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806 Western Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

948-950 Beech Avenue

948-950 Beech Avenue (Front)

Introduction

Edward M. Butz had 948-950 Beech Avenue built between early 1880 and early 1881. Butz, an architect, designed the double house in the Second Empire style. After 948-950 Beech Avenue was constructed, Butz and his family began living at 950 Beech Avenue. Butz sold 948 Beech Avenue for $12,500 in 1881.

Edward M. Butz appears to have been among the more active and accomplished architects who worked in Pittsburgh during the last third of the nineteenth century. Butz was selected at age 26 to design the Western Penitentiary in Allegheny City, which was built while he lived at 950 Beech Avenue. Butz also designed office and commercial buildings, churches, homes, courthouses, and other buildings in Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and elsewhere in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, many of the buildings he designed locally have been demolished.

Edward M. Butz, his wife, Mary A. Butz, and at least one of their children lived at 950 Beech Avenue between 1880-1881 and 1883. The Butz family subsequently lived in the Allegheny Center Mall area, in Bellevue, and in Brighton Heights.

The houses at 948 and 950 Beech Avenue were owned by several prominent persons in the late nineteenth century, when Allegheny West was at its height of popularity as a residential community. Attorney Wynn R. Sewell and his wife, Martha McC. Watson Sewell, owned 948 Beech Avenue between 1881 and 1908. The house at 950 Beech Avenue was owned and occupied by Franklin Finsthwait, a broker and his wife, Caroline, between 1883 and 1885. Philander C. Knox, an attorney and future United States Attorney General, Senator, and Secretary of State, owned 950 Beech Avenue between 1885 and 1887, but did not live in the house. Dr. John S. and Sarah E. Dickson owned and lived at 950 Beech Avenue between 1887 and 1897.

The conversion of 948-950 Beech Avenue to apartments took place in the early twentieth century, as Allegheny West changed from a primarily upper-middle-class and wealthy community to a neighborhood of apartments and boarding houses. 948 Beech Avenue contained three apartments in 1910, and 950 Beech Avenue contained eight apartments by 1930. The double house deteriorated until it was acquired in 1979 and rehabilitated by Robert Fierst and Douglas Simmons. Miles Bausch and Douglas Lucas purchased 948-950 Beech Avenue in 1999 and continue to care for and improve this unique historic property.

Detailed information on the history of 948-950 Beech Avenue is contained in the following report.

Age of the House

Construction

Edward M. Butz commissioned construction of a double house at 948950 Beech Avenue in 1880.

Edward M. Butz purchased the lot on which 948 Beech Avenue now stands on February 2, 1880. His wife, Mary A. Butz, purchased the lot on which 950 Beech Avenue stands on February 16, 1880. Each paid $2,100 for lots measuring 20′ wide by 100’ deep. These purchases, at $1.05 per square foot, were comparable to prices paid for other undeveloped lots in Allegheny West at the time, and indicate that 948-950 Beech Avenue had not yet been built.
The 1880 census of population did not enumerate any residents of 5 (950) or 7 (948) Beech Avenue. The census was taken on Beech Avenue on June 2 and 3, 1880.

Edward M. Butz conveyed the eastern half of the property, containing the site of 948 Beech Avenue, to Martha McC. Watson on March 7, 1881. The purchase price was $12,500, indicating that the double house had been built.

The 1881 Pittsburgh city directory listed Edward M. Butz as living at 5 (now 950) Beech Avenue for the first time.

An 1882 plat map also confirms that 948-950 Beech Avenue had been built.

Architectural Style

Edward M. Butz designed 948-950 Beech Avenue in the Second Empire style.

In urban neighborhoods like Allegheny West, where high land costs discouraged construction of homes with more than about 22’ frontage, Second Empire house exteriors were characterized primarily by mansard front roofs, arched door and window openings, prominent or projecting door and window hoods, and decorative brackets supporting box gutters. The majority of urban Second Empire homes were one room wide. Second Empire homes built in suburban and rural settings were built with full mansard roofs, and sometimes with centered wings or towers. Most were two rooms in width with a central or offset hallway.

Interior details of Second Empire homes usually 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 with diagonally mitered comers. In Pittsburgh, many Second Empire homes were built with stairways that incorporated landings located about three steps below the main level of the second floor. Most local Second Empire homes also featured two-over-two double hung windows, although some later or larger examples were constructed with one-over-one double-hung windows.
The Second Empire style and the related Italianate style were the prevailing architectural styles for homes and small commercial buildings constructed in the Pittsburgh area between the late 1860’s and about 1885.
The facade of 948-950 Beech Avenue also displays the influence of the Eastiake movement in its incised stone lintels. The lintels, the stone belt courses and raised foundation, and the inset tile combined to make one of the most ornate late Victorian residential facades in Allegheny City.

Residents

The Butzes

Pittsburgh city directories, U.S. census records, biographical materials, and other sources provide information on Edward M. and Mary A. Butz.

Learn More


A Researched History
By: Carol J. Peterson

all photos by Chris Siewers, unless otherwise noted

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