Pittsburgh’s Hidden Stories

The best stories are always found behind the scenes and few things are what they appear on the surface.  Rich Engler is a nationally recognized concert promoter from Pittsburgh who experienced celebrity reality first hand.  He partnered with Pat DiCesare in 1973 to create DiCesare-Engler Productions and they brought some of the best talent in the world to our area.  Their name became synonymous with famous concerts and what went on backstage was a closely guarded secret until now.  This is the tell all year when Johnny Carson’s attorney wrote a surprising book about the real Johnny and Rich Engler decided to share his shocking exploits with his new book Behind The Stage Door that is hot off the press.  He doesn’t hold back with up close and personal encounters with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and KISS to name a few.

In 1977 DiCesare-Engler Productions purchased an aging movie house called the Stanley Theater (3500 seats)  and quickly transformed it into one of the nation’s top concert halls. It is now known as the Benedum Center.  In 1978, Billboard magazine  named the Stanley the No. 1 mid-sized concert auditorium in the United States. DiCesare-Engler Productions was ranked as the No. 2 production team for the same year. Bill Graham Presents was No. 1.   Engler witnessed the transformation of the concert venue into a multi-billion dollar industry.  He was there when the business of rock ‘n’ roll began to overshadow the music and saw many changes throughout his career.  Pop stars were notoriously vain and unpredictable creatures.   He recalls Carly Simons freaking out backstage at the Stanley and canceling due to stage fright with 3,500 people waiting outside.  Madonna insisted that nobody working at the Arena look at her and Van Halen insisted on no brown M&M’s.  His career certainly appears to have been one wild ride and now you can come along for the view.  The book contains a lot of Pittsburgh nostalgia and tons of great pictures.  It will be a walk down memory lane for those who grew up here and wistful imagery for those who wish they did.

Pittsburgh Mansion Book Captures History

In the 19th century Pittsburgh was recognized as a major manufacturing center.  The subsequent rise of the steel industry created a wave of prosperity that prompted a wash of extravagant residences to be built.  What better premise for a book.  Pittsburgh’s Mansions explores the stately homes of prominent residents from the 1830s through the 1920s.  The author is making a rare appearance at the Oakmont Library on Saturday, January 25 at 1:00 p.m.  Melanie Linn Gutowski is a writer, historian and lifelong resident of Pittsburgh. She has published many history features in western Pennsylvania and national publications.

As a child Melanie  took art classes at Baywood, the Alexander King estate in Highland Park. The experience left her with a lasting love for art and the grandeur of old houses.  The 30-year-old author grew up in Stanton Heights and now lives in Sharpsburg in a red-brick, Queen Anne-style house from 1905.  She has a BS  in the History of Art and Architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and an MS in Professional writing from Chatham University.

Below is a design by architect George Orth completed in 1900. Wilpen Hall was the Sewickley Heights summer estate of William Penn Snyder Sr. who was the founder of Shenango Furnace and Shenango Steamship Companies.  It was designed by architect George Orth and completed in 1900 is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shadyside Hospital founder Dr. James H. McClelland lived in the  house that is now a bed and breakfast on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside called Sunnyledge. Across the street from it is the the restored English manor of Willis McCook who was Henry Clay Frick’s attorney. The McCook mansion is now part of a boutique hotel called The Mansions on Fifth.

Sunnyledge Boutique Hotel & Tea Room

On the North Side sits the West North Avenue mansion of department store founder Russell Boggs which was restored in 1998 and became the Inn on the Mexican War Streets.

The book’s cover shows Lyndhurst as the Squirrel Hill home of William Thaw Sr.  His daughter Alice Cornelia Thaw was married in the house in 1903 to the Seventh Marquess of Hertford and became the Countess of Yarmouth. Lyndhurst was demolished in 1944 so this book is the only way you can capture the integrity of this estate.  You will simply gasp when you see the entry hall embellished with a grand staircase trimmed in ornate ironwork, tapestries and stained-glass panels.  But all of these mansions will take your breath away.  This 127-page book serves as a wonderful visual tour for the precious estates that were restored and the unfortunate ones that were demolished.