Diversity, Friendship, Community on Tap at Manchester Home & Garden Tour
Featuring 11 dynamic properties, the annual event returns for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
When Julie Kaigler moved to Manchester in 2019 with her husband, Will, they were starting a new chapter of their lives. With their children now grown, the couple fell in love with a more than century-old house in the historic North Side neighborhood — despite the fact that it was on the verge of crumbling.
The decay, however, did not stop the two from seeing the home’s potential for beauty. In the two years that followed, the Kaiglers turned the 1884-era house into their modern dream home — and visitors will be able to see it for themselves as part of Showcase Manchester.
Sponsored by the Manchester Historic Society, the house and garden tour, which features 11 properties takes, place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday Aug. 6. Tickets may be purchased online for $20; they are $25 at the door on the day of the event. Participants may also add a donation for the Manchester Historic Society.
The annual tour is returning in 2023 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic affected the historic society’s ability to run the event. Showcase Manchester also will feature local artists — among them Cynthia Shaffer, Marlana Adele Vassar, Cue Perry and Alexx Jacobs — at Fulton Commons, a shared workspace on the North Side located in a repurposed Catholic school.
For Kaigler, living in Manchester has brought the friendship and beauty that she was looking for when she and her husband began the process of looking for a home in the city. It also brought a surprise; Manchester turned her into a self-proclaimed “history nerd,” she says.
“Which is funny, because as a kid, I was never at all interested in history,” she says. “It was one of my least favorite classes, and I remember my dad being like, ‘How could you not love history, like learning about what people before you have done?’ But now, I’m like one of those nerds who looks at the old maps and checks out where everything was in the neighborhood.”
History is at the heart of Kaigler’s love for her Manchester house, which has gone through cycles of design, decay and restoration. Kaigler says she had her house history done by Beth Reiner, a librarian from the North Side who gives educational looks into the stories of historic homes.
“It just amazes me when I think when our house was built, electricity wasn’t all that common in homes,” she says “There were horses and carriages on the streets. You know, I just find that fascinating to think about.”
Other architectural details visitors will find on the tour are jig-saw porches with turned columns and classic cornices on Manhattan Street’s row houses. On the north side of Liverpool Street are semi-detached houses that appear to be connected with mansard roofs and double porches, while Sheffield Street boasts homes with cast iron crestings, rock-faced lintels and sills and porches of ornately turned woodwork, including some with turrets, elaborate stained glass transoms and oval gable windows.
Kaigler says she has found life in Manchester to offer a richness of friendship — something she felt was lacking when she lived in the suburbs.
“I had never lived in an urban area,” she says “I tell people this story, and I think people don’t really think I’m telling the truth, but when we lived in our house in Wexford, we lived there for nine years — and we never met our next-door neighbors.
“And in our neighborhood now, my husband and I are constantly commenting on the fact that we can’t take a walk without running into people that we know. Everybody’s so friendly.”
She adds she and her husband admire the neighborhood for its diversity, and not just in the architecture.
“It was important to us not to live in a neighborhood with all people who look like us,” she says.
Kaigler says she and the tour organizers hope to attract people from across the region. Despite the love she and the rest of the historical society have for their community, Kaigler feels the media often portrays her neighborhood in a negative manner.
“I think our bigger goal for the house store is to bring in people from out of the area who may be looking to buy a house someday in the future,” Kaigler says. “It’s a great neighborhood, you know, and this is a way for us to showcase how wonderful it is and bring people to see it.
“There is a mentality that Manchester is a scary place, and it’s really not. We have wonderful people here, and I can’t say enough about how much we love living here.”
Another plus of living in Manchester is the tax abatement policy that comes with renovating a historic home, Kaigler says.
When a house is bought in Manchester, the City of Pittsburgh freezes the assessment for 10 years; for that time period, the owner will be taxed based only on the home’s initial assessment, regardless of the new value the home gains through renovation. This program is available to property located in 28 specified areas of the city, including Manchester.
Though the renovation process can be challenging, Kaigler says the hard work is worth it.
“In the end, I keep telling myself, we took a house that was literally collapsing, and we made it into something we can enjoy,” she says.“And it’s better for the community to have houses that are renovated. It’s better for us to be able to take something that has historical value and save it from demolition and bring it back to life.”