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Bethel Park home has storied past, inventive present

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 5:31 p.m.
Howard Hanna
Maria Cedar's Bethel Park home
Howard Hanna
The entryway of Maria Cedar's Bethel Park home
Howard Hanna
The kitchen of Maria Cedar's Bethel Park home

Sometimes even the most dramatic of homes needs help.

When Maria Cedar and her husband saw the Bethel Park home they bought in 2005, they were captured by many of its features, but the house was not one for admiration only.

“There are things you have to do,” Maria Cedar says.

Now, after doing many of them, they have decided it is time to move on, passing along a home that neighbor Doug Ott says is “amazing” in all that has been done to it.

The house is surrounded by a colorful history. It was built in 1930 for Phoebe Mesta Rogers, a daughter of the family that owned the industrial giant Mesta Machine Co. The next owner, Marcy Ferguson, was a high-school classmate of Marilyn Monroe, and neighborhood tales say Marilyn spent a night there once.

But history does not keep a house in perfect condition. Beyond ordinary matters such as changing carpeting and decorating with furniture that meets the size of the rooms, the Cedars:

• Redid the basement from a concrete and dirt afterthought to a space that could easily be an apartment but now has a TV room, child's craft area, workout room, ping-pong room, kids' play area, storage area and complete bathroom. Sound big? Yup.

• Updated and enlarged the kitchen with marble countertops and even a connected four-seat marble table. It has stainless-steel, commercial-level appliances and a new exit onto an enlarged deck.

• Changed the servants' quarters toward the back of the house into a two-bedroom children's quarters with bathrooms for their son and daughter, with a second-floor laundry chute and its own staircase into the kitchen.

The house is being sold for $799,000, and county records say the Cedars bought it for $542,500. Cedar suspects he has invested the difference in improvements.

One of their contractors, Tom Gallagher, owner of Aquaguard Systems of Forest Hills, says, “I have been in the smallest of houses to the biggest, and that one is one of my favorites.”

But the house and property would not have been that way had the Cedars not followed the spirit of improvements begun by owners 20 years earlier.

Vernon and Marcy Ferguson lived in the 7,000-square-foot Tudor-style home from the mid-'50s until 1986, says Diana Mathison from the Upper St. Clair office of Howard Hanna Real Estate. The Fergusons are the parents of Scott Ferguson, producer of the film “Brokeback Mountain.”

The Fergusons didn't do much to update the home, Mathison says, but the next owners, Robert and Catherine Hoag, saw the need and began projects. They redid the kitchen, for instance, but it needed newer work when the Cedars moved in.

Ott can see huge differences. He grew up in the neighborhood and was a friend of the Ferguson family, and was in the house frequently. Now he is again in the house often, because his company, Get It Done Services, does landscaping for the Cedars.

The Cedars and Mathison agree one of the most significant improvements the Hoags made was enclosing the side porch, making it into a large, stone sunroom. The Cedars extended the hot-water heating system under the room to make it more comfortable.

The Hoags began to take out some of the trees on the nearly two-acre lot, a job the Cedars continued. The Cedars had the rear portion of the yard backfilled. The result is a property that is lined by trees, sealing it off from others nearby.

“The most relaxing dinner you can have is right here,” Maria Cedar says, standing next to a table on the deck. “It is like a park, really. Deer walk by. Turkeys. And it is quiet. You can't even hear a neighbor's dog barking.”

Revisions done by the Cedars sometimes resulted in changes that were unexpected in their significance. Cedar says a contractor doing work on the kitchen suggested a French door from that room to the deck, eliminating a detour into a family room. It is so appropriate, it is hard to imagine the house without it, he says.

Work in the kitchen led to redoing the butler's pantry area, which brought about installation of a soft-drink fridge for the kids and a wine cooler for the adults.

Upstairs, the en suite in the master bedroom was enlarged and the bedroom next to it was turned into a dressing room with floor-to-ceiling closets. A TV is mounted in one and a coffee maker is connected to plumbing, so it doesn't need to be filled.

Cedar says the convenience of the room has established a “routine” — he gets dressed for work, has some coffee, watches the news and then goes downstairs for breakfast.

The house has a great deal of storage with more closets than often are seen in homes of its age. There is space in the redone basement and a large attic.

Many aspects of the house did not need to be redone. It is filled with pegged oak and marble floors, a slate roof, plaster interior walls with medallions in some ceilings, and marble window sills even in what was once the servants' quarters.

The house has four working fireplaces, one of which has a sandstone mantel that was shipped from Europe in three pieces.

The foyer is decorated by a chandelier that was a souvenir of the 1934 Chicago World's Fair. Ten sconces designed to match it are spread throughout the first floor.

While the design is far from the open outlook so popular now, the rooms of the first floor drift into one another easily.

“We had a party here with a lot of people,” Cedar says, “and people were in different rooms, but you could keep track of what was happening.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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