Historic Penn Hills homes to take center stage on tour

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Christine DeCarolis of Penn Hills has been on house tours up and down the East Coast, from Florida to Rhode Island.

“It was kind of my hobby for a while,” she said.

It makes sense, then, that she would be the prime mover organizing the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation's Sept. 14 house and garden tour of the municipality.

“When I started getting back into real estate in 2009 and saw how some of the neighborhoods like Bloomfield, East Liberty and Lawrenceville were turning around, I thought it would be nice to show people how our neighborhoods are changing,” she said.

DeCarolis said Penn Hills “gets a bad rap,” but once she began talking with owners of homes that could be suitable for the tour, she was unduly impressed.

“I've been quite blown away by some of the houses I've seen,” she said. “I think our slogan should be, ‘There's a lot more to Penn Hills than Frankstown Road and the Penn Hills Center (shopping plaza).'”

DeCarolis drove around the municipality, seeking out interesting properties or places with a connection to Penn Hills history.

Sarah Wilson has one such home, built in the 1820s. The house includes some wood from the original log cabin that Thomas Wilson, an early resident of Penn Hills, built on the property in the 1700s.

“I have two acres of the last piece of property we owned, which ran from Coal Hollow Road to Lime Hollow Road and just across Frankstown,” Wilson said.“'Bucolic' is the only word that comes to mind. It's two acres, flat and grassy, and we have a nice garden growing. You sort of feel like you step back in time when you come up here, even though it's right in the middle of everything.”

Another stop on the tour is Jim Beck's home on Datura Drive, built in 1938. Beck also is a member of the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation and serves on its housing committee.

“It was one of the first three houses on my street, built by a prominent local builder, Ralph Scherger,” Beck said, adding he looks forward to the house tour.

“When I look over our efforts in the CDC to sort of recast Penn Hills in people's minds, I think the housing committee holds our real power in terms of being a key to our renaissance here,” he said.

“I think since the mortgage crisis, people are going to welcome the security of knowing they're buying houses they can afford. I think it's going to position us to have an influx of buyers, and the house tour sort of dovetails right into that.”

Joan Greco will invite tour participants into her 1930s-built Cape Cod-style home on Moore Avenue, which she describes as “an artistic little place.

“I've not just gone into Ethan Allen and bought a whole set of furniture,” she said.

DeCarolis said the tour will be self-guided.

“People can start on House No. 1 or House No. 10, it doesn't matter,” she said. “Having been on so many house tours — and especially because Penn Hills is so big and spread out — this is probably the best way to do it.”

Beck said that unlike some house tours, which showcase massive mansions that tour-takers couldn't possibly hope to buy, “we're showing them houses that a lot of homebuyers can afford.”

DeCarolis agreed.

“I'm just surprised and blown away by some of the houses I've seen, and if we have good weather, there are some really fantastic gardens people will also be able to see,” she said.

The tour will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, and are available by calling 412-275-0014 or emailing phcdchousetour@gmail.com.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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