Ring the doorbell at the Bayernhof Museum in Pittsburgh and you’ll be greeted by a jolly-sounding tarantella. It’s just one of many surprises, including musical ones that greet visitors to this former mansion of Charles B. Brown, a unique individual whose home is a reflection of his off-center personality.
Situated atop a high hill in Pittsburgh overlooking the Allegheny River, Bayernhof gets its name from Brown’s affection for all things German, an affinity that goes back to his great-grandfather, John Loresch, a native of Bavaria (Bayern)..
After amassing a sizable fortune manufacturing gas lights, Brown started construction of his 19,000 square-foot house in 1976, a project that wasn’t completed until six years later. It was filled with what curator Tony Marsico said are things worth one dollar sitting next to things worth $10,000 and more.
While waiting for Marsico’s guided tour to begin, I sat in a room where I spotted a hefty collection of German beer steins, Germanic-looking plates, beer wagons, even a deer head crowned with obligatory antlers.
"Mr. Brown tried to make the house resemble a German manor," said Marsico, obviously allowing for exceptions like the massive copper-colored espresso maker salvaged from an area restaurant that sits on a corner table.
Most visitors would be delighted to get a tour of the mansion’s many rooms, including its three kitchens (Brown loved to cook and entertain friends) and master bedroom with its own private kitchen, sauna, tanning room, large Jacuzzi and 14-head shower. But the tours also include unexpected oddities like a rooftop observatory and the "Cave," one of three hidden passageways complete with a fake bat and stalactites and stalagmites that winds from the lower level to something I’d rather not reveal to save the up close astonishment for the tour takers.
Visitors, however, get a double treat during the tour because Brown started collecting rare automatic musical instruments in 1979 when he bought his mother a Regina music box. Since then, he’s collected at least 50 automatic music instruments, most of which are scattered among the furniture, gorgeous tall case clocks and collected memorabilia.
On our tour, I’d guess we listened to close to 15 music-producing creations like the Seeburg Pipe Organ Orchestra in the Family Room that once accompanied silent films.
After listening to "My Sweet Little Buttercup" from H.M.S. Pinafore on a reproducing piano, Marsico introduced us to the unusual Deluxe Violano Virtuoso player, capable of bowing the strings of two violins and adding piano accompaniment.
"The instrument was produced between 1912 and 1929 when the stock market crash put the manufacturer out of business," Marsico said. "In the 1920s, the instrument would have cost about $1,500.. Recently, one sold for $104,000."
Elsewhere on the first floor, we listened to an Aeolian Orchestrelle from the late 1800s housed in a hallway and a Wurlitzer automatic harp.
Upstairs, I marveled at the serenette, a cage with mechanical birds that moved and sang, and the lamp in a bedroom that was really a disguise for a gramophone.
In the downstairs Billiard Room, we oohed and ahhed at the purple felt gaming table, then enjoyed the sound of a band organ once used on the merry-go-round of an amusement park.
Brown lived in the house until his death in 1999, and, in his will, he directed that his instruments be restored and his house opened to the public as a museum. Renovations to the house began in 2002 and the site now operates as the Bayernhof Music Museum and is owned by the John Schneider Loresch Foundation, named after Brown’s great-grandfather.
With the combination of its marvelous perch overlooking the Allegheny River, its collection of mechanical musical instruments and its unique architecture and furnishings, the Bayernhof is truly a remarkable and memorable museum.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.
If You’re Going
The Bayernhof Museum, located at 225 St. Charles Place in Pittsburgh is open year round, seven days a week, except holidays, by appointment only. Tours are for 2 to 12 people, and admission is $10. Phone 412-782-4231 or www.bayernhofmuseum.com. For more information on other attractions in the area, phone 800-359-0758 or www.visitpittsburgh.com.
For a place to stay, the Hampton Inn, 1247 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, is conveniently located across from the Heinz Regional History Center. It offers free WiFi, a complimentary hot breakfast, fitness and business center and is the only downtown hotel with free parking. Phone 412-288-4350.
For a place to dine, Cioppino’s, 2350 Railroad Street, Pittsburgh is voted one of the city’s best restaurants and offers free valet parking and a large cigar bar sequestered from the rest of the establishment where 20 of the top 100 cigars worldwide are available for purchase..
General manager Christian Tripodi is a certified sommelier and, on Mondays, he prepares a special high end wine list that offers bottles at half price. Culinary Institute of America-trained executive chef Greg Alauzen’s menus draw from the Italian tradition of seasonally prepared dishes using local ingredients. The seafood in the signature Cioppino is prepared separately and the rich fish stock is poured over the dish at table. Phone 412-281-6593