If it could be covered in psychedelic shag carpeting, they did it: doors, bathroom walls, spiral staircase treads. If the mood called for fake leopard skin, or zebra, or gold lamé, you can bet that call was answered too. The master bedroom holds a half dozen legitimate feathered pimp hats. The living room features a six-foot-tall clear plastic aquarium in the shape of a bent palm tree. The kitchens (there are two) have tile work with images of sport fish and day-glo flowered wallpaper. You can believe if there was a wall surface, shelving, headboard, or light fixture that could possibly be mirrored, spangled, or bedazzled, that need was not taken lightly.
No, the Antignanis had a decidedly more-is-more, leave no stone un-decorated design sense that has unprepared eyeballs begging for mercy, mouths gasping for Dramamine, and visitors vowing to finally get serious about their own basements. Even just what’s left of the estate, which occupies an entire serene hilltop in Pittsburgh’s distant northern suburbs, makes Graceland look minimalist.
You know it’s going to be a good estate sale when the first thing you see is a life-size plastic lawn gorilla: make offer. The front-of-house alone contains a bevy of oddball riches we’re not used to seeing at suburban sales: a six-foot plaster saxophone ornament for a matching fountain suspended on giant golden musical notes; replicas of Italian statuary; a slide and ladders from a since-removed pool; a ’70s-era Dodge Ram pickup. Oh, and there’s a caged female mannequin, chained at the ankle, barely clothed in a headband, Mardi Gras beads, and torn hippie vest.
Any assumptions or prejudices about the lifestyles of older generations are quickly overturned with one step inside the Antignani estate. Their tastes were eccentric, loud, gaudy, and corny, but very clearly theirs. We know that Arthur lived into his 80s and it doesn’t appear that any accommodations were made for the couple’s advancing age. It’s wonderfully amusing to think of anyone traipsing around this crazy environment for forty years (?) let alone a couple my grandparents’ (R.I.P.) age.
Of the many mysteries surrounding this sale, the most intriguing is the Antignanis themselves. Described as a “millionaire musician,” Arthur Antignani has left almost zero Internet trail. There’s no obituary from either of the Pittsburgh papers, one nearly-empty entry on the site Tributes.com, and some vague hits on various genealogical sites. That’s it.
Of Arthur’s wife Alfreda we know even less. The friendly estate sale agents told us she had been a cosmetologist and that the couple saved their voluminous love letters from Arthur’s time on the road. And that’s all we’ve got.
Arthur’s musical career is just as in need of clarification. The same agent had heard he was a frequent performer in Las Vegas who regularly entertained the “Rat Pack” in the early days of The Strip. We can assume he played the saxophone by the number of sax icons scattered throughout house, including the lapel pin on the above photograph. But again, it’s difficult to substantiate any of this.
One thing we do know is that the Antignanis were crazy about music–or, at least, they liked the look of it. The imagery of musical instruments (especially saxophones) and musical staff notes aggressively played into the design and decoration of the house. Notes decorate the front entrance gate, the shag carpeting on the bedroom door, and metalwork throughout. A back patio was poured in the shape of a giant guitar, complete with the awkwardly long sidewalk-to-nowhere of the instrument’s to-scale long neck. Paint was added to supply details for the sound hole and hardware. There’s a bust of Elvis lamp.
Hundreds of tchotchkes render every variety of creature–mammal, amphibian, you name it–multi-instrumentalists in some nutty symphony. These figures, along with gilt candlesticks, shimmering pendant lamps, a mixed-species chest-of-drawers, and a pair of over-the-top rotary telephones, are now stacked so densely in the former great room that it’s difficult to imagine how they could have been displayed when the house was still in use.
[The photo gallery for this sale has many more detail shots than we’ve chosen to include here. Check it out while it’s still available.]
Although we have no concrete evidence, I think the other safe assumption here is that the Antignanis could party. The whole house is laid out such that no guest’s Greek-themed highball glass will ever go dry and its extensive sound system had speaker options that reached every room, patio, and even the “Zen garden.” There are only three bedrooms, but guests could pass out on their choice of several giant sectional sofas. The kitchen equipment is pretty standard stuff, but the barware is stocked with enough tumblers, martini, wine, and shot glasses to outfit several all-nighters without ever needing to do the dishes.
The word from the sales agents was that one of their team had purchased the entire lot, house, and contents, and was emptying it for an inevitable demolition and redevelopment. On the one hand, that makes a lot of sense–it’s pretty incredible to have a property that covers an entire hilltop with 360-degree views (at least, when the tree cover isn’t too thick) and also has perfect privacy. The house itself is no great architectural marvel, so it’s likely any buyer in this market would want something different.
But at the same time, those of us who never knew the couple can feel the Antignanis’ spirits within the home’s eye-popping walls. The couple’s mausoleum (yes, a photograph proves it’s adorned with more musical notes and giant saxophones) may last much longer, but it’s in the soft-porn dining room mural and plastic fruit-shaped piña colada cups, the silver Queen of Hearts wallpaper and shiny clothes that they actually lived. And oh–if it’s not too trite to say–how they lived.
Special note: We’d love to know more about the Antignanis. If you knew them, know more of the story, or if we got any of our facts wrong, we’d love to hear it. Please get in touch.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Alfreda as Arthur’s given name and Mrs. Antignani as first name unknown. Several readers have corroborated that Mrs. Antignani was Alfreda (see comments). We apologize for the error and thank you commenters!
14 thoughts on “Graceland North: The Antignani Estate Sale”
I also became interested after seeing the sale details. You’re right that it is strange to find so little detail online, but I found this picture on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network website and found an obituary for Vincent Sunseri that lists his sister as Alfreda, married to Arthur Antignani.
Shirley: Good sleuthin’! We need to put you on the payroll! [Note to self: get payroll] Every other source seemed to list Alfreda as Arthur’s given name, so this is indeed a mystery. Hopefully someone who knew them will see the post and clear things up!
Loved that caption under the Adam and Eve mural! It made me laugh in the Teacher’s lounge two days in a row! Appreciated the outsider artist as interior designer aspects of the post as well as the mannequin photo. Great work!
so well written!! as an estate liquidation agent myself, i appreciate your eye, commentary and respect for the now infamous, Antignanis. if only all sales were this interesting and FUN!
Post from old friend on the obituary site. Perhaps a lead to follow for more info. on who he was. Also, she references Alfreda as “his girl”.
” Arthur taught me to drive. He was someone I could be very excited about because he gave me the most ultimately hospitable and concerned person that
was a very big gift to me. I cannot believe that he has died. I knew him in the 1960’s and he confided that Alfreda was to be his girl…forever. I was more than glad to cede to his wishes and was vicariously happy for him all this time.
Now that I am older too I was hoping to say hi and have found him to be recently deceased….I am profoundly disappointed not to be able to get in touch with him and rejoice in his presence as once had so long ago.”
Posted by: Mona B. Thomas – North Versailles, PA – distant friend Sep 21, 2011
And.. the saxophones and oddities continue in death … check out their crypt. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=145190407&PIpi=119817980
If the music notes are played that go ’round the mausoleum, the tune that would be heard is Frank Sinatra’s “All the way”… and it is Arthur that is playing the same tune when one enters the crypt.
My friend Gale bought this house and it’s contents… many cars included. They filled in the pool, removed many items before her sale, including all the wine this couple made from the grapes from their very own vineyard on the property! There was a really cool ‘Zen’ garden complete with a path that led down to it, sound system that was installed across the 8.5 acres. Cameras all through the trees (saw a 13 point buck).. and so much more to this story, really.
Arthur’s wife was named Alfreda. She passed away last year and still lived in the house at the time of her death. She is related to the Sunseri family of Pittsburgh (produce company in the strip) and I have heard that he is from Southern California. I have heard they met in Las Vegas and they lived here because that is where she was from.
Where is this house? I live nearby and I’ve never heard of it
I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact address, but I’m pretty sure it was in Hampton Twp. on Haberlein Road. There’s a steep driveway up the hill and all you’d be able to see from the road would be the entrance gates–the property is basically the entire top of the hillside above all the homes that are on Haberlein (and Marie Drive on the other side).
If you are on Middle road, right by Wagner’s store…. look across the street to find Haberlein. Going down and past the stop sign… it will be one’s right. BUT! You still won’t be able to even see the iron gates, as they are up a small narrow driveway.
The Bing satellite map-view is really neat!