You don’t have to settle for simply driving around perusing outdoor light displays this holiday season — the Pittsburgh holiday house tour lineup is back in full swing following the height of the pandemic. This year’s slate of holiday house tours offers plenty of opportunities to add more sparkle to the season.
Glenshaw Century Club Holiday House Tour & Craft Fair
Saturday, Nov. 11, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Tickets: $25 in advance/$30 day of tour
The Glenshaw Century Club’s annual house tour (and accompanying craft fair) has been a tradition for more than 50 years, so the event’s organizers aren’t the only ones who were missing it during the pandemic.
“It seems to be a generational event,” says Eileen Phillips, vendor coordinator for the craft fair. “You’ll see grandmothers with their daughters and granddaughters. It’s kind of a tradition in the area and people are excited that it’s back again.”
The tour starts at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which is also the site of the craft fair featuring 65-plus artisans. From there, tourgoers board a shuttle bus to visit each home.
“We encourage people to take buses because of parking issues along the route,” says Donna Mastandrea, the club president. “The bus will drop you off and pick up from each house.”
The three homes on this year’s tour offer a look at three eras of Glenshaw history. The first, and believed to be the oldest home in the borough, is the Thomas Wilson Shaw house, built from 1824-32.
“The bricks used to build the house were actually fired on the property,” says Dianne Kelleher, the event’s co-chair.
The second home also originated with a Shaw family descendant, Nancy Shaw. A folk Victorian farmhouse and horse barn built circa 1900, the house has been renovated by the present owners to include 4,000 square feet of living space.
“The house sits on almost two acres, which is unusual in Shaler,” says Kelleher.
The third, and most modern house, reflects Glenshaw’s later history as a suburb, rather than a rural area. The Bock house, a mid-century modern home typical of the area, was built in 1959, though it has been brought into the 21st century by its current owners with a complete renovation.
Tour proceeds support scholarships for Shaler Area School District students as well as grants to local civic organizations.
“I think everyone enjoys going into other people’s houses,” says Mastandrea. Hopefully we’ll get everybody in the holiday spirit.”
Symphony Splendor Christmas House Tour
Friday, Nov. 17, 5-8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tickets: Daytime tours: $40 online/$50 at the door; candlelight tours: $50 online only
You can’t miss the house.
Of course, as a rather large mansion on a well-trafficked street, it would be hard to miss anyway. But what sets it apart from all the others at the holidays? One gargantuan red bow.
It’s a fact that pleases Jean Horne, marketing director for the Pittsburgh Symphony Association, immensely.
“Everyone driving down Fifth Avenue knows about the bow,” she says.
The “Red Bow House” as many Pittsburghers might refer to it, is known historically as the Negley-Gwinner-Harter House, named for three of its past owners. Built in 1870 by Civil War veteran William B. Negley, the home is a classic example of the Second Empire style popular at the time.
The house has undergone many changes and restorations over the past 150 years. The bow, though not nearly quite as old, also required restoration recently.
“After years of outdoor exposure, the bow was in really bad shape and it took a couple of years to restore it,” Horne says. “So our slogan this year is, ‘The Bow is Back!’”
Tourgoers will be able to visit all public rooms on the home’s first floor. A docent in each room will offer information on the home’s history and the inspiration behind the holiday decor.
What makes this tour unique — aside from the red bow — is live music. Attendees will enjoy music performed by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh during different visit times.
“They’ll be playing the music of the season and that’s very special,” says Horne.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Association, which organizes the tour each year, is a fundraising arm of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Symphony Splendor is the organization’s marquee event.
“This event is hugely popular,” Horne says. “This is a glorious home and we’re very excited about it.”
Both daytime and candlelight tours are available.
“It’ll be ablaze with trees and Christmas decor and wonderful garlands,” Horne says of the home’s atmosphere. During candlelight tours, she says, “the lights are low and the trees sparkle and, you know, that’s the magic of the evening.”
No matter how they choose to view it, tourgoers will finally be able to satisfy their curiosity about the “Red Bow House.”
Horne says, “Now you can see the package behind the bow.”
Ben Avon Holiday House Tour
Saturday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tickets: Daytime tours: $25 before Nov. 19; $30 from Nov. 20-Dec. 2
Candlelight tours: $30 before Nov. 19; $35 from Nov. 20-Dec. 2
Two years ago, the Avon Club Foundation achieved the impossible: It pulled off a house tour at the height of the pandemic.
“I felt like our committee needed it back then,” says Erin Nordmann, house tour chair. “It was actually one of our highest-grossing tours to date.”
That’s how the organization managed to keep to its every-other-year schedule without interruption. The undaunted group raises funds for its annual grants to small nonprofits in the Avonworth community. They regularly support programs like Meals on Wheels and the high school’s musical.
“We fill the gaps between government funding and private donations,” Nordmann says.
This year’s tour features five homes, all of which are showcasing the entire house — and in some cases, that means three floors. It’s an eclectic group of architectural styles, as one would expect with an age range of about a century, from 1898 to 1997. Some featured styles include Dutch Colonial, Shingle Style, Craftsman and Colonial Revival.
“Some owners have lovingly restored the houses to what they would have looked like when they were first built, and it’s just gorgeous,” Nordman says. “People love to see those original features.”
“One house used to be a sculptor’s studio,” Nordmann says, referring to Charles Bradley Warren, an art deco sculptor whose work appears on the former North Catholic High School in Troy Hill and the former Thaddeus Stevens School in the West End.
Nordman calls Ben Avon a “great, tree-lined, sidewalk-walking kind of neighborhood,” and that goes for the tour route as well. “It’s an easy walking route,” she says.
Both daytime and candlelight tours are available — Nordmann notes that the candlelight option usually sells out. Candlelight tours begin at the Avonworth Historical Society, while daytime tours start at the Anchor & Anvil Coffee Bar on Church Avenue.
“The tour is just a great way to kick off the holiday season and come together as a community and get into the holiday spirit,” Nordmann says. “It’s such a fun and beautiful day.”
Oakmont Christmas Home Tour
Sunday, Dec. 3, Noon-4 p.m.
It’s safe to say that Lori Hummel loves Oakmont houses.
As both a realtor and an Oakmont resident, she’d have to. Hummel, who serves on the executive board of the Oakmont Chamber of Commerce, is also the house tour committee chairperson.
“I was drawn to Oakmont by the small town, ‘everyone knows their neighbor’ feel,” she says.
The current iteration of the Oakmont Christmas Home Tour has been held since 2017, but it was inspired by a much older event.
“The Garden Club of Oakmont held a Christmas Home Tour over 30 years ago,” Hummel says. She and her co-chair, Betty Anderson, remembered it and wanted to try it as a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce.
“We both were excited about the idea and we are thrilled that it has been so well-received and loved,” she says.
The tour begins at the Oakmont Carnegie Library. From there, tourgoers visit four homes ranging in style from Colonial Revival to contemporary; one property is a riverfront home. Docents stationed in each home keep things moving along smoothly.
“It’s not so much about the Christmas decorations, but more about touring some of the beautiful homes,” Hummel says.
New this year is a Christmas market where, Hummel says, “local vendors and crafters and artists will display and sell their wares.” Amanda Lee Glassware on Third Street will host the market.
“The most special thing is watching the folks tour the homes,” says Hummel. “They are so engaged and really seem to enjoy every home. It has become a tradition for families to attend the tour together and then have a day out in Oakmont, going to local restaurants. It is a benefit to everyone in the community. A chance to show off the quaint and charming town of Oakmont.”
Tour proceeds benefit the Oakmont Chamber of Commerce, which organizes many community programs and also provides college scholarships.
“It means a lot to me because it was kind of my baby,” Hummel says of the tour. “It is really a thrill to see it come together and see how much joy and positivity come out of it.”
Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour
Friday, Dec. 8, 5-8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Tickets: $35 house tour, $15 model trains before Dec. 1; after Dec. 1: $40 house tour, $20 model trains
If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas experience, Allegheny West Civic Council’s annual tour is the one you want. It’s so traditional, in fact, that you won’t find any electric Christmas lights festooning the facades of participating houses.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s no pizzazz on this tour; quite the contrary. You’ll find plenty of live Christmas trees soaring to the tops of 15-foot ceilings, tables set for Gilded Age feasts and perhaps a proverbial sugar plum or two.
You may just find the Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour so intoxicating that you decide you want to stay forever. That’s exactly what happened to Carol Gomrick, house tour chair.
Gomrick and her husband, Brett, had been house hunting eight years ago when a friend asked if she’d like to go on the tour.
“I didn’t know about Allegheny West, never heard about the tour before that day,” she says. “Brett and I took the tour. We had to live here! The rest is history.”
Part of what makes this tour special is the neighborhood itself, which is one of 12 City of Pittsburgh historic districts. This means that residents must abide by certain provisions before making exterior changes to their homes. The result is that wavy glass, architectural gingerbread and paint schemes all hearken back to the 1850s to 1900s, when most homes in the neighborhood were constructed.
Your tour ticket helps to keep Allegheny West looking its historic best: Proceeds fund various preservation efforts throughout the neighborhood.
The tour begins at Calvary United Methodist Church, which houses a spectacular set of stained glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. In the basement, you’ll find a craft fair known as the Antique Shoppe. Tours depart every 12 minutes.
“The tour is docent-led,” says Gomrick. “Our tour guides are enthusiastic to share the incredible history of one of Pittsburgh’s smallest neighborhoods.”
One unique feature is the DeSantis model train collection, housed on the fourth floor of Holmes Hall, a spectacular showplace which features a ballroom, among other Gilded Age delights. Tickets for the train display, only open to the public during the annual tour, are sold separately.
“Guests return year after year because it’s more than just a house tour; it’s a Christmas tradition,” Gomrick says. “The joy that this tour brings to so many year after year inspires me to do whatever it takes to ensure every year is a cherished memory.”
Crescent Hills Holiday House Tour
Sunday, Dec. 10, 1-5 p.m.
Grace Edwardo, event chairperson for the Crescent Hills Civic Association, might just have the best possible attitude when it comes to Pittsburgh’s house tours.
“I’m nebby!” she laughs. “I want to go to Brighton Heights; I want to go to Friendship — I want to tap into the Pittsburgh nebby!”
It’s in that spirit that Edwardo invites you to come to Crescent Hills to neb into her neighbors’ Christmas decorations.
Crescent Hills, a community in Penn Hills, was founded in 1927 when developer Porter Beck purchased 30 acres of land and subdivided it into 453 lots. As far as planned developments go, it is unusual in that it predates World War II, after which that model became widely popular.
“Many of the homes were built between the later 1930s through the 1960s,” Edwardo says. “We have Cape Cods all the way up to modern split-levels.”
This year’s tour will feature eight homes in mostly mid-century modern architectural styles. Tours begin at the historic First Reformed Presbyterian Church on Frankstown Road. Edwardo recommends driving to some houses.
The house tour functions as a fundraiser for the Crescent Hills Civic Association, primarily to help maintain a 2.8-acre park owned by the organization and to fund programming for it.
“Every season we try to do something in the park,” Edwardo says. “All the programs are run by volunteers.”
Christmas in Crafton House Tour
Sunday, Dec. 10, 1-6 p.m.
Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 day of tour
Online sales end on Nov. 8, but advance tickets can still be purchased at the Crafton Public Library or Blue Snail Gift Shop.
According to Liz Palmer, there’s no more convenient place to live than Crafton.
“It’s such a small town but it’s five minutes away from Downtown Pittsburgh, and the airport is 20 minutes away, so it’s a great location,” she says.
Palmer, president of Crafton’s Parks & Recreation Board, is helping to organize this year’s house tour. Half of tour proceeds will benefit future Parks & Recreation Board programming while the other half goes to Crafton Heritage, a group which is preserving the borough’s history.
There will be eight homes on the tour, all of which are showing the first and second floors — some will even show third floors. Featured architectural styles include Tudor Revival, Four Square and Craftsman, with construction dates ranging from 1898 to 1935.
Tours begin at the Crafton Public Library. Palmer advises tourgoers to wear comfortable shoes.
“There’s a lot of steps into houses,” she says. “There will be lots of walking. Most people will drive from house to house.”
Palmer knows why the event is popular: “It’s an appreciation of how people take care of their homes — they really care for them. They’re keeping history alive. It takes a lot to maintain these older homes. It really is a labor of love.”