In Memorium: Herb Beatty

June 18-1937-March 3, 2018

The next time you step off one of the granite curbs in Pittsburgh, spare a thought for Herbert K. Beatty.

The designer, philanthropist and gay rights activist from Green Tree was responsible for the stately stone pavers and bricks that grace sidewalks and curbs throughout the city, according to his longtime friend Bill Kaelin.

“He had quite a flair,” Mr. Kaelin said about his friend of 40 years, who died Saturday after a long battle with kidney disease.

It was Mr. Beatty’s role as a member of the Pittsburgh Art Commission in the 1980s, under then Mayor Richard Caliguiri, that sparked his idea for the granite curbs.

“He was remarkable and extremely talented,” said Mr. Kaelin about Mr. Beatty, owner of Beatty Interiors in Dormont.

Mr. Beatty was born in Washington, Pa., the son of the late Nelson H. and Reba Gatten Beatty.

He was one of the most sought after designers in the area, overseeing a $2 million-plus renovation of LeMont restaurant in 1999, after he spent a year restoring a 22-room mansion on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.

The so-called “Babcock Mansion” was home to Edward Vose Babcock, who was Pittsburgh mayor from 1918 to 1921 and owned Babcock Lumber Co. The home fell into disrepair after the death of Mr. Babcock and his wife and was scheduled to be demolished in 1975, when Mr. Beatty bought it.

Over the years, the Palladian-style home hosted seven U.S. presidents, celebrities and European royalty, including the party Mr. Beatty threw for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1978.

Mr. Beatty hosted other memorable parties and fundraisers for local luminaries and what was then the fledgling gay community in Pittsburgh.

“His house was infamous,” said Jeff Freedman, also one of the early pioneers of the gay social scene in Pittsburgh. “You were on the social ladder if you were in the Beatty mansion.”

Mr. Beatty’s home provided sanctuary for young gay men who didn’t have many entertainment options at the time.

“The house was a safe place for us to go,” Mr. Freedman said. “It was safe to be out in public and not be afraid. Back then, being gay was extremely stigmatized.”

“The neighbors were a little annoyed with all the Secret Service people on their roofs,” when dignitaries visited, Mr. Kaelin said.

During the 12 years he lived there, Mr. Beatty’s home served more important purposes, too.

“He probably had the first fundraiser for AIDS in the city at the Ellsworth house,” Mr. Kaelin said.

In 1980, Mr. Beatty and three friends opened Pegasus, a gay bar on Liberty Avenue. He was one of the few positive gay role models at the time, recalled Mr. Freedman, who worked as a 20-year old barback at Pegasus.

“If there was a cornerstone of the gay community at the time, it was Herb,” said Mr. Freedman, the former chairman of Pittsburgh Pride, which honored Mr. Beatty as the grand marshal of the 2006 Pride festival. “He achieved a level of success that we all wanted to emulate.”

“He was really the visible face of the community at a time when not a lot of people were,” said Christine Bryan, director of marketing and development for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Beatty was a member of the board of the Lambda Foundation, the non-profit organization that raised money to help seed LGBT organizations, including the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Community Center, and Shepherd Wellness Center.

Mr. Beatty’s friends say they will miss his generous nature and sense of humor.

“He’d do anything for you. He was just a good friend,” said Mr. Kaelin, who recalled a conversation they had once about a home Mr. Beatty was renovating with a “hideous” awning.

“I told him I thought we needed to raise the awning, and he said,’”I agree. It needs to be razed,’” Mr. Kaelin said. Mr. Beatty was preceded in death by his longtime partner, Bernie Kress, a sister, Susan Beatty, and a stepbrother, William John Bennett.

By Janice Crompton.
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

QBurgh is your source for LGBTQ news and community resources in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Want to write for us?