The Blacksmith Shop - 900 Middle Street
Restored and Renovated: 2005 - 2006
Owners: Bob Baumbach and Jen Saffron
Located in a National Historic District, the 900 square foot space originally housed a 19th century, pre-automobile necessity – a blacksmith’s horseshoeing shop. From the 1920s/30s through the 1990s, the property operated as a chocolate confectioner. The large carriage doors intended for horses were bricked up, the windows turned into glass block, and the building went into decline. Jen and Bob acquired the building in 2002.
To comply with National Park Service historic tax credit stipulations, the building’s restoration had to adhere to strict historic preservation standards regarding building materials and processes. Bob Baumbach turned to Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s archive to research the building’s original appearance and history. The research paid off, as a Clyde Hare phootgraph showed the windows bricked up by the 1950s, while the original windows revealed themselves in a 1870s photograph. A document from the late 1800s listed horseshoes purchased from Eberhardt and Ober (currently Penn Brewery), for their beer delivery horses. And, old platte maps detailed a bustling Allegheny City commercial area, including this blacksmith shop.
Based on this information, artisan craftsmen led the meticulous masonry restoration and the replication of door and window profiles in solid wood. Stone sills were salvaged from a nearby demolition. The HVAC system was roof-mounted behind a parapet wall to conceal modern conventions from the Victorian façade. And Baumbach, with a decade of experience in building restoration and preservation, lent expertise.
During restoration, an octogenarian named John, who visited the blacksmiths as a child, paid a visit to the shop. After reminiscing about turning the smith’s bent nails into toys, he claimed, “This is just like how I remember it.”
Additionally, Baumbach researched the original owner, John Schmidtdeil, and found his descendents residing in Bellevue. Contact was made, and family members, who had photographs of the building but did not know its exact location, have since visited the building.
An article by Deutschtown resident Bette McDevitt in Western Pennsylvania History magazine promoted additional interest in the building’s past and its new life as a studio, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran this feature about the community celebration to open the newly restored building http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06268/724775-53.stm. 900 Middle Street won a 2007 Cool Space Locator award in the category of Community.
The Urban Cottage- 624 Thropp Street
Original Owner: Chris Caputo
The Urban Cottage is practically brand new, having been built in 2007. Aside from the 1970s style split-level home on Pressley Street, this house is the first new, privately-funded house in Deutschtown since the 1920s.
I Want To Live in Deutschtown
Chris formerly lived in the turn-of-the-century, three-story townhouse at 420 Tripoli Street, having purchased it in 2002 from East Allegheny Community Council. Chris quickly involved himself with community and civic life as an EACC board member, volunteer, and host to many a wonderful party. In 2006, Chris sold 420 Tripoli to Tim and Jen McNulty. With the sales proceeds, he set out to build an 1100 square foot, two-bedroom house in Deutschtown. “I want to build a new house in this neighborhood because I love it here!” Chris stated when he requested to purchase the alley lot from East Allegheny Community Council. The EACC board approved the sale in August of 2006 and by September Chris had plans, a variance approval, and a contractor.
In planning for the new house, Chris choose to have a conventional townhouse exterior with historic proportions, cladding it with Hardy Board siding, and finishing it with custom wood doors, galvanized half-round gutters and round rain-leaders. The open interior plan reflects Chris’s lifestyle - he loves to cook and host dinner parties. The kitchen, being the focus for the first floor, has a large island adjacent to the dining and seating areas. To the right of the kitchen are a library and powder room, leading to a private courtyard.
All of the countertops are made from Paperstone, an easy-to-maintain, green-building material which looks like slate and resists scratching. The stair risers are made from renewable cork, John Hancock Construction recycled unused building materials, and the insulation values exceed D.O.E. standards.
Choosing a clean-lined modern furnishings, Chris purchased all new furniture for the house during its construction. He brought only his paintings, kitchenware and clothes from the old house – and his commitment to the community.
The Strothman Residence - 910 Middle Street
Constructed: circa 1870s
Owner: Randy Strothman
A Friend Raved About It
Randy hails from the North Hills, most recently having lived in Highland Park. He moved to Deutschtown because “a friend raved about it” and he wanted to be closer to the city, Cultural District, the Strip District, and to his parents, who still reside in the North Hills. Randy saw incredible real estate values and potential for more development, and moved to 910 Middle Street in 1997. He has served as the past President of the East Allegheny Community Council.
910 Middle Street is the only historic structure from a four-house development of rowhomes to the left of this property; they were all built in 1997, made to match the period. Randy’s Victorian showcases a painted wood clapboard facade, mansard roofline and first floor picture window. The beveled exterior siding and the decorative wood brackets date this house to the High Victorian era of the 1870s. Note that in narrower rowhomes, main staircases sometimes rise perpendicular to the axis of the house, as is the case at 910 Middle Street.
“The EACC and NSLC did a nice job of saving the historic details of the house,” shares Randy, “and those kind of features are things that I really appreciate, today.”
Randy has an affinity for Haitian art, seen throughout his home, and the bold colors of these paintings are found on many of his interior walls, which also showcase photographs and paintings by himself and other local artists.
The shared backyard compound incorporates parking and provides asurprising greenspace in the middle of so much urban density. Randy oversees the community garden space adjacent to the property, where he and neighbors grow organic vegetables and flowers. He watches over the plot from his porch, where he hosts afternoon meetings and visits with his friends and associates.
As a neighborhood community activist, one of Randy’s triumphs was coordinating the planting of trees and the greening of this community, including ridding Thropp Street of drug dealers and replacing it with lovely plantings. On Fridays, you can find Randy at the Farmer’s Market in the park, one of his favorite community spots.
The Frater House
Constructed 1888, restored in 1999
Owners: Ed and Mary Ann Graf
In the late 1880s, St. Mary’s German Catholic Church (built in 1854) was one of the centers of activity for the mostly German-speaking residents of Deutschtown. The church properties included The Priory and an adjacent school (no longer standing) in which German lessons were taught. The first Benedictine pastor, Father Celestine Engelbrecht, invited five Marianist Brothers to teach at the school in the summer of 1871, and the Brothers arrived to open to the school in September. The Frater House was built in 1888 to house the Brothers.
The architect, Henry Moser, also designed the Priory Hotel, and the two structures bear a number of similarities in design. A house, built on the site in the early 1800s, was razed for the new structure, which would cover the entire lot, including the well in the back yard of the original building. The basement served as the kitchen for the Brothers and the well was easily incorporated into the design. In 1939, to the regret of Father Lambert Daller, consent was given for the Brothers to leave and answer Bishop Boyle’s request to start North Catholic High School.
After years of neglect by absentee landlords, Ed and Mary Ann Graf bought the Frater House in 1995 and worked with an architect, Michael Eversmeyer, to perform the restoration. A 1999 Post-Gazette article quoted Everysmeyer as saying that there was not much that could be preserved. He said, “We ended up with an opportunity to adapt it to the Graf’s purposes and maintain a certain character in keeping with the house’s age.”
The front door, pocket doors and delicately carved staircase were saved, but not much else. The floors on the first floor were replaced by hardwood and reproduction mantel and cherry built-in-bookcases were installed. The woodwork that could be saved, along with the reproduction woodwork, was faux finished. A new kitchen was installed with a reproduction tin ceiling and granite countertops. A vintage-style porch was added off the kitchen with a view into a garden patio.
On the second floor, there is a guest room for the grandchildren and a large master bedroom with French doors that lead to a hot tub area above the new garage. This spa area contains a 4,000-pound ceramic-lined stainless steel hot tub which required steel girder supports. There is also a roof garden.
The third floor is for work and play. It contains another guest room, an office with a skylight and a play-room for the grandchildren. At the “tip-top” of the house is a loft with a bridge leading to window areas at either side of the house, which present vistas to the East and West.