Eccentric millionaire’s O’Hara mansion leaves lasting legacy as Bayernhof Music Museum
This isn’t your typical mansion-turned-museum.
On high ground overlooking Sharpsburg and the Allegheny River in O’Hara sits the Bayernhof Music Museum, the former 19,000-square-foot residence of Pittsburgh millionaire Charles Boyd Brown III, known simply as “Chuck” to his friends.
Often referred to as one of the area’s best-kept secrets, the rambling Bavarian-inspired, 22-room stone Bayernhof estate offers visitors a glimpse into the private and decidedly eccentric life of Brown, with 2½-hour-long docent-led tours of 150 automated musical instruments from the 19th and 20th centuries, rare collectibles and whimsically themed rooms.
“A guest will experience stories about the owner and listen to music from about 20 music machines,” says Bayernhof curator Jim Mousseau. “Guests always comment on how they wish the tour was even longer because there’s so much to see.”
Bayernhof opened to visitors in 2004. It features a vast collection of automated musical instruments, music boxes and player pianos, most of which are more than 100 years old, all collected by Brown, who was of German descent.
Brown was greatly influenced by his German ancestry, and Bayernhof translated means “Bavaria Courtyard.”
“All the rooms in the house are based on themes of ‘Mad Ludwig’s’ castles in Bavarian Germany,” says Mousseau, referring to King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who ruled from 1864 to 1886.
Bayernhof boasts three full-size kitchens, an indoor 10-foot waterfall, rooftop observatory, hidden passageways, secret doors, 10 fireplaces, a wine cellar and sweeping views of the Allegheny River Valley.
“You’ll have to tour to see it all, we don’t want to give all the details away,” Mousseau says.
Tour-goers can expect to hear automated music featuring three violins and piano from the Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina, made in Germany by Ludwig Hupfeld.
Other tour highlights include an American manufactured Wurlitzer Automatic Harp, one of only 1,500 left, a mechanical Bird Box, featuring programmed singing real birds preserved through taxidermy, and a unique home feature — a secret cave.
First-time Bayernhof visitor Carol Kozel of Robinson described her recent tour as “out-of-this world.”
“First of all, our docent Jim made the tour so much fun and this home is 10 times more than just music boxes,” Kozel says. “The pool area was my favorite. It was so bright and I just wanted to live in the place when I saw that. It’s a hidden gem.”
The millionaire behind the museum
Chuck Brown was raised in Aspinwall, graduated from Thiel College and amassed his millions as founder and CEO of Gas-Lite Manufacturing (now American Gas Lamp Works) in 1963 in Lawrenceville.
With intentions of building a unique house with an amazing view, he began scouting properties in 1968 via helicopter tours, selecting two parcels of land totaling a little more than 18 acres located at 225 St. Charles Place in O’Hara.
Construction began in 1976 and was completed in 1982.
Brown never married or fathered children. He died in 1999 at 64 from heart disease. But he fulfilled his wish that his name live on forever through his mansion when he left provisions in his will that the mansion become a museum.
Before his death, Brown created the John Schneider Loresch Foundation, named for his great-grandfather, ensuring that his money and company profits be set aside in a trust to maintain the home so it could be opened to the public.
“Chuck would be way past happy if he could see this now. This is exactly what he wanted — to live forever,” says foundation Chairman David Hartman, an attorney and close friend of Brown.
Bayernhof remains 95% intact, exactly as Brown left it when he died, says Mousseau.
Bayernhof took six years to complete, costing more than $4 million. The original house plans included 47,000 square feet of living space, a moat and drawbridge on 18 acres.
“His friends talked him into downsizing the home to 19,000 square feet,” Hartman says.
Hartman says the estate is currently valued at around $20 million.
Brown had a penchant for the color blue and was known for wearing blue clothes every day.
“After he died, we counted 283 identical blue Brooks Brothers shirts at Bayernhof,” Hartman says. “Chuck was truly an eccentric. He didn’t pretend.”
Hartman recalled one time Brown deviated from his usual habit of dressing in blue.
“I was a member of the Duquesne Club and Chuck was going to join. He wore a white shirt and suit for the interview. He clammed up and couldn’t talk. He ended up not joining,” Hartman says.
Hartman says Brown was known as a “generous” friend who enjoyed hosting guests at Bayernhof.
“He was very nice and he loved to tell outrageous lies. He did particularly enjoy receiving Christmas gifts from friends because people didn’t often give him gifts. They took one look at Bayernhof and thought he had it all,” Hartman says. “Chuck was a hoot to be around.”
An unusual museum
Victoria Scalos of Shaler has cleaned Bayernhof since 2004.
“This is my ‘Scooby Doo’ house,” says Scalos, referring to the mansion’s many unique features. “I clean here five days a week and I make sure everything is tour ready. It’s so cool, with the hidden passageways and hidden things.”
Because Bayernhof is located in a residential area in O’Hara, it can’t operate like a regular museum or business.
“Tours must be booked in advance and one can’t just drive up and come in,” Hartman says.
Tours are offered daily except on major holidays. Tickets are $10, cash only.
Tours are limited to 12 people and children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
“Unfortunately, the tour is not suitable for all,” Mousseau said. “Navigating through the tour one must be able to stand for a period of time, walk and handle the 17 staircases.”
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.