With leaves stuffed in its gutters, the imprint of vines on its stone exterior, and parts in danger of collapse, one of the oldest houses in Pittsburgh is finally getting some attention.
Long-neglected, the 1792 building at 4604 Monongahela Street in Hazelwood could become Pittsburgh’s most historic bar and restaurant if all goes according to plan.
Krish Pandya, a Point Breeze resident and managing director of Woods House LLC, along with Chris Waraks, a North Side resident and owner of Mr. Renovation, are working toward summer pop-ups and a fall opening for The Woods House, a Scottish pub that will offer simple fare, history and views.
The $925,000 project is funded by private equity and a loan from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Woods House LLC bought the house for $25,000 in December from the URA, which purchased it in 2001 for $25,000, per county property records.
“It has a lot of historic significance,” Waraks said.
The 1792 structure was home to John Woods who helped draft the Golden Triangle after his father Col. George Woods, a surveyor for George Washington, laid out the Downtown area, Pandya said. It’s believed that the elder Woods built the Hazelwood house.
“It’s a house that’s almost as old as this country,” he said.
It also welcomed at least one notable (and newly controversial) visitor.
“Stephen Foster spent a lot of time there; he was a friend of the family,” Waraks said. “There was a piano in the house, and he was known to write a lot of his music there.”
(Foster’s statue in Oakland was removed in April after months of heightened controversy about the statue’s imagery and racial undertones. It now sits in city storage.)
The Woods House is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as on city and state historic lists. It’s among the oldest houses in the city, along with the Neill Log House in Schenley Park, which is not publicly accessible, and the John Frew House west of the city, which still functions as a house, per the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and Preservation Pittsburgh.
The Fort Pitt Block House is the oldest structure in the city, circa 1764, and while it wasn’t built as a house, it served as a home for the majority of its history, according to Preservation Pittsburgh.
In addition to its historic importance, The Woods House boasts quite a view. Located above the Hazelwood Green site, The Woods House has sight lines of the Monongahela River and Downtown skyline.
Plans for the pub will allow diners to enjoy the setting and history, with a theme that pays homage to the Woods’ nationality and to the neighborhood’s heritage.
“The first immigrants that moved in Hazelwood were Scottish,” Pandya said, adding that the neighborhood was even known as “Scotch Bottom.”
Pop-up soft openings are expected to start this summer and feature local food trucks on the patio, with hopes of opening fully in the fall.
“We want to try and create some sort of tradition of musical events, concerts and activities locally in Hazelwood,” Pandya said. “People have asked for that, and I think they’re going to get excited if we can do that.”
Council member Corey O’Connor served as an initial sounding board for the proposal, and he helped to connect the developers with Hazelwood residents for input.
“This is something unique that makes it a destination, which is good for the neighborhood,” O’Connor said.
On the menu, expect what Panyda describes as “simple pub fare” — fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and tikka masala dishes.
An operating partner for the kitchen hasn’t been decided, and Pandya and Waraks aren’t ready to announce details about Woods House-specific brews, though they’ve said beer won’t be brewed on-site.
The pub will accommodate about 50 diners with space for 20 more on the patio. It’s expected to operate between 5 and 11 p.m., and Pandya said they’ll work to hire staff from Hazelwood.
But before all of that, Waraks and his crew have to save the building. It’s sat vacant for 30 years and is in “very, very, very, bad condition” — so bad he worried that parts of it would collapse it if remained untouched through another winter.
Other than the URA fixing the roof and boarding up the windows, the house sat deserted for decades, Pandya said.
Preservation Pittsburgh is happy about the renovation.
“We’re excited to see the plans move forward for the John Woods House and grateful that the owners have been so attentive to respecting the building’s history,” Preservation Pittsburgh President Matthew Falcone told The Incline. “It’s one of only five buildings constructed before 1800 within the city limits and an absolutely incredible historic asset to Hazelwood and to all of Pittsburgh.”
Waraks said his crews have already started excavating at The Woods House. They’ll stabilize the house, build an addition, and add a porch, taking the home back to its original design.
With Mr. Renovation, Waraks’ team has restored many old homes in the area, as well as restaurants Scratch Food & Beverage in Troy Hill and Kaffeehaus Café in East Allegheny.
Pandya knows it’s a risky project, given its construction needs and price tag, but he considers it “a unique opportunity to add value to the community.”
“Consider this is a historic museum place where you can have a family come in. It’s a pub — it’s open to all. It’s not meant to be a niche restaurant,” he said. “If we are successful, we would have created a heritage site for the city of Pittsburgh that will stand for the next 200 years.”