Shadyside Splendor house tour benefits Pittsburgh Symphony
A magnificent portion of Pittsburgh’s rich architectural legacy will be seen from a personal perspective when six historic homes in Shadyside open their doors as a fundraiser for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“My sense is, and many people I know feel the same way, is that it is appropriate to have a holiday motif because the symphony is like a present to everybody,” says Millie Ryan, chairwoman of the event. “It needs to be sustained for generations to come.”
The Nov. 23 Shadyside Splendor walking tour will begin at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Amberson Place.
Groups will rotate through the first floors of six homes, several from the Gilded Age, which are in close proximity. Live music will be performed in each home throughout the afternoon by more than 50 musicians, including members of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Tuesday Musical Club. Small vocal ensembles will sing carols.
Many attendees will begin their day with a festive brunch at Mansions on Fifth.
One of the homes on the tour was built for William B. Negley from 1871 to ’72. He was a nephew and law partner of Thomas Mellon, who later founded Mellon Bank. Negley was a founder of Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
The building was transformed by its next owner, Edwin Gwinner, in the 1920s after its original Second Empire style had gone out of fashion. The building was owned by Dr. Leo Harter when its third floor was destroyed by a fire during another renovation in 1987. He died the following year. A huge blue tarp covered the damaged top of the building for many years until it was purchased in 1995 and restored by local preservationist Joedda Sampson and her husband, Ben.
Marina and Ken Lehn purchased the historic structure in 2002.
“I’ve always felt this house was Pittsburgh’s house, and we’re caretakers of the home,” Marina Lehn says. “It should be available for Pittsburgh people to see. I am happy to have people here.”
The Lehn home was dressed up for the tour by Bill Chisnell, whose company provides a full range of decorative services.
“I started brainstorming a few months ago about ways to make the house conducive to walking through,” he says.
Last year, Chisnell made the large red bow adorning the front of the Lehn home again this year. The Lehns got the idea for it on a visit to New York City, where a red bow on the Cartier store gave them a warm feeling.
Chisnell designed the setting of the dinner table, using an aquamarine table cloth inspired by a color in the eye of a peacock feather. He used nearly 1,000 brooches as adornments, from swags to topiary.
Millie Ryan, a past president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Association, came up with the idea of a holiday house tour to benefit the symphony. The volunteer organization is celebrating its 75th birthday this season and has raised more than $7 million over the years.
When Ryan presented her idea to symphony chief operating officer Michael Bielski, he gave her the go-ahead.
“Whenever I talked with people about Shadyside Splendor, everyone got huge smiles on their faces, everyone lit up,” Ryan says. “No one turned us down.”
More than 1,000 tickets have been sold as of 10 days before the event.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or [email protected].