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Historic Sewickley Heights estate at center of lawsuit

Background

Wilpen Hall was one of several estates built around the turn of the 20th century in Sewickley Heights by wealthy industrialist Pittsburgh families.

In 1896, families began building summer homes in Sewickley Heights on expansive plots of land because beachfront properties in New York City and Newport, R.I., were too far for travel and mostly reserved for wealthy families along the East Coast.

William Penn Snyder — a partner with Henry W. Oliver in the Oliver and Snyder Steel Co. — built Wilpen Hall on 66 acres.

In 2011, Wilpen Hall was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

It is the only remaining great estate in Sewickley Heights still owned and occupied by the family who built it — down from about 20 estates in 1910.

Including Wilpen Hall, four large estate homes dating to before 1910 remain. The others are Ridgeview Farm, Woodmont and Oak Ledge.

Wilpen Hall was built between 1899 and 1925, with much of the work on the Manor House completed by 1900.

Most of the property was completed by 1925 with exception to minor renovations that took place after.

The three-story sandstone and shingle Manor House was built by George S. Orth and Brothers.

The Little House was constructed around 1915 originally for Mary Cuddy Black Snyder's bachelor brother — the brother-in-law of William Penn Snyder.

Wilpen Farm, located along Scaife and Glen Mitchell roads, was sold in 2008.

In 1996, George Whitney Snyder deeded 27 acres he acquired in 1983 to Sewickley Heights Borough. The land later became the Fern Hollow Nature Center.

Source: National Register of Historic Places registration form

Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 7:46 p.m.
 

A historic estate in Sewickley Heights is at the center of a lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court over the preservation of a portion of the exclusive neighborhood.

J. Brandon Snyder, John C. Oliver III, William P. Snyder V and Yasodhara Arbelaez Snyder filed the lawsuit on July 22 against William P. Snyder III and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, a nonprofit historic preservation group.

William P. Snyder III is the father of plaintiffs J. Brandon Snyder and William P. Snyder V, according to court documents.

The plaintiffs argue that an agreement with the foundation to operate a portion of the family estate, Wilpen Hall on Blackburn Road, for public and commercial use breaches a contract to preserve the land as part of a 1969 land agreement meant to protect the semi-rural character of the secluded community.

Oliver and William Snyder III could not be reached for comment.

Daniel McLane, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the complaint “lays it out and speaks for itself.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation preservation Director Matthew Ragan said the organization had not analyzed the court documents to comment specifically on the case.

“As a foundation our obligation is to support and protect the properties,” he said.

The main residence on the property was built in about 1900, according to Allegheny County real estate records and contains about 18,000 square feet of livable space with 23 rooms.

The main home is not the focus of the lawsuit, but rather another building, referred to as “The Little House” in court documents.

Portions of the film “Foxcatcher” starring Channing Tatum were filmed in 2012 at the estate, valued at $2 million, according to county real estate records. The movie is set to be released later this year.

Wilpen Hall also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Industrialist William Penn Snyder, founder of Shenango Furnace Co., had the estate built for his family at the turn of the century.

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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