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

One of the most exciting challenges facing historic preservationists today is the rehabilitation and adaptive restoration of buildings significant to our cultural and historic past. Rehabilitation projects are being partially supported by federal funds in an attempt to re­vitalize urban areas, for example in Lancaster and Phila­delphia and on Pittsburgh’s north side. But not all preserva­tion programs are being conducted by agencies dissemina­ting federal monies under federal guidelines. Individuals, private industry and civic organizations are increasingly coming to realize the advantages in restoring local historical and cultural structures for new and economically viable purposes.

Projects such as the restoration of the Central Railroad Station in Wilkes-Barre are a direct result of the progressive public awareness generated in the early part of this decade by a number of civic organizations. In the early 1970s this rapidly decaying Victorian railway station faced possible demolition by the Pennsylvania Department of Transporta­tion after being discarded by the Central Railroad and suf­fering extensive damage from tropical storm Agnes in 1972. Through the efforts of the Wilkes-Barre Jaycees, this masonry and steel Victorian station built in 1868, with its elaborate carpentry work in disrepair, was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Following the nomination to the National Register, the Jaycees, together with other civic organizations and the local re­development authority, adopted a feasible plan for the station’s restoration. Trying to find a way to restore the station and maintain it afterward were the top priorities of the groups involved. According to Richard Kramer, a local public accountant and principle figure behind the station’s restoration plans:

We were not only dedicated to the station’s restora­tion but we wanted to establish a viable adaptive use for the building in order to secure its maintenance and life span after the initial restoration. It is my belief that restoring a structure is only the beginning in any preservation effort. Securing a future econom­ic use is the major step necessary to prevent the re­occurring need to restore the same structure in a few years.

The station has been deeded over to a local businessman who is working with the Wilkes-Barre Jaycees and others in attempts to restore it. This decorative station will be adapted for use as an elaborate restaurant with a Victorian American ambiance which promises to be second to none in this part of the country.

As populations increase and housing needs expand, structures of every description are being rehabilitated to meet the present and future needs of Pennsylvania com­munities. Buildings originally designed to handle activities involving commerce, transportation, and even farming, are serving the needs of contemporary occupants in new and interesting ways.

The purposes of historic preservation and housing re­habilitation are not dissimilar; but the people actively in­volved in property rehabilitation are often unaware of how preservation can be used as a tool for rehabilitation or of the economic benefits which it can offer. It may weU be that hundreds of buildings are being rehabilitated by owners who are not aware of their historic or cultural im­portance, or that they represent architectural styles which would qualify them for local landmark status. The ironic aspect of this is that rehabilitation projects often are com­pleted without the aid and benefits which could result from an awareness that rehabilitation and preservation can go hand in hand.

Historic preservation means many things to many people but it generally begins with an awareness of the value and aesthetics of the built environment. The wasteful practice of discarding buildings because of age is coming to an end. Shifts in social attitudes and buying power, coupled with increasing controls and limitations on real estate develop­ment, are making the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of existing structures more and more attractive and econom­ical. It is most encouraging that this is gradually increasing public awareness of the value of preservation and, thus, the value of rehabilitation. As this trend continues, people from aU economic levels are becoming aware of the ad­vantages of rehabilitation and adaptive restoration.

Today the rehabilitation of older homes has taken on a new focus. People of all professions and incomes are choosing to invest in older homes rather than pay the rising costs associated with new construction. The price tag for rehabilitation or the adaptive restoration of existing structures is, in most cases, far less than that for building anew. In addition, rehabilitation and adaptive restoration work are less influenced by existing levels of inflation than is new construction since the cost of labor has not risen nearly as swiftly as that of new building materials. Another point to be stressed is that the time generally required for the completion of a project, a major cost determinant in the construction industry, is much shorter for rehabilita­tion. These are but a few advantages inherent in the restora­tion of existing homes, as opposed to new construction.

Some buildings, however, such as those of the Victorian period (1860-1890), are often too expensive for the average person to own or maintain. But, this is no reason to aban­don them. Many of these homes are being adapted to meet community needs by subdividing them into residential rental units or, if demand and location warrant, into attractive office buildings. The charm and character of these elaborately designed Victorian homes make them preferred office space and almost certainly guarantees a good return on an investment.

Not all projects may seem as exciting as the Wilkes­Barre Victorian Station restoration. Not all promise to be adaptive to such elaborate measures. But the restoration or rehabilitation of any structure, whether it be for commer­cial or residential use, is a plus to the appearance and maintenance of any community.

Another interesting project is in the planning phase in Coopersburg, Lehigh County. Here, local civic organizations and interested individuals are attempting to develop adap­tive use plans for the Linden Grove Pavilion, a unique interpretation of Queen Ann architecture which served as a major focal point of the American dairy industry during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Pure bred Jersey cattle were imported from Europe and sold at auction at the pavilion. It was not uncommon for breeders or bulls to be sold for more than $15,000 to dairymen who came from every part of the United States. Proposed plans for this once flourishing auction barn include a local museum and public meeting rooms for use by Coopersburg’s various civic organizations.

Projects of preservational value can be seen in com­munities throughout the Commonwealth. Although many buildings are being rehabilitated through public agencies with public monies, private and civic organizations are proving to be most inspirational in directing the preserva­tion movement.

Indiana, Pennsylvania, a small college town established in 1803 about fifty miles northeast of Pittsburgh, is a good example of a town with a mixture of public and private preservational activities. Since the beginning of the present decade, an awareness of style and of the value of local landmarks has developed there. This attitude is reflected in the public reaction to the county’s announced plans for U1e construction of a new courthouse facility. The fate of the Second Empire Victorian Courthouse built in 1870 was un­certain. The original plan was to demolish the building and construct a parking garage for the downtown area. Public concern increased. On January 3, 1973, the National Bank of the Commonwealth, a regional bank with headquarters in Indiana, committed itself to a restoration-lease arrange­ment with the county government. The proposal called for the complete restoration of the building’s exterior and the refurbishing of the interior to house bank offices and pro­vide public meeting space. The cost of restoration was paid by the National Bank of the Commonwealth and now, nearly five years later, the courthouse, the sheriffs house, and the jail (located to the rear of the courthouse) are in their final stages of restoration.

The immense effort made by the National Bank of the Commonwealth is to be lauded. The cost of restoration has exceeded $800,000, but the bank’s willingness to adapt the courthouse for its use has saved it the expense of new construction. The restored building not only provides accessible banking facilities but also offers to the commun­ity the opportunity to enjoy part of its past.

Another project of immense proportion was the saving of John Sutton Hall on the Indiana University of Pennsyl­vania campus. Like the Indiana Courthouse, John Sutton Hall was slated for demolition. A movement to save and restore the structure has been successful in preserving the 1875 Victorian building. Again, the cost of restoration, when compared to that of demolition and new construc­tion, has made the Sutton Hall restoration a feasible under­taking. Estimated cost for the restoration amounted to ap­proximately $350,000 compared to the calculated cost of $13,500,000 for demolition and new construction of equivalent space. Today John Sutton Hall provides the university with badly needed administrative offices for university personnel. It also houses the university museum and the president’s living quarters. John Sutton Hall was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places on September 19, 1975.

These two preservation efforts represent commitment and cooperation on the part of the public sector and private industry in support of the goals of preserving and restoring local landmarks. These were major undertakings, but lesser efforts to rehabilitate existing houses are evident on almost every street in Indiana. On the I 00 block of South Sixth Street. the law firm of Mack & Bonya has realized the value of rehabilitation. They have taken what was once a private Second Empire Victorian residence and, with minimal rehabilitation of the exterior, have created a most attrac­tive building. They also changed the interior structure to make attractive law offices on the first floor and rental apartments on the second and third floors. Restoration of the symmetrically square-block building, with classical moldings and details such as decorative paneled frieze boards, has proven to be a good investment and provided a most viable structure to the community, adding to the aesthetic environment of the neighborhood.

The Wissel House, another of Indiana’s projects, was recently completed. Located on the 900 block of Phila­delphia Street, the Wissel House, named for it’s owner during the 1870s, is now being used for office space. It originally was a residential structure and now provides attractive office space which is much in demand. It is located only one block from the courthouse, making it an excellent investment in prime real estate in an area where office space is at a premium.

One of the most exciting and interesting of aU preserva­tion projects in Indiana is the restoration and rehabilitation of the Silas M. Clark House. Silas M. Clark built this impressive Italian Villa in 1870-71. Clark sat as an Associate Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and served the Indiana community as a lawyer, teacher and administrator. He also was one of the founders of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The Clark House, located on the corner of South Sixth Street and Wayne Avenue in Indiana, serves as an impres­sive monument to a man who dedicated his life to his community and state. The restored house, begun as a re­habilitation of a publicly owned property, today stands as an excellent example of how public monies can be effec­tively used for preservation. Before 1977, the Clark House was in the condition of slow disrepair. Under an $86,000 Comprehensive Emergency Training Grant (C.E.T.A.) to the Indiana County Community Action Program, restora­tion work began in July 1977.

For more than fifteen months the C.E.T.A. grant pro­vided manpower for the various projects associated with the building’s rehabilitation. One of the major concerns was the installation of a new roof. In addition, a crew of more than twenty workers accomplished the reconstruc­tion of the deteriorating fascia and soffit, and restored the porches to their original design. The entire building got a “face lift,” with the exterior brick walls receiving a chemi­cal cleaning. The interior surfaces were repaired, resur­faced and repainted. The Silas M. Clark House was nomin­ated to the National Register of Historic Places in July 1978 and today houses several county offices and provides meeting space for many local organizations.

The most interesting aspect of the Clark House restora­tion was the method by which it was funded and rehabili­tated. Under the C.E.T.A. Grant, individuals who other­wise were unemployed not only found work but also had the opportunity to learn a useful trade. Several of the in­dividuals employed under this program have successfully gone on to other jobs based upon the training they re­ceived.

The county provided the monies for materials and con­sultants. As a result of their $26,000 investment, they now have maintained a sound public facility for county related functions as well as preserved an attractive building which adds to the architectural continuum of the area. As many of the Indiana rehabilitation projects like this one are com­pleted, many more are in the planning phase. Interest in these programs has greatly increased as people have become more aware of the economic benefits associated with historic preservation through the creation of new housing and jobs.

An overview of Indiana’s various projects shows how a community can deal independently with the issues of preservation. Although some public monies are being pro­vided, it is the drive of individuals, civic organizations and businesses which are responsible for much of what has been done there. Such cooperation and public awareness of preservation prove that the reuse of one building may not guarantee the liveliness of a neighborhood, but it can set a tone for future neighborhood development. It will also most certainly have a lasting impact on social attitudes con­cerning the quality and economic value of what was and what is.

As we progress in establishing a uniform awareness of preservation and its values, let us remember that preserva­tion is becoming increasingly rooted in COMMON SENSE.

 

Richard Michael is a rehabilitation specialist and code enforcement officer for the Redevelopment Authority of Cambria County in Ebensburg, serves as Assistant Director of Community Affairs for the Pennsylvania Jaycees and acts as a consultant for historical preservation projects throughout the state. Author of several articles on preservation, Mr. Michael was the former Director of the Indiana County Historical Site Survey and Development Project.