HARB bestows its ’07 awards

To preserve or gently update a historic property, it takes creativity, a sense of the value of connections to things past, money and time – and, sometimes, a very large amount of baking soda.

May 24, 2007

That’s right, baking soda.

By: Cheryl Allison

To preserve or gently update a historic property, it takes creativity, a sense of the value of connections to things past, money and time – and, sometimes, a very large amount of baking soda.

That’s right, baking soda.

It took 17 tons of the stuff to clean the charred and scarred interior of the 1883 offices of the former Pencoyd Iron Works, when the Penn Real Estate Group began its inside-and-out restoration of the badly deteriorated and burned out building.

If ever there was proof that a “building considered lost can be rehabilitated,” it is this one, at 620 Righters Ferry Road in Bala, one of six properties recognized in an awards ceremony May 15 at the Merion Tribute House.

Three other 2007 Historic Preservation Awards, presented by the Lower Merion Historical Architectural Review Board and the Lower Merion Historical Commission, honored organizations and individuals for their efforts to preserve the township’s architectural heritage.

Describing the Pencoyd project, Historical Commission Vice Chairman Christian Busch noted that the building had served as headquarters of the iron works built on the banks of the Schuylkill River by the Roberts family, one of the founding families of Lower Merion. But nearly 125 years later, it had deteriorated, been subject to a series of “insensitive alterations,” and finally been swept by a devastating fire.

To bring it back to life, the real estate management company had to strip away a later stucco “skin” to reveal the building’s original brick, put on a new roof, install authentic windows, and add the “finishing touch” – a new clock tower. The transformation on the interior was just as dramatic.

Awards this year went to a wide range of projects and groups, from major renovations like the Pencoyd work, to additions that harmonize with rather than imitate original architecture, to citizens who set an example to educate and encourage the community in historic preservation.

Among the latter, the Save Ardmore Coalition, which helped make downtown Ardmore a part of the national sea change in thinking about government’s use of its powers of eminent domain for economic development, received an award for stewardship. While working in the political arena, the organization over the past two years has found visible, tangible ways to demonstrate its commitment to preserving the town’s historic business district.

It has, said Historical Commission member Ann Bagley, “worked to beautify the streetscape of Lancaster Avenue, encouraged others to save historic facades, and improved the business district by making the whole street more inviting.”

Each of the award winners, said state Sen. Connie Williams (D-17th), presenting Senate proclamations to go along with the township plaques, has added to the “wonderful spaces that make our community so special.”

Recipients of the 2007 Historic Preservation Awards are:

Residential and Non-Residential Construction:

* Pencoyd Iron Works, 620 Righters Ferry Road, Bala; owner, Penn Real Estate Group; project designer, Donna Galvin.

* Bryn Mawr Theater, 824 Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr; owner, Bryn Mawr Film Institute; architect, Voith & Mactavish Architects; contractor, QED. For installation of a new marquee and façade restoration in an on-going renovation of the 1926 Seville Theater.

* O’Halloran residence; 12 Booth Lane, Haverford; owner, Patricia O’Halloran; architect, Friday Architects; contractor, Frank Bedford. For a porch addition and exterior restoration to bring out the beauty of this Queen Anne Victorian “jewel of a house.”

Compatible New Construction:

* Colony Cottage, 324 Avon Road, Bryn Mawr; owner, B&H Investment Properties; architect, Peter Batchelor & Assoc.; engineer, Chester Valley Engineers; designer, Mary Hastings Interiors. For an addition to the Colonial Revival main house and restoration of the original pump house and laundry house of the Alscot estate.

* Balongue/Carter residence, 707 Matsons Ford Road, Villanova; owners, James Carter and Barbara Balongue-Carter; architect and designer, Balongue Design; contractor, Tomco Custom Builders. For new garage and pool house additions to the carriage house of the Sunnybrook estate.

* Taghavi residence, 302 Righters Mill Road, Gladwyne; owner, Amin Taghavi; architect, Peter Zimmerman Architects; contractor, William Thornton; structural engineer, The Kachele Group. For additions including a new peak-roofed tower to the Victorian home, originally a pavilion at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

Award of Recognition:

* Chabad Lubavitch of the Main Line at the General Wayne Inn, 625 Montgomery Ave., Merion Park, and Rabbi Shraga Sherman. For work to restore the landmark colonial inn.

Robert DeSilets Award:

* Harold “Hank” G. Wilson and Ricki Petersen of Bryn Mawr, for “working to keep Bryn Mawr’s architectural heritage from disappearing.”

Stewardship Award:

* The Save Ardmore Coalition.