by Helen Wilson and Lauren Winkler (posted 7-2020)
Even today, people who live on Saline Street near Minadeo School still talk about the big mansion and grounds that used to sit on Lilac Street on the slope right across the street from the school. The evolution of the property encapsulates the history of Squirrel Hill. At first it was most likely farmland. A plat map from 1882 shows L. Schmeltz owning the land—now with a coal mine on it. In the 1800s, the famed Pittsburgh coal seam was mined in the hill above Saline Street, and a mine opening was on the Schmeltz property.
By 1903, the property was owned by C. V. McCarthy and had two buildings on it— a house and a stable. After passing through a few more owners, Jacob H. Frank and his wife, Maud (maiden name Friedberg) purchased the property and moved there in 1915. The Frank mansion was at the same location as the McCarthy house, so it is probably—but not certainly—the same house, enlarged at some point.
The mansion was owned by Jacob H. Frank of Frank & Seder’s department store fame. The store occupied a whole block of downtown Pittsburgh at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. The building still stands today. (For more information about Frank & Seder’s, see Wayne Bossinger’s article in the January 2016 issue of the SHHS Newsletter. It can be found in the newsletter archives on the Members Page of the SHHS website.)
Wayne’s article says that “Mr. Frank’s property on Saline Street included the mansion, servants’ quarters, and a coal mine. To relax, Mr. Frank was an avid gardener, establishing an extensive flower garden, vegetable garden and chicken run on the property. Guests were frequently rewarded with the fruits of his labor.”
An interesting side story is that in 1928, Maud Frank awoke to hear a burglar downstairs. Thinking quickly, she set off her alarm, which scared the burglar away. He did make off with two purses and $28.
Mr. Frank was well known as a philanthropist, contributing to a wide range of charities, and was a major force behind the creation of the Jewish Home for the Aged. A December 13, 1928 article in The Pittsburgh Press reported that J. H. Frank and his wife had agreed to donate their property to the Jewish Home for the Aged. However, the neighborhood opposed the “erection of an institutional building in the community at the Saline, Lilac and Ludwick sts., [and] many property owners appealed to City Council yesterday for rejection of an amending ordinance designed to change the zoning class. …”
Interestingly, the article goes on to say that “The objectors stressed that they were not opposing the home because of its denomination, but believed that any institutional building would be detrimental to surrounding property. They said the community is entirely residential.” The Jewish Home for the Aged gave up the plan and bought the Samuel S. Brown estate on Browns Hill Road instead. The facility opened there in 1933. It is still there, now the Jewish Association on Aging.
Jacob Frank had been well known for his philanthropy, especially centered on the Jewish Home for the Aged, so when he died unexpectedly in 1933 at the age of 67, his funeral services were held there. His estate went to his widow and five children.
The caption to this picture from The Pittsburgh Press, October 4, 1936, says, “To older folks the front part of this old mine at 4219 Saline St. is a place to keep fruits and vegetables cold. But to Jimmy and Marjorie Frank, grandchildren of the late J. H. Frank, who sealed the mine 30 feet from the entrance 20 years ago, it is inhabited by ghosts. Weird noises, the youngsters say, are heard within.”
Plat map of Jacob Frank’s property in 1923 (left)
and an aerial map of the property in 1957 (right)
This 1933 picture from the Sun Telegraph shows the wedding breakfast of the Franks’ daughter Pearle on the lawn of their mansion on Saline Street.
The Franks celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary in 1930 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Location of Frank House shown by red arrow, from Historic Pittsburgh site, “Lilac Street Paving”; Church of the Redeemer, on Beechwood Blvd., in foreground.