Don Lane is hoping one bit of Hazelwood that he's salvaged turns out to be something more valuable than old bricks and lumber: He believes he's got an original Andy Warhol.
Lane, a former car salesman from Squirrel Hill, and his domestic partner, Rachel Stein, bought a late 19th-century house and an attached apartment building off Hazelwood's Second Avenue in 2005. The house was once the site of a speakeasy and then a restaurant and lounge known as The DiPietro Café. Lane's ambition is to restore the ornate old house to its former glory and notoriety.
"That's my dream," he says. "But right now I'm selling scrap" ... building and landscaping materials. The vacant lot next to Lane's new building is full of loose bricks and stones for sale by the ton. But within the former restaurant itself lies his treasure, which he has proudly shown many a visitor: the purported Warhol.
Past the Art Deco light fixtures and a mahogany bar is a mural flanking the original entrance to the now-defunct eatery. The paint-and-ink caricature was done directly on the wall's pressed-wood paneling. Reminiscent of a dated New Yorker cartoon, it features a hodgepodge of characters, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Pablo Picasso. Albert Einstein is shown holding a carrot and a foaming mug of beer. It was painted in the 1940s.
The mural is unsigned. But Lane is convinced. He says at least one of his new neighbors says a young Warhol frequented the restaurant/lounge after church locally. Lane also says that the seller, the son of the former owner, told him that the mural is Warhol's work.
Since discovering the mural, he's canvassed the neighborhood to gather other "circumstantial evidence," he says, that it was indeed executed by a youthful Warhol. So far, he has come up short on anything definitive.
Wendy Bennett, a staff conservator at The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side, checked out the piece as a personal favor to Stein, her North Braddock high-school classmate.
"It didn't do anything for me," says Bennett. "It didn't look to me like something that Warhol had done from that period."
Several months ago, two other staffers from The Warhol stopped in to scrutinize the mural, Lane says. While that visit can't be confirmed by the museum ... Lane has forgotten his visitors' names, for one ... museum personnel say that if Lane's piece were the real McCoy, they'd have followed up on it long ago.
Indeed, looking for Warhol may be a favorite local pastime, second only to watching the Steelers. Time and again, says Director Tom Sokolowski, the museum gets calls about discoveries of alleged, unsigned early works by Warhol. A few years ago, a rumor ran rampant that early Warhol drawings were hidden beneath wooden panels in the Holiday Bar in Oakland. Sokolowski chased the tip: He found handiwork by a skilled artist, but not by their man.
"People do like to ferret out if he left anything," Sokolowski says. "It's the 'hope springs eternal' mode."
Lane remains undaunted. "It doesn't really matter" what the museum staff thinks, he says. "A rose is a rose is a rose. I know it is, and I've got people who do want it. I'm not in a big hurry, but it would be good to get rid of it."