Buying Here: Allegheny West


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Attending house tours in the North Side's Allegheny West neighborhood has become a tradition for old house lovers. But it was the area's rich history and revitalization efforts that attracted Lucy Houlihan and her husband, Timothy Mickus, when they were preparing for a big move from Nashville to Pittsburgh.

With 12 months to shop around, the couple visited numerous neighborhoods and even had their eye on another house in Allegheny West before they saw the old Victorian that would become their future home.

Five years and two children later, 827 N. Lincoln Ave. (MLS No. 956555) is on the market for $399,000 with agent Shirley Schneider of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services (www.howardhanna.com or 412-687-6000).

The three-story Second Empire-style house was built in 1873-74 by Joseph Morganstern, a retired merchant and clothing manufacturer who immigrated from Bavaria with his wife.

Ms. Houlihan, a history buff, has traced the house's history and found that James Layng, general manager of the Pennsylvania Company (later known as the Pennsylvania Rail Road), bought the house in 1878 and built the adjacent carriage house that is included in the sale price.

Over the years, the house had several owners and like many of the millionaire mansions in the area, became a boarding house between World War I and II. It was eventually broken into nine apartments.

When Ms. Houlihan and Mr. Mickus arrived, they lived in one of the apartments in the main house while they launched a complete renovation of the carriage house.

"We had taken on a much smaller renovation of a house when we were living in Nashville," Ms. Houlihan said. "We were interested in renovating so we jumped straight into buying it."

Unlike the main house, the carriage house is Gothic Revival in style. Ms. Houlihan considers it a fine example of the genre and one of the few of its kind in the area.

"When we renovated the carriage house, the brick was already painted so we painted it again and rebuilt the Juliet balcony on the second floor," she said.

They also replaced the broken and missing windows with new energy-efficient, double-paned ones. The couple gutted the carriage house's two apartments, one up and one down, mirroring the layout of the living room, dining room and kitchen, two bedrooms and bathroom in each unit. Each kitchen has new stainless-steel appliances including a gas stove, dishwasher, refrigerator and built-in microwave.

Once it was finished, the family moved into the renovated carriage house, which is set up in such a way that it can become a single unit if desired. Then the couple started on the 7,500-square-foot main house.

To direct exterior renovations, they had asked architects Rob Pfaffmann and Greg George of Pfaffmann & Associates to create renderings showing the house as a single-family home once again. Jeff Slack provided much of the historical research behind the architectural drawings, which show a front porch and large front window similar to what Ms. Houlihan believes was there before the house became a boarding house.

The full set of drawings were submitted to the city's historical review committee and approved.

Interior work started on the third floor. "We've gutted the third floor and taken out all the lath and plaster and we redid the roof in 2008," Ms. Houlihan said.

The mansard roof, steeply sloped along the edge with an open flat area on top, is composite slate on the sloped sides and rolled roofing on top. The box gutters are lined with copper. The sculpted detailed areas around the dormers and windows have been replaced or repaired.

The first and second floors have not been touched since the purchase in 2005; the apartments and individual rooms are still in place. That means the new owners will have a choice whether to leave it as is or create the floor plans of their dreams.

"The zoning on the county site says [the property is] commercial. However, they have [been approved for] a variance that states that the main house can be used as one residential unit. If it is not completed in a certain amount of time, it can be converted back to several units," according to Mrs. Schneider.

Ceiling heights range from 12 feet on the first floor to 9 1/2 feet on the second to 9 feet in the basement, which holds a treasure trove of original fixtures and fittings.

"All the original doors from the house are down there," Ms. Houlihan said. "There's an old fireplace mantel down there and even four or five clawfoot tubs."

Thinking on the "green" side, the couple investigated using geothermal heating and cooling, with deep holes dug in the large side yard. "We had a contractor start working on it and we have plans for that, too," she said.

The property is a five-minute walk from a new light rail transit stop.

"The location of the property is terrific," Mrs. Schneider said. "At the end of the street is a wonderful park."

A detached two-car garage was added at some point and is a rare commodity in the area.

The property has a 2013 county assessed value of $266,900 (8-A-130, www2.county.allegheny.pa.us). Over the past three years, two properties have sold on North Lincoln Avenue for $360,000 in December 2011 and $400,000 in April 2012 (www.realstats.net).

The couple, who paid $235,000 for the property in August 2005, said they decided to sell because of their growing family.

With two young children and busy work schedules, they decided to move on to something a little less demanding. But their loss will be someone else's gain.

The house just might end up on one of the neighborhood's house tours.

Lizabeth Gray: lgray@post-gazette.com.


SALES SNAPSHOT


21ST WARD/MANCHESTER


2011

2012

SALES

33

62

MEDIAN PRICE

$36,000

$59,300

HIGHEST PRICE

$325,000

$349,900



22ND WARD/NORTH SHORE


2011

2012

SALES

39

51

MEDIAN PRICE

$170,000

$170,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$360,000

$404,703



23RD WARD/EAST ALLEGHENY


2011

2012

SALES

44

72

MEDIAN PRICE

$50,000

$54,755

HIGHEST PRICE

$350,000

$350,000



24TH WARD/TROY HILL


2011

2012

SALES

72

101

MEDIAN PRICE

$19,000

$27,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$685,000

$1,050,000



25TH WARD/CENTRAL NORTH SIDE


2011

2012

SALES

67

100

MEDIAN PRICE

$25,000

$30,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$295,000

$3,335,000



26TH WARD/PERRY HILLTOP


2011

2012

SALES

137

182

MEDIAN PRICE

$34,900

$38,2500

HIGHEST PRICE

$213,400

$292,000

27TH WARD/BRIGHTON HEIGHTS


2011

2012

SALES

179

249

MEDIAN PRICE

$37,699

$45,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$196,000

$200,000



AVALON


2011

2012

SALES

57

76

MEDIAN PRICE

$67,000

$82,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$180,000

$250,000



BELLEVUE


2011

2012

SALES

75

112

MEDIAN PRICE

$86,000

$85,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$165,000

$292,100



BEN AVON


2011

2012

SALES

24

30

MEDIAN PRICE

$163,000

$152,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$340,000

$341, 600



BEN AVON HEIGHTS


2011

2012

SALES

6

7

MEDIAN PRICE

$167,450

$205,000

HIGHEST PRICE

$230,000

$515,000


homes

First Published April 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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