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The Daily American - West Frankfort, IL
  • Restoring a Greek Revival house

  • If he's not designing buildings or playing the accordion, Keith Cochran is lavishing attention on restoring a Greek Revival house in Lawrenceville, Pa.

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  • If he's not designing buildings or playing the accordion, Keith Cochran is lavishing attention on restoring a Greek Revival house in Lawrenceville, Pa.
    The amiable architect loves this classical style's clean lines, open floor plan and spacious rooms, and the $40,000 price made it irresistible.
    Cochran and his wife, artist Mary Mazziotti, are living in an apartment while the work is going on at the home, which is within 12 blocks of where they both work.
    The couple's previous residence, a Victorian set on a hill, included a three-story carriage house that aided them in accumulating antiques, books and chairs. Before moving, they restored four Victorian-era homes in Lawrenceville.
    Their current project is the fifth historic treasure they have undertaken, and it's also the largest. This time, they plan an uncluttered life.
    "What we envision is something so far beyond our budget –– think Monticello!" Mazziotti said, hooting with laughter while sitting on the front porch.
    Unlike Thomas Jefferson, the big-spending builder of Monticello, this duo is keeping an eye on costs and recently chose kitchen cabinets from Ikea. That kind of shopping was unavailable to Dr. Peter Mowry, a Pittsburgh physician who built the home between 1830 and 1832 for his wife, Eliza Addison Mowry. Back then, the 100-acre property fronted on the Allegheny River.
    "When Mrs. Mowry looked north toward the Allegheny River, her view was unobstructed," Cochran said. "Back then, it was all open farmland."
    The house was built before electricity, so workmen ran gas lines through the floors to access the ceiling and install gas lamps. Dr. Mowry died a year after the home was finished, but his widow lived there until her death in 1871.
    In 1872, Thomas Carnegie, along with business partners of his better-known brother, Andrew, bought the house and began subdividing the 100-acre parcel into streets and building lots.
    "That was the beginning of the industrialization of the valley," said Cochran, who has been reading "The Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company" by James Bridge.
    After a series of other owners, Cochran bought the three-story house in 2004. Today, it sits on a quarter of an acre and behind a 5-foot-high iron fence.
    The dressed sandstone foundation is stippled and edged with borders; the upper stories are solid red brick. Above the large porch is decorative dentil molding and an elaborate, classic Doric frieze with triglyphs, mutules and flowers.
    Cochran plans to order custom-made wooden Doric columns to match that frieze. Those will replace the yellow brick pillars supporting the porch. The yellow brick exterior will be replaced with sandstone. A square, wooden railing will be installed, too.
    Beyond the transom window over the front door is a grand 9-foot-wide foyer featuring an elaborately carved wooden archway with intricate oak leaves.
    Page 2 of 2 - Dan McClelland, a plasterer, restored the plaster moldings of roping and medallions in the hallway. He also replicated the original crown molding by creating a metal screed, a shadow of the plaster form.
    The house has large rooms, most with fireplaces: the living room and dining room both measure 17-by-20 feet. The kitchen is 17-by-15 feet. The main floor also has a pantry, a television room that will be heated by a wood pellet stove. Thermostatic controls for radiators have been installed to control steam heat.
    In the first-floor main rooms, Cochran uncovered faux-grained woodwork. Popular in Greek Revival homes, the detailing was often done with a comb or feather.
    The second floor has a future library –– a 9-by-12-foot room with spinach-green walls that may be the original color. It also has three bedrooms. One will serve as the master bedroom, a second will be a television room and a third will be Mazziotti's workspace. The couple created a new 12-by-7-foot bathroom and a laundry by dividing a fourth bedroom.
    A spiral stairway leads to the third floor. Here, Cochran found construction methods that delighted him. The carpenters did not use any nails; instead, the ceiling is all pegged construction. Cornices are secured with mortis and tenon and then pegged. He plans to leave the ceiling exposed.
    Also on the third floor, the hand-planed pine flooring is tongue-and-groove. A gallery railing made of hand-pegged cherry rings the stair opening. This 44-by-27-foot level will have a guest bedroom and bath, as well as Cochran's study.
    The couple may build a raised terrace off the first floor and install a patio. Mazziotti plans to plant a garden with raised beds; four parking spaces will be installed at the back of the property.
    Even after the couple moves in, members of the Electric Club, a social group formed in 1891 by Westinghouse employees, will continue to watch Steelers games in the home's basement, which houses a bar that's a throwback to a nicotine-saturated era. The club will remain there through 2014 because of a deal it forged with the couple.
    Katherine Molnar, who worked as a preservation planner with the City of Pittsburgh, toured the home two years ago and said it is her favorite house in the city. Now an architectural historian with Michael Baker Corp. in Cleveland, Molnar said the house is a gem because its original floor plan, windows and ornate moldings are intact.
    "I hope this is the next building Keith lists on the city's historic register," Molnar said.
        
    Contact Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com.
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