New owners save Historic Deutschtown’s oldest home

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406 and 408 Foreland are undergoing renovations this year.

by Lindsay Allen

Despite the rot, dirt and mold, when New Yorker Sarah Sims Erwin stepped into the row homes at 406 and 408 Foreland Ave., she knew it was the place for her.

“When I first walked in, I took two steps into that house and I loved it. Even with the previous renters’ possessions that had been sitting there rotting… I was like, ‘I love this place,’” said Erwin.

Sarah Sims Erwin and her husband Dominick DeGennaro are the couple who Deutschtown preservationists thought did not exist.

The Foreland rowhouse is likely the oldest home in Historic Deutschtown, but years of neglect and problem landlords left the house in severe disrepair by the time October Development owner Al DePasquale bought it in YEAR along with 17 other dilapidated homes in the neighborhood.

Most of the 17 other homes have been renovated and sold by October Development, but the Foreland house at only 13.5 feet wide and full of mold and rotting wood was a difficult sell, and DePasquale applied for a demolition permit from the city.

At the outcry of neighbors and the East Allegheny Community Council, DePasquale gave neighbors 90 days to find a buyer. EACC found Erwin and her husband, and DePasquale sold the building at a loss to accommodate the community’s wishes.

Erwin, a native Pittsburgher who has been living in New York for almost 17 years, purchased the house with her husband, a native New Yorker, in May of this year.

The New York City couple was use to small spaces and seemed to be the perfect fit for the houses, one of which they plan on living in, the other renting out.

“When my husband and I move to Pittsburgh, we’re going to double our space,” said Erwin. “It was our first home, so we were willing to start small.”

To many residents, the thought of restoring a home that even accomplished contractors and architects are not willing to renovate would seem daunting. Erwin credits her role as a first-time homeowner and her close friendship with contractor Page Thomas with giving her the confidence to purchase the property.

“Here’s the thing, ignorance is bliss. I’ve never owned a house before, so I’ve never had that experience that the previous owner had – he has a lifetime’s worth of experience,” said Erwin.

Once her contractor started taking away the rotting wood, the strong structure and well-built quality of the houses became evident, characteristics unique to old homes.

The structure of the house is not the only quality Erwin finds exciting about Foreland Street. The vivacity of the community is another aspect that attracted her to the Northside, including cultural hotspots like Artists Image Resource print studio, the Mattress Factory and the Warhol Museum.

“I think it’s fantastic that it is part of the Historic District,” said Erwin. “There’s such a clustering of really cool cultural activities to do on the Northside. I thought this was the right neighborhood for me and my friends who were going to come visit me. I definitely wanted to live over there but I didn’t necessarily know which of the neighborhoods I’d end up in.”

When the opportunity arose in the form of 406 and 408 Foreland, Erwin jumped at the opportunity to live in Deutschtown, and to live in a new Pittsburgh than she remembers from her past.

“We really are psyched to be part of the community. We are thrilled that there is a Deutschtown Music Festival on our block,” said Erwin.

“Being a Pittsburgh native, I feel like I understand Pittsburghers a little bit because I lived there for 29 years. I think Pittsburgh has changed. From what I know about Pittsburgh, sometimes people were closed new ideas, closed to things that were unique and different, but maybe it’s a new Pittsburgh. Just the fact that there is a music festival on my block – I can’t tell you how excited I am. I can’t wait to live there.”

Lindsay Allen studies at the University of Pittsburgh and hails from Eastern Pa.

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