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Region's mansions mark time of opulence

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
“Images of America: Pittsburgh’s Mansions”
The King family owned Baywood, a white-painted brick Italianate home. Here, Alexander and Cordelia King raised four children. After a descendant left the home to the city of Pittsburgh in 1954, the building played host to generations of children who took art classes in its rundown, yet still impressive, rooms. By 1994, the home was back in private hands and has been handsomely restored.
“Images of America: Pittsburgh’s Mansions”
One of the grandest of Pittsburgh's Gilded Age mansions was the estate of Richard Beatty Mellon and Jennie King Mellon, which sat atop a hillside along Fifth Avenue in Shadyside. Designed by Alden & Harlow in 1911, the 65-room home featured a stained glass Tiffany mural at the head of its grand staircase, part of which is in the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art. The home was demolished in 1940 after being donated the the city of Pittsburgh and today is the site of Mellon Park.
“Images of America: Pittsburgh’s Mansions”
The Moreland-Hoffstot House at 5057 Fifth Avenue, designed by Paul W. Irwin in 1914, echoes the design of the Grand Trianon in Versailles, France. Clad in white terra-cotta tile, a popular facade treatment at the time, the mansion is also reminiscent of Rosecliff, a home owned by the family of Andrew Moreland's wife. Moreland held iron interests; the home's later owner, Henry Phipps Hoffstot, was heavily involved inthe steel industry.
Edgehill, the sprawling estate of E.T.F. Lovejoy, stood at Braddock and Edgerton avenues, at the very edge of Point Breeze. The home was designed by Alden & Harlow around 1905.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
Located at Fifth Avenue and Beechwood Boulevard in Point Breeze, Lyndhurst, desigend by Theophilus Parsons Chandler Jr., was the estate of the William Thaw Sr. family. Thaw was a financier, steamboat operator and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The home was demolished in 1944.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
Lyndhurst's entrance hall set the stage for the lavish interiors visitors were to encounter throughout the house. Elaborate ironwork, stained-glass panels and tapestries greeted guests arriving at the Thaw home.
James Knox
The McCook House on Fifth Avenue undergoes renovation to become a luxury inn Wednesday May 5, 2010 in Oakland. (James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

When Melanie Linn Gutowski was 6 years old, she took art classes in an old house that locals referred to as the King Estate.

The Italianate Victorian-era Highland Park mansion had deteriorated from its original splendor.

But it still retained enough suggestions of its former elegance and splendor to spark Gutowski's fascination with old houses, particularly the big, impressive mansions that once flourished in Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“I think there are few Pittsburghers who aren't fans of things that are not there any more. We still give directions according to things that are not there,” says Gutowski, a free-lance writer who lives in Sharpsburg and is author of “Images of America: Pittsburgh's Mansions,” an image-driven book that showcases some of the lavishly extravagant estates that wealthy local families once called home.

Over the years, the Stanton Heights native earned a degree in art and architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and worked as a docent at Clayton. She amassed a collection of vintage postcards of ephemera and information from local mansions, “much to my husband's chagrin,” she says.

Little did she know she was laying the groundwork for her book.

Some of the 180 postcards and photos that illustrate the text come from Gutowski's collection. Others are from local libraries and archives.

The book's 180 black-and-white images and accompanying text catalog more than 160 houses built between 1830 and 1930, a period when — according to local legend —there were more millionaires living in Pittsburgh than in New York City.

Some of the families who lived in these houses had names that are still familiar — Heinz, Frick and Mellon. Others faded from local prominence as fortunes changed or individuals moved away.

Like the people who lived there, some of the houses featured in the book live on only in memory.

A Google Maps search of their addresses leads to images of a bland brick apartment house or a street of small, unremarkable contemporary dwellings that replaced these impressive and ornate landmarks.

Others remain because they have been repurposed :

• The 23-room Jacobean Revival house lives on as a Chatham University dormitory that retains the name of the Rea family that built it.

• Charles Marshall's 1911 mansion at the intersection of Fifth and Shady avenues is now Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

• The recently restored 1905 McCook mansion at Fifth and Amberson avenues is now a luxury hotel.

Two others — Clayton in the East End and Hartwood Acres in Indiana Township — retain their original appearances and are open to the public.

Viewed as a whole, the book creates a visual record of an era of opulence and elegance made possible by the intersection of cheap labor and heating costs, as well as entrepreneurs with deep pockets and big visions.

“It's a book for anybody who is interested in a slice of history that has come and gone and cannot really happen again,” Gutowski says.

Alice T. Carter is a writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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