The house Ed Camic grew up in has had a historic landmark plaque since 1989. But it has always been a landmark in McKeesport. Today, the grand house at 511 Romine Ave. (MLS No. 897413) with six bedrooms, five fireplaces and three full baths, is on the market for $89,999 through Tracy Janov of Prudential Preferred Realty (412-854-7200 ext. 233 or www.prudentialpreferred.com).
It's an amazingly low price for a 106-year-old house filled with original woodwork, hardwood floors, chandeliers, stained and leaded glass, hand-painted wallpaper and ornate plaster molding. But McKeesport is not the city it once was, when steel ruled the Monongahela Valley and employed many of its residents. Mr. Camic, 51, remembers when McKeesport was booming, and his house was the center of a friendly upscale neighborhood known as the Coursin Plan.
"I lived in a wonderful time. If there was a do-over and I had my choice, I would do everything exactly the same," he said.
Mr. Camic shared the house with his parents, Joseph and Anne Camic, his brother, Harry, grandmother, great-aunt, aunt and other relatives on occasion.
The house was designed by architect Henry J. Lindemans and built for the Becker family. Mr. Camic knows nothing about the Beckers, but a Google search of old newspapers turned up news of Frank and Elizabeth Becker of Romine Avenue summering for two weeks in Atlantic City, N.J, in August 1931. It was apparently Mr. Becker's last vacation because a Sept. 26, 1931, article indicated that his $72,000 estate had been distributed to his wife, brother George and St. Mary Catholic Church, which received $7,000. He also may have been the Frank Becker who ran the White House hotel and restaurant in the late 1800s and was a partner in the People's Brewery in McKeesport in 1903.
Whoever the Beckers were, they did not scrimp on this house. Highlights include quarter-sawn oak paneling throughout the first floor, Lincrusta wall coverings in the piano room and along the staircase, Trenton tile surrounds and wood mantelpieces on most of the fireplaces and beveled glass on the side windows and transom around the front door, on built-in china closets and on transoms over all the bedroom doors. As a child, Mr. Camic loved to play with the transom over the door to his room, the first one at the top of the stairs.
"Up down, up down, over and over," he said, laughing.
His favorite room was also the fanciest -- the dining room. He was told that the sailing ship carved into the mantel was the one that brought the Beckers' ancestors to America. If we have the right Frank Becker, they came from Mainz, Germany. The dining room also has plaster molding on the ceiling depicting cherubs and hand-painted linen wallcoverings that tell the story of a young couple moving into a house with a beautiful garden and happily growing old there together.
Mr. Camic, whose grandparents bought the house in the 1950s, said the dining room was the center of family celebrations on every holiday.
"My mom was a picture taker and she drove me crazy sometimes," he said. "I can almost put my entire life together from all the pictures that I've found."
Mrs. Camic was a former fashion model who became a well-known science teacher at McKeesport High School. Her husband, a Rankin native, was a Duquesne University basketball star who played in the 1940s for the Tri-City Blackhawks of Illinois and Iowa in the National Basketball League, a precursor of the NBA. He later owned a moving company. Mrs. Camic applied for and received the plaque out front from Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation in 1989.
Mr. Camic said his parents were very proud of the house and took care of it as best they could. The kitchen and bathrooms were last renovated in the 1980s, he said.
There is also a wraparound porch that needs some repairs and overgrown trees and shrubs. The boiler and main roof have been replaced within the last several years.
Despite McKeesport's economic troubles, its sturdy housing stock is drawing interest. In June, Mayor Michael Cherepko announced plans to tear down dilapidated buildings and revitalize the area around the new Cornell Elementary/Intermediate School. What is now known as the Library Manor neighborhood also includes the McKeesport Little Theater, Carnegie Library of McKeesport and several large churches.
Harry Lorenzi returned from deployment in Iraq to buy a five-bedroom brick house in Library Manor that was listed for $69,900. Skeptical about McKeesport, he expected his stay would be only temporary. Instead, he fell in love with the neighborhood and city, with "walking and biking trails that are the best in the area," he wrote in an e-mail. "You can take the wooded trails up the Youghiogheny River or choose the Mon River trail that will take you all the way to the Waterfront."
Romine Avenue is not in the Library Manor neighborhood. The Camic/Becker house has a county assessed value of $60,400 (www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate/Default.aspx). Mr. Camic, who lives in Port Vue, is also selling a house next to his parents' at 505 Romine Ave. (MLS No. 897408) for $59,900. It is assessed at $43,000. Over the past three years, only one house has sold on Romine for $72,000 in September 2010 (www.realstats.net).
An open house is set for 511 Romine from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. Sunday.
Kevin Kirkland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1978. First Published August 4, 2012 4:00 AM