NORTH BRADDOCK (KDKA) — It’s an architectural gem of historic significance, but now advanced in disrepair, it looks more like a home for the Addams family or the Munster’s than the mansion of a steel baron from gilded age.
“It shouldn’t be the house on the corner that looks spooky on Halloween,” said JK Hempel, the new owner’s son. “I’d like to be part of the process that brings that scaffolding down, turns the lights back on and brings it back to life.”
Built in 1889 by Carnegie, then U.S. Steel President Charles Schwab, the house on Jones Street in North Braddock has never regained its former luster. Though the last owner, the late Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dixon gave it his best shot.
Now comes former University of Pittsburgh professor John Hempel and family.
“My intentions to do my best to pick up where Bruce left off,” said John.
He bought the house from Dixon’s estate for $85,000, but that will be just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of restoring the mansion, where gutters leak into the walls, the porch pulls away from the foundation and the Porte Cochere is rotted through.
But the Hempel family sees a diamond in the rough.
“We’ve lost too much of our architectural heritage. The craftsmanship that went into this place is just incredible,” said John.
An accomplished craftsman himself, John will be undertaking the painstaking restoration, which should be more than a decade long. It will bring features like the stained glass window above the staircase back to its former beauty.
His daughter Amanda and her husband Ian Munroe will be living there as caretakers during the process.
“It is a big responsibility, but I think the house deserves it and the community deserves it,” she says. “We certainly have the passion for it.”
Their goal is to preserve what could be lost to decay, vandals or arson; and bringing the mansion back to life, honoring Dr. Dixon by giving it a new name.
“It’s been referred to as the Schwab Mansion in the past, and going forward we intend to refer to it as the Schwab-Dixon Mansion, or simply ‘Schwixon,’” said John.
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