1/30/2014 – Preservation WatchList

Places We Love – 2014 Preservation WatchList (for the Main Line Times version, click here)

When it comes to preserving places, a number of tools are readily at hand.  These include tours and lectures, personal outreach to officials, blogging, technical or volunteer support from a local non-profit and so much more.  One special tool that the Lower Merion Conservancy has used for the past 15 years is a WatchList—essentially a list of properties with uncertain futures that contribute greatly to the nature of our community and to which the Conservancy wishes to draw attention.  Recently publishing their 16th list, the focus of this week’s column is the Conservancy’s latest Preservation WatchList.

Each year the Conservancy’s WatchList effort begins in the fall as we ask members of the community to contribute suggested historic resources for the listing.  An advisory committee of planners, historic preservationists, architects, historians and more come together to review and rank a list that includes buildings meeting four criteria.  The criteria describe a property’s significance, threat (with regard to nature, immediacy and severity), special or unique considerations and action.  The action part is new and refers to whether the Conservancy can adopt a strategy that can affect change and contribute to preservation.  The whole process is lead by the Conservancy’s Historic Preservation Coordinator, JulieAnn Murphy.

The hope is that buildings on the list will have opportunities for preservation that they might not get if they were not listed.  Listing also garners support from the Conservancy’s Historic Preservation program that can include technical or educational services.  Sometimes the value of listing is just simply to tell a building’s story so that it might inspire new community support or understanding.

Over the past 16 years 75 properties have been included on the Conservancy’s WatchList.  Of the 75 buildings, 55 are still standing—that’s nearly 75%.  Some of the more highly visible WatchList graduates that have been preserved or adaptively reused include Oddfellows Hall (in progress), the Cynwyd Station, the Bryn Mawr Theater, the General Wayne Inn and so many more.  All of these special properties have been preserved through the collaboration and commitment of a host of partners.  They are to be applauded for their efforts.

The theme for properties on this year’s list is Inhabiting History.  The four listings are properties that make a significant contribution to our definition of Lower Merion.  Each one’s long-time use has changed in someway and each property is grappling with its future use.  The four properties identified through this year’s process include 1. Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, 2. Barker Mill in Gladwyne, 3. First Baptist Church of Ardmore and 4. Charles Knox Home in Wynnewood.

Saint Charles includes two large buildings, a chapel and college building, situated on 43 acres.  The gateway to Lower Merion—this vast acreage is the last remaining unimproved large open space fronting on City Avenue.  The Conservancy is hopeful that the results of the process to review development proposals for this parcel would result in a special project.  This would include appropriate and compatible re-use that is sensitive to the special character of the property.  As the Seminary, a college financially independent of the Catholic Church, consolidates into the older 30 acres of the campus, the sale and re-use will also afford the preservation of the original buildings.

The Barker Mill in Gladwyne, a class 1 resource on the historic resource inventory and contributor to the Mill Creek National Register Historic District, is number two on this year’s list.  Found adjacent to Lower Merion’s Mill Creek and sitting poised for development for ten years, the Barker Mill has been without a use for many years compromising the integrity of the resource.   The Conservancy is hopeful that this property’s reuse can begin soon to ensure its preservation for future generations.

Ardmore’s First Baptist Church is another special historic property without historic designation that could be lost.  Currently, the property sits vacant in the heart of a residential and very walkable part of Ardmore.  While it could be demolished for the construction of more housing, we are hopeful that it will be adaptively reused in such a way that retains its historic character and in effect, the character of the neighborhood.

Lastly, the cessation of care for the elderly and subsequent sale of the Charles Knox Home in Wynnewood lead to the Conservancy’s listing of this important historic property.   We are hopeful that the same use might be continued, especially given the restrictions on the property, however, given the location it is also a highly desirable spot for more homes.

All of the listed properties highlight the incredible historic resources in Lower Merion. These places contribute to the sense of place that brought us to Lower Merion and inspire us to stay in Lower Merion. As we charge into 2014 it is our sincere hope that it will be a successful year for protecting the places we love, especially those discussed as part of the Conservancy’s latest Preservation WatchList.

For more detail please read Cheryl Allison’s 1/25/2014 story on the 2014 Preservation WatchList or visit the Conservancy online at www.lmconservancy.org.

Patty Thompson is the Executive Director of the Lower Merion Conservancy and can be reached at patty@lmconservancy.org