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More than 1,500 people, coming from as far away as southern Pennsylvania, walked the streets of Allentown Sunday afternoon during the annual Secrets of Allentown tour of historic homes and mansions.

"One of the greatest assets here in Allentown is our historic housing," said Robert Fink, president of the Allentown Association.

Fink said the purpose of the showcase of city homes and architectural gems is to get some home and business owners to show others what enormous possibilities there are in applying a little elbow grease and renovating an old building that could have easily been leveled.

Fink said: "This tour really is a statement that Allentown is still very much an alive community."

One of the more popular of the 15 homes opened for the tour was Tom and Brenda Moll's 1850s home at 70 N. Pearl St. Jaws dropped as people entered a grand foyer with a dramatic, turning staircase and antique-furnished sitting rooms on either side.

"This is the best I have seen yet," said Michael Robertson of Johnstown, Pa.

The Molls were sticklers for detail. Tom Moll replaced some of the hardwood floors with wood dating back 100 years. He also used vintage fixtures and appliances. A custom-designed window seat graces the upstairs hallway, and the master bathroom includes an antique church pew, and a steam shower designed to look like an elevator.

"There is room for six in that shower," Brenda Moll said.

The Coatsworth Mansion at 49 Cottage St. was built by a wealthy timber merchant in 1879. Thomas Coatsworth lived in the mansion the 10 years before his death, and after years of use for institutional purposes by the Brothers of Mercy and Carmelite nuns, the house was purchased by Brian Woods in 1999.

Restoration of the four-story home is painstaking. Progress is visible, however.

Tour guides said the third floor, which is now two apartments, was once a grand ballroom. A portion of the ballroom floor and the restored stage are still intact as part of the living room in one of the apartments.

The Franklin Street home of Don and Franny DeRose, built in 1840, underwent extensive restoration. When the DeRoses bought the home in 1982, it had been vacant for four years. The interior was gutted and exterior details had been destroyed. However, an architect was able to research, duplicate and restore what was lost.

The DeRoses use the top two floors of the building as their home, while the first floor houses a dental office. The home boasts both elegance and a sense of the eclectic that could be found in a Manhattan loft.

In 1994, Roger Schroeder and Michele Costa purchased a 1,500 square-foot 1870s worker's cottage that sat empty for 10 years. Previous owners had stripped the original interior, windows were boarded up, there was fire damage and a hole in the rear of the house.

Schroeder has restored and redesigned the house, making the first floor an art studio for his wife, who crafts theatrical puppets. A spiral staircase leads to the second floor which features a beamed cathedral ceiling.

"This is all very homey for us," said Schroeder, a product designer who is going back to school to study architecture.

The Mansion on Delaware, which dates to 1869, was built as a private residence and later turned into one of the most luxurious hotels in the country around the turn of the 20th century.

Last year, after 25 years of vacancy and complete renovation, the mansion was restored to its original splendor with 28 fully appointed, complete-service guest rooms.


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