malvern borough wakes up to historic preservation


Malvern Borough has woken up to the real concept of historic preservation.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is will it do any good?

I am a huge believer in historic preservation, do not misunderstand me. It’s just that I have seen too many fights to try to save too many historic properties which have failed. And they have failed not because there wasn’t interest in historic preservation, they failed because zoning on local and county levels were inadequate and hamstrung because as I have said for years, at the state level, the Municipalities Planning Code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is woefully out of date, isn’t it?

Pennsylvania is a private property rights state. It is also a state with some powerful building, developer, construction lobbyists up in Harrisburg. A few short years ago for brief shining moment there was a proposed law on the books that would allow municipalities to an act a short-term moratorium on development. It was HB904 during 2007 and 2008. It has long since disappeared like it was never even a concept which existed .

A famous recent example of what could not be saved of historic import was La Ronda. It was demolished in 2009.

La Ronda was in Lower Merion Township where I used to live. Innumerable people locally,regionally, and nationally worked with politicians in Lower Merion to try to save the historic Spanish Gothic mansion. I photographed the last few months of the mansion from outside it’s gates and the October 1, 2009 demolition day.

My point is this: Lower Merion is a very powerful municipality. They have a very organized historical architectural review board or “HARB” and historical society and STILL more is lost than is saved. I’ve observed similar situations in Radnor Township. Not trying to be Debbie Downer on this because I applaud Malvern Borough for finally trying to put mechanisms in place, but in the end will it do anything if local municipalities don’t lobby there state elected officials to update what needs updating in Harrisburg as well?

I also in the past worked to put a former neighborhood into a historic district. I’m still waiting and trying to figure out what it actually does to help in the end because since I moved away from this neighborhood there’s just been more development and I haven’t seen or heard of any active preservation.

Again, I am not against historic preservation, I am very much in favor of it. But historic preservation needs to have MORE things on a state level to back it up. And it has always been my belief that in addition to fabulous things like Preservation PA, there needs to be an update to the municipalities planning code because that is the state bible that drives local zoning ordinances, correct?

A more holistic approach is needed so local municipalities from the tiniest of boroughs to the largest of cities have more tools in there tool box to help them preserve their communities historically and in general.

I’m glad Malvern is taking these steps, but I also wonder if they will actually have enforceability with what they want to do? Or if one good Municipal Court challenge by someone will knock it out? What is Malvern Borough doing NOW about the properties which you would think were historic but seem to be falling apart?

Malvern Borough Solicitor Wendy McLean was quoted as saying “This is a much less obtrusive ordinance than most” and supposedly those who didn’t follow the ordinance if enacted would be subject to fines equal to a property’s market value? I just don’t see how they would be able enforce something like that. Maybe they could but is there case law on this before they go forward and spend taxpayer money to enact an ordinance like this? I get it, Malvern Borough is a small municipality finally trying to preserve its character. But if they don’t enact ordinances that they can’t defend in court they could possibly bankrupt themselves in legal fees couldn’t they?

What I don’t see in the media coverage is if Malvern Borough’s solicitor also went over similar ordinances in other communities? I agree Malvern has to begin somewhere, it’s just from reading through the ordinance I just can’t see a developer not being able to knock holes in it as it stands right now. And what will this ordinance do for all the structures in the borough which are currently “demolition by neglect”? How will they handle people who wish to be grandfathered from the ordinance?

Here is the language of what is being proposed – it can be found on Malvern Borough’s website, just CLICK HERE.

And if you are into historic preservation you should also check out “Pennsylvania at Risk”

Here is the news on this:

Malvern wants to protect historic properties Michaelle Bond, Inquirer Staff Writer Last updated: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 1:08 AM

Malvern, which celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, wants to add an extra step to its building-permit process to preserve historical properties.

The borough is considering a process to review all proposals to significantly alter or demolish historic properties or resources. Officials would work with property owners to try to preserve that which makes the structures historical.

According to a proposed ordinance that would create a Historical Overlay District, the protection of about 250 primarily residential structures is a matter of “public necessity.”

“We have a handful of them that were around during the Revolutionary War,” said Zeyn Uzman, chair of the borough’s Historical Commission. “Unfortunately, one of them will probably be torn down in the next six months.”

Uzman explained the potential ordinance to about 70 residents at a meeting Tuesday night at a church.

A developer plans to build residential units at the site of a house on Old Lincoln Highway that dates to the 1780s. The Historical Commission estimates that the house is the second- or third-oldest structure in Malvern.

The ordinance, which must be approved by the borough council, cannot protect properties from being demolished, but it would allow the borough to preserve the history of those places, Uzman said.

“If we’re going to lose a structure, we at least want to go in there and take pictures and document as much as we can,” he said. Currently, borough officials are not permitted to enter someone’s residence to document it.


all about the pot pie


Yes yes…continuing my quest to get vegetables into a teenager.

I make pot pies all the time. They aren’t that complicated. It’s basically meat, vegetables, gravy and the crust. Today I just didn’t feel like doing a double crust and a pie pan, so I opted for the crust on top kind of pot pie. A biscuit topping.

Preheat your oven to 350°.

First I made the filling. I used leftover roast beef that I had cubed into bite-size pieces and frozen for just this purpose. I would say probably about 2 1/2 cups was what was in the bag. I had let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

I also used a container of leftover beef au jus I had made with mushrooms. This has been in the freezer in a container as well. I let that also thaw overnight in the refrigerator.That was also about 2 cups. I turned that into a traditional gravy after creating a rue with a little bit of flour and maybe 2 tablespoons of butter in the bottom of the pan.

As for vegetables it was a combination of fresh and frozen. One cup each frozen peas and corn thawed, one sweet onion diced, three smaller but not mini carrots diced small, and a handful of fingerling potatoes sliced thin. (You may wish to slightly parboil potatoes first. )

I mixed that together with a little salt and pepper to taste, paprika, garlic powder and rosemary, and put into a good-sized baking dish that I had greased- a 12″ x 9″ baking dish that is a little over 3 inches deep.

The biscuit topping was really simple. Get out another mixing bowl.

One cup of buttermilk, 1 1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 generous teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup melted butter, a 1/4 cup of grated Italian blend cheese out of the shaker (Parmesan and Romano blend), and fresh ground pepper.

Mix biscuit ingredients all together and it will be goopy and not the kind of biscuit dough you roll out. Put it on the top of your pot pie mixture in your baking pan evenly. Bake at 350° for 45 to 55 minutes depending on your oven.

Allow to cool slightly when you remove it from the oven because it will be really hot.


defining and creating a home

I received this awesome compliment today. It was about this blog and how I write, but it was more than that. My friend complimented me on my style and how my house is a home, and unique yet comfortable. And how I seemed to her to set this “taste of home” with my gardening, my cooking, and treasure hunting to accent my home.

She isn’t the first one to say that, as one of my other friends defines my style as being like Sister Parrish. That made me giggle because I definitely don’t see myself as like that at all, or even have the talent, although I do like the whole English country house style.

But Sister Parrish had a design philosophy that she spoke of that I can identify with as a homemaker:

As a child, I discovered the happy feelings that familiar things can bring — an old apple tree, a favorite garden, the smell of a fresh-clipped hedge, simply knowing that when you round the corner, nothing will be changed, nothing will be gone. I try to instill the lucky part of my life in each house that I do. Some think a decorator should change a house. I try to give permanence to a house, to bring out the experiences, the memories, the feelings that make it a home.

I love putting things together and I love the compliments on my style, but am I worthy of such accolades? I am surely not so to professional chefs, landscape architects, and interior designers. But in my own defense, I never pretend to be them, I am only ever myself.

Growing up my parents did take me to lots of antique shows. My father said the shows were more to educate your eye than make a marked-up show prices purchase. We also spent many a weekend looking at antiques and collectibles down on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Oxford and Chestertown were favorites) and up through Lancaster County (Shupps Grove, Renningers, Stouts Black Angus). Also estate sales along the Main Line when they were truly a special thing with manageable realistic prices (Susan Vitale sales were the bomb). And church fairs and historic houses’ white elephants/rummage sales.

I share my late father’s love of looking and learning about things. And in part that is what any of this is about I suppose, form of intellectual curiosity that sparks a creative thing. And it just starts with looking. Opening your eyes and taking it in. In a way that is what I like best about Pinterest. You can look and save photos that inspire you.

For me, putting the rooms together in our home was a labor of love. It’s the things we like and had separately and jointly meets a comfortable style of living. I don’t want to house of fussy that it looks like a museum or jumped out of the pages of Architectural Digest where you can’t sit on a chair. I want a place where pets and kids can exist, yet it’s not all plastic and laminate. Growing up I was around a lot of things and my entire world wasn’t child-proofed and vinyl and I survived just fine.

I like mish-mosh, a mix of styles, but I guess today if you were going to put a label on me I am vintage traditional meets gracious country living. But that doesn’t mean everything in my world is sprouting milk paint, chalk paint, or chalkboard paint. Ask any of my friends and they will amusingly tell you my disdain for all of those things. Nothing against the people that like that style, but it’s so not me.

I do like some painted wood however, but it’s tole painted and cool trompe l’oeil that will make my heart beat faster, not something milk or chalk painted with a cute pattern and adorned with gingham cut with pinking shears and tied up with a burlap or raffia bow.

I like things that are pretty or unique or have a cool look to them but I don’t like fussy. You also won’t find many ruffles and bows in my world. It’s a great boudoir look but I’m not a 1930s film star.

That’s the thing of it: when I’m putting things together for my home or my garden or my kitchen, it’s what I like, what we like. It’s not what someone else told us we should like.

I laid the foundation with some of the bigger pieces and from there I took cues on color and style for everything else. And I also think people need to remember that it doesn’t have to be spanking brand-new from La-Z-Boy or out of some designer show room. You can find a lot of treasures in unexpected places, and save yourself a tidy sum in the process. Once you lay your foundation, you can layer over time.

And if an older piece of furniture has great bones, don’t ignore it as you can reupholster or cover with something more to your liking. And if you want to paint over natural wood, that is your choice, so make sure the colors you pick are ones you like and can live with, not someone else.

I like things that create or evoke a warm and homey atmosphere. Or evokes a happy memory. Like vintage quilts. You can indeed pay a pretty penny but you can also find them reasonably priced. One of my favorite sources over the years has been church fairs. Also you can get great handmade quilts at mud sales too. I find my quilts all over. I buy them to be used. If I find I am afraid to use a vintage quilt I will swap it out for one I like better. Pretty much that simple. And when the get too worn, you can repurpose them into pillows for humans and dog beds. Yes, seriously.

Vintage dishes and glasses are also something I like. But I am not living in Winterthur, so they have to be sturdy. Not famous or collectible, but usable. A lot of vintage dishes and glasses have a warmness to them and a happy, cheerful look I just prefer.

As for the garden, it represents pieces of gardens I’ve had throughout my life and things I’ve loved and admired in other people’s gardens. My garden is a work in progress and a constant evolution. You plant each season and each season you either maintain or adjust the work of previous seasons.

But a lot of what makes a garden magical is doing the work yourself. It’s about connecting with your space in nature and learning through trial and error. Sure by all means hire a professional for the bigger projects you can’t tackle like tree work, but get your hands dirty. It’s a wonderful feeling to garden, truly. Try it for yourself. Start small and pick projects you can manage.

Cooking is a lot like gardening. You have to dive on in. You will have triumphs and disasters. I love vintage cookbooks and pick them up at church sales and thrift stores and garage sales. They have a lot of the basic recipes modern cookbooks no longer have and learning the basics lays your foundation in the kitchen as a home cook.

But the components of what makes a house a home isn’t just the gardening style with flowers tumbling out of a flower bed or flower pot. It isn’t just the good smells coming out of the kitchen or that vintage find that looks cool in one of your rooms. Making a house a home is also that bunch of intangibles, the things you can’t see. Feelings. Emotions. Sentimentality and comfort.

Maybe my approach to making a house a home has to do with almost creating a feeling like comfort food evokes? I love a house that when I walk into it I see the personality of the inhabitants. So maybe that is the key and why it is more rewarding if you design? It’s how you feel and what you like, not what someone else’s interpretation of that or you is.

So I guess my best advice is to be an active participant. There will be trial and error and success and “what was I thinking???” moments, but in the end, the sole and key ingredient in defining and creating home is you.

Many thanks to my friends and all of their compliments.

Thanks for stopping by.