Cedar Avenue comes of age


Photo courtesy of Stephen Pascal
406 and 408 Foreland St., just off of Cedar Avenue, was purchased by by Sarah Sims Erwin and her husband Dominick DeGenarro in 2013.

By Abbey Reighard

Residents on the Northside may soon feel as if they are taking a journey back in time when they walk through the Deutschtown neighborhood.

In recent years many houses on Cedar Avenue, several of which are almost 200 years old, have been bought by private owners and are being remodeled to resemble their original exterior design.

According to Cedar Avenue property owners Chris Gates and Stephan Pascal, Cedar Avenue and the surrounding area has been “reviving” over the past five years.

“Houses that five years ago would have faced demolition are now being bought and sold by owners not aiming for conversion to multi-unit rental or quick fix-and-flips,” Pascal said.

Pascal said the individuals buying properties on Cedar Avenue and the surrounding streets are “dedicated to restoring the original period character of the properties.”

Victorian era houses, center chimney clapboard houses dating back to the 1830s, Greek revival houses built in the 1840s are a few of the types of houses currently being restored to their original historic charm by private investors.

Pascal’s properties, 726 and 728 Cedar Ave., were at risk of demolition after sitting empty for many years when he purchased the property in August of 2012.

The property is the one of last peaked-roof structures left in the area. Built in the 1840s, the house predates the arrival of the Victorian style houses on the Northside.

“We’re working with historic materials to make it into a solid home for decades to come,” Pascal said.

The Historic Review Committee recently approved Pascal’s request to renovate the structure. The structure will include simple Greek Revival details and historically authentic materials, such as a cedar shingled roof that will match the original shingles left on the back portion of the building, according to Pascal.

Another housing unit, 406 and 408 Foreland St., may date back to the 1830s also narrowly escaped demolition.

According to Pascal, after East Allegheny Community Council members and neighbors in the surrounding area protested the demolition of the building, which may be the oldest house on the Northside, the property owner was instructed by the Historic Review Commission to put the house back on the market.

The property was then purchased by Sarah Sims Erwin and her husband Dominick DeGenarro in 2013.

The couple are preparing to renovate the property, which will include clapboard siding and the installation of a gas lamp on the front façade.

Erwin said she wants to keep the renovation “simple,” so the look of the house resembles how the working-class home would have looked when it was first built.

Erwin said she and DeGenarro started looking for homes in the Pittsburgh area to be closer to her family. Despite some much needed repairs, Erwin said she liked the property on Foreland Street because she and her husband could live in one side of the house and rent out the other.

Erwin also added that she was drawn to the location because of the nearby parks and the neighborhood’s diverse populations.

Erwin said most of the house will have to be completely gutted, however she intends to keep the original fireplace and pine wood floors.

“The house was vacant for a while,” Erwin said. “It was a forgotten property, just sitting there, making all the neighbors angry.”

Erwin said progress with the house has been slow, but she hopes to have the renovation completed by the end of the year.

Nick Kyriazi, vice president of the East Allegheny Community Council Board of Directors, said he noticed in the past few years an increase in the number of developers interested in houses within the historic district, which Kyriazi said has resulted in more cases being brought before the Historic Review Commission.

Kyriazi said restoration of historic houses has a positive impact on the area.

“The major goal of the East Allegheny Community Council for the residential part of the neighborhood is for single-family, owner-occupied, properly restored and well-maintained houses,” Kyriazi said. “Each of these factors contribute to the quality of life for those who appreciate the aesthetics of Victorian architecture, cleanliness, and quietude.”

Another property, 1004 and 1006 Cedar Ave., is currently being restored. Matt Hicks, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Redevelopment, owns the property.

Hicks said Pinnacle Redevelopment closed on the property early in 2014 and began construction shortly after. The property was originally set up as a seven-unit apartment building, but Hicks decided to turn the property into a two-family housing unit, complete with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms.

Bob Baumbach, who is the architect working on this project as well as other restoration projects in the area, said he wants to restore the Italianate facades and trim the two adjoining Victorian homes once had.

Baumbach said he and Hicks discovered Victorian era arch-top windows when they were working on the outside of the house.

Baumbach and Hicks intend to restore the windows to their original look. Baumbach said they will use other examples of decorative window hoods in the area to refer to when restoring the property.

Hicks said he is very excited to convert the property and added that the project is his “largest restoration to date.”

Hicks also said that he believes the restoration of the house will help make the area a more pleasant place for people to live in.

“[Dilapidated properties] paint a bad picture of our neighborhoods,” Hicks said. “Worst of all, these properties have some amazing potential.”

The Allegheny Inn, 1010 Cedar Ave., is also currently under construction. The property was purchased by Justin and Keili Mistovitch in 2012.

The couple was not available to comment on the progress of the Bed and Breakfast, but according to the Inn’s official website, the property is currently under construction.

Gates said he and Pascal attribute much of the successful renovations on Cedar Ave. and the surrounding area to the individuals who have taken action to protect and revitalize the historic properties, by purchasing the homes and renovating those properties or by simply making 311 when neighbors are concerned with the conditions of the properties.

“People can be the eyes and ears for our neighborhood,” Gates said.

Gates also added that since the community has come together, the once “uphill battle” to see redevelopment in the area has turned into a successful group movement.

“It’s no longer an individual battle,” Gates said. “There’s a lot more truth to the historic district when the residents and historical communities are behind it.”

For more information on the Allegheny Inn, visit www.alleghenyinn.com/The_Allegheny_Inn/Welcome.html

Northside Chronicle Donation