|By Patricia Sheridan, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 29, 2011--Every relationship worth its mortar has its ups and downs, but getting involved with a burned-out, worn-down old grand dame is a monumental commitment -- one that might have you committed.
Nevertheless, it was love at first sight for Richard Pearson. "When he saw the old McCook mansion in Shadyside was up for sale, it was hard to resist," recalls his wife, Mary Del Brady, who was soon on board. The couple began what looks to be an eternal bond with the circa 1900 building more than four years ago. "It will be the kind of thing where once we have everything done, we will be constantly keeping up," says Mr. Pearson.
Turning the Elizabethan Revivalist-style McCook mansion (at 5105 Fifth Ave.) and the McCook-Reed Tudor around the corner (at 925 Amberson Ave.) into the Mansions on Fifth, a luxury boutique hotel, has been a labor of love and a learning process for the couple.
"We not only wanted to restore it, we wanted it all done in a sustainable way," notes Mr. Pearson. A fire destroyed much of the third floor and caused water damage on the second. The charred beams that were still salvageable were blasted with corn husks. Stairs, baseboards, hardware and light fixtures were all reused if they had to be removed for construction.
"The National Park Service has been involved as well because we restored everything to the Secretary of Interior standards," says Mr. Pearson. The building also will soon be on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks. "It is one of the very few all-granite buildings built in Pittsburgh," he says.
With the restoration process in its final stages, the couple are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. "There were many sleepless nights," says Ms. Brady. Sinking turrets, delicate stained glass and a crumbling, rusting terrace foundation induced insomnia. But last-minute details and finishing the interior still don't allow for much rest. "It's been about a year and a half since we started on the interior, but we've had excellent partners in the process," says Ms. Brady. Typhoon Lighting in Regent Square restored the original grand hall chandelier and sconces, which now hang in the breakfast parlor. Janice Lott, of J.A. Lott Design & Associates, has done all the interior design including the custom furniture. "We wanted the furniture to complement the period of the house, and we also wanted it made in the U.S.A." says Ms. Lott. She and her partner, Jill Balmuth, found family-owned furniture manufacturer American Atelier Inc., in Allentown, Pa. "I sketched out what I wanted and they crafted it," she says of the company, which specializes in hospitality furnishings.
There are 12 fireplaces in the building, including five on the first floor and others in the guest rooms. AAI made all the bedroom furniture, the round table that anchors the grand hall, leading the eye to the two-story stained glass windows, and the massive dinning room table. It seats 18 and can be taken apart and configured into smaller round or square tables. The upholstery was manufactured in North Carolina by Kellex, another family-owned business. As for restoring the hand-painted canvas ceiling in one of the guest rooms and the walls and ceiling of the chapel, Carnegie Museum of Art recommended Chantal Bernicky.
"She did an amazing job, cleaning and meticulously hand-painting areas that were totally destroyed," says Mr. Pearson. The chapel, once completed, will be the site of a very special occasion. "The granddaughter of industrialist Willis F. McCook will be celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary this summer and she and her husband want to renew their vows here," says Ms. Brady.
The 13 deluxe and premium loft rooms and suites in the McCook Mansion will be ready for guests next month, while the 10 rooms in the McCook-Reed estate will open sometime in the summer. "We had a soft opening in March with events being held on the first floor," says Ms. Brady. The space is rented by the room or the entire floor, with Common Plea Catering doing the food service for hotel guests and events. The available rooms on the mostly wood-paneled first floor include a library, the Oak Room bar and a large dining room with a wall of leaded glass windows. Decorating the walls in the upstairs halls and the breakfast room are paintings from Galerie Werner, which can be purchased.
The large McCook suite can be used for corporate guests or wedding preparations, with two baths and a separate sitting room and wet bar. All the rooms are unique in size and shape, with the third-floor loft spaces particularly interesting. The cathedral room, a temporary moniker, has a great view of the Cathedral of Learning.
While the building is historic, hotel guests will have all the modern amenities possible including wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs. At check-in each guest will receive a personal iPad stored with menus, spa offerings, local destinations of interest and much more. The building has a work-out room, butler service and a wine cellar, which can be used for entertaining as well. "We want our guests to feel pampered," says Ms. Brady.
For more, go to www.mansionsonfifth.com.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613.
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