The Lower Merion Conservancy is also cautiously watching two other potentially vulnerable resources: the 1925 Barnes Foundation building in Merion and the 1952 WCAU Studios building in Bala Cynwyd. These buildings could not differ more in their history, style, function, or setting. The Barnes Foundation building is a Neo-Classical design of monumental size, celebrity, and significance. Designed by the distinguished architect, Paul Philippe Cret to house Albert Barnes’s collection of art and his family residence, the limestone building is fluently integrated into a neighborhood of impressively-sized early-twentieth-century houses. The WCAU Studios building was designed as a television studio by George Howe and Robert Montgomery Brown. The former architect was a partner in the design of Philadelphia’s PSFS building, America’s first modern-style skyscraper. When it was constructed, the WCAU’s sleek glass and steel envelop anchored City Avenue’s “Golden Mile” and joined a growing collection of impressive (and now largely lost) modern buildings at the eastern end of the township.
As dissimilar as the Barnes and WCAU buildings are, they face similar challenges: both are rendered vulnerable by the loss of their original uses. The Barnes Foundation building is largely empty; its utility as an art museum was extinguished when its art collection moved to the Parkway in Philadelphia. In 2017, when NBC relocates its studios to the new Comcast Innovation and Technology Center in Philadelphia, the WCAU building will also lose the purpose for which it was designed.
The Barnes Foundation building and the WCAU Studios building contribute to Lower Merion’s exceptional collection of historic architecture and to the history of development in the township. Future plans for both buildings should, therefore, prioritize their preservation and respect the role that each had in shaping the character and identity of Lower Merion.