The Masonic Hall Apartments are above Alphabet City at 40 W. North Ave., North Side.
By Kevin Kirkland / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Casellula @ Alphabet City was the name Brian Keyser chose for his new cheese-centric restaurant inside City of Asylum’s headquarters on the North Side. Not long after it opened, he became Keyser @ Alphabet City. He’s the first tenant in the apartments above the restaurant and adjacent bookstore.
“It’s convenient for me not to have to leave the building to go to work and it’s a beautiful old building,” he said. “It’s four times the size of my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen!”
Seven apartments remain vacant in the Masonic Hall Apartments at 40 W. North Ave., but that could change soon. Trek Development has several applicants for the two income-restricted apartments on the second floor of the 1893 building. The larger one-bedroom unit, with 630 square feet, rents for $775 a month and a 478-square-foot apartment with a loft for $725.
The larger one comes with a bonus: a fireplace whose blue-and-red-tile surround bears the name of the building’s first owner: Allegheny 233 Lodge. If there’s still any doubt, the hexagonal tiles spell it out for you: F & AM, for Free & Accepted Masons.
The rest of the apartments are market rate, ranging in size from 1,000 to nearly 1,600 square feet with rents from $1,600 to $2,700 per month. All but the largest have two bedrooms.
Unit 204 has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a storage loft. It’s called that because a structural beam makes the ceiling lower than the required 7 feet required for usable living space. But average-sized people will find it a cozy getaway. The nearly 1,600-square-foot apartment rents for $2,700.
Each apartment is unique, thanks to project manager Dunham reGroup, City of Asylum co-founder Henry Reese and Indovina Associates Architects, especially project architect Brian Kaminski, who lives nearby.
“We tried to preserve the architectural elements,” Mr. Reese said.
Ornate columns stretch to the nearly 16-foot ceiling in unit 203, a 1,300-foot apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms that rents for $1,600 per month. Mr. Keyser’s apartment and two others on the third floor have 17 ½-foot ceilings, two bedrooms, one bathroom and a loft that looks out through 8-foot-high windows into Allegheny Commons. The rent ranges from $2,100 to $2,300.
One of the quirkiest apartments is on the third floor, or 3 ½, as Mr. Reese calls it. Unit 301 is up a half-flight of stairs and has an old window with a perfect view -- of a brick wall. The Bradberry apartments were built in 1905 just inches away from the Masonic hall. Another project of Trek Development, The Bradberry’s renovation is planned in 2018.
The nearly 1,500-square-foot top-floor apartment has almost 10-foot ceilings, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study and charming window seats built under arched windows. It rents for $2,300 a month.
The kitchens all feature speckled granite counter tops by Oread Design, Advanta maple cabinetry, GE Profile ranges and Whirlpool refrigerators and microwaves. All but the one-bedroom, restricted-income apartments come with washers and dryers. The two smallest apartments share a washer and dryer built inside an old light well.
Trek, which is also developing the old Garden Theater next-door as commercial space, is only the apartment leasing agent for Alphabet City. It can’t claim credit for the stunning reuse of the 123-year-old building.
The first-floor restaurant and bookstore, which specializes in translated books by some of the exiled writers that City of Asylum serves, share a spectacular open space with plaster columns, hand-stamped ceiling tiles and movable shelves that can be pushed together to make room for author readings and jazz concerts. The first floor and basement were designed by Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects.
Apartment tenants get free internet, a 20 percent discount in the bookstore and guaranteed seats at free events programmed by the non-profit, Mr. Reese said. They can also store their bicycles in a unique wall-mounted bike rack by Dero inside the building. Anyone can rent the large community room in the basement of the building. It has dramatically lit stone walls, a polished concrete floor and room for 40 people.
Mr. Keyser is enjoying his new “bachelor pad” and the Central North Side.
“I wake up and see the sun shining through the trees. If I were moving to Pittsburgh, I would choose this neighborhood,” he said.
When Mr. Reese was showing a group of City of Asylum funders around the apartments recently, one woman asked many questions and admired details such as the original-looking newel posts and banisters crafted by JMJ Carpentry of Johnstown. At the end of the tour, she asked Mr. Reese for leasing information.
No word yet on whether she, too, will soon be living @ Alphabet City.
For information or tours of the Alphabet City apartments, contact Trek property manager Kelly Softcheck at 412-688-7200 ext. 1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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