Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

As the last in a four-part series about Pennsylvania s architecture, this conclusion focuses on the develop­ments which have occurred in the field of preservation over the past thirty years. Although this temporal division may seem disproportionate when com­pared with the one hundred fifty years covered in rite preceding article. it has been dictated by both the incentives and challenges to preservation that have recently appeared nationwide. Indeed, the past three decades, short as the time may be, have probably witnessed more preservation – and des­truction – than any comparable period in the Commonwealths history.


For Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States, the preservation movement began with the antiquarianism and historic­ism of the early nineteenth century (see: “Pennsylvania Architectural Heritage: The Preservation Movement in the Keystone State, 1800-1950,” Heritage, Fall 1981). At that time. the primary focus of attention was on recording buildings rather than saving them. The initial impetus for their actual preservation commenced on the eve of the Civil War; it concentrated on sites closely associated with important persons and events. Linked with renewed patrio­tism, the preservation movement gained momentum – for buildings with links to past events and personages – at the time of the Centennial in 1876. Al­most all attempts at preservation be­fore the opening years of the twentieth century focused on battlefields or buildings that were the settings for significant happenings in the eighteenth century; there was little consciousness of architectural history or aesthetic merit.

About sixty to eighty years ago, the first signs of interest in Pennsylvania buildings as architecture, rather than historical relics, began to emerge. This new sensitivity was first manifested in the tastes of antique collectors and the installation of period rooms in mu­seums. By the 1920s, concerted re­search on some aspects of Pennsyl­vania’s architecture had commenced, and the following decade witnessed the publication of the pioneering works by G. Edwin Brumbaugh, Eleanor Raymond, Philip Wallace and Charles Morse Stotz.

The 1930s also witnessed the ap­pearance of several factors that today are fundamental parts of the preser­vation movement in our state. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), founded as the Historical Commission of the Com­monwealth of Pennsylvania in 1913, became more active in the acquisition and maintenance of diverse proper­ties throughout the Commonwealth. Moreover. there was a new interest in buildings and sites that related to social, economic and industrial history that hitherto had been overlooked. At this same time. a division of interests among preservationists reflected the divergent priorities rooted in nine­teenth century patriotic historicism and a newer, more objective stance on preservation. The 1930s re-crea­tion of Pennsbury Manor on the Dela­ware River in Bucks County stands as a monument to the former viewpoint. Contrastingly, the words of critics during Pennsbury Manor’s re-creation, eloquently stated by Leicester Holland of the Library of Congress, looked forward to the preservation of the buildings and area that had actually survived.

Naturally, the years of World War II were not conducive to preservation; however, the wartime ban on most new construction may have been an indirect incentive for the survival of some buildings. From about 1945 through the early 1960s, the archi­tectural heritage of Pennsylvania, and the rest of the country, was increasing­ly threatened by new dangers. Sprawl­ing suburbs, mushrooming shopping centers and ever lengthening highways all led to different forms of destruc­tion: the razing of both individual structures and entire areas, the alter­ing of entire cityscapes, and the bull­dozing of both farmsteads and farm­land.

Other developments of the 1950s were more insidious but equally chal­lenging to the survival of the man­made parts of the environment. The prosperity of suburbia and the rising importance of shopping malls left many old cities desolate; the remedies were often worse than the ailment, ranging from large-scale “urban re­newal” to the imitation of suburban foibles as “improvements” for urban commercial structures. Collectively, all these events indicated that preserva­tion, if it was to have any semblance of success, would have to revise an identity that had in the past been linked to museums, monuments, battle­fields, re-created communities and his­toric houses. In the future, preserva­tion would have to reexamine both priorities and methodologies; it would be catapulted into the mainstream of American socio-economic life during the 1960s and 70s.

To a degree, developments from 1910 to 1940 provided a partial foundation for the innovations of the 1960s. The activities of the National Park Service, and to a lesser extent of the Library of Congress, highlighted the need for a nationwide organization devoted to preservation. State agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, possessed the administrative framework through which statewide programs could be initiated and sustained. Projects like the Historic American Buildings Sur­vey pointed to the enormous task of documenting the nation’s cultural legacy. These existing institutions were complemented by another element, first evident in the late 1960s and highly visible by the early 70s: a grow­ing consensus that the so-called solu­tions of the 1950s and early 60s had not achieved their goals, and that broadly defined preservation should play an active role in the country’s cultural and economic life.

The innovations of nationwide rele­vance in the preservation field during the past twenty years may be divided into two very broad categories: the institutional and the conceptual. In the former category may be listed the founding of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the establishment of the National Register of Historic Places, the development of the Bureau for Historic Preservation as part of the PHMC, and the passage of legislation enabling the creation of historic dis­tricts. In the latter category are in­cluded the adaptive reuse of buildings and a broadened consciousness of preservation. Frequently, these institu­tional and conceptual developments have interacted on local, state and national levels.

The origins of the present National Trust for Historic Preservation, head­quartered in Washington D.C., actually stretch back to the creation of the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings in 1947. In part, this Nation­al Council was founded on the realiza­tion that the National Park System could not save everything, and that another organization was needed to play a broad-based, catalytic role. This National Council was reorganized into the National Trust for Historic Preser­vation in 1963-66, concurrent with the passage of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Today, the National Trust engages in a variety of activities that have relevance to communities throughout the Keystone State. These include the consultation services offered by regional offices, the publi­cations of the Preservation Press, numerous conferences and meetings, and a limited number of grants or loans for specific projects of demon­strated merit.

Another very important facet of the Preservation Act of 1966 was the creation of the National Register of Historic Places. Stated simply, the Na­tional Register is a detailed list of the nation’s cultural resources, including buildings, groups of buildings, rural areas and important sites. Included on the National Register are buildings of self-evident nationwide significance, such as Independence Hall, and master­pieces of architectural design, like the present State Capitol in Harrisburg. However, the National Register also includes a rich variety of buildings and sites which relate to all aspects of his­tory and architecture: farmsteads, factories, early coal mines, railroad stations, tobacco warehouses, log cabins, palatial mansions, and districts possessing a unified, intact architec­tural character. Due to provisions of the Tax Reform Act, National Register status has become a powerful econom­ic incentive for worthy buildings and areas.

In Pennsylvania, the present Bureau for Historic Preservation has evolved as a branch of the older Pennsylvania His­torical and Museum Commission. During the past decade, both the size and the activities of this Bureau have grown rapidly. Within the past four years, its functions have expanded re­markably to include the production of a quarterly publication (Pennsylvania Preservation), the administration of several dozen statewide surveys in different political divisions (cities, boroughs, counties, etc.), the adminis­tration of the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places and the institution of annual preservation conferences.

Since the late 1960s, the creation of historic districts as vehicles for ef­fecting preservation has gained in pop­ularity throughout the state. The first municipal historic district in the United States was created in Charles­ton, South Carolina in 1931. In the Keystone State, Bethlehem pioneered in legislation for land use control in the 1950s. In 1959, the first small town in the state to establish a munici­pal historic district was Lititz, a Lan­caster County community founded by Moravians in the mid-eighteenth cen­tury.

These early experiments with his­toric districts, however, lacked the legal sanction which came with state­-level legislation until June 1961, when Gov. David Lawrence signed Penn­sylvania Act 167. The implicit intent of this act is to protect defined areas having a strong and reasonably intact historical-architectural character. Accurate documentation of the histor­ical background and architectural evo­lution of a given district is necessary not only for approval of a given dis­trict by the PHMC, but also for the respective community’s understanding of the potentials inherent in the dis­trict’s creation. For any district, Act 167 authorizes the creation of a local Historical/Architectural Review Board with at least five members, three of whom must have professional creden­tials. The final authority in decision­-making within local historic districts, however, rests with local governing authorities.

Today, there are dozens of urban and rural historic districts in many Pennsylvania counties. Certainly the most numerous are those created in cities, a good representative example of which is the recently defined Callowhill Historic District in Read­ing, Berks County. This district en­compasses several blocks of center city Reading and includes a variety of late Victorian and early twentieth century commercial architecture, a strong concentration of brick and brownstone Italianate and Second Em­pire style houses dating about 1860-1890, and a small sampling of earlier Georgian and Federal style buildings. This diversity of periods and styles is united by scale, relative position on the streetscape and external building materials. Such a cross-section of architecture is rather typical of that found in many of the Commonwealth’s older cities; it is also representative of countless areas that have already been lost throughout the country. Although the existence of this Callowhill His­toric District, and any other, is not a predestined guarantee for the survival of any building, it seems to be making progress in effecting preservation as a facet of urban revitalization.

Although historic districts tend to be somewhat uncommon in Pennsyl­vania’s small towns and rural areas, gems like South Coventryville Town­ship Historic District in Chester Coun­ty do exist. Here a surprising variety of structures and other man-made parts of the environment, including farm buildings, early nineteenth cen­tury middle-class housing, and rough­cast stone ironworkers’ residences are afforded a degree of protection. In­deed, the popularity of historic dis­tricts is not limited to Pennsylvania; historic districts were the primary topic of the 1981 Annual Meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The conceptual developments in the preservation field during the past two decades have been equal in im­portance to the institutional innova­tions. Probably the most important of all the new ideas influencing preserva­tion in Pennsylvania, and in all the states as well, is a broadened conscious­ness of the various functions, styles and periods of buildings which con­stitute our total social and cultural heritage. No longer is preservation focused exclusively on the mansions of the eighteenth century and the finest architectural creations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, preservation seeks to encom­pass many diverse facets of our past, ranging from the farmsteads that have evolved through generations to the distinguished modern architecture of the twentieth century. Communities that may have been hitherto overlooked are now the focal points of intense research and revitalization. The town of Jim Thorpe, originally named Mauch Chunk when established by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, serves as a perfect example. As a once prosperous center for coal mining, this hilly Carbon County community boasts some excellent architecture dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, including a fine Romanesque Revival style courthouse. In February 1981, Jim Thorpe, along with Easton, Titusville, Uniontown and Williams­port, became one of the towns in Penn­sylvania participating in the Main Street Project, initiated by the Nation­al Trust. This project seeks to maxi­mize quality preservation in commer­cial areas as part of enlightened urban revitalization.

Another sign of a new consciousness of Pennsylvania’s architecture is mani­fested in the preservation of master­piece buildings which date from the twentieth century. A striking example of this interest is the ownership and administration of Fallingwater in Bear Run, Fayette County, by the National Trust. (It should be noted that the National Trust only accepts proper­ties of great importance that are ac­companied by sufficient endowment funds.) Built in 1936 as the residence for Edgar Kaufmann, Fallingwater was designed by the internationally re­nowned Frank Lloyd Wright. Recog­nized as avant garde in its own time, the building is as much a creation of landscape sculpture as it is a product of construction.

In terms of producing tangible products, the most important con­ceptual development in preservation in recent years is the increased utiliza­tion of adaptive reuse in finding new functions for existing buildings that will be compatible with the structure’s historical-architectural character. With­in the past three years, Pennsylvania has been fortunate in having several of its adaptive reuse projects attract na­tional acclaim. One fine instance is the conversion of the former Reading Rail­road Station in Lebanon, Lebanon County, into a branch bank of the Farmers Trust Company. Built in 1900 from designs by Wilson Brothers & Co. of Philadelphia, this building ceased to function as a railroad station in 1963. Although vacant until purchased by the Farmers Trust Company in 1977, its important external and internal architectural features remained intact. Stylistically, the structure was created as an eclectic interpretation ofTuscan and North Italian forms using new building materials like Clearfield Coun­ty’s gold colored brick. The sensitive work of the architectural firm of Haak, Kauffman, Reese & Beers maxi­mized the preservation of these distin­guished external and internal features. In 1980, this building won First Prize in a competition sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Certainly one of the largest and most lavish adaptive-reuse projects anywhere in the Middle Atlantic states opened in Philadelphia in the spring of 1981 – the revitalization of the Philadelphia Bourse for mixed retail-office func­tions by H2L2 Architects/Planners and Leonard Evantash Associates. Erected in 1893 as the Commodities Exchange for Philadelphia, this stone, steel and light-brick structure was designed by George Hewitt, the sometime partner of the famed Frank Furness. Although the building was a hub of activities for nearly forty years, it was all but de­serted from the 1930s through the late 70s. Purchased by Kaiserman Enter­prises in 1979, the building was re­modeled to meet contemporary needs, while conforming to the standards for a Certified Rehabilitation under the Tax Reform Act. The monumental architecture of the exterior, save for necessary repairs, was preserved in its original state. The focal point for the 300,000 square-feet interior was the elaborate central courtyard, which was developed as the circulation area for several floors of shops and restau­rants. This atrium, originally roofed with a skylight at the third-floor level, was modified by moving the skylight to the roof level, thus creating a gallery-type space, with visual atten­tion being focused on the elaborate original ornamentation on the first three levels. In May 1981, the Phila­delphia Bourse received a Special Merit Design Award from the American Institute of Architects.

If the results of educational endeav­ors during the past two decades are less apparent than a completed, re­stored building, they possess the dis­tinct potential of exerting a more pervasive, long term influence. Recent educational developments include the various programs of both the National Trust and the Bureau for Historic Preservation, the establishment of re­gional preservation organizations and the appearance of numerous publica­tions. The first book designed as a sur­vey of distinguished Pennsylvania architecture, Harold E. Dickson’s A Hundred Pennsylvania Buildings, appeared in 1954. Notable additions to this bibliography include George B. Tatum’s Penn’s Great Town (1961). Margaret Berwind Schiffer’s Survey of Chester County Pennsylvania Archi­tecture (1976), and Constance M. Grieff’s John Notman, Architect (1979).

Despite these outstanding accom­plishments, the challenges to educa­tion are formidable. The directions for preservation education in Pennsylvania in the future range from demonstrating the disastrous consequences of sandblasting to appreciating the very real rarity of prime farmland. Indeed, it must be admitted that effective edu- cation about architecture and preserva­tion the Keystone State is just beginning. For example, how many Pennsylvan­ians could name three counties im­portant in the quarrying of roofing slate in the last three decades of the nineteenth century; or who knows the identities of Isaac Hobbs or Edwin F. Durang?

It is appropriate that this series ends asking questions with an educa­tional intent. The story of Pennsyl­vania’s architecture is far from com­plete and, like the life of the state itself, it is constantly evolving in new directions. With a sensitivity to the remarkably pluralistic architectural legacy from the past three centuries, we must pose those questions which may help to define the future.


John J. Snyder, Jr., in addition to the publications he has authored for the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancas­ter County, has written articles for Antiques and The Journal of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. His series on “Pennsylvania’s Architectural Heritage” concludes with this issue.