Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Buyer Should Find Plenty of Appeal in Penn Ave. Blight

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Buyer Should Find Plenty of Appeal in Penn Ave. Blight

Article excerpt

House tours are fun, especially when you don't have bottlenecks of tourists in the upstairs hallways gawking at chandeliers and other effects that prompt envy. I prefer tours that provoke inspiration, ones with before-and-after pictures.

The tour I took the other day of two houses on Bride Row on Penn Avenue in Garfield was before before; you'd have to unboard the windows to see well enough to take photos.

Bride Row is so named because the eight houses in the row are set off by a trompe l'oeil mural of a bride ascending steps to what looks like a ninth house; the mural is on the flat side of a commercial building.

Rich Engel, Mainstreets Program manager for the Bloomfield- Garfield Corp., is working with Friendship Development Associates to market for redevelopment the five houses the Friendship group owns.

Last Friday and Saturday, he led tours for developers and extended the chance for me to see them. Of course I wanted to see the insides of these boarded-up century-old houses. There's no house tour I like better than those that are spooky, suggestive and a little risky.

On our tours of 5439 and 5441 Penn Ave., we entered around back. When Mr. Engel opened the door, the vacant-house smell came rushing out cold and familiar, a cross between cellars and attics, damp trunks and old books.

We stepped gingerly over panels of foam and debris in the hallways and the rooms, our flashlight beams bouncing over peeling plaster as we stepped around toys, clothes, chairs, a toilet, bulging garbage bags, cushions, pieces of wood and bedding.

It was as if a tornado had torn through these homes, strewing the contents but leaving the structure intact. In one room, a pink plastic dollhouse lay on its roof.

Above the sink in a back kitchen, a blue drinking glass sat on a shelf. In another kitchen, newspapers still in their delivery bags lay in a stack on the floor. The date on one was 2008.

These houses were built identically around 1900 with mansard roofs punctuated by dormers, each with three adjacent window panels that mimic three adjacent window panels on the second story. They are set back from the street up a slope and have porches. Two sit behind square sidewalk additions, one the former Kim's Coffee Shop. …

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