Updated: 3:04 p.m.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that there are two Mount Washington houses that are often labeled as “The Real World” house — because of course there are. Thanks to our readers who pointed it out to us.
It’s hard to miss. High on Mount Washington, above the Liberty Tunnel, is a house of many colors.
“This brightly colored house always catches my attention anytime I’m stuck in traffic, because it stands out from the other houses in the area,” said Nora Davidson, a reader of The Incline who notices the house on her drive from Downtown to Brookline.
And she’s not the only one gazing up and wondering. Fellow Incline reader Nate Tovornik of Dormont, said he finds himself at a loss when out-of-town friends ask him about it.
So Davidson and Tovornik each took their questions to Peculiar Pittsburgh, where readers send us queries and The Incline staff investigates. Both said they’ve heard the house was built for a season of “The Real World” that never happened. Tovornik also heard it “belonged to a couple who threw a lot of parties.”
“It just looks like it should have a special story,” Davidson added.
As you’re crossing the Liberty Bridge, headed toward the tunnels, what’s the story on the primary colored house on Mount Washington? Why was it built? Was it actually for “The Real World?”
Like many rumors here, this particular urban legend stems from Pittsburghers’ nebbiness.
“The rumor that I’ve heard is that they scheduled a season of Real World in Pittsburgh and even started gathering contestants,” Davidson said. “I think there are also several rumors to why it was cancelled: Pittsburgh wasn’t a good enough location, drama with one of the actors, etc.”
But that’s just not true. And neither are the rumors about the two houses that could have been home to the cast.
The answer is actually about two houses with nicknames they never intended — “The Real World” house, the smart house, the party house and even Mount Mansion — and owners who said the rumors are simply not true.
The colorful house on the hill
The Cola Street house is the colorful one that Incline readers pointed out on Mount Washington. It was not built for “The Real World,” confirmed its owner, who asked to not be named for privacy reasons.
“We thought that we would bring some color to the hillside,” she said of building the house.
But she did say that it’s a rumor she hears all the time — especially when they first moved in during the ’90s. And she’s not even sure how it started — she’s never watched “The Real World.”
The house is a private residence, and the only filming that’s been done there was a commercial for a cable company, the owner added.
But there’s also a second house that’s not far away on Mount Washington and known as the smart house. While not as colorful, this Bailey Avenue house is where “The Real World” rumors really seemed to stick.
7 yinzers that get to live in a house?
Jonathan Murray, co-creator of “The Real World,” told The Incline that Pittsburgh was never in consideration as a “Real World” destination, even if Bunim-Murray Productions likes to keep “options open.”
“Total urban legend,” Murray said. “Pittsburgh did not make the short list as a location for ‘The Real World’ in the early 2000s. Generally, we have gone with larger cities, but having said that, it doesn’t preclude us from coming to Pittsburgh sometime in the future. We never say never.”
Casting calls in Pittsburgh for “The Real World” as recently as 2011 have added more fuel to the rumor fire. The idea of local housemates being on the series may have inadvertently insinuated that the next season would take place here.
The most recent and 32nd season of the show, “Real World Seattle: Bad Blood,” ended in early 2017, and since then the landmark MTV show has been on ice. In June, MTV announced it was bringing “The Real World” back for a reboot.
Tim Beggy, a Pittsburgh native who starred on the second season of MTV’s “Road Rules” and other iterations like “The Challenge (Battle of the Seasons),” believes the Pittsburgh Real World myth started from neighborly speculation.
The Bailey house “has the look and feel where you’d imagine a TV show would be set there,” Beggy said. “‘The Real World’ typically takes place in an open floor plan and upscale, fashionable house. So naturally people could come to the conclusion MTV would choose such a spot. And with each season moving to a new city, what if Pittsburgh would be next?”
The speculation started early. The Bailey house’s first owners Pete Karlovich and Steve Herforth designed and constructed the house from the bottom up and moved in in 2003.
“Teenage girls would ring our doorbell at all hours of the day,” Herforth told The Incline, “asking us if we lived in ‘The Real World’ house. Many of them would even ask if they could come in to see the house. This shocked us both, because, here we are, a guy answering the door, and the young girls asking questions and then asking if they could come in and look around. Our first thought was ‘Where are your parents and how were you brought up?’ Of course, we said no and asked them to spread the word that our home was not ‘The Real World’ house.”
But that didn’t stop speculation.
Another Pittsburgh native and “Road Rules” alum, Susie Meister, still gets asked about the Pittsburgh Real World rumor.
“I always told people it wasn’t true,” Meister said, “both because I was aware of where the next season was slated to be, but also because I believed they would never choose Pittsburgh — although they should. Anytime I saw someone publicly ask a producer of the show if they were considering Pittsburgh, they would never deny it and would say something like they always keeps their options open or that the city was one of the many they had considered over the years.”
A house for everything — except a Real World cast
So if the smart house on Bailey wasn’t designed for “The Real World,” why was it built?
Owners and longtime Pittsburgh-area residents Karlovich and Herforth wanted to move out of their Shadyside townhouse and build a home, per a 2004 Post-Gazette article. They hadn’t intended on Mount Washington, until they found a lot on Bailey Avenue with a view of Downtown.
Designed by architects Paul Smith and Jean Cardone of Research Art Architecture in Oakmont, the contemporary house ended up bigger and more tech-savvy than the owners intended. Since you’re wondering, here’s how the Post-Gazette described what it looked like inside just months after it was finished:
Sunlight streams through floor-to-ceiling windows that line the inner legs of the V, offering nearly every room on three floors a close-up view of the in-ground, vanishing-edge pool in the center courtyard and a bird’s eye view of Downtown. More light pours down through a central light well, bouncing off unstained maple floors and a steel staircase with glass panes for banisters.
The left leg of the V contains offices, guest bedrooms, sauna, steam room and other more private areas while the right leg holds the public areas — living room, kitchen, master bedroom and lower-level party room, complete with wine cellar, bar, dance floor and DJ booth.
The house was filled with touch-pads that controlled everything from lighting to video and security to the blinds, fireplaces and sauna. There were glass walls that turned white at the touch of a button, instantly creating a privacy wall. That technology inspired another nickname, the smart house.
The house also ended up as a party spot — as reader Tovornik had heard.
Not long after the house was finished, it was on a tour for the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., and visitors asked the owners about doing events there, per Pittsburgh Quarterly. From 2003 to 2013, there were roughly 300 parties held in the home, from family events to fundraisers to weddings. Even commercials for Heinz and IC Light were filmed there, per a 2013 Post-Gazette article.
In 2013, Karlovich and Herforth decided they wanted something smaller, the Post-Gazette reported, and put the house on the market for $4.2 million.
Chuck Lantzman, owner of Pittsburgh-based Snow and Ice Management Co., bought the house for just more than $2.1 million in January 2017 via Smart House Pittsburgh LLC, per property records.
He told TribLive in 2017 that he bought it as a long-term investment and liked its contemporary style. “It pretty much had everything I would want,” Lantzman said.
Nearly two years later, he’s moved in and is enjoying the shorter drive to work and the house’s contemporary style.
“I thoroughly love having the house,” he told The Incline. “We’ve had a handful of events, but we’re selective about who we rent the house to.”
Those events include private parties, birthdays and a wedding as well as Fourth of July parties for Lantzman’s family. He heard “The Real World” rumors more when he first bought the house than he does now, but “that’s not the case.”
Looking ahead, he’s open to continuing to book a small number of events, as well as using it to film movies — but don’t expect paid events or house tours.
In the meantime, he’s is working on upgrades to the house, too, from painting and minor remodeling to upgrading the house’s automation to sync with iPads and smartphones.
“The house is going on 15 years old and technology changes,” he said.