For a Pittsburgh home-owner, a Church condominium is heaven on earth

Dennis Monks lived in New York City while studying medicine and missed the architecture and character of his hometown Pittsburgh. While he loved the fast-paced city life, his 425-square-foot rectangular studio felt sterile to him, surrounded by “completely unremarkable drywall” and a lack of green space.

When Dr. Monks returned home for his place of residence, he bought what he calls a “simple Pittsburgh house” in 2014, but his love of old houses still made him peruse local real estate sites for entertainment.

The exterior of the 22nd Street Condos is in Pittsburgh’s historic South Side neighborhood. The building was erected in 1902 as the residence of the Catholic Lithuanian parish of St. Casimir. Dr. Monks is located in the right bell tower and in the choir loft below.

Laura Petrilla for the Wall Street Journal

When a 2,300-square-foot loft in a former Catholic church crossed his radar in 2018, he said he was intrigued. He made an offer within 24 hours of seeing the room. The original sales contract was for $ 660,000.

The four-story unit on 22nd Street Condos, a 12-unit redevelopment, is located in the church’s former choir roof from 1902. An elevator from the parking garage opens to a shared hallway and the first level of Dr. Monks, which includes a guest room, bath, and 10 by 8 foot courtyard. The next level offers the main living room.

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The main room includes the open kitchen, the dining and living area under artistic plaster arches as well as a guest toilet, a storage room and another outdoor area. A staircase to the third level leads to the main bathroom, closet and laundry area. The master bedroom is on the fourth floor. He says he was drawn to the apartment’s unique design elements.

“I wouldn’t go for plaster of paris flowers or a round room, it’s not my style, but it’s just such a wow factor,” he said.

How did a closed church become a luxurious living space? Developer Ivor Hill describes how he stumbled upon the old building one night while leaving guitar class. Someone had attempted a remodel and the building contained two apartments and a yoga studio. It went on sale for just $ 600,000. Just before closing, Mr. Hill sat down on the former altar and began sketching out his plans. In other cities, the land would be the value, he said, and the church would have been demolished for a skyscraper, which would bring in more profit per square foot. In Pittsburgh, renovation made more sense for Mr. Hill. “The building is massive and very well built,” he said. “The demo would have been enormously expensive. Building from scratch is also quite expensive, and we’re very good at renovating and redesigning spaces.”

Mr. Hill and his team removed damaged plaster to make molds for replacement parts. A century of water leaks, a settling foundation and the passage of time had crumbled parts of the classic plaster moldings with an egg and arrow pattern. Each section of the design was created in a mold and numbered by the original plasterer craftsman before it was put in place. According to Mr. Hill, replication would cost millions today.

Mr. Hill and architect Rob Indovina have incorporated the original church architecture into each of the building’s units, which range in size from a 1,700-square-foot one-bedroom unit to a 2,400-square-foot two-bedroom unit. One unit contains the altar staircase, another above the entire dome of the altar. The result is a quiet, solid building with a gym and guest apartment.

Dr. Monks on the retractable stairs that lead to the bell tower.

Laura Petrilla for the Wall Street Journal

The apartment wasn’t ready when Dr. Monks bought them so he could add some customization like a steam shower. He also noticed a hatch leading to the bell tower that the developer wanted to cover with drywall. The tower was only accessible via a ladder, so that it did not seem possible to use it, but Dr. Monks also negotiated ownership of the space, increasing its final purchase price to $ 700,000.

The use of the tower proved difficult; To get there, a spiral staircase would have to be installed in the middle of his bedroom.

“I ended up on a steel floor with retractable stairs so that the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the master bedroom wasn’t obstructed,” he said. Eight weeks later, the modular attic arrived from Spain and contractors carried 1,500 pounds of steel into the building’s elevator and then climbed four flights of stairs to assemble it. The staircase cost nearly $ 13,000, but it gave Dr. Monk’s access to a breathtaking view.

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Dennis Monks’ house integrates details from the old church architecture and new, tech-savvy additions such as an app-controlled hydroponic garden.

Laura Petrilla for the Wall Street Journal (x3)

The house has been equipped with the latest technology, with smart speakers, locks and lights. Gardyn, an elegant garden priced at $ 899, grows herbs in a series of vertical towers with app-controlled lighting and watering all year round. Both the bell tower stairs and the custom window treatments are motorized. The window treatments are from Enlightened Style with Acmeda Rollease voice-activated automation, which costs $ 4,116. A $ 499 bot, Scribit, draws artwork on a wall and then erases it. Modern technology and clear lines are juxtaposed with historical plaster work and high, vaulted ceilings. Modern furniture puts the artistic architecture at the center. The house mirrors Pittsburgh itself, where the industrial city’s roots contrast with its 21st century revival.

Dr. Monks said he wasn’t necessarily in the market to move when he first came across the apartment but couldn’t pass it on. “After this device was sold, I knew it would not be on the market for the rest of my life.”

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