should municipalities be allowed to sell off parts of public parks?

12472521_1288480304498962_6317939821284350831_nWorth mentioning – there is an email circulating in Radnor Township in Delaware County concerning an old house and a Township Park owned by the taxpayers of Radnor. The property is called the Willows.

In this email the sender addresses a neighboring development and the residents looking for their support – the development is called Inveraray.

Inveraray is a bit pretentious, check out their website. They scream landed gentry but are they really? It’s quite the stucco land of Stepford actually:

inv1

Inv 2

Anyway this person says that they want to buy the house and a couple acres around it, actually close to three and move there. I am not naming this person by name, their name is somewhat immaterial. The important thing is not the WHO but the WHY. They claim they are looking for a larger house in Radnor Township:

For the last several months I have looked for an opportunity to move into a larger residence with my family…. where I could again reinvest in an older property and turn it around to current premium standards we all love and admire.

 

This past week I submitted two proposals to purchase or lease for long term the Willows residence plus 2.25 + or- acres surrounding the residence for my family.

 

My plan proposes to reinvest in the manor house well more than $1.0 million dollars to modern livable standards.

 

It is my hope that this would be a win-win solution that would not cost the tax payers nor would it cost your beautiful neighborhood.

 

After all we, long term Radnor Residents paid for the 47 acres to stop development but certainly did not purchase the estate because a family lived in the main house.

I have had some astounding emails shifted my direction over the years but this one takes the cake. It’s like “Hi fellow rich people I want to move into your sandbox, won’t you kindly help me and I will have you over for tea?”

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The house is part of a public park. How could Radnor Township legally sell something that belongs to the taxpayers the could affect the rest of the park usage?

If this person wants to live like nouveau landed gentry, that’s terrific. Let them go buy a building lot over at Ardrossan. There are lovely lots for sale, correct?

And when you research how the Willows was acquired by Radnor (see Willows Ordinance ) you see it was done via condemnation, or eminent domain. In this case it was public purpose. They paid what? Like a million dollars for the land and house in 1973?  Was that even worth that back then? And it was all for a PUBLIC PARK.  So if that is how the land and house were acquired and flash forward to 2016 and they sell off the house and acreage around it, in the visual middle of the park to a private person can’t it be contemplated that Radnor Township is turning eminent domain for public purpose to eminent domain for private gain?

How can that even be considered as a solution???

10366001_1288480357832290_6348205829566592359_nThe Willows has been a problem for Radnor Township probably mostly due to past mismanagement of the property, and a lack of consistent maintenance, correct?  They refer to the house as a “mansion” and it was never a mansion it was just a house. And it is NOT a huge house with landmark status or special historic preservation status – it’s not as if it is on the NTHP list.

I actually know quite a bit about the house because a friend of mine went to high school with a grandson of the last owners of the house and I know a woman who is the granddaughter of the architect. The granddaughter of the architect (Charles Barton Keen) suggested at the beginning of 2016 that the house be razed and turned into a folly. (Read this letter.)

This isn’t happening in Chester County, no, but I am somewhat astounded at the premise.10402709_1288480391165620_9078402028615408367_n

A park that is a public park should remain a public park. And if a tenant can’t be found in the can afford to do the necessary upgrades to the house which I think would probably include updating the electrical wiring to more than knob and tube and making sure there was no lead paint or asbestos on site and Radnor Township can’t afford it why keep the house standing? Mind you I never say that about old houses but this is one of those situations where I just shake my head.

Yes it’s an old house but it’s not even spectacular when compared to other old houses in the area that are still standing. It has no real historical worthiness. It is not one of the important works of Charles Barton Keen. It’s just a house.  And I have always been curious as to the financial circumstances surrounding Radnor Township purchasing this in the first place. I don’t think anyone has ever seen a report of that.

If this house was at the edge of the park, the public park, I probably wouldn’t write this post. But this house is in the middle of a very large park and that sets a dangerous precedence for public parks anywhere.

Of course the issues with the house at the Willows also points to a larger problem and inconsistencies in historic preservation at local levels in municipalities through out Pennsylvania.

I love old houses. I like but not love the Willows as far as the house goes. But I love the park in which it sits and other things like the Skunk Hollow Community Garden. Turning The Willows into a giant donut by carving out the center so a private party owns it and then could even flip the property is not a solution, it’s a big problem waiting to happen on so many levels.  Putting a nursery school in the Willows is also a problem. And why is that nursery school really leaving St.David’s Church after all these years and who else were they speaking with who may have said no thank you?

The perfect solution was when a caterer wanted to rent the Willows and use it as a dedicated destination site. That was perfect because well, weddings were held there for years. But that fell through because of funding issues, didn’t it?  And that brings this full circle to the fact the Willows in past administrations of Radnor Township was not truly maintained. I mean who knew until recently about the electrical wiring still being so old? That is a fire hazard, correct? And what about the other issues? Is their lead paint and are their lead lined pipes for example? Has anyone ever heard about that definitively?

12742356_1288480367832289_375092838788559525_nThis isn’t an 18th or 19th century mansion. It’s a house. It was a house built in the early 20th century in the California style by a father for his daughter when she married. The Main Line has lots of those wedding gift houses and another one that actually was even more lovely and left to rot before it was razed was the former Clothier house on Buck Lane in Haverford across from the Haverford School Football field.  The land was empty for a long time but  new construction planned for it. Not sure if anything ever got built.

The Willows house has been a long time folly for Radnor Township, so maybe now is the time to actually consider it becoming one? Because if Radnor commissioners fall down the slippery slope of selling off land and a house taken for the public in 1973 as public propose to a private party that is a slippery slope to a great deal of unpleasantness. And my greater concern is it sets a dangerous precedence in Pennsylvania.

At the end of the day, sign me very glad I can’t see this hot mess from my window.

Here is the Main Line Media News Article:

Resident offers to buy mansion at The Willows for private home

Leslie Morgan of Wayne, a commercial real estate developer, has offered to buy the house plus two surrounding acres or lease it and make it her family residence. Morgan did not disclose the amounts she offered the township but said she would make her financial information available to the township solicitor or finance director.

“I would say to the taxpayers and residents of Radnor that it would be a shame for the Willows to be torn down or for the park to be overtaken by over 160 non- school age children due to a lease termination of their private business (the nursery school).”

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will bryn coed become chester county’s next chesterbrook?

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Overnight a brave lady posted on the blog’s FB page. A resident of West Vincent who lives on Bryn Coed property. Bryn Coed was recently mentioned in a development post I had put up, because if developed between the land in West Vincent and the land in a neighboring municipality, the land is well like close to twice the size of what was Chesterbrook Farm and what is the development Chesterbrook that when the first house was built in 1977 forever changed the face of that part of Chester County. So built up today, you would never know it was once an important agricultural site.

Also do not forget Foxcatcher Farm off Goshen Road and 252 in neighboring Delaware County. Don’t forget what Toll Brothers has done there in what is known as the Liseter. Remember the barns, the rolling fields, the ponies, the horses, the trees, the woods? You would never know one of the most grand DuPont estates was once there. And no matter how they advertise (New York Times and tacky “buy now” signs all along West Chester Pike until you are practically in the borough), are those houses selling like proverbial “hotcakes”? Doesn’t seem to be does it?

Tredyffrin Township can barely handle Chesterbrook and all other responsibilities involved today and well Tredyffrin is a much larger better functioning municipality than West Vincent. I hate that once again West Vincent is the focus of a Chester County blog post, but this is a municipality in crisis, isn’t it?

Between West Vincent and Upper Uwchlan, this part of Chester County is in serious crisis from development. Remember another post I had up a couple years ago? Once again about Toll Brothers…in Upper Uwchlan. Toll Brothers is everywhere. And if it is not Toll Brothers it is other developers.

It’s too much.

Bryn Coed is one of the last relatively unmolested land parcels of its size in Chester County, isn’t it? Neighboring farms and homes voice bragging rights due to their proximity to Bryn Coed.  I once saw a real estate listing with this description:

This small but wonderful farmhouse is …situated on a country road on 3.9 very usable acres that are fenced in for three paddocks and riding ring. The bank barn has 4-5 stalls, and huge hayloft. It adjoins open space owned by Bryn Coed farms. You can ride out to trails right from the property. Chester County, Pennsylvania hosts many equestrian events of all disciplines.

Descriptions of listings like that will change if Toll Brothers or another developer buys the land parcel, right?

Think I am making it up? Here are the screen shots:

Toll Brothers1

Bryn Coed Evict

evict family

Developers don’t care about existing tenants and rent producing tenant properties when they have a “vision”, do they?

There is a sugar would melt in their mouths bless their little hearts page on Facebook for West Vincent residents supposedly even though I really thought it was created to promote a certain supervisor’s desperate bid to remain in office. I was sent a screen shot just now:

hear voices

My, my, my.  I guess this “lady” is the “official” spokesperson for West Vincent Township? Why bless her heart!  People keep sending me screen shots where she seems to speak FOR the township and the elected and appointed officials? Guess they do things differently there? Hope Miller keeps her in cheese and veal sticks, right?

So you know if you had such “influence” in the community wouldn’t you be trying to find the nice lady and other residents on Bryn Coed places to live? Or would you dismiss someone posting publicly that they had a notice to quit or something similar posted on their door as a “rumor”?

Everything is always a rumor it seems with Bryn Coed, right? Remember the meeting in March where the meeting notes reflect addressing a gentleman who expressed concern including about Bryn Coed? (West Vincent-2015-03-09-minutes)

Toll Bryn Coed

So it’s all always a rumor while quietly things get looked at, measured, tested, filed with DEP I am told?

This lady has SIX children. Now I know I know you rent there is always a risk the property will be sold but why post a notice like that if it is not true?  At any time they could be put off where they call home.

Oh and speaking of Bryn Coed, saw a cool restoration on an architect’s website (click here).

For the historical perspective Chester County resident should read if they haven’t the history of Chesterbrook as complied by the Tredyffin Easttown Historical Society. (Volume40_N1_027 TE History of Chesterbrook ) . It is a grim reminder of what could be seen again, on Bryn Coed, isn’t it?

This is why residents in NOT just West Vincent but elsewhere need to change the faces of who govern them sooner rather than later. The lure of the developer’s song (and dance) is far too tempting for local politicians who are shall we say…deeply entrenched? And what about term limits in local government? Not a bad idea, eh?

I am a realist. I know it is nearly impossible to preserve giant swaths of land like this – no one wants to deal with a 350 acre estate (Ardrossan, Radnor Township) or an 800+ acre estate (Foxcatcher Farm Newtown, Delaware County) Look what happened at Ardrossan, after all and that 350 acres has been carved up by relatives, and rumors abound there about the future of the mansion too, isn’t there? And we know the horror show that occurred at Foxcatcher Farm.

But between no one wanting to deal with big estates, and hearing about this lady on Bryn Coed made me think about all the tenant houses on Ardrossan.  What has happened there? Are the people still living there? I know different people over the years who have rented cottages and small farm house on Ardrossan. But I digress.

So, development of parcels like this is inevitable unless someone like Natural Lands Trust buys and conserves the land. And sometimes land conservation groups can only acquire a portion – and a lot of times it is the portion of the property that would just be too difficult and expensive for a developer to develop, right? Swamp? Wetlands? Steep Slopes? (You know like the pig in a poke purchased by Radnor Township at Ardrossan?)

The problem with all this development throughout Chester County and elsewhere is there is no true planning, it is just shoving in as many plastic houses as possible. No gardens, no lawns, no sweeping vistas, just row after row of plastic boxes sometimes slab on grade. All lined up like plastic soldiers or Legos.

So think about all the crammed in plastic and stucco boxes on Chesterbrook. Then think about Bryn Coed. Is that the appropriate vision for Chester County, or more like a nightmare waiting to happen?

Local government will always play Pontius Pilate when it comes to development won’t they? Just like monkeys all lined up when you ask questions. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil?

monkeys

Yeah. About that. If that is what you get, another reason to change the face of who governs you.

Preservation and conservation and so on and so forth can’t just be buzz words. They actually have to mean something.

Once the land is gone, it’s gone.

I will close with another old article I found on Chesterbrook:

Pre-development History Of The Farm At Chesterbrook

Posted: September 26, 1991

Mary Cavanaugh arrived at the Berwyn train station on an icy winter’s day in 1909. Snow was piled high on the land around her as she stepped into a horse-drawn sleigh, bundled robes around herself to keep warm and began the three-mile trek across the frozen ground to Chesterbrook Farm. She had just arrived in the United States from Ireland and had never seen snow before.

Cavanaugh, a parlor maid in the main house on the farm, was the mother of John, Edward and Marie Boland, who gathered Monday evening with about 80 current residents of the Chesterbrook development for a presentation on the history of the 600-acre farm in Tredyffrin Township.

The three children’s father was Peter Boland, a second coachman at the main house who became the farm manager in 1932.

The Boland children reminisced about growing up on the farm in the early 1900s, swimming in its streams, sledding and hunting on its fields and making its open space their playground.

Now, the same land is populated by condominiums, townhouses, office buildings and a shopping center…….. Audrey Baur, chairman of the DuPortail History Group, and Clara Bondinell, a member of the history group, painted a picture for the audience of the dimensions and the location of the farm…..Some former residents of the farm are unhappy with the development of the farmland.

“It makes me sick. It’s terrible,” said John Boland, who now lives in Berwyn. “My wife and I were on the committee to save Chesterbrook. We had hopes the state would annex it to Valley Forge Park.”

murder comes to malvern borough

minerWe all learned yesterday that even in  small towns we  as a society are not immune to crime.  Yesterday we were told that on Monday night a young man of 21 was shot inside his grandparents home in the Borough of Malvern.

Yes, sleepy Malvern which doesn’t see much violent crime like this EVER, was all over the news.  As a matter of fact when the news interviewed a neighbor named Ben Boomer, he thought the last time Malvern had a murder was over 20 years ago. (I have no idea.)

The  media referred to this as a “Main Line Murder”, which in my humble opinion it is not.  Malvern Borough is in Chester County and cornfields and farms are close by.  The Main Line doesn’t have much in the way of farming they grow McMansions. (Sorry but it is true – just look at the future of Ardrossan.)

drew2The victim, a 2011 graduate of Great Valley High School was only 21 years old.  His name was Drew Ferguson.  He lived with his grandparents on a cute little street in Malvern Borough off (I believe) Old Lincoln Highway on Miner Street.  Someone told me the nickname for over there is “Miner Hill”.

Drew, we learned last evening on the news, was as per Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, murdered by a friend from high school, 24 year old Merritt Dudas.

Ok wow.  I don’t know any of the people involved or families involved, but so tragic as  all concerned are/were so young with their entire lives ahead of them.

These were someone’s children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors.

So senseless. So sad.

On a Malvern-centric Facebook page we heard one mom tell of teachers and former students at Great Valley High School meeting over at the school to grieve together and remember.

The media reports showed Drew’s Facebook page and yes, I went and looked.  I wanted to see what kind of kid this was.  I saw lots of photos of cars he was working on, the photo of him and what I guess was his dog, and then there was the photo that brought me, a stranger,  to tears:

drew f

His dad.

Ok my father died eight years ago last week and I so get the whole missing your father of it all. This Drew wrote this in January :

R.I.P dad 11/23/65 1/24/12 I will always love u no madder what and it still really hard to live my life with u gone but ur all ways in my heart love u dad see u when it’s my time

He was just a boy. And his “time” should have been decades down the road.

No matter what else, this Drew Ferguson was just a boy who obviously missed his dad and liked cars (and maybe drove too fast judging from photos of a wrecked red Honda?).  I am getting a lump in my throat thinking about it. And right there leaving a comment in sympathy in January is the young man accused of his murder. This is truly a senseless tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.

There are no words.  I totally feel for both families. This tragedy has and will continue to tear up a lot of people. This shouldn’t have happened and it happened in a town where things like this don’t happen.  And I am at an age where this kid Drew is the same age as some of my friends’ children.

Unimaginable.

The police and District Attorney’s office did an amazing job getting this all squared away so quickly.

Here is the coverage on this:

Daily Local: Acquaintance charged in fatal Malvern shooting

By   Jeremy Gerrard, Daily Local News

Posted:  11/20/13, 11:45 AM EST

MALVERN – The Chester County District Attorney’s office Tuesday charged an acquaintance in the death of a 21-year-old man who was found shot to death near his home in the borough Monday evening.

Authorities identified 24-year-old Merritt Dudas of Collegeville as the suspect who is charged with murder, robbery, theft and abuse of a corpse.

Drew Ferguson, a 2011 graduate of Great Valley High School living in the 200 block of Miner Street, was the victim, police said.

According to Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, the investigation found the attack was not random and the two men had known each other for years.

Hogan said for a period of time Dudas lived in the home next to Ferguson and then with Ferguson at the residence on Miner Street when Dudas was without a place to live.

According to the criminal complaint, Dudas was arrested by police on Tuesday and confessed to the killing….“A tragic and senseless murder, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in a very short period of time this was extraordinary police work,” Hogan said, indicating police did in 24 hours what should have taken about two weeks.

 

Philadelphia Inquirer: Cops: Friend shoots friend dead in normally quiet Malvern

Alex Wigglesworth, For Philly.com

Last updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 7:00 PM

NBC10 Philadelphia: Man Kills Childhood Friend, Stuffs His Body in Sleeping Bag: Police

6ABC  Arrest made in Malvern, Pa. homicide Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Malvern Patch:  Malvern Murder Not Random Killing, says Chesco DA/Police discovered the body of Drew Ferguson, who was found shot in his home.

maybe loch aerie is indeed chester county’s la ronda.

This is in "City and Suburban Architecture" by Samuel Sloan, published in 1859 by Lippincott in Philadelphia. Sloan was partnered with Hutton when the house was built, but Hutton seems to get all the credit! The book is at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia

I am a lover of old houses and I love the quirky and fanciful.  But I had no idea that so many of you out there shared my fascination with Loch Aerie or the Lockwood Mansion in Frazer, PA.  When I said yesterday that Loch Aerie was like Bryn Mawr’s La Ronda was, well, hmmm maybe I am not so far off base?

It’s a shame that Loch Aerie isn’t loved and cared for like Granogue, Irenee Du Pont’s Estate in Delaware. Granogue is privately held and once upon a time Mr. Du Pont was kind enough to give me a tour, let me check out the green houses and the amazing view of the Brandywine Valley from a top the water tower.

Thanks to all of you yesterday, I learned who owns Loch Aerie — the Tabas family, and I discovered a tear sheet from what appears to be the realtor on the property on the Internet.  Unfortunately, it seems for these people, this magnificent home is just another steak on the grill.

The house was originally named Glen Loch, but when the Pennsylvania Railroad named its last Main Line station “Glen Loch” without asking permission first, William Lockwood the mansion’s owner changed the name of the estate to Loch Aerie.

I found this information in a book by Brian Butko called Lincoln Highway. Because of Mr. Butko’s book, I also learned that William Lockwood made the mistake of granting access to his springs to the railroad.  After all, the Pennsylvania Railroad needed water to power their steam locomotives.   Apparently Lockwood had to really go after the railroad and the legal battles depleted his fortunes, even as he prevailed in court against the railroad.  I find this part of the history fascinating because I think our railroads of today are lousy neighbors, and this shows that lack of consideration along this rail line in particular is historical.

William Lockwood had daughters who lived in Loch Aerie until 1967.  At that time Daniel Tabas, patriarch of the Tabas clan along the Main Line purchased the estate.

Now here is where I get confused.

Gretchen Metz of the Daily Local wrote in June 2010:

The Lockwood Mansion is going back on the market.

The seller, the Estate of Lockwood Mansion, a Tabas family trust, turned down the winning bid of $720,000 by a New York businessman.

Yet Brian Butko in his book Lincoln Highway says in 2002 (and I quote):

So that is most curious? Did the estate  ever leave the Tabas family after Daniel Tabas purchased the house?  I am sooo curious.  Thanks to The Library of Congress, we all have access to a Historic American Buildings Survey (mind you there are lots of other Chester County-centric stuff too.)  I found several copies on the Internet of the one in  particular about Loch Aerie to and will embed a copy below, but it appears to have been done in the 1950’s.  So maybe this Tony Alden did not actually own the house as was implied in Butko’s book?

Now take a minute and check out this article from 1992 from The Philadelphia Inquirer:

It’s Not The End Of The Line For This Landmark It Fell Into Disrepair. But Now Loch Aerie Has Been Lovingly Restored. 

 June 07, 1992|By Sharon O’Neal, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT

As an East Whiteland Township landmark, the house known as Loch Aerie is more than the history of its original owner, who made a fortune manufacturing paper shirt collars and lost it fighting the Pennsylvania Railroad.

It is the end of the Main Line.

Loch Aerie, originally owned by William E. Lockwood and occupied by his family for 102 years, was a 19th-century gentleman’s farm built on 836 acres. It contained three separate farms and tenant houses and four railroad stations, including the last Main Line station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The stop was known as Glen Loch (Scottish for “lake of the glen”) after the estate’s original name.

Lockwood built the Swiss Gothic house in 1867 for the then-astronomical cost of $250,000, using blue marble and blue limestone mined from quarries now covered by Route 202. Only the house and about 26 surrounding acres remain of that huge estate. The rest has become dense commercial development. The Sheraton Inn Great Valley is directly across the highway.

Because of its size, Lockwood’s Glen Loch estate was a town by itself. Mail was handled by the Glen Loch post office. But when the Pennsylvania Railroad adopted the name Glen Loch for its station without first consulting Lockwood, the angry owner changed its name to Loch Aerie.

That was not the only disagreement Lockwood had with the railroad. He had given the line permission to use some of the water from the estate’s many springs to power its steam engines, with the agreement that the railroad would maintain the pipes.

Eventually, however, the railroad was pumping all of Lockwood’s water from the springs, to the extent that Loch Aerie had no water. The ensuing battles in Chester County Court, many of which Lockwood won, cost him his fortune……until 1967, when the property was bought by Daniel Tabas….. Since 1980, the house has been occupied by architectural consultant Tony Alden.

Here again is where I find more curiosity: was this definitively designed by Addison Hutton as an original idea?  I ask because a friend from the Radnor Historical Society Greg Pritchard (he is one of my favorite people and helped me so much as I was going through the approval process to gain a PA historical marker for what once was The Wayne Natatorium)  sent me a message last night with a photo he took from a plate in a book that was published nine years before Loch Aerie was built.  The photo is above and the first one in this post.  It is a photo of a plate in a book titled “Rural Villa” and I can’t quite make out the name on the bottom right hand corner of the plate.  But that is Loch Aerie, is it not?  So was this drawing done for/by Addison Hutton before Lockwood commissioned his mansion, or was this drawing the inspiration for Hutton’s design? If it was inspiration, is there a Loch Aerie look-alike somewhere?

Around 1974, Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall wrote a biography on Addison Hutton (Addison Hutton, Quaker Architect 1834-1916).  On page 41, she writes of what appears to have been a visit to the home with her husband.  William Lockwood’s daughters were still living there.

Apparently, as per this book, Loch Aerie/Glen Loch/Lockwood Mansion was one of Hutton’s favorite commissions because it was an independent one.  I also learned thanks to Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall how William Lockwood made at least some of his money:  paper collars.  Mrs. Yarnall remarked upon her 1958 visit how intact the house still was at that time that it seemed that they “…had stepped into the Victorian world of Addison Hutton“.

Flash forward to 1995, and another Philadelphia Inquirer article about Loch Aerie.  The Philadelphia Inquirer used to do all sorts of cool pieces like this, but their issues and various changes of ownership means that not only don’t you see articles of interest like this very often, they also don’t seem to give the reporters the time or encouragement to write articles like this.  I find that a shame.  Anyway back to 1995:

CollectionsLove Affair

A Battle Between House And Store Retailer’s Plan Is Too Close For Comfort.

December 10, 1995|By Susan Weidener, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT

FRAZER — Loch Aerie was once the scene of lavish outdoor parties attended by gentlemen farmers living along the fringes of the Main Line.

A century later, the house, with its peaked roofs, gables and Romanesque windows, achieved fleeting fame when the Warlocks motorcycle gang took up illegal residence there.

Situated on Route 30 across from the Sheraton Great Valley Hotel, Loch Aerie is now in the midst of an escalating battle between preservationists and developers.

The latter have proposed to build a 103,000-square-foot Home Depot store and a 23,400-square-foot lawn-and-garden center about 50 feet from the side porch of the house, built in 1867 by paper magnate William E. Lockwood.

While the house would not be demolished under the Home Depot proposal, the proximity of a large commercial development would destroy its integrity, said Sylvia Baker, chairwoman of the East Whiteland Historical Commission.

Loch Aerie is owned by Daniel Tabas, who plans to keep the house and about two acres around it. Home Depot has bought the other 19 acres, contingent on township approval.

Even though the house would remain, Baker and Dan Maguire, vice chairman of the historical commission, said Tuesday that the proposal “won’t do.”…..”This plan would destroy the ambience of the property, not to mention the underground icehouse and gasworks,” two of the home’s most unusual features, Maguire said…..”This is the most valuable house in East Whiteland, maybe even in Chester County,” Baker said Tuesday as the late afternoon sun cast an orange glow over the small lake and formal gardens behind the house.

“And they want to destroy it,” she said.

But Tabas, former owner of the Tabas Hotel in Downingtown, said he is ”very hurt by a small minority” who think he would see Loch Aerie destroyed.

“I bought that house in 1960 because I loved it,” Tabas said Wednesday.

“It’s been a love affair ever since.”….

Tony Alden, an architectural consultant, has been living in the house since about 1975 and has been “meticulously restoring the furnishings,” Tabas said.

Tabas added that he has turned down a “dozen” development offers that would have destroyed the house.

“Then came Home Depot. They didn’t want the house, either, but then they agreed to keep it and establish a protection zone around it……The house is not on the National Register, Baker said, but it qualifies. The necessary paperwork was never completed. However, the house is considered ”an important structure” by preservationists around the state….The plan also shows a building that is “not the typical concrete block warehouse” Home Depot usually builds, but one with an architecture “more characteristic of the Main Line,” according to Snyder’s associate, Wendy McLean.

Ahhh what a tangled tale.  So with all due respect to the late Dan Tabas, if he had such a “love affair” with the house, why did it rot for many and have motorcycle gangs hanging out?  Why does it in essence sit and rot today?  Let’s get real, this was always a juicy plot of land.  Someone who has a love affair with a home like this, restores it, doesn’t sell off all the land around it to a big box store, effectively marooning it like a small desert island.  Someone with a love affair, restores it and moves his family in to enjoy the splendor and privilege of living in such a home. Or they find a suitable adaptive reuse. Yes, think Addison Hutton’s Beechwood on Shipley’s campus which the Committee to Save Beechwood saved – yes volunteers did that, not the school although the school reaps the ultimate benefit now.  Or up closer to Bryn Mawr Train Station (around 802 W. Montgomery).  That is also an Addison Hutton designed home, and if memory serves it could have been the house Hutton built for his family.  In any event, this property was recently converted to condos.  Mind you, I will never be a condo girl, but in this case, it provided a viable adaptive reuse that saved the structure.

I also love how Home Depot described their store design as “more characteristic of the Main Line.”   And then they woke up.  I have been to that Home Depot several times, and Ardrossan it ain’t.  Not even close.  It is what it is: a big box with concrete floors.

Of course I wonder given another article unearthed from the Philadelphia Inquirer if East Whiteland could have said no?  According to this article, not only was the sale of the property on which Home Depot now sits contingent on this approval, Home Depot went to this  “township to amend its zoning ordinance and create a special classification for retail and home and garden center use.”  This article also says how the reason Home Depot wanted to big box in was traffic from the Exton Bypass on Route 202.

That just kills me.  Big boxes might have their uses but not only do they slowly starve out independent businesses, the big boxification and strip mallification of Chester County is something which astounds me.   So many Chester County municipalities seem to an outsider completely thoughtless when it comes to preservation and the future.   All these plastic mushroom house developments, and countless big boxes and sub par strip malls, not all of which have full occupancy.  Look at what has been built over the past 25 years or so.  Is any of it spectacular? No.

I don’t get why Chester County doesn’t have a more cohesive plan for commercial development county-wide, and it is obvious in some of these municipalities that they see the short-term salivation over ratables, and not much else.  Of course if you ever watch any public meetings, eleted and planning officials love to fall on the sword of Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code which in my humble opinion needs an updating.  Suburbs and exurbs are vastly different and Pennsylvania needs better comprehensive planning, so that  many local municipalities run out of excuses on why they don’t need better planning.  Not all local municipalities are horible at historic preservation, but a lot of them could do much better, or simply pay less lip service to the idea of preservation and employ more doing.

I also think that Pennsylvania as a state needs to have more that means more in the area of historic preservation.  People need incentive to preserve, and I wish that Pennsylvania would follow the lead of other states in this country who offer more enticing incentives to preserve historic structures.

Now the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission administers the federal rehabilitation investment tax credits , but it just seems a lot of other states simply do more.  At a minimum the Municipalities Planning Code needs to be more in sync with historic preservation in a top down approach in Pennsylvania.  Of course that opens other cans of worms as Pennsylvania is most definitely a private property rights state.  We all learned that lesson again when it can to La Ronda.  La Ronda was demolished I think as much as anything else because the owner could demolish it.

It is a crying shame that Loch Aerie has never made it to The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  I wish in addition that preservationists in Pennsylvania and Chester County would take an interest in preserving this La Ronda of Chester County.  No, we can’t save every old house, but once in a while it would be nice if some of the more important homes, of which this mansion is definitely one, were not left to rot.  We are in a crappy economy no doubt, but still so much our past in our communities is left to rot.  There seems to be plenty of money to build new, but not much money or incentive to preserve.  Private property rights state or not, once the architectural history is gone, it’s gone and not coming back.

What kind of adaptive reuse do you think could fit Loch Aerie?  I would like to see something that preserved the exterior and enough of the interior.  It would make a cool B&B or boutique hotel.  Even a restaurant.  Or a quirky office space.  Antique store or art center.  The landscaping would be key as it’s views are now either highway or big box.  Given how it was cut off, it wouldn’t make an ideal single family home.  If I were an official in East Whiteland, I would be looking for a way to make preservation of Loch Aerie happen.  But we all know the reality of that as it is far simpler to approve a demolition plan and look the other way.  Or to let many old structures rot and look the other way until no one wants the properties except for another doofy strip mall, drive thru pharmacy, bank branch, or fast food restaurant.

One last question.  Has this home ever been on a Chester County Day Tour?   There certainly are enough cool Victorians in Chester County that they could do an entire Victorian Day, or given all the historic homes at risk ALL over, they could do an “at risk” themed tour.  I love my barns, don’t misunderstand me, but there are a lot of cool houses in Chester County that are in desperate need of rescuing from various points of time in history.

Here are the documents I loaded on SCRIBD and also check out The Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society’s Historical Quarterly Digital Archives “A Brief Glimpse of East Whiteland“:

Just a little end note added courtesy of a reader.  They suggest all get familiar with Landscapes2: bringing growth and preservation together for Chester County.   In their call to action this website says (and I quote):

Chester County is at a critical point in its history. We must make a choice for our future.  We can let the unsustainable development pattern of the past continue, or we can  choose to work together toward a new pattern of development that preserves the  unique character of Chester County.

 

Chapter 1 of the comprehensive policy plan, Landscapes2, outlines how the Board of County Commissioners and the Chester County Planning Commission plan to address growth management and preservation strategies in collaboration with public, private and corporate citizens.

There is also a section on historic resources.

Thank you one and all for your continued interest in this blog.