It Doesn’t Get More Pittsburgh Than This Restored Colonial on Mount Washington
A librarian with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh left more than 5,000 books around the carefully restored, 150-year-old home that's just steps from Grandview Avenue.
When Christopher Salimbene, the contractor and principal of SWZ Properties, decided to purchase 128 Bertha St. in the summer of 2021, he knew the old home on Mount Washington had one heck of a story to tell.
As it turned out, it had thousands of them.
The previous owner, Joan Anderson, was a librarian with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; she left more than 5,000 books in the home.
“We went through them all,” says Salimbene, adding he donated the salvageable books.
But that was just one chapter of the 150-year-old home’s story; the librarian’s family had lived in the house since the 1940s.
“Her father, Dr. Anderson, ran some of his practice out of the house; he used the front room as his office,” Salimbene says. “He had a second office in Mount Washington.”
Working with his father, Mike, wife, Kelsey, and Realtor Meredith Avolio of Coldwell Banker, Salimbene strove to keep the historical home as authentic as possible during renovations.
Although the building was gutted to the studs, Salimbene says he was able to restore the original wood base, doors and window trims; for anything that needed to be replaced, he substituted custom pieces.
“The budget was tight and we had to make a decision to either go with low-grade finishes just to get it done, or hit the gas pedal and go all the way and make it what it was capable of being,” he says. “I think we made the right decision to go all the way and high-end the entire house.”
Situated on a triple lot just steps from Grandview Avenue, the home is listed for $1.275 million (MLS#1590372, Meredith Avolio, Coldwell Banker’s Danchek Group, 412-770-4742, coldwellbankerhomes.com). An open house is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
Surrounded by a large, fenced-in yard and a detached, two-car garage, the four-bedroom, three and ½ bathroom home spans almost 4,600 square feet. From its upper floors is a view of Downtown’s skyline.
The classic, center-hall Colonial’s exterior is painted a striking dark blue with white trim. The front porch has elaborate posts and beams as well as a double front-entry door, capped window trim and a carved frieze on the front fascia boards.
Inside, the entry’s original newel post is topped with a brass gryphon light fixture.
“It was originally part of the house; it was a gas light,” Salimbene says. “We removed it and rewired it for electric, cleaned it up and put it back on the post.”
Underfoot is new white oak flooring custom milled and finished by Allegheny Log Homes in Knox, Pa.
“They [also] did the basement flooring in hickory,” Salimbene says.
The picture-frame trim on the walls is repeated in other parts of the home to match the center hall. To the right is the original parlor, which was painted white and a period-appropriate deep green; the room also contains the original pocket doors.
An open-arm brass chandelier hangs in the dining room, which leads to a renovated kitchen hung with custom cabinets made from alder wood.
“We got them from Allegheny Log Homes,” Salimbene says. “There is a custom bench underneath the window that was made by them as well.”
The bench is outfitted with a café table and a pair of chairs, making it a cozy eating nook. Adding more flair is large-format, checkerboard square tile flooring and white quartzite countertops.
The first-floor powder room features a fun wallpaper that brings together the rich gold, blue, white and sand shades found throughout the house. It’s paired with a carved, white-painted vanity.
Upstairs, the four bedrooms range in size from 17-by-13 to 16-by-14 square feet. The second level’s sophisticated bathrooms feature floating vanities and upgraded tile flooring.
In the basement is Salimbene’s favorite space, the office. Renovated by Salimbene and his dad, the windowed space has exposed stone walls — and a secret.
“When you walk down the basement stairs you see a decorative wall with board and batten trim — it’s a door,” Salimbene says. “There is a little electronic key, and when you press the unlock button on the key it beeps and you can push the door open. The door weighs about 100 pounds.”
The finished basement also includes an entertainment room with a bar, a full bathroom and a mechanical room. There also are two large cold cellars underneath the front porch that Salimbene says could be finished into a wine cellar. Masonry Placement Contractors was responsible for restoring the foundation walls.
“The basement had paneling over the walls,” Salimbene recalls. “When we were gutting it we thought we would find studs behind it, but instead we found the Pennsylvania Blue Stone foundation walls.”
Salimbene says he and his team discovered during renovations that the home was built in 1872 by the family of attorney Edwin W. Smith, principal of Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay law firm. Today known as Reed Smith, the firm has represented some of history’s most famous 20th Century industrialists, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the Mellon and Heinz families.
Smith, who died in 1937, according to his obituary in The New York Times, also was classmates with U.S. President William Taft while attending law school at Yale.
These days, Smith’s Ivy League diploma, as well as his brother’s, hang in the home’s office basement; Salimbene says he unsuccessfully tried to return the diplomas to the family via the law firm.
“We found his original diploma from Yale College from 1876 — it wasn’t even a university then,” Salimbene adds.
Drawing on her years of experience covering the region’s real estate industry, Rosa Colucci’s Hot Property will offer an inside look into unique and historic homes currently on the market. Each week, Hot Property goes behind the For Sale sign to share the story of a special Pittsburgh area home. And four times a year, Hot Property will give an in-depth look at the region’s real estate market in Pittsburgh Magazine HOME, track housing prices and sales and detail where the hot properties can be found. Rosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
About: Mount Washington
Planes, Trains & Automobiles: A 20-minute commute to the airport. Daily transport via Pittsburgh Regional Transit, including two historic inclines. Street parking.
Schools: City of Pittsburgh (pghschools.org)
Neighborhood: Perched 367 feet above the river bank with a commanding view of Downtown’s skyline, Mount Washington has been named in the top three city views worldwide. Overlooks, inclines and a panorama that reaches from all points to the apex of the city and the head of the Ohio River draws wonders to visitors who trek up it. Grandview Avenue is filled with cliffside restaurants, including Altius and LeMont, while St. Mary of the Mount Church keeps a watchful eye on the city below.