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John F. Singer House

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1863–1869. 1318 Singer Pl., Wilkinsburg
  • John F. Singer House

John F. Singer made his fortune supplying iron and steel to the Union army during the Civil War. Looking for a summer estate, Singer purchased thirty-five acres in what was then the rural village of Wilkinsburg. Singer began the house in 1863, and continued construction throughout the war. The architect could have been Joseph W. Kerr, Pittsburgh's dominant Gothic Revival designer in the 1850s and 1860s, but the house is too grand and too lavishly decorated to have come entirely from a pattern book, which was Kerr's usual mode of design.

With its finely cut stone construction, and thirty-five rooms, the Singer house achieved a degree of ostentation greater than any in Pittsburgh in that era. Austrian plasterers, English wood-carvers (some having just finished work on the Houses of Parliament), and German stonemasons were imported for the construction. Singer spared no expense to acquire hand-carved work, as in the hardwood vergeboards and the delicate natural motifs in low relief under each bay window. Two somber mahogany porches were painted with crushed sandstone and gesso to emulate the stone walls of the house. The house is cruciform in plan—typical of country houses at the time—with four steep gables and numerous dormers, each sumptuously decorated. The front steps, of Mexican slate, lead to an Italianate tiled foyer. The first floor's eighteen rooms feature elaborately carved mahogany window frames and doors, and every room has a mantel of a different imported marble.

The estate included an artificial lake, a gatehouse where a Russian farm laborer lived, a carriage house for Singer's “fine horse flesh,” and a private chapel where Singer led Episcopal services. Singer's partner Alexander Nimick purchased adjoining property with the intent to build but he never did, and, instead, Nimick Place turned into speculative tract housing. After Singer's death in 1872, his wife and family left the estate. Westinghouse then used it as a boardinghouse for young executives, and after that, it was broken up into apartments. The current owner is returning the mansion to a single-family dwelling.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.
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Citation

Lu Donnelly et al., "John F. Singer House", [Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-01-AL126.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 124-125.

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