Shaler's historic former Moortgat Studios site for sale
Tom Nega had seen a lot of homes as a former part-time house painter, but the historic “house on the hill” was his all-time favorite.
He and his wife, Kathleen, both retired Gateway School District teachers, purchased the Shaler house in 2010. After completing extensive renovations to the 4,300-square-foot property situated on more than seven acres, they have decided to downsize; the home is on the market for $699,000 through Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services.
Many in the area are familiar with the 300 Vilsack Road home, with its winding, private driveway.
Previous owners, the late Christine and Marcel Moortgat, opened their Moortgat Studios artificial flower business on the property in the 1950s. Tom Nega, who knew Christine Moortgat through his ex-wife's family and painted the house three times prior to owning it, said the studios had two large show rooms, an office and a work space.
“They had hundreds of blossoms, oh, all kind of stuff. Blossoms, flowers … leaves, any kind of exotic plant you could imagine.”
According to Nega, 77, they supplied silk flowers for defunct department stores Gimbels, the Joseph Horne Co. and Kaufmann's, as well as other East Coast and Canadian locations.
“My mother-in-law was a buyer for the Joseph Horne Company and she would go there. And if she were still around, she would be so interested to know that we have it listed for sale. You know, a lot of senior people in the area, in the North Hills, I'm sure remember it,” said Linda Miller, Coldwell Banker real estate agent.
The Moortgats built the house from 1930 to 1932, using ceramic roof tiles and imported Belgian bricks featuring a German smear, or mortar wash giving it an old, European look.
“This house was built from plans they saw in Belgium,” Tom Nega said. “They loved the house so much when they saw it on their honeymoon, that they got the plans and they built it here.”
The home has three bedrooms, two full and two half bathrooms, two fireplaces, and a four-car garage. The property boasts two staircases — a spiral set entering the foyer and another entering the maid's quarters off the remodeled kitchen.
A unique feature of the property is its art. A den contains an original mural of the area, illustrating the house with the text, “the house on the hill,” and highlighting the three rivers, Butler Plank and Vilsack roads, Mt. Royal Boulevard and the railroad on Route 8.
“On the other walls are some Vikings and seagulls and long ships on two of the walls. And he also painted the coat of arms up above the window,” Tom Nega said.
The 2016 WTAE-TV Best Backyards in the ‘Burgh contest winner includes seasonal flowers, a stone courtyard with a hedge and a Belgian Manneken Pis statue replica standing atop a koi pond.
About 200 guests visited as part of the Shaler Great Gardens Tour in June.
“They loved the grounds and they loved the flowers. The best flower was a yellow calla lily that my daughter gave us about three years ago and it was just in all its glory,” Tom Nega said.
“Our hope for the new homeowner is that they enjoy the house as much as we have, and that they appreciate all of the workmanship that went into building the house. It's not modern; it's traditional. It's made for people that appreciate the woodwork and the old houses. But from the outside, it looks like a mini castle.”
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.