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.