Franklin West Apartments: A Tour Down Shady Avenue

If you know Shadyside, Pittsburgh, you know it’s stately, Victorian homes, tree-lined streets, unique shops, amazing restaurants, and bustling nightlife. What you may not know, is that in the early 1960s, parts of Shadyside were in disarray. With an abundance of neglected homes,  Millionaire’s Row and the surrounding area suffered at the rise of suburban development and mass-produced housing.

Enter: Franklin “Frank” West Jr.

Trained in architecture at Carnegie Tech and city planning at Yale, Frank West saw the potential of Shadyside’s historic houses and location. As highlighted in 2017 edition of Shady Ave Magazine, Frank West was a “pioneer in preservation” and “urban visionary,” raising Shadyside up to be the renowned neighborhood that it is today.

More than 50 years ago, Frank bought his first investment property on Shady Avenue and his vision for building a company that stands the test of time lives on. Today, Franklin West Inc. is the proud steward of 68 buildings in Shadyside—from historical houses with original architecture and details intact to contemporary loft-style apartments.

Let’s take a stroll down Shady Avenue and explore a few of these buildings we hold so dear.

272 Shady Avenue

Built in 1888, 272 Shady Ave was the home to Alfred Hunt, the founder and president of Pittsburgh Reduction Company (now ALCOA). Purchased in 1965, it is now the offices of Franklin West, Inc. This beautiful landmark serves as a testament to the life and history of a building—beyond its four walls—to those who lived and worked inside over the years.  Not only are we seeking to preserve the architecture, but the living history of the community.

513 & 517 Shady Avenue

513 and 517 Shady Ave were Frank West’s first and second purchases. Built approximately in 1877, the two buildings were constructed as mirror images of each other. Their mansard roofs, dormer windows, and cornices supporting decorative brackets reflect the Second Empire Style that was very popular at the time. Standing side-by-side one another, these three-story brick houses are aptly referred to as the “sister” buildings.

260 Shady Avenue

Built in 1874, 260 Shady Ave was the once home to James Hemphill, a partner of Alfred Hunt. Referred to as “the maker of Pittsburgh” by Henry Clay Frick, Hemphill went on to manufacture one of the first aluminum mills for Pittsburgh. Another glowing example of Second Empire Style, this building has been described as “an example of Pittsburgh’s livable excellence” in the 2012 edition of WHIRL.

500 & 512 Shady Avenue

500 Shady Ave was first built in 1888 for a prominent railroader, James D. Layng, and has had several distinguished owners since. In 1979, Ronald McDonald House Charities bought the Queen Anne Victorian, serving as temporary housing for families with children being treated at the Children’s Hospital. The charity purchased its neighbor, 512 Shady Avenue, 12 years later.

Anticipating the completion of new Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the charities moved to Lawrenceville in 2008. As noted in Pop City, Franklin West, Inc. purchased and renovated these properties soon after. Both buildings boast contemporary units, while retaining their historic charm and character.

521 Shady Avenue

Here we end our tour at 521 Shady Ave, built in 2008. Contrasting the renovated Victorian properties, 521 Shady Ave is a modern marvel. You’ll also notice a sculpture situated outside the property. Entitled “The Walk,” the sculpture was created as a memorial to Frank West by his cousin and Pittsburgh sculptor, Jim West.

“In discussing the sculpture’s meaning, James West says that “Franklin West left a great legacy: the balance between the past, present and future… He always looked at the impact upon the present day and of the future while keeping traditions alive.”

As Franklin West, Inc. goes into its second fifty years of development, renovation and preservation, what stories of the neighborhood will it have to preserve and share for future generations?