uncovering the past

While renovating the Mt. Lebanon History Center on Lebanon Avenue, workers found some painted-over artwork on the walls. The historians are working on finding out more about the mural as work on the building progresses.

The Mt. Lebanon History Center is a place where the past is uncovered. Sometimes literally.

In the course of renovating the center’s Lebanon Avenue space, the former home and office of physician Donald McMillan before becoming the Mt. Lebanon Tax Office and the headquarters for the South Hills Area Council of Governments, workers removed some crown molding which they thought was original to the home, which was built sometime between 1927 and 1933. The loss of the molding revealed a picture of what looked like a seashell.

Historical Society president Jim Wojcik called Boris Brindar, Chief Conservator for A. J. Vater & Company, which has been overseeing the restoration, to follow the extent of the hitherto unknown decoration.

“At first, it seemed like it was a repetitive, decorative and uninteresting design running a few inches just below the ceiling line,” says Wojcik.

The seashell turned out to be a crown or tiara on a woman’s head, surrounded by a cloth drape with a shaded tassel on each side of her head. Further inspection revealed another design, on the wall directly opposite the steps to the patio room, of some kind of a crest, flanked on either side by what may be a gryphon.  In the middle of the crest was the faint markings of the letter O. None of this shows up in any of the photos the McMillans had of their home.

A title search revealed that the McMillans bought the house in 1946 from Edward and Laura Ohl.

Brindar is coming up with some budget numbers for the cost of uncovering these original decorating treatments in each of the rooms, but Wojcik does not foresee any kind of a holdup in the renovation, which is slated to be done in time for the society to host a traveling exhibit about World War II on the home front from the Heinz History Center in late 2018.

Wojcik says the society needs to raise about $45,000 in order to start the next phase of the renovation, which will include new first-floor ceilings and flooring, energy efficient lighting, replacing stairwells with ones that meet the fire code, ADA improvements and climate control for the exhibits. Total cost of this phase of the renovation is around $400,000.

In the meantime, society members are eagerly digging into the mystery of the Lady of Lebanon Avenue.

To find out more about the society, donate or become a member, visit www.lebohistory.org.

Photo by Judy Macoskey