Preserving a Sure-To-Be Landmark
The Pittsburgh area landscape is dotted with architectural landmarks that reflect the character of the people who built this community. We’re familiar with Richardson’s Courthouse, Hornbostel’s Rodef Shalom Synagogue and Wright’s Fallingwater. Yet, nestled among century-old houses near Chatham College on Woodland Road is a structural contradiction so magnificent in design that its architect now considers it one of his defining creations.
The post modernist home was designed in 1979 for Irving andBetty Abrams by internationally renowned architect Robert Venturi. From the outset, the project faced two major challenges: how to construct the house on a lot so small and damp that many builders didn’t want to tackle the job; and how to integrate the architect’s emphasis on form with the client’s need for function.
Like Wright and the Kaufmanns, Venturi and the Abrams found a way to fit an innovative design into a unique setting. Coming to agreement on function was a different story.
“I think I broke a few of his traditions, like putting a kitchen in the living room and moving an
eloquent stairway from within view of the front door,” says Betty. “All in all, however, we eventually got the job finished to our mutual satisfaction.”
In the end, Betty got the changes she wanted, but Venturi distanced himself from the project until it was rediscovered during a Pittsburgh-hosted national design show in 2003 and praised by Richard Pain in a 2004 issue of the British journal Blueprint. In a personal letter to Betty, Venturi reassessed the Abrams house: “You should know that via Richard Pain’s recent and current focus on the Abrams’ house in general and then our visit to the house last November and my reviewing Richard’s distinguished manuscript on the house and our original drawings currently, I am now considering the project one of the best that has come out of our office which I am very, very proud of.”
The Abrams house is now considered such an important Venturi work that this Pittsburgh house was selected to be featured in Dream Homes of Greater Philadelphia. But this isn’t the end of the story. Several years ago, Betty hosted a Landmarks Heritage Society members tour. There, she couldn’t help but be impressed by the appreciation her guests had for her home. That’s when Betty began to think about taking steps to preserve her personal masterpiece. Since the house is not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places until 2029, there would be no tax benefit associated with a gift of a preservation easement. A gift to endow monitoring costs associated with the easement would also be
After discussions with Landmarks’ planned giving office, Betty decided that if she could not find a way to acquire a preservation easement during her lifetime, she would take steps now to bequeath the house to Landmarks to fund a charitable gift annuity for each of her children. Not only would the gift associated with the annuities endow the preservation easement Landmarks would place on the property after her death, but Betty’s daughters would have lifetime income and never be burdened with the responsibility of selling the house.
Betty’s personality is reflected in the creativity of her house. Her legacy will be reflected in the creativity of her gift.