Buying Here: Allentown


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Who hasn't entered an old building and thought: "If these walls could talk"? One thing is certain, anyone who has ever lived within the walls of 1000 Arlington Ave. in the city's Allentown neighborhood has enjoyed one of the most impressive views of Downtown visible from a comfortable chair next to a fireplace.

This brick, 2 1/2-story duplex has 5,500 square feet of living space, eight bedrooms, three full baths and a powder room. A fireplace is on the north wall of the first floor beside that large window with the amazing view. A unique cast iron stove is part of a second-floor fireplace.

The house's current owners, Tasso and Becky Spanos, have two paintings of similar views of Downtown. One done in the 1970s by Adele Lafond is titled "Tasso's View." The other by Julius Jacik, a Czecholslovakian immigrant, is very similar to one that Jacik painted in the 1920s and that hangs in the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library.

The Spanoses have lived here for more than 50 years and are selling the house themselves, without a Realtor. It is priced at $850,000. For information, call 412-977-1896.

The house's style -- Italianate, according to house historian Carol Peterson -- and deed records suggest it was built in the mid- to late 1800s. But even before this house was built, this property on three-quarters of an acre has been owned by some very prominent Pittsburghers.

The Spanoses purchased the home in 1962 from Roy Eichleay, who had bought it in 1925. He was the son of John Eichleay Jr., who founded a highly successful structural moving business, The Eichleay Company, in 1888.

To save the time and money necessary to construct buildings, Eichleay used his engineering expertise to devise ways to use rollers and skids to move buildings from their original site to more convenient ones. The 1922 book "History of Pittsburgh and Environs" includes stories of homes being relocated without breaking a single pane of glass or cracking plaster.

After reading about the amazing feats that John Eichleay accomplished, one might wonder if this house was one of those that he had moved up the cliffs. According to local history buff Sandy Lubawski, that is not possible since his business began in 1888 and this house is marked on a map in 1852.

That year is the earliest visual evidence that Ms. Lubawski has of the house. She said that the house was inhabited by John C. Bidwell (1818-1891) in 1852. According to the book "Founding Families of Pittsburgh," Bidwell owned Pittsburgh Plow Works, which sold almost exclusively in the Latin American market. Ms. Lubawski said that Bidwell supplied small amounts of gunpowder to the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Other previous owners of the property are also well-known names in this area. The earliest owner of record is John Ormsby (1720-1805), a soldier in the French and Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion and the American Revolution. Ormsby, who was among the first settlers of Pittsburgh, started a ferry across the Monongahela River in 1775. Mr. Eichleay told Mr. Spanos that he supposedly paid for the property with peppercorns, which were quite valuable as a food preservative in the late 1700s.

On April 26, 1827, a man named Jeremiah Warder sold the land to Joseph Allen, an Englishman who became the namesake for the Allentown neighborhood. A map dated Oct. 16, 1838, in the Allegheny County Assessment Office shows the area being divided into lots. Allentown was incorporated on March 2, 1870, and annexed by the city of Pittsburgh on April 2, 1872.

German immigrants as well as Welsh, Irish and English settlers established businesses and put down roots in the area. Allentown thrived in its early years as transportation up and down the hill was ample and convenient. Five inclines once served the neighborhood, the most famous of which was the curved Knoxville incline with a station at the intersection of Warrington and Arlington avenues.

In 1888, Allentown became the first site west of the Allegheny Mountains with an electric streetcar line. Trolley tracks still line Arlington Avenue.

Tasso and Becky Spanos are planning to move closer to family. Although the walls can't talk, the couple have plenty of stories and memories to share with the next owner.

Lorri Drumm: ldrumm@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3771


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