Fred Gerace leaves his mark
Fred Gerace was born just two months after Mt. Lebanon was founded. And while his first two decades were spent far from the South Hills, Gerace has had a huge impact on the way Mt. Lebanon looks. Gerace estimates he built at least 300 houses and apartments in the community—that’s about 2 percent of Mt. Lebanon. Fred was born in 1912 in Utica, New York, his parents, but Lucy and Anthony, returned to their native Catanzaro, Italy, shortly after his birth. Lucy died in the 1918 flu epidemic and Gerace left school to work with Anthony, a contractor employed by the government.
During the Depression, Gerace returned to the States, eventually finding his way to Pittsburgh, where his brother lived. He worked briefly as a busboy at the William Penn Hotel before securing work in construction, a job he had mastered at his father’s side. After marrying Rose Fiano of Swissvale, he founded Gerace Construction and began building homes throughout Pittsburgh. In the late 1940s, West Realty gave Gerace his first break in Mt. Lebanon. He started working in the Sunset Hills area and then spread out to Main Entrance, Lebanon Hills, and Scrubgrass Road. Gerace Construction developed the Craigview Plan, built ranches along Roycroft Avenue, duplexes on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard and apartments on Parkside. The family couldn’t go anywhere in town without passing Gerace-built houses or construction sites. Of course, Gerace built his own homes on Haverhill Road and later Lebanon Hills Drive. His daughter, Elvira McDermott, an administrative assisitant at Coldwell Banker, remembers one of her father’s employees teaching her to ride a bicycle.
It wasn’t all houses. Gerace oversaw bridge work throughout Pittsburgh, including work on the Homestead High Level Bridge (now the Homestead Grays Bridge). In 1976, the American Institute of Steel Construction recognized the company for its work on the Emsworth Bridge.
Gerace worked through the mid 1980s. McDermott says he didn’t just oversee his crews; he was out there working with his men, laying brick and doing hard labor. Even then, he found the energy on Saturdays to take Rose dancing at the Holiday House in Monroeville.
This April 28, Gerace turned 100. He attributes his longevity to “hard work, faith and the love of a good woman.”
At the century mark, he still enjoys getting out and talking to his neighbors. Although Rose passed away in 1998, Gerace is surrounded by family. His three children—Lucille, Anthony and Elvira—all live in the South Hills and he has four grandchildren (grandson Fred Gerace is a Mt. Lebanon Public Works employee), seven great-grandchildren and just welcomed twin great-great grandsons.
“If it wasn’t for a bad knee, he’d still be out there building houses,” McDermott says with a smile.