When Ellen Botkin and Ben Chloros moved into this center-hall Dutch Colonial in January, they became only the fourth family to live at 3543 Shadeland Ave. in more than a century.
The house, built in red Roman brick, is one of eight on the annual Brighton Heights house tour set for noon to 5 p.m. June 12.
Sparsely furnished, some rooms have that we're-still-moving-in look. Fear not, tour-goers. There's plenty to see in this house that wears its history in discrete layers that mark its passage through time.
The first owners, Cincinnati-born businessman Charles Sturm and his wife, Minnie, built the house around 1905. He may have moved to Pittsburgh to open a branch of Cincinnati-based A. Nielen Co., the printing and publishing house he managed on Fourth Avenue and later Market Street, Downtown, before and after the turn of the 20th century.
Nielen Co. published pulp fiction, including romances like "Faith Harding's Folly: The Story of a Lost Honey-Moon," whose cover illustrations telegraph that runaway brides can end up as Arabian sex slaves. Such concerns never hindered Dutch-born company founder Andries Nielen, who sailed frequently to far-flung locations, among them Hawaii, New Guinea and Japan.
Nielen Co. published his travel photographs as postcards, imported coffee, tea and art objects, and sold furniture and household supplies, too. By 1917, the company had moved into its own building at 319 Liberty Ave., on the site of the Wyndham Grand (formerly Hilton) Hotel.
As secretary-treasurer of the Nielen Co., Mr. Sturm prospered. In 1910, at age 39, he and Minnie shared their four-bedroom home with 12-year-old daughter Helen and Mr. Sturm's brother-in-law, coffee and tea salesman Albert Dunker. A servant, 24-year-old Joanna Kandler, also lived there, probably in one of the two large rooms on the third floor.
Having researched the home's first family before my visit, I was eager to see what 3543 Shadeland could tell us about them. Not much, as it turns out. Although the house is a period piece, the era it most memorably evokes is a later one, thanks to the artful and remarkably well-preserved renovations wrought by its third owners, Dr. Stephen and Mary Syka Stoffan.
The Sturms sold the house in 1937 to the Santora family, who sold it in 1950 to the Stoffans, who immediately embarked on stylish makeovers of the kitchen, bathroom and basement. While room layouts and woodwork are unchanged from the Sturm era in much of the house, the Stoffans went to town in the rooms they used most.
Kitchen and bathroom walls and ceilings -- yes, even the ceilings -- are tiled in Carrara glass. The vintage kitchen, in marbled gray glass with thin pink grout, is a museum exhibit of mid-century design: white metal cabinets with sturdy, rounded stainless-steel handles, stainless-steel countertops with rounded corners and its original Chambers stove. A U-shaped upholstered pink banquette occupies one corner, and the floor is covered with gray and pink linoleum. The bathroom, in black and green glass with metal-framed mirror and accents, is no less extraordinary. Clearly Art Moderne was alive and well in Pittsburgh in 1950.
The house was on the market for several months while the Stoffan family awaited a buyer who wouldn't take one look and announce that the kitchen and bathroom were sorely in need of updating, Ms. Botkin said.
"I wanted someone to preserve what Mom had put her heart and soul into," said Mary Ann Stoffan Stefko of Brighton Heights. "That was her dream house."
North Side historian John Canning remembers it being "the Great Christmas House in an era when outside decorations were mostly a cellophane wreath with a candle hanging in a couple of windows."
For Ms. Botkin and Mr. Chloros, the house was love at first look, in his case partly because of the deep stair treads that can accommodate the feet that come with a 6-foot-5-inch man. No walking up steps sideways in this house.
Ms. Botkin, a grant manager for the Pittsburgh school district, and Mr. Chloros, a building contractor, are taking their time figuring out what to do with the house.
"We haven't done anything yet while we decide what to do," Ms. Botkin said last week in her dining room, which, like much of the house, still wears Mrs. Stoffan's elaborate, formal window treatments (she was an expert seamstress) and luxurious, plummy red wall-to-wall carpet.
They're looking for advice. At the house tour, she's thinking of hanging up a large sheet of paper where people can leave their thoughts about how to proceed. One thing's for sure: The kitchen and bathroom are staying, as is the basement "party room" with its vintage bar, mirrored back bar and soda fountain.
Ms. Botkin's Dutch Colonial is an anomaly on Shadeland Avenue, where most of the houses are Four-squares, that solid, ubiquitous house of the solidly middle-class. In Pittsburgh, Four-squares usually are brick houses, with four rooms on the first floor: kitchen, dining room, living room and a generously scaled entrance hall. Five of the houses on this year's tour are Four-squares, all on Shadeland.
The Sturms' next-door neighbors for more than 30 years were two generations of the Heddaeus family, who occupied 3547 Shadeland, a high-style Four-square with an impressive golden oak entrance hall, for several decades.
German immigrant Adolph Heddaeus was a retail grocer with a shop on Market (now Metropolitan) Street in the Manchester section of Allegheny City as early as 1881. In 1905, the family moved from their nearby Franklin Street home to the one they had built on Shady Avenue, a street whose name would change to Shadeland after Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City in 1907.
In 1910, Adolph and his wife, Anna, lived there with their children Alice, 23; Raymond, 17; Gilbert, 12; and Edith, 6; as well as cousin Lillian Bartels. After Adolph's death before 1920, his wife lived there with one or more of her children. The present owners purchased the house six years ago.
The tour also includes a four-bedroom, Craftsman-style house on Brighton Road that soon will be on the market; it's being renovated by Allegheny Construction Management. It features leaded-glass pocket doors and new windows, new brick repointing, and mechanical systems. The buyer will have the opportunity to choose the kitchen finishes and interior paint colors.
Tickets for the walking Brighton Heights Chocolate House Tour (chocolate will be served) cost $10 through June 11; tour-day tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the tour start at All Saints Episcopal Church, 3577 McClure Ave. Designed by Ingham and Boyd in 1930, it's also on the tour, which is sponsored by Brighton Heights Citizens Federation.
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 11, 2011) A story last Saturday about the June 12 Brighton Heights house tour reported that the home at 3547 Shadeland Ave. remained in the same family from 1905 to 1989. The house had several owners during that period.
Patricia Lowry: email@example.com or 412-263-1590.