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806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

851 Beech Avenue

851 Beech Avenue (Front)

Introduction

Alfred McDonald constructed 851 Beech Avenue in 1869. McDonald, a building contractor who lived at 853 Beech Avenue, constructed the house as a speculative venture. He purchased the lot on which the house stands in April 1869 for $2836, and sold the lot and house four months later for $9,000. The house is a good example of the Italianate style applied to a somewhat narrow urban house form, with arched front door surround and window hoods, rounded ornamental panels on its front door surround, and paired brackets below the box gutter and along the roofline on the east elevation.

Pittsburgh attorney Joseph J. Siebeneck bought 851 Beech Avenue from McDonald, and lived there for 27 years. Siebeneck, a German immigrant, settled in Pittsburgh in 1857 or 1858 after working on civil engineering projects and then studying law in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Margaret McKinney Siebeneck, lived in the lower Hill District from the time that they married until they moved to Beech Avenue. Joseph Siebeneck may have walked or taken a horsecar from Allegheny West to his law office in Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The Siebenecks had no children who lived at 851 Beech Avenue. Census records document the presence of servants who lived in the house. Margaret Siebeneck died in 1877, and Joseph lived at 851 Beech until he died in 1896.

Charles Holmes purchased 851 Beech Avenue in 1899. Holmes was then vice-president of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the First National Bank of McKees Rocks, both of which he had helped found in the 1890s. He also helped establish the Mortgage Banking Company in 1902, and served as treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. Holmes and his wife, Sallie, lived in the house into the early 1910s. Sallie Holmes died in 1911, and in 1913 Charles sold 851 Beech Avenue to Ann Lattner Gerlach, whose family owned die house until 2007.

Detailed information on the history of 851 Beech Avenue is contained in the following report.

Ownership

  • April 3. 1869
  • August 6, 1869
  • September 15, 1898
  • February 17, 1899
  • January 18, 1913
  • August 13, 1926
  • October 2, 1931
  • March 7, 1947
  • April 29, 1947
  • January 22, 1971
  • July 27, 2007

Elizabeth F. Denny of Pittsburgh conveyed the lot on which 851 Beech Avenue now stands to Alfred McDonald of Pittsburgh for $2,836. The property was located on the south side of Beech Avenue, 71’ from Galveston (then Grant) Avenue, and measured 35’2.75” wide along Beech Avenue by 137’4.5” deep to an unnamed 20’ wide alley (now Dounton Way). The property was known as the east part of Lot 33 and all of Lot 32 in Block 1 of the Plan of Lots land out by Elizabeth F. Denny.

The property was in the Second Ward of Allegheny City, which became part of Pittsburgh on December 9, 1907.

(Deed Book Volume 244, Page 155)

Alfred and Mary A. McDonald of Allegheny City conveyed 851 Beech Avenue to James J. Siebeneck of Pittsburgh for $9,000.

James J. Siebeneck, a childless widower, died while owning 851 Beech Avenue. He left a will, recorded in Allegheny County Will Book Volume 50, Page 289, but died intestate as to 851 Beech Avenue. He was survived by as his sole heirs three siblings, all widowed: Joseph G. Siebeneck, Catherine Schreher and Julie Ansbach.

Julia Alsbach of Mayence, Germany, conveyed her one third interest in 851 Beech Avenue to Frank G. Alsbach of Allegheny City in consideration of love and affection.

(DBV 1000 P 590)

Joseph G. Siebeneck of Allegheny City,
Frederick G. and Marietta Alsbach of Allegheny City, and Catherine Schreher of Mayence, Hessen Darmstadt, Germany, conveyed 851 Beech Avenue to Charles Holmes of Pittsburgh for $7,500.

(Deed Book 1016 P 493)

Charles Holmes of Pittsburgh conveyed 851 Beech Avenue to Ann Lattner Gerlach of Pittsburgh for $5,300.

(DBV 1757 P 509)

Ann Lattner Gerlach died on August 13, 1926. She left 851 Beech Avenue to her husband John Gerlach Jr. and to any of her children who would be living at the time of her death (WBV 199 P 596). The Gerlach children were Lawrence A., Crescentia, Marie, Anna, Claude and John E.

John Gerlach Jr. conveyed his interest in 851 Beech Avenue to his six children: Lawrence A. Gerlach of Flushing, New York, Crescentia Gerlach Shutrump of Cleveland and Marie E. Gerlach, Anna A. Gerlach, Claude J. Gerlach and John E. Gerlach of Pittsburgh for $1 and other considerations.

(DBV 2462 P 101)

Lawrence A. and Edna Gerlach of Middletown, Delaware, George and Crescentia Gerlach Shutrump and Chaude J. and Muriel Gerlach of Youngstown, Ohio, Robert and Marie Gerlach Jackson of Ligonier, Westmoreland County and William H. and Anna Gerlach Fuellenwarth of West View conveyed their 5/6 interest in 851 Beech Avenue to John E. Gerlach of Pittsburgh for $7,500.

(DBV 2939 P 395)

Title to 851 Beech Avenue was placed in the names of John E. and Lauretta H. Gerlach.

(DBV 2954 P 122)

Title to 851 Beech Avenue was placed in the name of Lauretta Henderson Gerlach.

Lauretta H. Bohonick, formerly Lauretta Henderson Gerlach, died on March 28, 2006.
(DBV 4513 P 710)

Catherine M. Serventi and Eugene T. Wilson purchased 851 Beech Avenue from the estate of Lauretta H. Bohonick, also known as Lauretta H. Gerlach or Lauretta Henderson Gerlach, on July 27, 2007.

(DBV 13328 P 422)

Age of the House

Construction

Local historical records indicate that Alfred McDonald constructed 851 Beech Avenue in 1869.

Alfred McDonald purchased the lot on which 851 Beech Avenue stands on April 3,1869. He paid $2,836 for the property, measuring 35’2.75” wide by 137’4.5” deep. This purchase, at 59 cents per square foot, was comparable to prices paid for other undeveloped lots in and near Allegheny West at the time.
McDonald and his wife, Mary A., sold the lot to James J. Siebeneck for $9,000 on August 6, 1869. The significant increase in property value indicates that a house had been built on the property after the April sale. The 1870 Pittsburgh directory listed James J. Siebeneck as living at 68 Beach Street (now 851 Beech Avenue) for the first time. The first plat map of the area, published in 1872, depicts the house.

Architectural Style

Alfred McDonald built 851 Beech Avenue in the Italianate style, which is shown in the house’s arched front door surround and window hoods, the rounded ornamental panels of the front door surround, and paired brackets below its box gutter and along the roofline on the east elevation. The Italianate style was the most popular architectural style in the Pittsburgh area between the late 1850s and the mid-1880s. In urban neighborhoods like Allegheny West, where high land costs encouraged construction of houses of about 25’ or less in width, Italianate house exteriors were characterized primarily by side-gabled roofs, arched door and window openings, prominent or projecting door and window hoods, and decorative brackets.
Interior details of Italianate houses often included flared newel posts and spindles, marble or wood mantels with arched openings, four-panel doors with porcelain knobs and ornamented cast iron hinges and non-symmetrical door and window trim. In the Pittsburgh area, many Italianate houses were built with stairways that incorporated landings located about three steps below the main level of the second floor. Most local Italianate houses also featured two-over-two double-hung windows, although some later or larger examples were constructed with one-over-one double-hung windows.

The Developer: Alfred McDonald

Alfred McDonald was a bricklaying contractor in Allegheny City and Pittsburgh in the 1860s and 1870s. He moved from Arthur Street in the lower Hill District in Pittsburgh to Beech Avenue in Allegheny in 1866-1867, when he constructed a house at 853 Beech Avenue for himself and his family. The McDonald family lived at 853 Beech Avenue until 1869 or 1870, and later lived at various addresses on the Mexican War Streets and in Manchester.

Street Name and Numbering

The house at 851 Beech Avenue was originally known as 68 Beach or Beech Street. The street became known as Beech Avenue in 1892-1893. The house became 851 Beech Avenue when the North Side’s modern street numbering system was put in place in 1899.

Garage Construction

Plat maps of the area around 851 Beech Avenue published in and before 1910 show that the large garage at the rear of the property had not been built. City of Pittsburgh building permit dockets show that in October 1913, Ann Gerlach received a permit for the construction of a brick garage at the rear of 851 Beech Avenue. The garage was to measure 35’ wide by 56’ deep, and have a slate roof. Its estimated construction cost was $3,130.
The name of the contractor who was to construct the garage is illegible in hand-written building permit records.

A 1925 fire insurance map shows that the garage had been built.

The Home Today

Photos by Chris Siewers

Through the Years


Residents

The Siebenecks

Pittsburgh directories, U.S. census records, an obituary, information compiled on ancestry.com, and other sources provide information on James J. and Margaret Siebeneck, the first owners of 851 Beech Avenue.

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The Holmeses

Records of the 1900 census list Charles Holmes, 64, and Sallie Holmes, 56, as the only residents of 851 Beech Avenue. Census records also show that 851 Beech Avenue was not mortgaged.

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The Gerlachs

Ann Gerlach bought 851 Beech Avenue in 1913, and records of the next three population censuses provide information on her family.

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Supplementary Materials

The following materials accompany this report:

Maps

  • a copy of part of an 1852 map depicting Allegheny City
  • a copy of part of an 1872 plat map of the area around 851 Beech Avenue
  • copies of parts of fire insurance maps of the area around 851 Beech Avenue, published in 1884, 1893, 1906 and 1925 and the 1925 map, updated by the publisher to 1950

Siebeneck

  • the marriage notice of James J. Siebeneck and Margaret McKinney, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, October 20, 1859
  • a copy of James J. Siebeneck’s passport application, April 21, 1873
  • the obituary of Margaret E. Siebeneck, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, October 1, 1877
  • information on James J. Siebeneck, from The Twentieth Century Bench and Bar of Pennsylvania (1903)
  • the obituary of James J. Siebeneck, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, March 21, 1896
  • letter from James J. Siebeneck (and others) to President Elect Lincoln, January 13, 1861

Holmes

  • the marriage notice of Charles Holmes and Sallie A. Mastisson, from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, July 5, 1879
  • portraits of Charles Holmes and other officers of the Mortgage Banking Company, from Views of Pittsburgh (1903)
  • the obituary of Sallie Holmes, from the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 13, 1911
  • the obituary of Charles Holmes, from the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 24, 1916

A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted

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