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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Renovation of old Isaly's in Lawrenceville

Post-gazette NOW
Renovation lets the sun shine into old Isaly's in Lawrenceville
Saturday, February 13, 2010

From Skyscraper cones to sky-baring windows, from chip-chopped ham to sandblasted brick, this 125-year-old building in Lawrenceville has undergone a transformation.

For 75 years, it was an Isaly's. Now, thanks to Brian Mendelssohn, it is a funky commercial space for his wife's store and two large bright apartments with a modern-industrial flair that's as delightful to old building lovers as an Isaly's shake was to legions of Pittsburgh kids.

"I wanted it to blend in historically with a hint of sexiness. It came out better than I was hoping for," says the 33-year-old principal of Botero Development.

It was also better than all but two entries in the 2009-10 Renovation Inspiration Contest sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh. The apartments above Rebecca Morris' WildCard store on Butler Street between 42nd and 43rd streets were chosen as a runner-up in the large project category (costing more than $50,000).

In fact, Mr. Mendelssohn spent about $400,000 on top of the building's $140,000 purchase price in 2008. Some of that was for renovation of the store space, which boasts 16-foot original tin ceilings crisscrossed by track lighting and exposed plumbing that is actually sprinklers.

As much as Mr. Mendelssohn is proud of the commercial space, he says "the upstairs is the best part."

Reached by a new set of wooden stairs, the rear apartment seems at first to be a series of small rooms linked by a low hallway. But then the kitchen/dining room/great room space comes into view. With 14-foot ceilings, exposed old brick, refinished pine floors and 12-foot-high west-facing windows, it's brightly lit even with no lights on a gray winter day.

The light -- and views -- are even better when you climb the stairs to the loft bedroom.

Light streams through a window 20 feet wide and 91/2 feet high, with a door leading to a 25-by-10-foot deck. Whether you're looking out over gritty Lawrenceville or down into the great room, the space seems much larger than 1,450 feet, with two bedrooms and two baths.

But what about all that sunlight? Isn't it hard to sleep?

No way, says Tim Finucan, who is renting the rear apartment with his wife, Annie while Botero works on their house nearby.

"It's kind of exhilarating to wake up in this room," he said. "I've never had that much sun before."

The matching front apartment has the same loft space and winglike deck overhang that required hurricane bars to be imbedded in the window muntins. Mr. Mendelssohn said he decided to extend the roof because the beams came in so long. Leaving them full length created a more dramatic effect but added to the cost.

"We went over budget but kept to the original design," the developer says, noting that Andrew Moss of Moss Architects in East Liberty designed the space.

Other elements adding to the cost was the sprinkler system, which was necessary because Mr. Mendelssohn was changing the use of the second floor (Isaly's never used the space above its stores). Firefighter of Sharpsburg installed the system of copper and steel piping.

Other unique elements include a 6-foot bathtub ("so you can really lie down"), Travertine tile in the shower and on the master bath floor, a single appliance that is both washer and dryer, made in China by Haier, and all-electric heating, cooling and water that result in a single utility bill averaging $90 a month.

"This building could be rated LEED Silver if we had applied," Mr. Mendelssohn said.

A native of Miami, he came to Pittsburgh for college, receiving a bachelor's degree in material sciences and engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. Meeting his wife, a Shaler native, helped persuade him to stay. But what really captured him was the vibe of neighborhoods like Lawrenceville.

It was enough to make him forsake the sun and sand of Florida for the northern light and sandblasted brick of a former ice cream palace.

"Pittsburgh has the authenticity every other city strives for, but it also has the opportunity because much of the city is undeveloped."

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