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You must go to the Bayernhof
August 1, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
The Boss (at Home) topped herself with the last tour of the 2014 Week of Stuff to Do Without Driving 100 or More Miles in One Direction. We went to the Bayernhof Museum, on a steep bluff overlooking Route 28 at Sharpsburg, about 9 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh, roughly right across the Allegheny River from the Pittsburgh Zoo.
And it’s a gem of a tour.
Essentially, it’s a late 1970s-early 1980s mansion built at the end of a neighborhood that looks a lot like Lexington Drive in Steubenville. But it’s so much more. Infinitely.
Built over a period of six years beginning about 1976 by Charles Brown III, the house has 19,000 square feet filled with Chuck Brown’s collections of all kinds of cool stuff, led especially by amazing mechanical music machines.
There are intricate and delicate and elegant music boxes that fit on tabletops and there are massive, seven-foot-tall air-driven machines with complete organs and percussion sections and full-sized violins in them. There are two baby grand pianos in one room, both self-playing machines. There are soft and elegant boxes and room-filling sounds of the kinds that were used to play in theater or hotel lobbies in the early 20th century. They all are marvels of mechanical engineering and cabinetmaking in an era decades before computer-driven design and simulations. It’s an absolutely marvelous collection in the dozens. Listening to all the machines would take a complete day.
But the three-hour tour also features tales of the eccentric Chuck Brown, a practical joker, inventor, businessman, investor and guy who was so goofy you cannot leave his museum without wanting to know him. But he died in 1999 at the age of 64. He deemed his house at thee end of the quiet neighborhood be turned into a museum, and tours are limited to two sets of a dozen people at most a day. It took The Boss (at Home) three summer vacations to finally get us a slot on a tour.
And boy, was it worth it. The Bayernhof, with its magnificent views from its largely glass back walls are amazing. And the house itself is a character in Brown’s life story, having been built with no master plan, no general contractor, no single blueprint. It’s a masterpiece of elegant madness, a massive, laughing monument of a man who knew how to have a laugh and enjoy life. Finding all the RCA Victor “Nipper” dogs throughout the house is a joy. And a window into the character of Chuck Brown III.
After spending three hours in the place with an amazingly knowledgeable set of tour guides, it became obvious to me that Chuck Brown, who had a company that makes gas lights that can be converted to electric lights, who had something to do with the invention of the gas grill, lived a life every man wishes he could have. He managed to make enough money to buy the things that made him happy, filled his house with those things and friends to enjoy them with. He built the ultimate man cave decades before that term came to mean some kind of rec room most guys try to section off for themselves in their home, with only limited success, and certainly not 19,000 square feet worth, complete with an actual replica of a cave tucked away in a secret passageway.
It all makes sense if you go see it. And we’re going back. It’s impossible to take it all in on one tour, and it’s impossible to leave without a smile and a desire to find Chuck Brown in life.
Tours are by appointment only, and you may learn about the museum online at www.bayernhofmuseum.com.
It’s a gem hidden away in Pittsburgh, and because of its location, it will stay that way. But you can go enjoy it. Make the appointment. And for more photos, visit my Facebook page at http://goo.gl/pmbC2j
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