allow for a front garden is almost impossible in the Mexican War Streets. Mr. French bought the small house next door to his current home in April 2004. Built in the 1860s, it's called an alley house or Irish house after its location and most likely owners (many of old Allegheny's servants were Irish).
He renovated it himself and installed the garden in time to be included on the house tour in September 2004. The brand-new garden was beautiful then; it's even better now.
One of its best features is an L-shaped grape arbor that supports wild grapes, a varietal grape whose name he's forgotten, and sweet autumn clematis, whose white blooms glow above the thick grape leaves. Mr. French and Ms. Hancock say the arbor with a dining table beneath it is a favorite spot for long lunches, late dinners and many parties (no wonder the neighbors forgave him).
"It creates a great sense of privacy," she said. "You almost don't realize you're in the city."
Mr. French still owns the smaller house behind the garden and lived in it while renovating the much larger house next door. It was in terrible shape when he bought it seven years ago for $150,000.
"I rebuilt the whole back of the house. I had to break the windows to get them out," he said.
Today, the rear section contains a beautiful modern kitchen and French doors on the side leading to the garden, which will be on the tour along with the first floor of the larger house.
If you go, be sure to look for the Italian plum tree, a 'Brown Betty' Southern magnolia, serviceberry trees and three fig trees. Although the fig trees are carefully covered with huge cardboard tubes each winter, they yielded only two figs this year, "but they were really big," Mr. French said.
His favorite plant is not in the garden. It's planted in front of the big house and protected by a small cage to ward off dogs and cats. Cephalotaxus, whose common name is false yew or plum yew, is not supposed to be hardy in zone 6, which includes most of the Pittsburgh area. Mr. French believes global warming has helped it survive.
"It's a cool plant that you would never have been able to grow here 10 years ago," he said.