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Realtor goes art deco in Mt. Lebanon

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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
 

A historic art deco building in the heart of Mt. Lebanon reopened this week as a showpiece for Howard Hanna real estate company after nearly a year of renovations.

The building formerly hosted about a dozen retail storefronts and professional offices at Washington Road and Alfred Street. Most have reopened elsewhere.

O'Hara-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services this week moved its Mt. Lebanon office into 701 Washington Road, at 1920s-era structure it purchased in 2010 for $535,000, according to Allegheny County property records.

The building, now topped with a lighted Howard Hanna sign, also includes financial services staff and the regional office formerly located in Upper St. Clair. From Mt. Lebanon, Howard Hanna staff will supervise agents from six of its offices in the southern and western suburbs.

In February, after leases of all but one tenant expired or were terminated, contractors began gutting and rebuilding the space into a jewel for the company's top-selling office, officials said.

“This office is the No. 1 office in terms of sales,” said Gloria Schucolsky, senior vice president for Howard Hanna's southwest region, citing 846 sales in 2012 worth a total of about $185 million. “The No. 1 office should have the No. 1 location, should be the flagship office for the region, and this is. It's beautiful,” she said.

Officials at Howard Hanna would not disclose how much the renovation cost, but work was extensive.

Project architect Stephen Casey said the three-story, 11,000-square-foot building was constructed in the 1920s as the Mt. Lebanon Medical Building. It has terra-cotta staff-and-snake medallions along its top to symbolize the medical profession and commerce.

Years of use and a hodgepodge of repairs and renovations meant it no longer met modern standards of comfort and safety, he said.

“The building really had come to the end of its useful life. There were some dramatic deficiencies with it,” said Casey, whose firm is based in the Strip District. “There was no (handicapped) access, it had an old and cranky steam heat system, no air conditioning, and the electrical work was frightening.”

Contractors replaced wiring, installed a new heating and air conditioning system and fire sprinklers, and reconfigured the interior space.

They also restored the terra-cotta eagles and medallions, and rebuilt a wall facing the public plaza along Alfred Street, Casey said.

Now the building features large windows overlooking Alfred and Washington. They light open-concept office spaces for up to 75 real estate agents on the top and middle floors.

The windows fronting Washington Road eventually will have displays showing homes for sale, and a lobby with a large staircase will welcome walk-in customers, said Ruth Foltz, manager of the Mt. Lebanon office.

The southwest regional office — supervising agents from offices in Mt. Lebanon, Washington, Peters, Baldwin, Whitehall, Moon, Sewickley and Collier — will be relocated from Upper St. Clair to space on the bottom floor.

Of the stores and professional offices once located there, only Mt. Lebanon Shoe Repair, on the ground floor, maintained its lease. Owner Ross LoCastro credited the Hanna family's sympathy to the difficulty of moving his equipment.

Jay Weaver, owner of SoundColor Studios, moved to a storefront in Carnegie where he could have his recording business on the first floor and his apartment above.

“Financially, I hadn't planned on a move like that. In the end it was rough, but I ended up buying my own space so it wouldn't happen again,” he said.

The owners of Resonance Violins bought and renovated a two-story building at the other end of Mt. Lebanon's Uptown business district, next to Rollier's Hardware, manager Lily Yan said.

Pixel River digital printing and Ed Massery photographer, formerly upstairs tenants at 701 Washington, are renting the upper floor of the Resonance building.

“We're happy with the investment that Howard Hanna has put into the building, which is a very difficult building,” said Eric Milliron, Mt. Lebanon's commercial districts manager.

“We're also very happy that we were able to retain most of the businesses in Mt. Lebanon.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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