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Restored Bellevue home is inlaid with elegant architectural touches

Saturday, January 25, 2003

By Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Pricing a home is always something of a challenge. Set it too high and you scare away potential buyers. Price it too low and the seller doesn't make any money. That problem is compounded when the property is different from everything else in the neighborhood, like the 97-year-old stone home at 100 Watkins Ave., Bellevue.

Lots of marble, terrazzo and a magnificent ceiling greet those who enter the turn-of-the-century home on Watkins Avenue in Bellevue that is on the market for nearly $400,000. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Standing on a spacious corner lot, this 3 1/2-story house is something of an anomaly in this small borough packed with hundreds of much more humble turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival, Craftsman and Queen Anne-style homes.

Lovingly restored to period style, it abounds with the kind of elegant architectural details usually found only in the grandest properties. Along with nine decorative fireplaces and gorgeous herringbone-patterned quarter-sawn oak floors, the house boasts terrazzo with mosaic marble inlays and a 23- by 24-foot foyer with a marble-and-oak staircase and 12 faux marble columns.

The house has been priced by Howard Hanna's Sewickley office at $399,000, making it one of the most expensive homes ever to go on the market in Bellevue.

That wouldn't be off-putting in nearby Sewickley, where the median sales price is $154,000. But in Bellevue, $72,000 was the median sales price for the 120 homes sold from September 2001 to September 2002; and the most expensive property sold for $237,000.

Make no mistake, though. The house is still drastically underpriced and, as such, very much a bargain, according to listing agent Angie Haskell.

"If it was in Squirrel Hill or Fox Chapel, it'd go for maybe twice as much," Haskell says. "You have to find that unique buyer who loves it as an old house as well as its location, and doesn't mind the more modest homes around it."

Located about a block from Lincoln Avenue, the borough's main drag, the house is thought to have been built in 1906 by Marius Rousseau, who taught music in Allegheny City before becoming an architect in 1899. The Frenchman's residency was a short one; he lost the house to foreclosure in 1909.

His house has more than 6,000 square feet of living space over three levels and poured-concrete walls from the basement through the third floor. In addition to being among the area's largest homes, it's also one of its most unusual, combining elements of Colonial Revival and Richardsonian Romanesque styles.

A stained-glass dome ceiling and clawfoot bathtub highlight a second-floor bathroom in the Bellevue home. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

One of the first things visitors will notice in the grand foyer, besides the marble walls and terrazzo floor is the ornate plaster ceiling. There is also a decorative glazed-ceramic fireplace with a quarter-sawn oak mantel and a fireback with cherubs in high relief.

Custom lace panels by Kravet and velvet damask draperies adorn the windows.

The foyer opens through six-panel oak pocket doors into a 27-by-19-foot sun-filled music room. Though the period Schumacher wallpaper is new, the extensive wood moldings and trim are original, as are the herringbone-patterned oak floors. A large four-panel box bay window with a leaded-glass transom overlooks the enclosed front porch.

At 24 by 17 feet, the formal dining room is nearly as large as the music room. With its quarter-sawn oak wainscoting and oak box beam ceiling, however, it feels much more intimate. Built-in oak cabinets flank a massive oak fireplace surround with inlaid mosaic tile.

Another set of pocket doors opens onto a 19- by 14-foot breakfast room with box beam ceiling, pine floors with an inlaid mosaic marble border and a decorative fireplace with its original cast-iron front. The bay window overlooking the side yard features an inlaid terrazzo window seat.

Unlike the utilitarian kitchens in many turn-of-the-century houses, the kitchen here is almost a work of art. In lieu of a traditional plaster or pressed-tin ceiling, Rousseau designed his with stained glass in a colorful mosaic and walls made from glazed ceramic tiles.

Completely hidden beneath 90 years of grease and dirt when the house changed hands six years ago, the ceiling was revealed after the current owner spent two days cleaning with Windex and a toothbrush.

The terrazzo floors with mosaic marble details were similarly buried beneath layers of brown vinyl flooring and plywood.

Near a new Dynasty gas stove is the original farm-style sink, resting beneath three stained-glass windows with Schumacher toile curtains. The custom oak cabinet with granite countertop to the right was designed to match the oak in the dining room.

The second floor features six bedrooms, two baths and a sitting room that opens through French doors onto a small porch. The fireplace in the master bedroom is flanked by a pair of oak pew-like benche.s (Rousseau's father, Michael, made his living building church furniture.)

One of the home's more unusual spaces is the hall bathroom. In addition to an original "Flower-of-Life" marble mosaic floor, this circular bath is topped by a stained-glass domed ceiling. Originally brightened by a skylight, it's lit artificially today.

The heated third floor holds four more rooms, including a 24- by 18-foot "ballroom" with a poplar floor.

For more information on 100 Watkins Ave., call 412-741-2200, Ext. 226. For more photos, go to www.howardhanna.com (MLS# 437436).

Gretchen McKay can be reached at 412-761-4670 orgmckay@post-gazette.com .

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