Club Pittsburgh's owners often open their home for philanthropic events
January 9, 2009 5:00 AM
In August, Steve Herforth and Peter Karlovich hosted a party to benefit the Pittsburgh Association of the Deaf at their home on Mount Washington.
By Jerome L. Sherman Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Almost every week, Peter Karlovich and Steven Herforth open the doors of their $2.5 million Mount Washington home to Pittsburgh's gay, arts and nonprofit communities.
In October, they hosted the Persad Center's "Spell" Halloween party and City Theatre's "Season Shake Up," with 300 attendees. In September, Quantum Theatre held its own season kickoff event there, with cocktails, dining and dancing on the house's disco floor.
"Both Steve and Peter have been very generous with City Theatre," said Greg Quinlan, the managing director. "We're glad to have both of them associated with our organization."
Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth also are owners of Club Pittsburgh, the Strip District establishment that was the scene of a death Sunday and the target of a June complaint to the city alleging open sex, the sale of paraphernalia and the screening of pornography.
The city's Bureau of Building Inspection issued a "cease and desist" order in August, asserting that the club was in violation of its occupancy permit as a health and fitness center. The order was later rescinded after Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth met with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's chief of staff and top city lawyers.
The mayor, who has used their home for a fundraiser, denied this week that the pair received special treatment. Many in the nonprofit sector have come to their defense, highlighting their charitable work.
"The only way to describe Steve is as incredibly generous, kind and always willing to help in any way he can," said Kathi Boyle, executive director of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, which counts Mr. Herforth as a board member. "He's been a tremendous asset to the agency."
Neither Mr. Karlovich nor Mr. Herforth responded to a call seeking comment yesterday.
In a posting on www.pghlesbian.com, Mr. Karlovich defended himself and his partner, saying the city's complaints about his club were based on factual errors and minor violations that were later corrected.
"We have done nothing wrong. We love this city and our community," he wrote. "We will continue to do what we can to improve this city as a whole and our gay community in particular."
Mr. Karlovich also expressed sorrow for the death of Cleophus Pettway, 31, of Youngstown, Ohio, whose body was found in a private room at Club Pittsburgh. He said the club's Web site, www.clubpittsburgh.com, would provide information about helping Mr. Pettway's family raise money for funeral expenses.
The Allegheny County medical examiner's office was waiting for the results of toxicology tests and had not determined a cause of death.
Mr. Karlovich, 48, and Mr. Herforth, 49, are natives of the South Hills. Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Karlovich sold his half of a software company, just before the collapse of the dot-com bubble.
Still in their 30s, both men were able to retire and focus their energies on philanthropy. They donate tens of thousands of dollars to local organizations every year, and both sit on a range of boards for nonprofit groups, including City Theatre, the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., the Persad Center and the Delta Foundation, which organizes the annual Pride in the Street event in Downtown Pittsburgh.
They also know how to throw a party, which is why they built their 10,400-square-foot "smart house," a V-shaped structure with floor-to-ceiling windows that take full advantage of Mount Washington's sweeping views of the city skyline.
It also has an in-ground pool, guest bedrooms, a sauna, steam room and a lower-level party room, with a wine cellar, bar, dance floor and DJ booth. The house's computerized entertainment system cost $180,000 and was featured in a 2004 story in Sound and Vision, an online magazine.
Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth make full use of the house's amenities, and they routinely cover party costs when they host an event.
Party goers have included Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Croatian Ambassador Neven Jurica attended a National Federation of Croatian Americans Wine Tasting Gala in 2005.
In 2007, the house hosted 48 fundraisers, according to Gary Van Horn, who sits on the executive board of the Delta Foundation with Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth.
"They don't charge anything," he said. "I think they built that house to give back to the community. That's what they've done, and they've done a good job."
In 2002, when Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth were still building their home, Club Pittsburgh opened at 1139 Penn Ave. It bills itself as a private club for gay men, providing "a comfortable, clean, safe and friendly environment where you can relax, work out and play," according to its Web site.
Mr. Van Horn, who owns Images, a Downtown bar, said the club has an important place in the community.
"They wouldn't be in business if there wasn't a need for it," he said. "It happens in every city."
In his recent Internet posting, Mr. Karlovich vigorously defended himself against suggestions that he and his partner had tried to use their position in the community to stop city action against the club.
"We have also contributed to the campaigns of literally dozens of other political figures, locally, statewide and nationally," he said. "Are you suggesting that since we have given them money (and a small amount at that) ... we are no longer permitted to use the services of these political entities?
"Should you be prohibited to conducting business with a government entity because you have contributed?"
The pair hosts regular political fundraisers, including the one for Mr. Ravenstahl in May 2007.
"They're two of the kindest and most socially aware people I know," said Councilman Bruce Kraus, who is the city's first openly gay politician and the recipient of $6,000 in campaign contributions from Mr. Karlovich. "They have this generous spirit. They believe they have this moral obligation, I think, that they have been blessed and they feel an obligation to spread the wealth."
He said neither Mr. Karlovich nor Mr. Herforth have ever asked for special favors from him in return for their contributions.
"They've been nothing but just generous to me," he said.