Before the weekend. HELP ME, PLEASE.

I am so ready for this weekend. I swear I work harder and longer at being a writer/blogger/mom/restaurant owner/ninja than I ever did as a 9 to 5 office bee.

Before we head into what should be a sunny, unseasonably warm weekend (suck it, Phil), there’s still a few things to share with you!

1. Fat, poor and angry. WINNERS.

Pittsburgh has made’s list of Top Cities for Aging Too Fast, coming it at number 12.

Once a booming steel town, Pittsburgh may be less than optimistic about its new identity in a down economy. Pittsburg citizens are stressed out, smoking, and even angry. Good thing they have a high rate of health insurance coverage. They might turn their health around by passing on the Pittsburgh Salad (steak salad topped with French fries) — quite possibly the culprit for the city’s high rate of diabetes.

“Less optimistic about its new identity in a down economy?!” Have they not read all the news reports about how Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in America thriving in this economy?

And if anything is to blame for our high level of diabetes, it’s not a high protein steak salad with a handful of french fries on it. It’s our obsession with Ho-Hos.

And if we’re angry, maybe it’s because YOU SPELLED OUR NAME WRONG, ASSHOLES.

(h/t my Dad who went ballistic over this study and I’m not going to be the one to point out the irony of his anger at a study that shows Pittsburghers are angry. You do it.)

2.Obsessed with the Mellons

I have a new post up at Pittsburgh Magazine, this one about how I have just learned about the old R.B. Mellon mansion, why it was torn down (not a clue), and what happened to the stones and woodwork after it was demolished.

A snippet:

Everything was velvety, expensive, plush, posh, polished, hand-painted and eminently BREAKABLE. I was afraid to even gaze at a gaudy Tiffany mantle clock for too long for fear my stare alone would cause it to fall to the floor and shatter.

You become very aware of how gangly and awkward the human body is when you’re surrounded by priceless artifacts.

The day after my tour, I was reading a book about art collecting in Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age when I stumbled upon something that, as our columnist Rick Sebak would say, isn’t there anymore.

And it took my breath away.

The 65-room mansion of Richard B. Mellon, brother of Andrew Mellon, built at 6500 Fifth Avenue in 1910:

You have to go look at that magnificent house. It was as big as a castle. Lush and glorious gardens. Amazing stained glass windows. And it’s gone. GONE! At thirty years of age.

Now, if anyone can help me learn WHY the house was razed, I would be most appreciative. So far I’ve come up empty, other than an indication that another Mellon house in Pittsburgh, the 45-room Ben Elm at 5340 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, was torn down the same year, 1941, due to tax increases, which MAKES NO SENSE. This was one of the richest families in America!

And if you can find me a picture of the Ben Elm mansion, I’ll probably self-unite to you like a boss.

Anyway, I’m now obsessed with Pittsburgh’s mansions.

Bail me out when Mario finds me hiding in his wine cellar.


  1. Cassie
    February 3, 2012 3:51 pm

    A friend of mine works for Construction Junction and he’s amazed at how often he gets pulled into a house in Fox Chapel (for example) and they’re ripping down an mansion to build a bigger, newer mansion.

    It boggles the mind, Ginny. Boggles it.

    • Virginia
      February 3, 2012 3:53 pm

      Crazy! The only good thing about the R.B. Mellon mansion being razed is that the materials were reused, but STILL.

      • Cassie
        February 3, 2012 4:11 pm

        Well, the fact that Construction Junction goes into these ‘small’ mansions before they tear them down is so that most things can get reused. And if you met my friend, he finds EVERYTHING worth saving. I love that place!

  2. Brian
    February 3, 2012 4:01 pm

    You should take a drive to Ligonier and check out Rolling Rock Farms. Another R.B. Mellon property. Unreal.

  3. Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
    February 3, 2012 4:02 pm

    It makes perfect sense to me that the Mellons would tear down a house because of a tax increase.

    When Andrew Carnegie came to the realization that he (and his descendents) could never, ever, ever spend all of that wealth and did his big push to have all of the wealthy dedicate their wealth to good deeds, the Mellons were his most difficult sell.

    If you’re looking for a good (but very long) read, there’s an excellent biography of Carnegie that came out a few years ago that touches on all of this. It doesn’t make Carnegie out to be a saint (which he definitely wasn’t) and you get a great understanding of the severe dislike that he and Frick had for each other.

  4. G-Man
    February 3, 2012 4:19 pm

    The Mellon Mansion was probably torn down because it had the same name as Mellon Arena and we know what’s happening to that place. Tragedies both, they are.

  5. TripleC
    February 3, 2012 4:21 pm

    Bummer! My mind immediately went adrift when I saw the headline…..Obsessed with the Mellons. In fact, I had to look at it twice to realize the obsession had to do with the Mellon family and not……..uhhh, forget it!

  6. Melanie
    February 3, 2012 4:44 pm

    The RB Mellon estate was torn down in the 40’s because it had been donated to the city years earlier, and the city could no longer afford to maintain it. The statues from the estate’s walled garden are now in the Broderie Room at Phipps.

    • Melanie
      February 3, 2012 4:48 pm

      And Andrew Mellon’s house is still standing, it’s part of Chatham’s campus and it’s GORGEOUS. But, still doesn’t make up for his brother’s missing estate.

  7. becky
    February 3, 2012 6:59 pm

    Walter Kidney’s book on Pittsburgh Landmark Architecture (available at or anything by Franklin Toker should be able to answer most of your Pittsburgh architecture questions.

  8. Kaylee
    February 3, 2012 7:51 pm

    Tangent from the Pittsburgh Magazine article- I’ve met Father Bob a handful of times, most recently when we both volunteered for a career fair. Hearing him answer questions from middle schoolers about why they should go to the seminary was hilarious

  9. Katie
    February 3, 2012 9:37 pm

    Are you familiar with the King Estate in highland park? It belonged to the city until the 90’s and is now a private home. It can be yours for a little more than 2 million.

    • Virginia
      February 4, 2012 11:25 am

      1. I want.
      2. Their daughter married R.B. Mellon and she was the one living in the huge mansion that got torn down. CRAZY!

  10. Noelle
    February 3, 2012 10:33 pm

    I met David tonight. I asked him to say “focus” but he totally didn’t fall for it.

  11. Jim
    February 4, 2012 12:04 am

    My theory as to why they were raised could be the huge tax bills as mentioned previously. Or, Rich Fitzgerald’s great-grandfather was I’m county government and voted a huge reassessment for the area. They just couldn’t deal with 1866 as the base model tax year.

  12. bucdaddy
    February 4, 2012 12:24 pm

    This could have been Pittsburgh’s Biltmore. I was thinking $22 was steep to tour Fallingwater, but if you show up at the Biltmore and buy a ticket to tour that day, it’s $45.

    That seems absurd to me, and I wouldn’t pay it, but for a lot of people, touring big old mansions must be like going to Kennywood.

  13. Luke Steelerstahl
    February 4, 2012 2:57 pm

    R.B. Mellon donated the land and the house to the City for Mellon Park.

    Either the City could have a really nice park, with an unusable house that sucked up your tax dollars for no reason – or the City could have a slightly nicer, slighly bigger park without a dilapidated 65 room money pit in the middle of it.

    Seems like a pretty easy decision to tear that thing down.

    • Virginia
      February 4, 2012 6:21 pm

      If you’d read the blog post I linked to the mag, you’ll see I’m aware it became Mellon Park and that I’m glad it became Mellon Park, and that the stones and wood went on to a new life, but I also mention that like Clayton, the house could have become a tourist attraction and/or a museum if it had been left standing.

      • Luke Steelerstahl
        February 4, 2012 9:33 pm

        It cost $6 million to restore Clayton. You sure that’s where you want your tax dollars going????

        • JenB
          February 5, 2012 4:03 am

          For people interested in history, particularly local history, places like Clayton are significant cultural assets to a city. I have been there several times to tour Clayton, the museum (Helen’s collection of fine art, plus various temporary exhibits), the carriage house (cars and carriages from the Fricks, as well as from other private collectors), and to have afternoon tea at the cafe. I’ve learned something new each time I’ve visited.

          The Clayton restoration was financed by an endowment from Helen Frick when she died, not the city. When the family moved to New York, they left almost everything behind. Helen paid for its upkeep while they were away, so 90% of the contents of Clayton are original.

          I recommend reading her biography, “Helen Clay Frick: Bittersweet Heiress.” She was an interesting lady, and it was due mostly to her efforts that the city received so much of the Frick property (including Frick Park). She loved Pittsburgh and missed it when her family relocated to New York. She moved back to Clayton a few years before she died because it was the place she was the happiest.

  14. Dr Kevlar
    February 6, 2012 7:30 am

    While I am sure Helen Clay Frick was a charming person, I cannot help but think how H.C. Frick amassed his fortune. How many died in the process of creating his empire? How often were decisions made to squeeze every ounce of profit possible by cutting wages to below subsistence level while at the same time paying agents in Europe to encourage workers to emigrate here to keep the labor pool high and wage demands low?

    I find it an insult, actually that the trimmings of Victorian Splendor were paid for by the blood of our ancestors – people who we respect but were treated with contempt by the Fricks and Carnegies of this world – and now we get to pay to “see and enjoy” them. Clayton, to me, is the home of a criminal. I am not going to pay to view it so I can see how he lived while others starved.

    Other than that, it is a beautiful day today, isn’t it?

    • bucdaddy
      February 6, 2012 12:00 pm

      It’s not the house’s fault.

      Just sayin’.

      • Dr Kevlar
        February 6, 2012 8:41 pm

        I understand. I don’t have anything personal against the house, just the how the owners developed the revenue streams needed to build and furnish it!

  15. DJMB
    February 6, 2012 11:49 am

    Clayton is a much smaller house.

    Tax increases may have been a part of the problem for the Mellons, but a bigger problem was that wages for the poor were rising rapidly because of the war, and that continued thereafter. Even the very rich in America could no longer afford to keep a house that required a dozen or more servants to operate.

    The labor market killed the R. B. Mellon lifestyle, and his house.

    There was an effort to use it for another purpose, though, briefly. After the Mellons left and before it was torn down, the house served as a hospital for the recuperation of war wounded. If I remember correctly, which I may or may not, it was owned by the city but the use of it was donated to the Red Cross.

  16. Alexis Macklin
    February 6, 2012 3:34 pm

    Hi Ginny – I need an email for you. I have a copy of the original article from November 7, 1940: Razing of Mellon Home to Mark Passing of an Era. I also have images of Ben Elm for you. It’s all at the History Center :)

  17. Scott
    February 9, 2012 1:03 pm

    If you want to see some great old mansions, head to Providence, RI! Lot of Vanderbilt money there and “summer homes” of the rich of the day. Some really amazing places especially when you consider that they used them a few weeks of the year at most.