A house with history in Carrick


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Kitty Martin beamed as she walked through the Wigman house last summer, delighted by her first chance to tour the Carrick home where her father was born and grew up.

"My grandfather built this house," the Minneapolis woman said as she admired the Victorian woodwork and enjoyed an expansive view of the neighborhood from a second-floor balcony. "My father was born in this house in July 1901."

Her paternal grandfather, William Henry Wigman, ran a South Side lumber company founded in 1866 and initially called the Union Planing Mill Co. When he and his family moved in in 1896, the home's hand-carved oak staircase, pocket doors and moldings were new. So were the cherry wood mantels in the dining room and living room and the three colorful stained-glass windows on the staircase landing. They're still there.

"The most amazing thing to me is that the house was never divided up, and the woodwork was never painted over," Mrs. Martin said.

Another reason to celebrate is that the house still stands. Set on a corner lot, this Queen Anne-style house is the first in an impressive row of houses on a brick-paved street called The Boulevard. This architectural jewel could have become a parking lot for a nearby funeral home. Now, it has historic status and new owners who appreciate its architectural details.

Three white arches frame the front porch. Exterior decoration includes dentil molding and fish scale shingle siding. There's a front-facing gable, a polygonal tower and a second-story balcony that's accessible through an especially tall window in a second-floor bedroom.

Cathy and George Lewis, formerly of Mount Washington, bought the Wigman house last spring for $70,000 and are gradually restoring it. They moved in last September and have rebuilt the front and back porches.

"I always wanted to live in a great big house like that," said Mrs. Lewis, who grew up in Peters, Washington County, and works in the information technology department at the law firm of Houston Harbaugh.

Mr. Lewis is a retired auto mechanic.

"He's becoming very handy. Fortunately, the bones of this house were very, very good. The outside needs a good paint job. We're not going to tackle that on our own," Mrs. Lewis said.

The Lewises saw the spacious home because their daughter, Shannon, considered buying it before purchasing a Brentwood property instead.

"We went and took a second look at it and decided to buy it. We want to ... turn it into a tea room," Mrs. Lewis said, adding that visitors to the Harry Readshaw funeral home, just across the street, would be likely customers. A china cupboard in the foyer already holds an array of 35 colorful tea cups, a gift from one of her cousins.

The Lewises had lots of support from three committed volunteers who founded the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society -- Julia Tomasic, John Rudiak and Carol Anthony. Another advocate was Bonnie Kramer, who grew up in the Wigman house during the 1950s and lives in a log home in McClellandtown, Fayette County. She persuaded the house's former owner, her stepmother Grace McClory, to let her take the lead on finding a sympathetic buyer.

"I'm not of that generation where you throw away and buy new. Even as a decorator, I try to find a second life and repurpose things. I really felt it was important to make sure the right person bought it," Mrs. Kramer said.

All those efforts paid off when the city's Historic Review Commission designated the house as historic in April 2011.

Since last summer, the Lewises have been busy painting the foyer, living room and dining room, using 20 gallons of Behr paint donated by Home Depot. Four of Mrs. Lewis' office mates showed up at 8 a.m. on four Saturdays to attend "painting parties." The crew included Carol Kushner, Corinne McCartney, Karen Schwartz and Jane Settembre. Now, the living room and dining room are gold, and long sage green damask curtains decorate both rooms.

"Carol was known as 'two-coat Carol.' She wears that tag proudly," Mrs. Lewis said.

The slate roof needed repairs, and old knob-and-tube electrical wiring was replaced. New plumbing was installed, too. The Lewises are buying antiques to decorate their new home, including a game table and a pie-crust table for the dining room. At Christmas, they wrapped garlands around the fireplace mantels and decorated a 7-foot tree that stood in the front turret window. An annual gathering of cousins convened here, too.

Just seeing the house where her family grew up was a gift to Mrs. Martin. In the early 1980s, she took her father, Donald Prosser Wigman, to visit Carrick.

"He wanted to see his house again. We stood out there on the corner. We never came up and knocked on the door. We thought it had been divided up into apartments," Mrs. Martin said, adding that her father could not bear to see that.

"I'm so thankful to the Lewises for buying this house and to Bonnie [Kramer] for being strong and saying, 'I want this house to be saved.' It just makes me so grateful that somebody loves that house and that it's still standing."

homes

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published January 26, 2013 5:00 AM


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