Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, and one of the best ways to get to know them is through their architecture. Homes paint a historical picture of past owners in their pine floors, marble mantels and shotgun rooms. For the less architecturally inclined, house tours are a perfectly acceptable way to be nebby, as we say, and snoop on how other Pittsburghers live. Here are some of the area’s most popular tours.
For more than 35 years, the Shadyside Action Coalition has shown off its mansions in late September or early October. In addition to its fashionable shops and restaurants, the city neighborhood is known for its old-money elegance, and this tour includes at least a half-dozen turn-of-the-century homes that have been beautifully refurbished. If you love Richardson Romanesque, Second Empire and Queen Anne styles, you’ll love this tour. If large East End houses lavishly decorated for the holidays are more your bag, Shadyside Splendor features four of them on a Sunday in late November. The Pittsburgh Symphony Association organizes the tour to benefit the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Information: shadysideaction.org or 412-361-3771; PSA75.org or 412-392-3303.
Pittsburgh’s finest homes aren’t found just within the city limits. Twelve miles down the Ohio River lies Sewickley, a picturesque borough incorporated in 1853. Settled as a summer escape for Pittsburgh industrialists, business leaders and river boat captains, its homes feature some of the best architecture in Allegheny County. Every once in a while a contemporary home gets thrown into the mix, but the tour typically includes a mix of gingerbread Victorians and gracious Georgians, Tudors, Italianates and Craftsmans. A fundraiser for the Child Health Association of Sewickley, the self-guided tour alternates every other year with the Sewickley Garden Tour. The 37th annual Sewickley House Tour was May 13-14. Information: childhealthassociation.org or 412-741-2593.
This is not only one of the city’s largest neighborhoods but also one of its hippest destinations and the Lawrenceville Hospitality House Tour takes full advantage of the creativity of the artists, chefs, entrepreneurs and others who have made this so. The dozen or more homes on the annual tour feature a variety of architectural styles and stages of renovation. The old brick townhouses — packed like sardines on narrow side streets off Butler Street — speak to the neighborhood’s industrial past. But there’s often creative, newer residences, too. Tour-goers could walk but many prefer to ride Molly’s Trolleys between stops. Each home also features treats from many of the neighborhood’s trendiest restaurants. This year’s tour is Oct. 2, 2016. Information: lha15201.org.
The Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour, one of the area’s biggest and oldest holiday events, offers guided walking tours of restored and holiday-dressed turn-of-the-20th-century homes in this historic North Side neighborhood. It’s so popular that tours start every 12 minutes and the tour often sells out. Allegheny West has been a national historic district since 1978 and a city historic district since 1990. Adding to its allure is a celebrity factor: Both Gertrude Stein and Mary Roberts Rinehart lived there, and so does Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney. The event also includes a tour of the Gothic Revival-style Calvary United Methodist Church, whose Louis Tiffany windows and sculpted gargoyles have earned it a place on the National Historic Register. As with the Allegheny West Civic Council’s other tour (a garden tour in mid-summer with wine and hors d’oeuvres), all proceeds go toward community preservation. This year tour is scheduled for Dec. 9-10, 2016. Information: alleghenywest.org.
Home to dozens of funky shops, cool restaurants and bars (so many bars!), the South Side also boasts interesting architecture. Along with row houses that rose during the Civil War, you’ll find Italianate, Victorian Gothic and Second Empire-style houses nestled on the Flats along the Monongahela River and the Slopes above. This year’s 25th-annual self-guided Historic South Side Home Tour (ages 12 and up only) was on May 16. Information: southsidecommunitycouncil.org.