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Hopes rise on fallen ceiling damage

By Bill Zlatos
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Damage from the collapse of the Renaissance-style ceiling at Hartwood Mansion might be less than feared, the manager of the county-owned facility said Monday.

“I think we can salvage more than we originally thought even though things look awful right now,” said Sylvia Easler, recreation superintendent for county parks and manager of the Hartwood Acres mansion. The 629-acre park lies along Saxonburg Boulevard in Hampton and Indiana townships.

Several tons of plaster fell Thursday from the ceiling of the Great Hall of the mansion, built in 1929 for John and Mary Flinn Lawrence. Her father was state Sen. William Flinn, who owned the city’s largest construction firm in the late 19th century.

Many of the furnishings, whether damaged or unscathed, are now stored in the dining room. There lie legless English chairs from the 19th century, two matching game tables valued at a total of $17,000, and a brass chandelier from Flinn’s home in Highland Park.

“We have some excellent craftsmen in the county,” Easler said. “They’re optimistic they can help with a lot of this.”

County officials and an insurance adjuster still have not compiled a damage estimate.

Inside the Great Hall, falling plaster damaged the corner of a hand-carved oak mantel, made in 1610 and removed from an English castle. A damask, ball-and-claw-foot couch from the 1800s stands intact under a huge sheet of plaster while a needlepoint settee worth $5,000 is flattened.

Perhaps the room’s prize, an 1870 Bijar Persian rug, was rolled up and safe from the debris. With 1,000 knots per square inch, the rug is worth $75,000.

Originally, officials from Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation cited moisture as a possible cause for the collapse in the 54- by 23-foot room. Now, Easler said, the method used to hang the inch-thick plaster ceiling is considered a suspect.

“The general consensus was that it’s amazing that it lasted this long,” she said. “There was no additional reinforcement besides the nails.”

The accident forced the cancellation of mansion tours and indoor weddings. Outdoor weddings will still be held on the grounds.

Easler said two couples who had indoor weddings scheduled for this weekend have found other sites.

“The community rallied around and were very supportive of trying to find another place,” she said.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at or (412) 320-7828.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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