New windows signaled something was happening at a three-story house on South 16th Street in the South Side Flats. Then nothing -- for seven years. The abandoned renovation project ended up in foreclosure, and the bank that owned it wanted its money back.
"I used to walk past it," contractor Josh Ebaugh said. "Four years ago, I looked into buying it, but the bank wasn't ready to sell."
Then, in the fall of 2012, he pointed out the house to Tom Jackson, a client who lived in the South Side Lofts.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
Tickets: $20 at starting point, UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center, 2000 Mary St., 15203.
Parking: Free parking in the UPMC Employee Lot at 21st and Josephine streets.
"Two weeks later, it was yours," he said to Mr. Jackson.
The homeowner and contractor's collaboration -- their third on the South Side -- resulted in a yearlong renovation that restored some of the house's original features while adding urban loft elements, big-screen TVs hidden behind mirrors and other "smart house" technology. It is one of 12 stops on today's Historic South Side Home Tour, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
One of the biggest houses in the neighborhood, the three-story building has about 4,500 square feet of living space. According to a house history by Carol Peterson, contractor John Siebert built it in 1890 for Charles and Caroline Ohliger at a cost of $3,500. All of the land between 16th and 17th streets had formerly been part of Crystal Glass works, one of several glass factories in the area. Mr. Ohliger was working in one of them when he bought this house and lived upstairs while renting its first floor to a grocer. He later became a grocer himself and owned a bar a few blocks away.
The house's mansard roof identifies it as Second Empire style but Ms. Peterson also noted elements of Richardsonian Romanesque, especially the rough-cut sandstone lintels and blocks mixed in among red brick. Its exterior drew Mr. Jackson and Mr. Ebaugh, but the interior was a lot less desirable. The only obvious original features were in the narrow staircase -- two newel posts, a section of balustrade and part of a tin ceiling.
The good news was that the upper two floors had new wiring, plumbing and drywall. There were even some new kitchen cabinets in boxes.
"I thought I was walking into something half-done," Mr. Jackson said.
But when Mr. Ebaugh took a closer look, the picture changed.
"Everything was done wrong. It wouldn't pass inspection," he said.
Even worse, the previous owner had cut a hole in the roof for a rooftop deck. It had leaked for years, dumping more than a foot of water into the full basement. Mr. Ebaugh, his brother, Aaron, and Matthew Sill -- all with Expert Construction -- put on a new shingle roof, drained and waterproofed the basement and tore out all the faulty wiring, plumbing and drywall.
There was one bright spot in that unplanned demolition: They discovered original door trim and baseboards inside a closet.
"I thought, 'Oh, man, we can match it,' " Mr. Ebaugh said.
Allegheny Millworks had trim that was close, and it is now installed throughout the house. The contractors also found a close match to the tin ceiling tiles and crown molding on the stairs at www.americantinceilings.com, the website of American Tin Ceiling, a Florida company that uses old molds. Now that both ceilings are painted copper, it's very hard to tell the difference between the new tiles in the kitchen and living room and the old tiles in the stairway.
As tourgoers enter the house today, they may find they're more interested in the tile at their feet. It is centuries-old encaustic tile from a monastery in Argentina that Mr. Jackson and his sister, Katie Jackson of Connellsville, found online at ogtstore.com, the website of Scranton-based Olde Good Things.
The architectural salvage dealer also had tall mahogany doors from the same monastery. Emerald Art Glass removed a transom that made them even taller and installed new glass amid the original wrought-iron hardware. After sealing with many coats of tung oil, the pair replaced a modern glass door on the side of the house. Mr. Ebaugh also used leftover monastery tiles for the walls of the shower in the first-floor bathroom.
With such dedication to antiquity, some might find it strange that the house also has whole-house stereo with Pandora, four big-screen televisions that double as computer and security system monitors and touchscreens installed throughout the house. That's the handiwork of Nick Yanyanin, Mr. Ebaugh's neighbor in the South Side Slopes.
Mr. Jackson can remotely change the temperature in every room, access music, movies and other entertainment, even open and close the blinds inside the windows using the touchscreens, laptop or his smartphone. It all runs on Windows 8.
"We figured a house of this magnitude needed this," Mr. Ebaugh said. "Nick said this is the first house where he went all out. He built it like it was his dream home."
Many people approached this job that way, from the contractors to designer Jeanne Brown of Claire Interiors to Linda Yeager of The Kitchen Studio. She's responsible for some of its best features, including a huge bank of windows that brighten the elevated kitchen and the rest of the first floor. The Loewen company brought it in one piece from Canada. Mr. Ebaugh said installing the 20-by-7-foot monster took five strong men and a little strategy.
"If it fell that's $16,000 down the drain," he said.
Neither he nor Mr. Jackson would change a thing.
"It's perfect," Mr. Ebaugh said, looking around proudly.
"I love this house," Mr. Jackson said.
The last unfinished piece is a second-floor, three-season room over the garage that will include an outdoor kitchen and stone fireplace.
Seeing his plans come to fruition puts a smile on the face of Mr. Jackson, a dentist. He has no regrets about leaving Forest Hills for a new home in the city 10 years ago.
"I was looking for something more urban," he said. "I liked what was happening on the South Side."
Kevin Kirkland: email@example.com or 412-263-1978.
Allegheny Millwork: 412-431-4224, www.alleghenymillwork.com
Emerald Art Glass: 412-381-2274, www.emeraldartglass.com
Expert Construction: 412-390-0813, www.pittsburghexpertconstruction.com.
Kitchenrama (cabinets): 412-687-2308, www.cabinets4sale.com.
Loewen windows: www.loewen.com.
The Kitchen Studio: 412-656-9688, www.thekitchenstudiopgh.com.