Home and garden tour planned to enhance image of Penn Hills

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The 220-year-old log house on Poketa Road in Penn Hills is fertile ground for lifelong history buffs like Gene Malek, who lives there with his family.

Rumor has it that a small window in the house's center was once used for firing rifles at marauding Indians. A century later, the house is said to have served as a barn -- a rumor that is supported by Mr. Malek's discovery of a horse collar and buckles in the floor's packed clay.

"The walls speak to you," he said.

From 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 14, the home built of native chestnut, oak and poplar timbers will be one of 18 stops on the self-guided Penn Hills House and Garden Tour.

The first-time event is sponsored by the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation.

The concept for the tour came from board member Christine DeCarolis who said the tour is designed to dispel outsiders' perception of the community as filled with crime.

"I was so tired of hearing this, I wanted to concentrate on the good, like the amazing homes and their histories, and people loving it here," she said.

All proceeds benefit the community group. President Marlon Ferguson said the 4-year-old group strives to spread the word about the community's affordable housing and prime location, while helping to beautify the area and attract new businesses.

The stops comprise 16 homes, a community garden and a Tudor-style bed-and-breakfast on Eastwood Road.

While none of the attractions is as storied as the log house, each is distinct.

The quaint, 1 1/2-story Datura Drive home of Jan and Ron Young shows Mrs. Young's passion for gardening. The garden is a color wheel of motion when a breeze blows: Pink and red geraniums, yellow and pink zinnias, purple snapdragons sway.

Absorbing the sights, aromas and bird sounds from the patio is all the more pleasurable with the porch's retractable awning, potted petunias and geraniums and old-fashioned lion head fountain.

The Zieger Road home of Amy and Tom Haas is a modified arts-and-crafts-style home with large rooms built about 1930. It sports a French country-style kitchen and French-style antique furniture.

The garden features irises, snowdrops, ferns and lime hydrangeas, which turn rosy pink in the fall.

The decorations inside the home of the Haas' neighbors, Kathy and Davis Raborn, are nature-based and include photographs of the outdoors, plants, a stone fireplace, hardwood floor and more.

When the couple bought the home 12 years ago, its garden area consisted of a few plants, no patio and a crumbling brick wall.

Besides planting trees, shrubs, plants and grasses, Mrs. Raborn, a landscape designer, added stones, a sandstone boulder wall and a Pennsylvania Bluestone patio.

The Saltsburg Road home of Michael and Terri Buhot is a 1926 Craftsman bungalow occupied by the original family until the Buhots purchased it in 2011.

As a work-in-progress, the Buhots are crafting two new garden spaces in addition to a garden boasting annuals and perennials.

At the neighborhood's community garden, 1162 Jefferson Road, tour-goers will view 104 garden plots rented by individuals -- and with a waiting list for next season.

Among the fruits of residents' labors are sugar cane, peanuts and glass corn -- with multicolored, shiny kernels.

Shawn O'Mahony and Mr. Ferguson's Pheasant Drive home stands out for its originality: The men removed three first-floor walls to fashion one large room for entertaining, and to be more accommodating for Mr. Ferguson, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

The men, who are avid recyclers, also enclosed the side porch and made it into a kitchen, enlivening it with cast-off cabinets from school laboratories and reused concrete counters.

The notable architectural features of Joan Greco's cape cod style Moore Avenue home include built-in bookcases and original French doors.

Ms. Greco, who is from England, will serve refreshments on the front porch for guests' relaxation, and as a reward for climbing the 30 steps leading up to the house, which is built on a hill.

"We're trying to raise awareness that Penn Hills is a nice neighborhood," she said of the tour. "I have a beautiful little house for the money and view."

Reserved tickets are $10; send checks payable to the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Penn Hills House Tour, c/o 114 Dauntless Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15235. Day-of-tour tickets are $15 and available at the Penn Hebron Garden Club, 237 Jefferson Road, Penn Hills. The tour will be held rain or shine. Details: Ms. DeCarolis at leftro01@yahoo.com, or 412-243-8440.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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