Thursday, May 29, 2014

F*** Gillece

I didn't mean to let it be so quiet around here these past couple of weeks.  Things have certainly been happening, but have been totally overshadowed by rage-inciting nonsense, and I though it best to let the cortisol levels wane before attempting to write a post, lest it end up being rather more colorful than my dear readers' ears (eyes?) are accustomed to.

That said, let me present a quote....

And now the back story...

A couple of weeks ago one of the floor drains in the basement backed up, flooding one room of our basement.  Annoying, but not really a big deal.  We had thought it was from the bad pressure valve on the boiler draining and clogging the floor drain with crap from the basement floor.  Once we realized that wasn't the case we figured it was that combined with the food scraps from the newly added garbage disposal (the first the house has ever had) overwhelming the ancient, and likely grease filled, drain.  No big deal right?

When a bit of Draino and our pipe snake failed, we called Gillece, a local plumbing company that offers a same day drain cleaning special of $100.  The first guy came out, tried snaking the drain only through one of the floor drains, hit the tee a couple of feet in, pulled the snake out with black goo on it, and claimed the pipe was broken because he could not get the snake in any further.  He said a supervisor would come out with a camera later that day, then backed into our neighbor's tree on the way out, leaving some tail light embedded in it (and nary an acknowledgement or apology).

The supervisor then came out, this time running the camera through one floor drain, hit the tee, and then tried the vent, this time making it to the clog and showing us a black screen as proof there was a broken pipe, then pulling out the camera and showing the black goo on it that he thought was further proof.  When we pointed out that the line was only getting as far as the tee he said that "lines weren't run that way."  When we asked him to run the camera backwards from the next floor drain down the line he refused, saying there was no point, since it wouldn't show anything since the pipes were broken.  In addition to a lot of old house nonsense he spouted (we're neither ignorant nor naive around here if you haven't noticed), he made a point of questioning why we'd even bother fixing up an old house, and talked about how the pipes should have failed a long time ago - because "cast iron and terracotta only last a few decades."  Now while I'm the first to acknowledge our 1886 pipes are a bit of a ticking time bomb, the idea that they would only last 20 years is laughable!  Not only that, but our basement floor is nicely poured (older) concrete, with all of the drain lines neatly traced in the floor - either due to past work or VERY clever workers in the past who wanted to make future work as straightforward as possible.

One written quote later, we were both infuriated and terrified that there was actually something wrong (panic mode is debilitating for me).  That night I had the presence of mind to look up professional pipe snake rentals, and discovered two things.  First off, the black goo was good, a sign of a clog - broken pipes would have left brown mud on the snake and camera.  Secondly, snakes aren't a good choice for old pipes - instead you should use a sewer jet (in our case an Electric Eel lol), which is basically a pressure washer for your pipes, they're much more gentle on the old terracotta and brittle cast iron.  Our local Sunbelt Rentals rented them for $49 dollars, so that's where we headed the next morning.  Picked it up, brought it home, screwed it onto our hose and plugged it in, and 30 seconds later.... CLEAN FUCKING PIPE!!!!!!!

While we're both obviously overjoyed in our victory, the Angry Monkey is beyond furious, and already has a complaint in with the Better Business Bureau.  The first response from Gillece about the complaint?  That they're happy we found an unconventional way of fixing the pipe.  Unconventional?  Gillece offers pipe jetting!  Not to mention they didn't say it was a clog they couldn't fix, they said our pipes had collapsed and that it would cost over $8000 to fix if we paid cash (and over $9000 if we didn't), while pressing us to rip out all of the sewer lines to replace our "failing" pipes all at once...

and lets just laugh at their code of ethics for a bit eh?

So that was our week, and I didn't even mention the concussion (it was the cat's fault, I swear, at least for the first head bashing incident - I'll take the blame for the second)...

Friday, May 16, 2014


Just a few updates...  The onset of another week of cool wet weather means I've resumed my contortions in the eaves.  I had hoped to finish today, but the discovery of my cat in there with me, and her subsequent retreat deep into the bowels of the house meant that finishing would risk trapping her in there, so, I didn't.  Fie.  Stripping the kitchen built-in continues to suck my soul dry, there is really no end in sight on that front.

6 of these paneled doors to go
Today found us heading out to a rather fantastic estate sale.  We missed these by 15 minutes... *sob*

antique electroliers, 300 for the lot of 6 with shades
And saw things like boxes of antique Steiff stuffed animals leaving as we went in.  We didn't do too badly though.  Some nice hardware, a tall turned floor lamp, some art and such, books (including P.T. Barnum's, Thirty Years of Hustling) and a lovely huge porch swing. But we left some troops behind folks...

antique china low tank toilet under the barn
That would be an antique china low tank toilet under the barn.  I saw it long after they had wanted to leave for the day, and while they were happy to let me crawl under there to rescue it, it had sunk deep into the mud.  There was simply no way for me to dredge it out with what little time I had.  So I have a humble request for all you locals.  Please save her.  It'll be there waiting Saturday for you, keeping company with the house's original huge multi-light windows.  Bring a trowel and don't wear heels... I promise the house is worth seeing too, you know, if original Victorian kitchens are your thing....

I spy a tub like mine!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

another sad day

We've seen some lovely buildings and houses come down while we've lived here.  It turns out another one I pass all the time is about to join their ranks - the 1927 Penn Lincoln Hotel in Wilkinsburg PA.  Sooo terribly sad.  At least it's being salvaged, but gee I wish I knew what happened to the Samual Yellin gas lights!
From the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation:

In a few weeks the former Penn Lincoln Hotel Building on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg will be demolished. PHLF was among a group that made concerted efforts on various occasions to try and save and restore the building, but costs, coupled with a lack of market and the building’s deteriorating condition, resulted in this decision.

The downward spiral started many years ago when the hotel closed. In its heyday, the hotel served guests who disembarked from the Pennsylvania Railroad when it stopped at the former Wilkinsburg Railroad Station on runs between New York and Chicago. State Route 30—the Lincoln Highway—followed Penn Avenue connecting Pittsburgh and New York by motorcar. The Penn-Lincoln Hotel sat at the junction of these two important early transportation routes.

Architectural Historian Jamie Van Trump called Benno Janssen (1874-1964), the architect of the Penn-Lincoln, “the most talented of Pittsburgh eclectic architects of the earlier twentieth century.” The Kaufmann’s Department Store addition at Fifth and Smithfield, the William Penn Hotel, the E. J. Kaufmann house in Fox Chapel, and the Mellon Institute are among his many distinguished buildings. Janssen designed five hotel buildings between 1909 and 1929.

The Penn-Lincoln (1926-27) was a six-story brick building that advertised itself as “Pittsburgh’s Most Modern Suburban Hotel.” The simple facade was enlivened with 12 outside iron lamps designed by acclaimed metalsmith Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia (the lamps are gone but blueprints are on file in the Yellin Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives); cast ornaments of cupids, ram’s heads, and rampant lions remain on the facade.

For some years, the former hotel served as an apartment building, but it could not be well maintained.  A partnership consisting of Deliverance, Inc., a faith-based group led by Reverend Michael Golphin, eventually acquired the building and PHLF loaned $135,000 to Deliverance to begin development of the property, but costs were too great.

Allegheny County then contracted with our organization to analyze restoration costs and possible uses for the building. But because the building had deteriorated, bricks were beginning to fall, environmental remediation proved to be expensive, and the reconstruction costs were very high. What is more, we could not find a market for the redevelopment of the building in the Wilkinsburg area even though we considered various forms of housing, retail, offices, mixed use, and single use.

Ultimately, everyone concerned agreed that the building had dangerously deteriorated and public officials in Wilkinsburg, the community, members of the Community Development Corporation, our organization, and the County agreed there was no restoration solution.

However, all parties will work together to rebuild this strategic corner with a new building in scale and design that will enhance the historic Penn Avenue Main Street. We are trying to secure an anchor tenant now. Adjacent parking will be available.

As part of the mitigation for the removal of the building, many of the sculptural artifacts embedded in the structure will be saved and relocated to public parks and community gardens in Wilkinsburg. In addition we are preparing a nomination of the Penn Avenue-Wood Street business area for addition as a historic district to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Wilkinsburg CDC, under Tracy Evans’ leadership, has been achieving good results with the Main Street businesses and historic buildings, and our organizations, together with Allegheny County, are seeking funds to begin a clean up and undertake exterior restoration of the former Wilkinsburg Railroad Station. We hope we will have positive news to report later this year.

Friday, May 9, 2014

moldings of mystery

We generally have a mile long to do list of things we think we're going to get done during any given period of time. Naturally, any belief that these things will be finished is completely delusional, but I guess you have to be somewhat delusional to undertake a project like this. On this list for the summer is finishing the woodwork in the kitchen - baseboard, four windows, built-in, two doors, a transom and the chair rail. I've nearly finished the heat-gunning part of the project (the easy part), what's left is scraping, liquid stripper and sanding, then touching up any remaining paint, staining and shellacking. I need a nice glass of (long island) iced tea just thinking about it...

What we've checked off this list now includes two windows, and the frame and moldings of the original pantry built-in. The pantry has left us scratching our heads on more than one occasion, but we think we've solved the mystery. Stripping the inside edge of the moldings revealed ghost marks where another piece of trim had butted up to them.

It was only when we removed the hinges and finished stripping the woodwork that we figured out the outlines were from the chair rail that used to run around the perimeter of the room. Now of course that begs the question why were there marks from chair rail on the high inside edge of the trim overlaying the hinges???

enormous three part chair rail

After much head-scratching and unintelligible muttering we figured out that these pieces of trim originally belonged to the built-in that had been next to the chimney on the other side of the kitchen. When we bought the house all but the uppermost shelf and soffit had already been chopped out, but when we started stripping the 14 layers of paint and vinyl shelf liner from the walls and chimney we found more ghost marks showing the dimensions and shelf placement. Since there wasn't much to save we removed what was left to make better use of our salvaged cabinets (not without much guilt though).

the remains of the cabinet above the fridge
some of the ghost marks

that corner today

As best we can tell, when the house was split up they removed nearly every piece of trim as they rearranged rooms, even on doors and windows that weren't changed. When they put the trim back up they did it without rhyme or reason, cutting down and butting up lengths, mixing up wood species, or just replacing it with nice, but inappropriate, flat pine craftsman trim. In the case of the kitchen, the addition of modern cabinetry and a horrendous drop ceiling meant that much of the trim never made it back into the room.

removed drop ceiling to reveal
missing moldings
drop ceilings above sink

missing chair rail (don't mind butterfly)
With one more house mystery solved, we continued the tedious work, and now the pantry is nearly ready for finishing (doors notwithstanding).

before pic, complete with odd
"inspiration" photo taped to the door
as of now... stripped and
sanded built-in

Monday, May 5, 2014

estate sale travels

If it's not already abundantly clear, we like estate sales (understatement of the year there)...

But in addition to finding things for the house, estate sales are a great way to start learning how to navigate around a new city.  Not only that, but we've been known to go to lots of sales just to see a particular house, even if there's nothing listed that we're interested in.  Most of the time it's nearly impossible to take good photos due to crowds, clutter and impossibly bad lighting.  Naturally, that doesn't stop me from trying...  So here are some of my favorites.

This was a mansion in McKeesport (it was listed on Old House Dreams a while back).  It was worth buying for the fireplace alone.

This is a stained glass transom in a Scheibler apartment building (I believe Whitehall), none of my other pictures are clear, which is an absolute shame.

This was an English Arts and Crafts mini-mansion in Squirrel Hill.  The original entrance was boarded up, I would have loved to have seen it in it's heyday.  A strange mix of very high end entertaining spaces, and very small, almost cloister like bedrooms.  I brought home a bunch of furniture and the entire original kitchen... I also plan on shamelessly copying the stained glass when I get my skills up to snuff.

incised Grueby? tile
arts and crafts maidens on all the columns

original beam lights

This was a converted carriage house in Shadyside

Here are some random homes we've come across.  They always seem to be back lit, so the pictures are terrible, but I highly recommend making the black one full screen - soooo many cool details (and it's black)! 

In Greensburg I think?
stunning font

this one belongs to a historical society, but could really use some attention
look at their carriage house!
 And lastly, perfectly fractured slate sidewalks...