Tackling a home restoration project is not for the faint of heart, but restoring an abandoned building and the entire community surrounding it? A project of that scale requires vision, energy and a dose of adventure. To find two people with that level of heart is seemingly impossible, but John and Gisele Fetterman are two powerhouses who fit the bill.
The Fettermans call Braddock, PA home. It’s a borough just outside the city of Pittsburgh, and like so many Rust Belt cities, Braddock suffered the decline of the steel industry. Once a bustling, urban hub, the neighborhood John discovered in 2001 was a poor, violent ghost town. He came to lead a GED program, but after experiencing the persisting sense of community and envisioning its potential, John wanted to restore Braddock. That’s why today the title of “Mayor” precedes John’s name, and that’s why Braddock is nearly unrecognizable. Community centers, artist residencies, a craft brewery, an urban farm and a green-energy startup have replaced the blight.
John’s wife, Gisele, is equally responsible for the restoration. Born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in New York, Gisele was always troubled by the ease with which some could waste what others so desperately needed. This inspired her to create Braddock’s Free Store, which redistributes surplus and donated goods to neighbors in need via colorful, converted shipping containers. Gisele also co-founded 412 Food Rescue, which collects healthy food that would otherwise be discarded and distributes it to those in need.
John and Gisele have an ability to see potential in even the most challenging restoration projects, and their home was no exception. Others may have shied away from the vacant building containing abandoned cars and boarded up windows, but John and Gisele immediately saw the potential of their Braddock address. Built in the 1920s, their industrial home was originally a Chevy dealership, and historically, one of the very first indoor car dealerships in America!
The couple was sold on the history and unique bones of the building, including the original concrete ramps used to move cars from floor to floor. They bought it, moved in and set to work. Over the course of eight months, they moved from corner to corner of the space, while their children befriended the contractors who helped the Fettermans complete the transformation. Today, it’s a restoration symbol for the entire community! —Quelcy