Have you ever crossed the Highland Park Bridge on your way back from the Zoo or a trip to East Liberty and looked up on the hill at the large mansion overlooking you?
I have plenty of times and always wondered who lived up there with such a killer view. Shortly after starting TPOP last month, I found out that mansion is actually now a museum called the Bayernhof Museum. After reading up on it and seeing some photos online, I knew it was a place that I wanted to check out for the site.
Officially, the Bayernhof is a museum that houses 85 different music machines — machines that play music on their own, such as player pianos, cylinder drum boxes, exotic bird chirping boxes, and an automated machine with two violins inside. Where else can you find something like this nowadays?
But really, it should be called A Museum For The Life And Times Of The Eccentric Charles Brown, because for me that was far more interesting than the music machines. Charles Boyd Brown, known as Chuck to his friends, was an unmarried millionaire that proved the expression, “Poor people are crazy. Rich people are eccentric.”
His wealth primarily came from three sources — he was the largest shareholder in Allegheny Valley Bank, he was a skilled real estate developer, and his own business involving natural gas. All of that wealth helped him buy out a failed music machine museum in Sarsota, Florida. But what he really excelled at, besides business acumen, was being a Grade A kook. When you enter the Bayernhof for your scheduled tour slot, you’re steered into a sitting room overlooking the Allegheny River. Looking down on you is a painted portrait of Chuck Brown, with a knowing smile on his face and wearing a blue, button-down shirt from Brooks Brothers. It wasn’t hard for Chuck to pick out what to wear for his portrait, considering that the bulk of his wardrobe consisted of 283 identical blue, button-down shirts.
He probably kept those shirts in the same master bedroom that housed an armoire stuffed with $32,352 of cash, discovered by his executors after his death in 1999. Hey, we all have a drawer with cash at our houses, right? In his will, Chuck Brown decreed that the Bayernhof would become a museum and even set up a foundation to maintain it.
Chuck Brown started construction on the Bayernhof mansion in 1976 on an 18 acre parcel of land. With no building plans. And his construction crew consisted of an 18 year-old CMU student, two college buddies, and a couple of old guys. Whether it’s surprising or not, work was not completed until six years later in 1982. The Bayernhof was host to many odd dinner parties, most of which wouldn’t even serve dinner until midnight. But never fear, because you could also keep yourself well-soused by partaking in one of the 12 wet bars throughout the house, including a bar in each bedroom.
Oh, those bedrooms. Would you rather stay in the bedroom that had its own bar and a patio that overlooked the Allegheny? Or the bedroom with its own personal elevator in the room? Maybe you would prefer to rough it in the fully functional observatory dome on top of the roof, complete with a retractable aluminum roof that afforded 360 degree views of the nighttime sky — plus the ability to grill out on the roof next to you. But the answer always comes back to the master bedroom inhabited by Chuck himself — the one with the full kitchen next to it, the master bathroom with a programmable bathtub that would fill your water for you when pre-programmed (keep in mind, this was the 1980’s, so it was ahead of its time), and the secret passage doors.
That’s right…secret passages. The Bayernhof is like a real-life version of the board game Clue, of which someone from the foundation that now runs the Bayernhof procured a 3D version of and can be seen in one of the rooms. The secret passage goes from the bathroom (behind a mirror), down a set of steps to the office (behind a gun cabinet). There’s also another set of passages out of the board room and into the wine cellar.
Speaking of the wine cellar, when you come out of that you go into a dark hallway constructed to resemble a faux-cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. Keep in mind, someone built this.
That little cavern eventually brings you up to the grotto and pool area. And yes, there’s a small waterfall. In true Clue fashion, you’re right back adjacent to the room that you started in, without all the murder-y stuff, of course.
Cool music machines and all this eccentricity for only $10. It’s quite simply the best value you can find for a two-hour tour in Pittsburgh. I’m kicking myself for only now finding it, but glad that I did see it finally.