That Old Pittsburgh House: The Realtor’s Court on the Hill
HAndley Court, the French Norman-style hilltop estate in Fox Chapel where Dana and Duffy Hanna raise their three children, has many apparent charms.
Rustic and elegant, the sprawling seven-bedroom property atop Pasadena Drive features half-timbered white stucco walls topped with slate roofs and an ornamental turret. Built in 1923, it hugs three sides of a large central courtyard paved with Belgian blocks of granite. Stone steps surrounding a fountain at the open end lead to a formal lawn surrounded by walls and gardens planted with several varieties of peonies.
The sunken living room’s beamed ceiling soars 20 feet at the top, but the vast space it spans is stitched together by wrought iron at each end. The decorative screen above the fireplace complements the fireplace railings. It is obvious that the architect, Brandon Smith, received many commissions, not only for country houses like this, but for several country clubs.
But for all its appeal, warm memories prompted the Hannas to buy the place in 2013.
“I always say that buying or selling a home is one of the most emotional events in your life. It’s so much more than a transaction,” says Duffy, son of Pittsburgh real estate magnate Howard “Hoddy” Hanna III and chairman of the family real estate empire’s mortgage, title and escrow companies.
Duffy grew up in Fox Chapel and her family was friends with the former residents of Handley Court and visited them often. Fourth of July picnics were his favorite, as the lawn is a great vantage point to watch the borough’s two country clubs set off their competing fireworks.
Dana, co-founder of local nonprofit Women Leading Women and national director of Napa Valley winemaker One Hope, first saw the house at a baby shower held for her when she was pregnant with 8 months of the couple’s first child. “This whole room was vibrating with love,” the New Jersey native said. “I got very emotional looking at all the faces of the people who were there with me, supporting me and hugging me. So it amazes me that we live in this house now.
Occupying a 99-year-old house has its challenges, like bringing the house up to modern living standards without losing the original detail. “The fact that it still looks historic with today’s technology – getting cable, for example, or Wi-Fi – they didn’t think about when they built this place,” notes Duffy.
Every renovation, from the open kitchen to a new family room to the ongoing rebuilding and expansion of the master bedroom, has been finished with hand-stuccoed interiors by experienced craftsmen to match the original walls. . Yet many things remain as they always have been, such as in the paneled “Boot Room”, where a series of four stained glass windows depict scenes from a fox hunt.
Horses’ hooves once thumped on the cobblestones of Handley Court. The original owners, Dr Edward and Margaret McCague, raised three girls and three boys here, all of whom were trained in the equestrian arts. The eldest daughter, Peggy, came third in a Devon Horse Show show jumping class before reaching her teenage years, and their son Edward Jr. remembers riding his mount 4 miles north to ‘at the blacksmith’s shop in the 1987 book “Fox Chapel: A History of an Area and Its People” by Frances Hardie. Edward Jr. also recalled the silver service and the air of hushed formality in the room at dining room, which still features its polished beam ceiling and colorfully tiled fireplace hearth today. He added that his stern father also enjoyed entertaining guests, and he had a half-gallon cocktail shaker for the prove.
Dr. Edward McCague, the lord of the manor, had immigrated to Pittsburgh as a boy with his family from Yorkshire, England, under much more humble circumstances. Her father, a laborer and eventual union organizer at Homestead Works, died in a work accident, and the family was evicted from company accommodation shortly thereafter.
The shortage determined the determination of Edward, the eldest of 10 children. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School in 1912 and served in British and American army hospitals during World War I, where he specialized in the treatment of pelvic injuries. He then founded the Department of Urology at Mercy Hospital and became a professor at Pitt. In 1920, Edward, the son of a poor Carnegie Steel agitator, married Margaret McCook, the wealthy daughter of Henry Clay Frick’s lawyer.
Edward and Margaret bought a house in Squirrel Hill but were soon intrigued by developments in O’Hara Township. Mostly scattered farms and dirt roads that still meandered through the occasional underground whisky, it was becoming a bucolic enclave for wealthy East End families. Pittsburgh Field Club, evicted from Regent Square after Frick ended its lease in 1914, moved there first and was granted 171 acres for 18 holes. The private Shady Side Academy followed in 1922, turning into a country boarding school. The Fox Chapel Golf Club opened the following year, when the McCagues built their estate.
At first they wanted Handley Court to be a summer retreat. But the lure of life as landed gentry with a ready retinue of retainers proved too enticing, so they added a coal-fired oven and made the move permanent. In 1934, the McCagues and their neighbors made a more public statement of their long-term intentions. Their vote to form a breakaway municipality left O’Hara Township split in two.
Mark Houser is the author of MultiStories: 55 Ancient Skyscrapers and the Business Moguls Who Built Them.