Buying Here: Observatory Hill


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The charms of Victorian architecture are timeless: intricate woodwork, built-in cabinets, pocket doors and ornate hardware and other embellishments. Unfortunately, what they did not have in Queen Victoria's time are modern touches like powder rooms, granite counter tops and deep closets.

Contractor John O'Leary understood this 15 years ago when he and his wife, Margie, bought a large 1904 Foursquare in Observatory Hill, a North Side neighborhood known for its historic homes, Riverview Park and the Allegheny Observatory.

"These older houses have great character but are not real functional. We've made those updates to this house," Mr. O'Leary said.

With their son heading to college in the fall, the couple is looking to downsize and have put the four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house at 126 Dunlap St. (MLS No. 1010309)on the market for $140,000. Kaedi Knepshield of RE/MAX Select Realty (724-933-6300 ext. 521 or www.selecthomefinder.com) will hold an open house at 1-4 p.m. June 22.

The 12-by-10-foot entry hall features oak and pine staircase and paneling that Mrs. O'Leary has refinished beautifully.

"Margie did all that herself," her husband said. "I wanted no part of it. She spent a long time on it but it turned out really nice."

Turn left through one of two sets of pocket doors to get to the 14-by-12-foot living room with gas-burning fireplace. Light falling through a large southern-facing window in the living room also floods the 17-by- 12-foot dining room, which has a decorative fireplace and three more tall windows. Mr. O'Leary believes the tawny oak flooring in the dining room and hallway is also beneath the living room's neutral beige carpeting, but he has never checked.

"The owner have done some really smart, beautiful upgrades that capture the original feel of the home," said Ms. Knepshield, noting that it's unusual to find a first-floor bathroom and a real master bath in a 100-year-old house at this price point.

Mr. O'Leary worked out a way to put in a powder room on the first floor without ruining the flow or losing the home's period character.

The kitchen, however, was a lost cause.

"Painted the most bizarre colors, purple and blue. We just tore the whole thing out," said Mr. O'Leary with a laugh.

The result is a combination of old and new, vintage and modern.

Granite counter tops, white subway tile with a glass tile band and wood cabinets that reach up to the ceiling work together with the black appliances that include a newer General Electric Elite side-by-side refrigerator, Maytag dishwasher and Kenmore gas stove.

Across from the refrigerator is a large built-in pantry that offers storage space. The raw wood of the doors gives away another of "Margie's projects."

"The kitchen had a ceramic tile floor that was white but my wife didn't like it so I put a parquet laminate over the top," he said.

Many homes of this age come with small closets otherwise known as "chimney closets" that are the depth of a chimneybreast and far from practical. Mr. O'Leary installed two large closets in the 14-by-11-foot master bedroom suite and updated the bathroom to include a jetted tub and ceramic tile on both the shower surround and the floor.

The newer shower door is frameless glass with a twist. "One part is stationary, the other swings back when you get in," said Mr. O'Leary.

It was one of his many online shopping finds. The second bathroom also benefited from an update in the last couple of years with a new tub/shower combination with sliding galls door and updated plumbing. The second bedroom (12 by 11 feet) is used as a home office with a large desktop.

There are two large bedrooms on the third floor (14 by 13 feet and 16 by 14 feet), Sloping ceilings reflect the drop of the slate roof and dormer windows. One of the rooms is used as a media/family room and the other is their son's hide-away.

"What always made me laugh about this house is on the second floor you have those chimney closets but on the third floor you have big closets," said Mr. O'Leary.

Two years ago, he consulted an interior decorator on exterior paint choices that would show off the home's gingerbread details and complement the rich orange of the exterior brick.

The property has a county assessed value of $95,700 (www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate/Search.aspx). Over the last three years, eight houses have sold on Dunlap Street for prices ranging from $13,100 in September 2013 to $97,900 in March 2011. One sold twice (www.realstats.net).

The property is a short walk from shopping and a 10-minute drive to Downtown. Residents can catch the fireworks displays at PNC Park and Heinz Field as well as Fourth of July celebrations from the comfort of the third-floor media room.

The unfinished basement covers the complete footprint of the house and contains a washer and dryer. There are two storage rooms underneath the front porch. The house has forced air heating and air conditioning and the electrical wiring was updated just prior to the O'Learys moving in.

Most of the light fixtures in the house are original. The gas furnace is newer, bought just last winter. "In the dead of winter, I might add," Mr. O'Leary said.

"We think that's one of the hidden secrets of Pittsburgh - Riverview Park," said Mr. O'Leary. "But we're only moving five minutes away."

Lizabeth Gray: lgray@post-gazette.com


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