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Full text of "The gilded age estates of Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania : a history and preservation plan"

UNIVERSITYy 

PENNSYLVANIA. 

UBKARIE5 




THE GILDED AGE ESTATES 
OF LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA: 
A HISTORY AND PRESERVATION PLAN 



Stephanie Hetos Cocke 

A THESIS 
in 
The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation 



Presented to the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania 
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of 



MASTER OF SCIENCE 



1987 



George Eti Thomas , Lectur 



Lecturer, Historic Preservation, Advisor 



n C. Keene, Professor, City and Regional Planning, Reader 




F^NE 



ARTs/AJ/^/:);i/if^7/c 6^6 



UNIVERSITY 

OF 

PENNSYLVANIA 

LIBRARIES 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vii 

INTRODUCTION 1 

Chapter 

I. THE GILDED AGE IN AMERICA 5 

II. THE COUNTRY ESTATES OF LOWER MERION 

TOWNSHIP 14 

III. SUBURBANIZATION ENCROACHES: THE BREAK-UP OF 

THE ESTATES IN LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP .... 32 

IV. DEALING WITH CHANGE: INSTITUTIONS AND 

SUBDIVISIONS 45 

V. PRESERVATION POLICY IN LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP. . 57 



CONCLUSION: PRESERVATION STRATEGIES TO GUIDE FUTURE 

DEVELOPMENT 66 



ILLUSTRATIONS 74 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 93 



111 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

1. Map of Lower Merion Township, 1851 75 

2. Pennsylvania Railroad Officials, 1901 75 

3. "Cheswold," Haverford, PA., 1901 76 

4. "Dolobran," Haverford, PA., 1901 76 

5. "Tyn-y-coed," Ardmore, PA., 1901 77 

6. "Restrover," Haverford, PA., 1886 77 

7. "Ingeborg," Wynnewood, PA., 1886 78 

8. "Redstone," Rosemont, PA., 1901 78 

9. "La Ronda," Gladwyne, PA., 1987 79 

10. "Waverly Heights," Gladwyne, PA., 1987 79 

11. "Maybrook," Wynnewood, PA., 1886 80 

12. Atlas View of "Maybrook," Wynnewood, PA., 1946 . . 80 

13. "Briar Crest," Villanova, PA., 1901 81 

14. "Rathalla," Rosemont, PA., 1987 81 

15. "Woodmont," Gladwyne, PA., 1987 82 

16. Atlas View of "Penshurst," Penn Valley, PA., 1946. 82 

17. "Pencoyd," Bala Cynwyd, PA., 1878 83 

18. "Pencoyd," 1915 83 

19. "Clairemont Farm," Rosemont, PA., 1987 84 

20. "Ballytore," Wynnewood, PA., 1886 84 

21. "Ballytore," 1987 85 

22. William Joyce residence, Rosemont, PA., 1987 ... 85 

23. Subdivision in Villanova, PA., 1987 86 



IV 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, continued 

24. "La Ronda," Gladwyne, PA., Franklin's Atlas 

of 1946 86 

25. "The Hermitage" Planned Residential Development, 

1987 87 

26. "Framar," Gladwyne, PA., 1987 87 

27. "Wrenfield" Planned Residential Development, 

1987 88 

28. "Wrenfield" Planned Residential Development, 

1987 88 

29. "Waverly Heights" Life-care Community, 1987 ... 89 

30. "Waverly Heights" Life-care Community, 1987 ... 89 

31. "Beauinont ," Bryn Mawr, PA., Franklin' s 

Atlas of 1948 90 

32. Model of "Beauinont" Life-care Community, 

1987 90 

33. "Beaumont" Life-care Community, 1987 91 

34. Aerial View of "Beaumont" Before Development ... 91 

35. "Harriton," Bryn Mawr, PA., 1987 92 



LIST OF TABLES 



1. Lower Merion Township Residential Projects 
of Five Philadelphia Architects Between 
1880 and 1915 li 



2. Patterns of Change in Estates of 100 Acres 

or More in 1908 35 



3. Location and Number of Privately-owned Tracts 
in Lower Merion Township of Five Acres or 
More in 1984 36 



4. Privately-owned Estates of Five Acres or More 

in Lower Merion Township in 1984 37 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

I am most grateful to David G. De Long, Graduate Group 
Chairman, for his enthusiastic and continuing support of my 
work. Many thanks to Jean Wolf for her vital suggestions 
and assistance. George Thomas and John Keene offered care- 
ful guidance in helping me reach my goals for this paper. 

Robert De Silets and Sandra Handford graciously pro- 
vided time to answer my many questions and share their 
materials with me. I also thank the staff of the Lower 
Merion Historical Society, which was always helpful and 
encouraging. Robert Schwartz generously allowed me to 
reproduce many of his historic photographs for this paper. 

I thank my grandmother, Chrysanthe Galanos, my parents, 
Nicholas and Maria Hetos, and my sister, Catherine Skefos, 
for their love of learning that they have instilled in me. 

This paper is for my husband, Reagan, whose constant 
suggestions, patience, and support were invaluable. I look 
forward to a lifetime of architectural discovery with him. 



vii 



INTRODUCTION 

As he strolled along Newport's Cliff Walk in 1905, the 
author Henry James was shocked at the opulence of the 
mansions that had been built since his last visit to Ameri- 
ca several years before. He described the country houses 
he saw as "white elephants," pitying "their averted owners 
[who], roused from a witless dream, [would] wonder what in 
the world is to be done with them."-^ James' remarks were 
prophetic, for a major problem facing preservation profes- 
sionals today is the ultimate fate of the large estates 
built throughout the country during the exuberant, confi- 
dent, period in American civilization between 1865 and 
1905. It was a time first referred to by Mark Twain as "the 
Gilded Age. "2 

According to a paper released in 1982 by the National 

Trust for Historic Preservation, 

The large estates built throughout America 
during the nineteenth and early twentieth 
centuries are an important part of the 
cultural legacy of their communities. .. [They] 
reflect an era of prosperity as well as the 
skill of local craftsmen and builders. In 
addition, many properties cover large areas 
of land, which have an environmental and 
economic importance to communities.-^ 

As William C. Shopsin has pointed out in Saving Large 

Estates , the properties amassed during America's Gilded Age 

should no longer be viewed as merely anachronistic class 

symbols of an aristocratic lifestyle unworthy of acknowledg- 



rnent or preservation.'^ Instead, these estates are often 
extensive tracts of unspoiled open space having important 
land use implications, while at the same time serving as 
examples of the work of important local architects and 
landscape designers. 

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the plight of 
the estates in one township. Lower Merion, which will in 
1988 celebrate the 275th anniversary of its founding. This 
community, a part of a string of suburbs just west of 
Philadelphia commonly referred to as the "Main Line," was 
the subject of Philip Berry's play The Philadelphia Story . 
My intent is to consider the rise of the great estates in 
Lower Merion Township, to analyze the increasing suburbani- 
zation in this century that greatly reduced their numbers, 
to identify those estates that still remain, and finally, 
to analyze existing planning and preservation controls in 
the township and propose solutions that should be implemen- 
ted to ensure their future preservation. 

Preservation of these properties involves many com- 
plexities, including zoning, subdivision controls, preser- 
vation-enabling legislation, taxation, and community 
response. These elements interact in crucial ways and, if 
not coordinated, can cause considerable uncertainty in 
efforts to preserve the character of estates. To help 
reduce some of these uncertainties, careful long range 



consideration of land use policies and comprehensive plan- 
ning policies is essential. First, however, the period 
known as the Gilded Age must be examined so that the es- 
tates' great cultural significance may be understood in its 
proper context. 



NOTES TO INTRODUCTION 



1. Henry James, The American Scene (New York, 1967), 
224-25, 161-62. 

2. Twain used this term as the title of a satirical 
novel written with Charles Dudley Warner in 1873. 

3. Christopher W. Closs, "Preserving Large Estates," 
Information Series, National Trust for Historic 
Preservation (Washington, D.C., 1982), 1. 

4. William C. Shopsin and Crania Bolton Marcus, Saving 
Large Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation , 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977), 3. 



CHAPTER I 
THE GILDED AGE IN AMERICA 

In 1853, landscape architect A. J. Downing- -whose wri- 
tings and designs dominated mid-century attitudes toward 
American domestic architecture--cautioned in his Architec - 
ture of Country Houses that great estates were appropriate 
to a monarchy rather than to a republic like the United 
States. Scarcely a generation later, however, it was clear 
that his warnings would not be heeded.-^ The four decades 
following the Civil War were years of astounding economic 
growth. Vast empires in oil, shipping, mining, banking, 
lumber, transportation, and related industries formed between 
approximately 1865 and 1905. ^ C. Wright Mills explains in 
The Power Elite ; 

Before the Civil War, only a handful of 
wealthy men, notably Astor and Vanderbilt, 
were multimillionaires on a truly American 
scale.... The word "millionaire," in fact, 
was coined only in 1843, when, upon the 
death of Peter Lorillard [snuff, banking, 
real estate], the newspapers needed a term 
to denote great affluence.-^ 

The Civil War dramatically altered the composition and 

characteristics of the upper class. Throughout the North, 

the war brought about a period of substantial money-making 

and lavish spending. As in all wars, military supplies 

were in great demand and the small industrial enterprises 

of the North were in an excellent position to expand and 



supply them; many small industrialists grew exceedingly 
wealthy before the war's end.'^ Stimulated by war produc- 
tion, after the war, the American industrial revolution 
launched even greater fortunes in railroads, banking, oil, 
mining, and other fields. In this era, fortunes were made 
and lost quickly, almost easily. In 1865, there were only 
three millionaires--William Vanderbilt, William Astor, and 
merchant A. T. Stewart--but by 1900, there were suddenly 
more than four thousand millionaires, twenty of whom were 
worth more than seventy-five million dollars each.^ 

The new value system encouraged--nearly demanded--the 
public display of this newly acquired wealth, power and 
prestige. The established upper class of the period rea- 
lized that their ranks were being infiltrated by the new 
rich. One upper-class member wrote that "all at once 
Society [was] being assailed from every side by persons who 
seek to climb boldly over the walls of social exclusive- 
ness. "° 

It was during these turbulent years that a new varia- 
tion on an old type of domestic architecture first appeared 
on the American landscape. Called the "country estate," 
these houses and surrounding grounds were grandiose in 
scale. Most estates were originally established as part of 
a fashion for life as a "country gentleman," derived from 
British models and fostered by considerable contact with 



the British and European aristocracies,"^ As Barr Feree 

explained in 1904: 

Country houses we have always had, and 
large ones too; but the great country 
house as it is now understood is a 
new type of dwelling, a sumptuous house 
built at large expense, often palatial 
in its dimensions, furnished in the 
richest manner, and placed on an estate, 
perhaps large enough to admit of 
independent farming operations, and in 
most cases with a garden which is an 
integral part of the architectural scheme. ° 

Here Feree provides us with a useful definition of the 
Gilded Age country estate: the scale of its main house was 
huge, its furnishings, sumptuous, and the surrounding land 
holdings were substantial, usually formally landscaped, and 
dotted with various outbuildings to serve the needs of 
estate living. 

Historian Kenneth Jackson has written that the men who 
built these homes were acutely aware of the tenuous nature 
of their achievements and of the rapid intellectual, eth- 
nic, social, and political changes that were undermining 
previous beliefs and values. Therefore, in order to justi- 
fy the risks, the long hours at the office, the sacrifices 
for family and posterity, and in order to gain a larger 
measure of social acceptance, "the robber baron sought 
security in a country estate, an impressive physical edi- 
face that would represent more stability than any urban 
residence . "° 



In Philadelphia, especially, often the houses were 

anachronistic in mode, resembling medieval castles. In his 

new text which accompanies George William Sheldon's Artis 

tic Country-Seats of 1886, Arnold Lewis writes: 

New wealth did not mind old containers, a 
truism demonstrated on European soil centuries 
before the idea crossed the Atlantic. On the 
other hand, they were not old containers, for 
repeating the past would have been impractical, a 
criticism a successful businessman would not 
have appreciated. [These houses] were unusually 
creative marriages of forms inspired by the past 
with materials and purposes conditioned by the 
present. ^^ 

The country houses generally bore imposing facades comple- 
mented by manicured gardens, with exceptionally large recep- 
tion rooms, halls, parlors, dining rooms, and other public 
areas. 

The mansion itself was usually placed in the center of 
the property. The extended setback served two purposes. 
First, it allowed for an impressively long driveway to be 
built from the estate entrance to the main dwelling. Se- 
cond, the setback minimized the possibility of unwanted 
contact with outsiders. The other structures on the estate 
were centrally located around the main entrance to the 
property; having all facilities in one section of an estate 
was considered the most convenient arrangement. Among the 
various buildings that were commonly included on the es- 
tates were servants' cottages, guest houses, greenhouses, 
and garages. -^^ 



These country seats were the product of the optimism 
and self-confidence of both clients and architects, of 
available land usually obtainable at reasonable rates, of 
the possibility and desire for leisure time, of the growing 
reaction to the city as a place for raising families and, 
above all, of an expanding economy that made quick fortunes 
easy and their public demonstrations irresistible. ■'■^ 

What was the intended message of this kind of domestic 
architecture? Possibly its scale expressed the abundant 
resources within, its skyline conveyed pride and vigor, and 
its historical references demonstrated knowledge, good 
taste, and a desired association with the proven past 
rather than the unpredictable present--even though the 
present made the house possible in the first place. -'■^ 

In the Theory of the Leisure Class , the often 
satirical social critique of 1899, Thorstein Veblen cites 
such residences as examples of "conspicuous consumption," a 
phrase he invented. As he explains of the phenomenon, "In 
order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not 
sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth 
or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded 
only on evidence. "•^'^ 

Dwellings on this scale prompted the Senate Committee 
on Education and Labor, in 1885, to consider legislation 
putting a cap on the amount a millionaire could spend on 



his house. -'-^ In the 1890s, a period of severe economic 
hardship and social turmoil, a torrent of condemnation 
found its way into the periodicals. E. L. Godkin's 1896 
article "The Expenditure of Rich Men" held that affluent 
Americans faced a problem unknown to their European counter- 
parts: how to spend their money. Here the wealthy had to 
decide for themselves what abroad was dictated largely by 
tradition and descent. ■'■° Godkin writes. 

That, under these circumstances, they should, 
in somewhat slavish imitation of Europe, choose 
the most conspicuous European mode of asserting 
social supremacy, the building of great houses, 
is not surprising. They want the principle 
reasons for European houses. One is that great 
houses are in Europe either signs of great 
territorial possessions or the practice of 
hospitality on a scale unknown among us.-^' 

The other reason, said Godkin, and the most serious argu- 
ment against the building of great houses in America, was 
that dwellings "should be in some sort of accord with 
national manners and palatial residences were not."-'-^ 

Until recently, a critical view toward the great 
houses of this period persisted. As David Chase writes of 
Richard Morris Hunt, a favorite society architect of 
Gilded Age New York and Newport, "[His later houses] are so 
grand, so palatial, that they are judged to be alien to 
American culture, and for this they are condemned. Few 
critics since Montgomery Schuyler's day have been able 
to overcome this bias and evaluate these dwellings dispas- 



10 



sionately . "^^ 

In this decade, fortunately, a new appreciation of the 
Gilded Age has begun to emerge. Instead of a source of 
embarrassment, today this era is increasingly viewed as a 
period of profound cultural significance to the history of 
American civilization. It was a time of selfish pleasure, 
to be sure, but also a time in which prosperity and values 
enabled a few to build magnificent structures as symbols of 
their achievement. Though often not architecturally inno- 
vative, these mansions were usually laden with rich perso- 
nal detail and of the finest craftsmanship and technology 
available at the time. One hundred years later, and pre- 
cisely 275 years after the founding of Lower Merion Town- 
ship, it is appropriate to study with renewed interest the 
rise and fall of the grand houses of this region so that 
our local achievement can be understood, and in appropriate 
instances, be preserved. 



11 



NOTES TO CHAPTER I 



1. Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country 
Houses (New York, 1853). 

2. Arnold Lewis, American Country Houses of the Gilded 
(Mineola, NY, 1982) . 

3. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York, 1956), 
101. 

4. Dennis P. Sobin, Dynamics of Community Change: the 
Case of Long Island's Declining "Gold Coast" (New York, 
1968), 10. 

5. Mary Cable, Top Drawer: American High Society from 
the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties (New York, 1984). 

6. Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer, The Social Ladder 
(New York, 1924), p. 5, quoted in David Chase, "Superb 
Privacies" in Architecture of Richard Morris Hunt . Susan 
R, Stein, ed. (Chicago, 1986). 

7. William C. Shopsin and Grania Bolton Marcus, Saving 
Large Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation, 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY), 6. 

8. Barr Feree, American Estates and Gardens (New York, 
1904) . 

9. Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The 
Suburbanization of the United States (New York, 1985). 

10. Arnold Lewis, Amercan Country Houses of the Gilded 
Age (Mineola, NY, 1982), 20. Reprint of pictorial material 
from Artistic Country-Seats: Types of Recent American Villa 
and Cottage Architecture with Instances of Country Club- 
Houses, by George William Sheldon (New York, 1886-87). 

11. Sobin 45. 

12. Lewis, X. 

13. Ibid, 20. 



12 



NOTES TO CHAPTER I, continued 



14. Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class 
(1899), reprint ed. (New York, 1967). 

15. David Chase, "Superb Privacies" in Architecture of 
Richard Morris Hunt . Susan R. Stein, ed. (Chicago, 1986), 167, 

16. E. L. Godkin, "The Expenditure of Rich Men," 
Scribners Magazine 20, no. 4 (October 1896), 497-500, as 
quoted in Chase. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Ibid. 



13 



CHAPTER II 
THE COUNTRY ESTATES OF LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP 

The Pennsylvania township of Lower Merion, originally 
part of William Penn's "Liberty Lands" in his 1682 plan for 
Philadelphia, is bounded by the Schuylkill River, the bo- 
rough of West Conshohocken, Upper Merion, Radnor, and Haver- 
ford Townships, and the city of Philadelphia. (Illustration 
1). The present size is 23.34 square miles, having been 
slightly reduced twice, when West Conshohocken and then 
Narberth became separate boroughs in the last quarter of 
the nineteenth century. ■'■ 

The history of Lower Merion, like that of many of the 
surrounding townships, began in England in the late seven- 
teenth century. It was there that a number of Welshmen, 
with hopes of founding a settlement for their countrymen in 
the new world, purchased land, sight unseen, from William 
Penn. Among the early settlers in Lower Merion, Rowland 
Ellis, Edward Jones, Robert Owen, Hugh Roberts, and John 
Thomas were all from Merioneth, a county in Wales later 
remembered in the choice of the new settlement's name.^ 

The popular term "Main Line" arose in the 1860s when 
the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to straighten the meander- 
ing track along the primary route to Pittsburgh. Rather 
than fight the farmers along the way, the Railroad bought 
them out. After shifting the right-of-way, it then went 

14 



into the real estate business, selling large tracts to 
individual purchasers and large developers.^ The earliest 
residential development in Lower Merion Township was along 
or near Lancaster, Montgomery, and City Line Avenues, today 
locations of high-density populations."^ Near the present 
Bryn Mawr station on Montgomery Avenue, for example, the 
Railroad bought a large tract of land, marked off streets, 
planted trees, and set up private zoning regulations which 
included minimiim set-back and house value limits.-' 

The construction of the Railroad's "Main Line" encour- 
aged many wealthy city residents, some of them railroad 
officials, to build large houses in this area, and it was 
during the 1870s that Lower Merlon's first large houses 
were amassed. (Illustration 2). In 1872, for example. Dr. 
Edmund Cadwallader Evans — the father of architect Allen 
Evans, Frank Furness' partner--bought a hundred acres in 
Haverford and built a house off Montgomery Avenue at the 
end of what is now called Evans Lane. The house is no 
longer standing. The following year, Pennsylvania Railroad 
president Alexander J. Cassatt bought from him fifty-six of 
these acres, which stretched from the railroad down Gray's 
Lane and over to the present Cheswold Lane.^ There he 
engaged Furness and Evans to design a huge mansion, which 
he called "Cheswold," for him and his growing family. 
(Illustration 3). Today, only the gatehouse still stands, 

15 



the land having been absorbed into the property of the 
Merion Cricket Club."^ 

Another prominent Philadelphian who settled in Haver- 
ford was Clement A. Griscom, a shipbuilder who became 
president of the International Navigation Company. Griscom 
bought sixty-two acres across Gray's Lane from Evans and 
Cassatt and named his estate "Dolobran," the name of a 
family seat in Wales. ^ "Dolobran" began as an old farm 
house which Furness and Evans altered and extended in 1881 
and again in 1894. (Illustration 4). It featured the 
widely-varied wall surfaces and floral ornament for which 
Furness is known. ^ The estate, which is still located on a 
small tract on Laurel Lane, comprised nearly 150 acres in 
1908. 

These three houses , though large and surrounded by 
great tracts of land, were only precursors to the more 
opulent Gilded Age estates which came in the 1880s and 
1890s. As with the Gold Coast of Long Island and such 
towns as Brookline, Massachusetts, wealthy Lower Merion 
Township founders gradually chose to build increasingly 
formal, sumptious country estates that gave the area a new 
flavor. Philadelphia's most talented and prominent archi- 
tects rose to the occasion. Between 1880 and 1915, dozens 
of estates were amassed, dotting the Lower Merion landscape 
with a degree of scale and expenditure that has never 

16 



existed before or since. Table 1 shows the residential 
commissions of five prominent Philadelphia architects whom 
Main Line Philadelphia gentlemen often sought to design 
their country houses. 



17 



TABLE l--Lower Merion Township Residential Projects of 
Five Philadelphia Architects Between 1880 and 1915 



THEOPHILUS PARSONS CHANDLER, JR. (1845-1928) 
YEAR CLIENT LOCATION 



1881 


1882 


1884 


1885 


1890 


1891 


1902 


1906 



Rudolph Ellis 

George S. Gerhard 
Wayne McVeagh 

Samuel B. Brown 

William Simpson, Jr, 
Joseph B. Townsend 

Eugene Delano 

William Joyce 

Silas Pettit 

A. F. Kelly 



Bryn Mawr 

Ardmore 
Bryn Mawr 

Haverf ord 

Wynnewood 
Merion 



Rosemont 

Bryn Mawr 
Bryn Mawr 



YEAR 
1888 
1889 
1891 
1905 

1910 
1911 



WILSON EYRE (1858-1944) 

CLIENT 

J. Rulon Miller 

Sidney A. Biddle 

Rev. Dr. Robins 

J. B. Ladd 

F. G. Thompson 

William S. Ellis 

Horatio G. Lloyd 
J. Stanley Reeves 



LOCATION 

Haverford 

Ardmore 

Merion 

Ardmore 
Merion 

Bryn Mawr 

Haverford 
Haverford 



1914 



P. W. Roberts 



Villanova 



TABLE 1- -continued 



YEAR 
1878 
1881 

1886 
1887 

1889 
1890 
1897 
1906 



FRANK FURNESS (1839-1912) 

CLIENT 

Allan Evans 

Rowland Evans 
Clement Griscom 
William P. Henszley 

I. Layton Register 

Henry C. Register 
William Winsor 

Frank Thompson 

George Gerhard 

R. C. Griscom 

J. Ogden Hoffman 
Marriott Smith 



LOCATION 

Haverford 

Haverf ord 
Haverford 
Wynnewood 

Ardmore 



Ardmore 

Bala Cynwyd 

Ardmore 

Haverford 

Villanova 
Wynnewood 



YEAR 



GEORGE HEWITT (1841-1916) 



CLIENT 



LOCATION 



1877 


William H. Maule 


Villanova 


1881 


Henry Gibson 


Wynnewood 


1886 


W. T. Harris 


Bala Cynwyd 




Andrew Wheeler 


Bryn Mawr 


no date 


William Harris 


Bala Cynwyd 




D. F. La Lanne 


Bryn Mawr 




John Marston 


Merion 




George H. McFadden 


Villanova 




J. Rulon Miller 


Haverford 




George Philler 


Haverford 




Richard Rushton 


Wynnewood 



19 



TABLE l--continued 





ADDISON HUTTON (1834-1916) 




YEAR 


CLIENT 


LOCATION 


1880-81 


George S. Lovell 


Bryn Mawr 




E. T, Townsend 


Bryn Mawr 


1882 


George Vaux 


Bryn Mawr 


1883 


John Garrett 


Rosemont 


1884 


Charles Hartshorne 


Merion 


1885 


Isaac H. Clothier 


Wynnewood 


1886 


Effingham Morris 


Ardmore 


1887 


Samuel L. Fox 


Bryn Mawr 


1890 


Theodore Morris 


Villanova 


1891 


Henry S. Drinker 
HORACE TRUMBAUER (1868-1938) 


Haverford 


1892 


A. J. Young 


Ardmore 


1903 


J. C. Alteraus 


Ardmore 


1905 


W. P. Herbert 


Bala Cynwyd 




W. H. Steigerwalt 


Merion 


1909 


Thomas P. Hunter 


Haverford 


1910 


Theo Cramp 


Bryn Mawr 


1911 


H. S. Darlington 


Villanova 


1913 


Geraldine E. Mitchell 


Haverford 


1917-18 


Morris Clothier 


Villanova 


1922 


William J. Cooper 


Haverford 




Thomas J. Sinclair 


Bala Cynwyd 




J. Clayton Strawbridge 


Merion 


1922-23 


Pam H. Dole 


Wynnewood 



20 



It is important to emphasize that despite the new, 
conspiciously-consumptive values of this period, the level 
of opulence reflected in the local estates was strongly 
influenced by Quaker roots firmly established by the found- 
ing fathers of the township. Generally, therefore, the 
houses designed by these and other architects were of a 
lesser scale and extravagance than the estates built by 
such architects as Richard Morris Hunt and George W. Post 
in Newport and New York. The local estates are often tamed 
by both the Quaker-influenced tendency toward the less 
pretentious, and the more modest fortunes of, the Main Line 
Philadelphia gentry. 

Nevertheless, these local estates are highly signifi- 
cant cultural resources, serving as important local exam- 
ples of a new type of architecture, the country estate, and 
of the work of Philadelphia's most prominent architects of 
this era. Furthermore, the most important local mansions 
have certain common characteristics that create a distinc- 
tive regional expression of Gilded Age architectural 
tastes. For example, many of the estates in the Township 
were built of gray stone, as the schist from the nearby 
Wissahickon area was a readily available building material. 
(Illustration 5). In addition, many of the residences are 
castle-like and nearly brutalistic in appearance, with 



21 



thick stone walls and a profusion of towers. (Illustra- 
tions 6, 7, 8). There are notable exceptions to these 
characteristics, such as hacienda-like "La Ronda" and Geor- 
gian-inspired "Waverly Heights," two Gladwyne mansions, 
(illustrations 9, 10) but the medieval-castle mode was by 
far the most popular choice. 

Three of the most significant surviving estates most 
greatly typify those built during this period. One of 
those that employs crenelated towers and bartizans is "May- 
brook." (Illustration 11). A part of the seventeenth- 
century tract of Edward Jones, "Maybrook" still comprises 
twenty-six acres near the present Wynnewood train station 
on Penn Road. (Illustration 12). 

It was built in 1881 by Henry C. Gibson, a prominent 
whiskey distiller and real estate developer, whose home at 
the time was a five-story mansion at 1612 Walnut Street. 
As his daughter Mary explained in an interview in 1956, "My 
father wanted to have a summer house in the country and my 
mother agreed to it, providing it was a very simple little 
cottage. One of my father's intimate friends was Mr. 
George W. Hewitt... and he and my father started making 
plans for the country house. My father had always admired 
the castles in Normandy and to my mother's dismay, she 
discovered that the little cottage was turning into a 



castle. " 



10 



22 



The "castle" was actually designed by George W. Hewitt 
with his brother, W. D. Hewitt. George Hewitt studied in 
the office of John Notman, and later worked in partnership 
with Frank Furness. By 1884, George Hewitt would complete 
other residences for Gibson in the 3200 block of Powelton 
Avenue and on St. Marks Square in West Philadelphia. In 
1886, Gibson again called upon Hewitt to design three 
stores at the corner of Thirteenth and Market Streets in 
central Philadelphia. •^■'■ 

George Hewitt's other country house commissions in- 
cluded the William Henry Maule residence, "Briar Crest," an 
early Shingle-Style residence built in 1877 at the corner 
of Spring Mill and Old Gulph Roads in Villanova, (illustra- 
tion 13) and the H. H. Houston house, "Drum Moir," designed 
in 1886 in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. 

Architectural historian Arnold Lewis describes "May- 
brook" as "expensive, large, high [its tower rising seven- 
ty-two feet], asymmetrical and picturesque in skyline, and 
artistically inspired by earlier periods that were often 
highly romanticized. ... "^2 xn this house, like so many 
others of the period, the architects chose to emulate such 
British architects as William Burges, who in turn derived 
their inspiration from the original medieval castles. 
Thus, the purposefully eclectic, unauthentic interpretation 
created by local architects for such Lower Merion mansions 



23 



as "Maybrook" can be attributed to the fact that the final 
products were a full two steps removed from their original 
source. 

"Maybrook" is constructed of buff sandstone and covered 
with red Vermont slate. It is a long house, as even its 
stable is covered by the main roof. At one time the 
grounds at "Maybrook" were magnif icantly landscaped; two 
trees of every variety that would grow in the Philadelphia 
climate were planted. ■'■■^ Six gardeners in the winter and as 
many as twenty-five in the summer maintained the grounds. 
Inside the main house, the quality of the finish is excep- 
tional. All of the floors are oak except that of the hall, 
which is laid in German tile. The woodwork of the hall is 
oak, of the parlor, walnut, the library, butternut, and the 
dining room, mahogany. Lejambre, a fashionable Philadel- 
phia craftsman, hand-carved the furniture throughout. To 
add to these richly-finished rooms, "Maybrook" was deco- 
rated with many works from Henry Gibson's noted art collec- 
tion. 

Its major rooms are not exceptionally large when com- 
pared with some of the other country estates which will be 
discussed later. Yet, overall, the scale is grand, as the 
architects later designed a number of additions to the 
house, including a library in 1889 that reportedly cost 
$125,000.-'-'^ The house also contains a music room, added in 



24 



1906 by then-owner Mary Gibson. When the house first 
opened, the basement contained two hot-air furnaces and the 
attic two lead water tanks, filled by steam pumps to con- 
trol the sanitary system of the house. 

A second of the finest estates which still stands, off 
Montgomery Avenue in Rosemont, is "Rathalla," a thirty-two 
room medieval chateau designed in 1889 for Joseph Frances 
Sinnott, another Philadelphia distiller. (Illustration 14). 
In that year he took full control of the Moore & Sinnott 
Distillers, leaving behind his once-fashionable West Phila- 
delphia address for a more prestigious Main Line loca- 
tion. ■'■^ 

Designed by the Philadelphia firm of Hazelhurst and 
Huckel, "Rathalla" is an excellent example of the estates 
of the period in its evocation of the chateaux of the Loire 
Valley of France. Edmund Hazelhurst and Samuel Huckel, Jr. 
had established their Philadelphia firm in 1881, soon after 
focusing their practice on residential design. On a smal- 
ler scale, it is reminiscent of the houses Richard Morris 
Hunt was building for his wealthy New York and Newport 
clients, the Vanderbilts and the Astors, in the same de- 
cade. Like "Biltmore," the George Washington Vanderbilt 
mansion in North Carolina and "Ochre Court" in Newport, 
"Rathalla" draws from features of several Loire Valley 
chateaux in an eclectic, non-specific manner. 



25 



"Rathalla" possesses similar detailing to that seen in 
local architect T. P. Chandler's designs. Like several of 
Chandler's works, "Rathalla" features a battlemented 
entrance porch flanked by paired towers with conical roofs. 
The interior contains a three-story light well directly 
above the central hall fireplace that provides both light 
for the lower stories and a sense of extravagant spacious- 
ness above. ■'-° 

A third estate still in existence in Gladwyne, where 
the steel-making Wood family once owned over four hundred 
acres, is Alan Wood, Jr.'s "Woodmont," which comprised 
ninety-five acres. (Illustration 15). Frank and William L. 
Price, two architect brothers, designed the French Gothic 
mansion house, which was built in 1891 on high land over- 
looking the Schuylkill River and Conshohocken. ■'■ ' William 
Price had entered the office of Quaker architect Addison 
Hutton in 1878, but left three years later to form a part- 
nership with brother Frank, who had been working with Frank 
Furness. "Woodmont" is one of the brothers' greatest 
achievements . 

Wood was a steel baron, possessing a huge fortune and 
more than 500 acres on the Schuylkill River. As George E. 
Thomas explained in his Ph.D. dissertation on William 
Price, Wood's house "was to be built at the very highest 
point, of the local granite, on foundations blasted out of 



26 



the hill, a direct statement of wealth, power, influence, 
control, and ownership. The result was a lordly and impo- 
sing mansion directed towards the public. .. "■'■° "Woodmont" 
features a giant porte cochere, which projects out from the 
front of the house and opens into a vestibule connected to 
a living hall. To the side are parlors, and behind, a 
carved wood-panelled dining room and study opening into a 
conservatory with a view to the Wood steel mills. (This 
view was not accidental--it was achieved through the care- 
ful trimming of the forests below) . 

The massive living hall centers on an immense carved 
limestone fireplace with a chimney breast which rises to 
intersect a balcony encircling the inner half of the hall. 
This room rises more than fifty feet, creating a pyramidal 
volume on the houses 's roof that dominates the exterior of 
the house. Additionally, a 1908 atlas indicates that the 
grounds included two lakes, a stream, formal and terraced 
gardens, aviaries, greenhouses, a pool, a power station, 
and even an "Indian cave."-^^ 

Of the countless estates that have been demolished, one 
in particular warrants mention. "Penshurst", the 539-acre 
estate of Percival Roberts, Jr., was the largest privately- 
owned property in Lower Merion in its time. Located on 
both sides of the present Hagy's Ford Road, it extended to 



27 



the Schuylkill River. (Illustration 16). Roberts, presi- 
dent of the Pencoyd Iron Works, built "Penshurst" in 
1903. 2*^ The estate included a seventy-five room mansion, 
in the Jacobean mode, and a chapel. There were typical 
English gardens, and a special rock garden on Conshohocken 
State Road was a show place with its ornamented fountains, 
fish pond, balustrades, and terraced stairways. Specimens 
of every variety of tree that survives in the climate 
surrounded the main house. ^-'- 

"Penshurst Farm" had a prize herd of imported Ayrshire 
cattle, as well as pedigreed Berkshire hogs, chickens, and 
sheep. The barns and dairy were immaculate, and the natu- 
ral milk was bottled and sold through local distributors. 
The farmers were considered pioneers in growing fine alfal- 
fa for their cattle. A pump carried water from nearby 
springs to a water tower near the main house from which the 
water flowed through the estate's pumping system. A pri- 
vate electrical system lighted the mansion. ^^ 

In 1939, the township made plans to build a trash 
disposal plant adjacent to his property. Roberts himself 
then applied for a permit to demolish the mansion, which 
was sold to a wrecking crew for $1,000. The contents of 
the house were sold at auction. When Roberts died in 194 3 
at the age of eighty-six, the Home Life Insurance Company 
bought the property and subdivided it for the building of 



28 



private homes. ^3 sadly, this scenario became the rule 
rather than the exception during this century. 



29 



NOTES TO CHAPTER II 



1. Phyllis C. Maier, Montgomery County: The Second 
Hundred Years , volume 7 (Norristown, PA, 1983), 306. 

2. Carl E. Doebley, Lower Merlon: A Portrait 
(Montgomery County, 1976), 1. 

3. Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The 
Suburbanization of the United States (New York, 1985). 

4. Maier, 309. 

5. E. Digby Baltzell, Philadelphia Gentlemen: The 
Making of a National Upper Class (New York, 1958), 203. 

6. Maier, 320. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Doebley, 6. 

10. Betty Floyd, "Story of Maybrook Part 1" in Main 

Line Chronicle . 23 February 1956. 

11. Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss, Biographical 
Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects (Boston, 1985). 

12. Arnold Lewis, American Country Houses of the Gilded 
Age (Mineola, NY, 1982), 20. 



13. 


Maier, 328. 


14. 


Lewis, 20. 


15. 


Maier, 326. 


16. 


Doebley, p. 6. 


17. 


Maier, 318. 


18. 


George E. Tho 



George E. Thomas, "William Price: Builder of Men 
and Buildings." (Ph.D. dissertation. University of 
Pennsylvania, 1975), 94. 

19. Franklin's Atlas of 1908. 



30 



NOTES TO CHAPTER 2, continued 



20. Maier, 308. 

21. Ibid., 323. 

22. Ibid. 

23. Ibid. 



31 



CHAPTER III 

SUBURBANIZATION ENCROACHES: 

THE BREAK-UP OF THE ESTATES IN LOWER MERION 

After World War I, estate-building slowed although 
many properties were still assembled in the 1920s. The 
imposition of an income tax in 1916 and the onset of the 
Depression combined to end effectively the age of the great 
estate, and the process of abandoning, selling or demolish- 
ing the houses and developing their former grounds commenced.^ 
Meanwhile, as local train and trolley systems increased 
their services and roads improved, the middle class exodus 
from Philadelphia to the suburbs began. This, of course, 
created a demand for new housing. 

The variety of choices available to prospective home- 
buyers in Lower Merion is seen in the Main Line Residential 
and Business Directory for 1911-1912 in which a real estate 
development near the Bala Cynwyd train station offered 
thirty new houses ranging in price from $10,000 to 
$80,000.2 jn 1908 and again in 1911, the Lower Merion 
Realty Company commissioned Walter Mellor and Arthur Meigs 
to design several modest homes in Bala Cynwyd. 

The growing suburbanization and waning exclusiveness of 
the township is reflected in the fact that in 1936, even 
the Lower Merion Planning Commission issued a booklet enti- 
tled "The Development of Real Estate in Lower Merion Town- 

32 



ship" to acquaint those interested in land subdivision with 
principles that were proving successful at the tirae.^ 
In Wynnewood, for example, by 1920, developers such as 
Mcllvain and Company owned many lots and built and sold 
homes in the $10,000 range to middle class buyers. This 
trend in home building persisted, slackening only during 
the Depression and World War II, when labor and materials 
were lacking.'^ Just before the Second War, one of the last 
open areas in Wynnewood was the Shortridge tract, a 160- 
acre property. When the war ended there was a building 
explosion occured; for instance, 360 single homes were 
built on the Shortridge tract in the span of a few years. ^ 

According to Charles G. Roach, Jr., managing partner of 
Roach Brothers Realtors, a firm active in residential deve- 
lopment in Lower Merion, the sale and development of estates 
have happened "in a rather steady fashion since World War 
II, and there may have been more of it going on in the last 
twenty years. "^ Former Montgomery County planner Jeroldine 
Hallberg agrees. Today, "very few [residents] fall into 
the category of what you would call landed gentry." Most 
of the large tracts were split in the 1950s and 1960s, and 
now, according to Hallberg, "we're seeing the subdivision 
of parcels divided then."' 

Indeed, by 1970, less than four percent of the town- 
ship's land was unused or in agricultural use. Neverthe- 

33 



less, there were still major undeveloped land holdings in 
the northeastern portion comprising Villanova, Gladwyne, 
and Bryn Mawr.^ In 1880, 5,287 people lived in the town- 
ship; in 1980 about nine times that number. The population 
density in 1884 was 266 persons per square mile; by 1980, 
it was 2 , 556 . ^ 

Table 2 shows quite clearly that while twenty-two estates 
comprised 100 or more acres in 1908, the peak of the estate- 
building era, only six remained by 1937, and only three by 
1948. Today, there are no 100-acre estates in Lower Merion 
Township and only three estates (those of Anna Shinn Maier 
of Bryn Mawr, and John Dorrance Jr. and Walter C. Pew of 
Gladwyne) of more than fifty acres. 



34 



TABLE 2. --Patterns of Change in Estates 
of 100 Acres or More in 1908 ^^ 



Number of Acres by Year 





1908 


1937 


1948 


"Bellevue Farm" 


100 


subdivided 


--- 


"Brookfield Farm" 


255 


subdivided 





"Brynntyddyn" 


115 


15 


15 


"Camp Discharge" 


184 


128 


100 


"Clairemont" 


156 


158 


158 


"Clover Hill" 


173 


171 


subdivided 


"Dolobran" 


146 


4 


4 


"Dipple" 


100 


subdivided 





"Green Hill Farm" 


170 


subdivided 





"Harriton" 


145 


175 


174 


"Highland Farm" 


100 


80 


subdivided 


"Idylwild Farm" 


167 


70 


70 


"Northwick" 


164 


32 


32 


"Pembroke Farm" 


109 


8 


subdivided 


"Pencoyd Farm" 


111 


31 under subdivision 


"Penshurst" 


564 


539 


subdivided 


"Pleasant View Farm" 


135 


14 


14 


"Soaps tone Farm" 


130 


6 


14 


"The Red Rose" 


243 


194 


subdivided 


"Waverly Heights" 


103 


93 


55 


"Woodmont Park" 


100 


74 


74 



35 



Today, houses and lots still remain large in Gladwyne, 
Bryn Mawr, and Villanova, although estates are constantly 
being subdivided. A study of a 1984 atlas reveals that 
only twenty-seven properties of ten or more acres and 
twenty-nine properties between five and ten acres survive. 
Table 3 shows the location of these Lower Merion proper- 



ties 



11 



TABLE 3. --Location and Number of Privately Owned Tracts 
in Lower Merion Township of Five Acres or More in 1984 -^^ 



Gladwyne 


18 


Bryn Mawr 


12 


Villanova 


10 


Wynnewood 


7 


Penn Valley 


5 


Ardmore 


2 


Bala Cynwyd 


1 


Haverford 


1 



Table 4 suinmarizes the name of the owner, name of the 
estate if one exists, town in which it is located, and 
amount of acreage of the estates of five acres or more in 
Lower Merion Township. As the information is based on a 
1984 atlas, some estates may have been subdivided since 
then. 



36 



TABLE 4--Privately Owned Estates of Five Acres 
or More in Lower Merion Township in 1984 ^^ 



OWNER 



ESTATE 



1. 


Pew, Walter 


"Rolling Hil 


2. 


Dorrance, John C. 




3. 


Maier, Anna Shinn 


"Harriton" 


4. 


Johnson, E. R. F. 




5. 


Edwards, Mrs. Arthur 


"Afterall" 


6. 


Elliott, William 




7. 


Merriam, Jack 


"Maybrook" 


8. 


Saunders, Dorothy 


"Idlewild" 


9. 


Friedman, Milton 




10. 


Madeira, Louis 




11. 


Philler, Eleanor 




12. 


Davis, Mary 




13. 


McLean, E. B. 




14. 


Allen, Charles 




15. 


Read, R. B. 


"Bryntyddyn" 


16. 


Winsor, William 


" Hedge ly" 


17. 


Breyer, Henry 




18. 


Dietrich, William 


"Sander ling" 


19. 


Perkins, Emily 




20. 


Tyson, John 




21. 


McNeely, George 





ACREAGE 

104 

59 

55 

41 

33 

31 

26 

26 

23 

21 

21 

20 

20 

20 

18 

18 

18 

18 

16 

15 

14 



37 



TABLE 4--continued 



OWNER 



ESTATE 



ACREAGE 



22. Vanderbilt, 0. De Gray 

23. Pew, Alberta 

24. Goodfarb, Louis 

25. Tredennick, William 

26. Macintosh, W. J. 

27. Elliott, William 

28. Rosengarten, A. H. 

29. Fuller, Mae 

30. Henry, Josephine 

31. Annenberg, Walter 

32. Denison, J. Morga 

33. Satinsky, Robin 

34. Ott, J. R. 

35. Lewis, S. H. 

36. Wood, John 

37. Pew, Walter 

38. Butcher, Howard 

39. Mcllvain, E. L. 

40. Tartarian, Araxy 

41. Fitler, William 

42. Harper, J. M. 

43. Reuss, Katherine 



"Rockycrest" 



"Deanewood" 

"Inwood" 
"Briar Hill" 
"Donglomur" 

"Woodley" 
"Meadowbank" 



"Dove Mill House" 



"Peny Bryn" 



14 

13 

13 

13 

12 

12 

11 

11 

10 

9 

8 

8 

8 

8 

7 

7 

7 

7 

7 

6 

6 

6 



38 



TABLE 4 — continued 



OWNER 



ESTATE 



ACREAGE 



44. Kuback, Richard 

45. Rauch, F. B. 

46. Spiesraan, Marjorie 

47. Lownsbury, Elizabeth 

48. Clarke, Rhoda 

49. Reichel, Frank 

50. Mitchell, J. Kearsley 

51. Sharpies, Lawrence 

52. De Sherbinin, Albert 

53. Dimson, Irving 

54. Scheetz, William 

55. Archer, John Hoffman 

56. Smoger, B. and M. 



"Wooded Hill" 



"Windswept" 
"Framar" 



"Hampton House" 
"Kimberlea" 



6 
6 
. 5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 
5 



39 



Thus, of the dozens of estates that existed at the peak 
of the estate-building era at the turn of the century, only 
56 remain, more than half of which comprise less than ten 
acres. These estates total 857 acres, have an average size 
of 17,14 acres and a median size of thirteen acres. 

There are several reasons for this dramatic transforma- 
tion in land use in the township. First, most estates were 
labor-intensive with large indoor and outdoor staffs de- 
voted to the care and maintenance of the main house, con- 
tents, grounds, and outbuildings. With the sharp decline 
in immigration after World War II, the changing attitudes 
of American labor toward service employment and the increa- 
sing unionization of labor have risen while willingness to 
work on estates in paternalistic relationships has diminished. ■^'^ 
Second, rising costs of maintenance have matched rising 
labor costs. Residences meant to be expensive even in a 
day of inexpensive materials have become almost prohibitive 
to operate and repair. -^^ 

Third, taxes--income, estate and inheritance, and pro- 
perty--have also caused financial drains on the estate 
owner. It is increasingly difficult to pay inheritance 
taxes, satisfy the demands of growing numbers of heirs and 
simultaneously maintain a large property intact. The land 
is often taxed on its best use--its potential for residen- 
tial subdivision under local zoning ordinances--raising its 



40 



value to unsupportable levels and forcing the owner to 
divide and sell, especially after a death. ^^ 

Finally, lifestyles and social attitudes have also 
changed. The large upper class family unit with several 
generations living together has become the exception, and 
the retinue of servants and retainers that accompany it has 
almost passed. Family members in recent generations often 
scatter across the country, rejecting the patrician surroun- 
dings of their grandparents and resenting the time and 
responsibility it takes to administer an estate on 
which they have no desire to reside. ■'■''' Huyler C. Held, 
President of the Society for the Preservation of Long 
Island Antiquities, explains: 

The owners are often old and yearn for a 
smaller and more compact establishment. 
The children are dispersed, have their own 
places and for one reason or another reject 
the whole concept of maintaining a monument 
to an out-of-date lifestyle, particularly 
where this causes problems in meeting family 
needs . ■^° 

Charles Roach emphasizes, "It is the ability to main- 
tain a 100-acre property that's more and more difficult 
when combined with its increasing value over the last 
twenty years." Roach said that the area, long a popular 
residential retreat, has made gains in recent years because 
of the arrival of "world-class office space" to the nearby 
boom areas of King of Prussia and Great Valley.-'-^ Partly 
because of this, local government planners and real estate 



41 



officials estimate that vacant land in Lower Merion is 
worth between $200,000 and $250,000 an acre, depending on 
improvements.^*^ Obviously, there is great incentive to 
sell. 21 

The gradual but steady progression of change can be 
seen in the history of "Pencoyd," a Bala Cynwyd estate of 
150 acres first settled by John Roberts in 1683 but exten- 
sively altered and expanded by Frank Furness. (Illustra- 
tions 17, 18). Pencoyd remained a working farm until 1929 
and retained its rural setting through World War II. But 
by the close of the 1950s, all of the land descended to 
heirs or was sold, leaving only about twenty acres, bor- 
dered by City Line Avenue, actually belonging to the es- 
tate. The mansion was finally demolished in 1967 to make 
way for the Decker Square shopping center. ^ 2 

Continued use of a building for its original purpose is 
frequently the most desirable and successful means of pre- 
servation, but it is obvious that this is becoming increa- 
singly unfeasible with large estates because of economic 
pressures and societal changes. As a result of the inabi- 
lity of their owners to maintain them in light of steadily 
rising costs and development pressures, the role of the 
estates of Lower Merion has been forced to change out of 
necessity. 



42 



NOTES TO CHAPTER III 



1. Phyllis C. Maier, Montgomery County: The Second 
Hundred Years (Montgomery County, PA, 1976), 308. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Plan for Lower Merion Township (Montgomery County, 
PA, 1937). 

4. Maier, 327. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. "Fading Glory: Fewer Great Estates Able to Pay Price 
of Greatness," Philadelphia Inquirer , 23 January 1986, 
Neighbors Section, 3. 

8. Ibid, 2. 

9. Guidelines for Residential Development: An Element 
of the Montgomery Comprehensive Plan (Montgomery County, 
PA, 1978), A-52. 

10. Ibid. 

11. These figures were compiled from Franklin's Atlas 
of 1984 . 

12. Ibid. 

13. Ibid. 

14. William C. Shopsin and Grania Bolton Marcus, 
Saving Large Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation, 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977), 6. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Ibid., 6-7. 



43 



NOTES TO CHAPTER III, continued 

19. Huyler Held in William C. Shopsin and Grania 
Bolton Marcus, Saving Large Estates: Conservation, Historic 
Preservation, Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977). 

20. "Fading Glory: Fewer Great Estates Able to Pay 
Price of Greatness," Philadelphia Inguirer . 23 January 
1986, Neighbors Section, 4. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Interview with Sandra Handford, Director of the 
Lower Merion Planning Department, 1 October 1986. 



44 



CHAPTER IV 
DEALING WITH CHANGE: INSTITUTIONS AND SUBDIVISION 

"Maybrook," the Wynnewood estate described in Chapter 
II, is one of the most significant Lower Merion estates to 
have survived to this day as a single-family home. Even at 
"Maybrook," however, adaptations have been made. When 
owner Henry Gibson died, it was left to his daughter who 
was then only twenty-two. In the 1930s, part of the land 
surrounding the house was given to the township to create a 
parking lot for the nearby Wynnewood train station. 

During the housing shortage of World War II, Mary 
Gibson moved into the estate's carriage house and allowed 
six GIs and their families to live in the main house. Ten 
acres, and then another seventeen, were sold to Jack 
Merriam, who then built the adjacent Thomas Wynne Apart- 
ments. Miss Gibson, who continued to live in the carriage 
house, finally sold "Maybrook" to Merriam in 1956 when she 
was eighty-one. Merriam still owns the mansion and twenty- 
six acres that remain, but has closed off the first floor 
and resides above. 

The situation at "Maybrook," in which the mansion re- 
mains in private hands, well-preserved and still surrounded 
by a large tract of land, is very unusual. More tradition- 
ally, owners have solved the problem of how to dispose of 
their estates in two different ways. One approach has been 

45 



to donate the estate to a worthy institution such as a 
religious or private school, usually with an endowment for 
support. This method serves to remove the property from 
the tax rolls. ■'■ The Lower Main Line YMCA, for instance, is 
currently investigating the possibility of relocating to 
"Maybrook" because of its shortage of space and the obvious 
desirability the estate's twenty-six acres provide. 

The Northeastern Christian Junior College in Rosemont 
uses a mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer as its central 
building, Boone Hall. "Clairemont Farm," once surrounded 
by 250 acres, was designed by Trumbauer in 1910 for Joseph 
Gillingham, (Illustration 19). Morris L. Clothier, head of 
the Strawbridge and Clothier department store chain, owned 
the estate from 1922 to 1947. ^ Now on a twenty-four acre 
tract, "Clairemont Farm" was purchased in 1957 by members 
of the Churches of Christ, a group which maintains it 
adequately and has made few changes, except adding a ramp 
for the handicapped, to its exterior. 

Isaac Clothier, a member of the same family, built 
"Ballytore" in Wynnewood in 1881. (Illustration 20). It 
remained his home until 1933, when it was sold to the Agnes 
Irwin School for Girls. -^ In 1962, the building became the 
Armenian Church of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob and a poorly- 
designed annex was added. Most recently, the house's ori- 
ginal porte cochere was demolished. (Illustration 21). 

46 



The examples of institutional conversions in Lower 
Merion Township are numerous. The Wistar Morris mansion, 
"Green Hills," was adapted to serve as the campus of the 
Friends Central School. A hotel. Green Hill Farms, now the 
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, occupied a portion of 
the land. "Rathalla," the Joseph Sinnott house discussed 
previously, since 1924 has thrived as the centerpiece of 
the Rosemont College campus. Two neighboring mansions are 
used for the school and convent of the Sisters of the Holy 
Child Jesus. One of these, on Montgomery Avenue, was 
formerly the William Joyce residence, designed in 1891 by 
T. P. Chandler. (Illustration 22). 

"Woodmont, " the William Price-designed estate in Glad- 
wyne, was purchased in 1929 by J. Hector McNeal, a corpora- 
tion lawyer and noted horseman, who modernized it. By 
1953, the house was vacant and the land reduced to seventy- 
three acres. It was sold for $75,000 to Father Divine's 
Palace Mission Movement, renamed "Mount of the House of the 
Lord," and designated world headguarters of the movement.'* 
Mother Divine, who lives at "Woodmont," and a small number 
of followers of her late husband anticipate that the "Se- 
cond Coming" will take place at the estate. Happily, the 
house is superbly maintained and appears much as it did 
during McNeal 's ownership. 



47 



However, difficulties with the conversion from private 
home to institutional headquarters can arise. First, the 
structure may undergo changes to both the interior and 
exterior which allow it to adapt to the institution's needs 
but threaten its architectural integrity. Second, the 
concept of appropriate use is nebulous. For example, even 
though a proposed institutional adaptation may require no 
major structural changes and may best preserve the archi- 
tectural character of the property and its landscaped sur- 
roundings, the neighbors may find it totally unacceptable-- 
a potential threat to their property values and an unfortu- 
nate precedent in the community.^ 

This conflict occurred on the ninety-acre Foerderer 
tract in Gladwyne, part of the former 250-acre estate of 
leather tycoon Percival Foerderer, who in the 1920s built 
his hacienda-like mansion, "La Ronda." It was left to 
nearby Villanova University with the intention that the 
house be used as a conference center. The plans were 
abandoned, however, because of overwhelming neighborhood 
objection to the increased traffic and activity that would 
have resulted. ° In this situation, what may have been 
appropriate in preservation terms was not appropriate in a 
social sense. 

More problematic is the fact that institutional use is 
clearly not a feasible solution for every remaining estate; 



48 



there are more estates than there are institutions able to 
assume the exorbitant cost of their upkeep. Local govern- 
ments can no longer rely on schools, religious groups, and 
other institutions to assume the burden of sustaining these 
properties. Furthermore, the institutionalization of an 
estate is only a temporary solution. The Palace Mission 
movement which uses "Woodmont" as its headquarters, for 
instance, faces a steady decline in its membership. What 
plans now exist for the inevitable vacancy of this house 
and grounds? The answer, alarmingly, is none. 

The second common method of breaking up estates involves 
selling off the acreage surrounding the house for residen- 
tial subdivision or commercial use, while retaining the 
main residence on a reduced plot. (Illustration 23). The 
conventional subdivision into parcels suitable for single- 
family homes, described in the previous chapter, was, in 
the past, the only option to those interested in this 
method. 

Selling the land for subdivision, however, often 
threatens the character of both the community and the house 
itself. As William Shopsin explains, "succumbing to the 
temptation to consider the mansion a white elephant and 
carving out the surrounding acreage often leaves the main 
house stranded on a plot of land too small to do its size 
any justice."' Piecemeal subdivision without adequate 



49 



consideration given to design controls, site placement, 
choice of materials and quality of construction can often 
result in exploitive tract housing or an odd assortment of 
new structures encroaching on the original mansion to the 
detriment of the entire ensemble. ^ 

In 1973, Lower Merion Township enacted a Planned Resi- 
dential Development (P.R.D) amendment to its zoning code in 
an effort to prevent the sprawl that can result from con- 
ventional subdivision and instead encourage well-planned 
developments on tracts of fifty acres or more. In 1980, 
the township approved plans by the Realty Engineering Com- 
pany to build the first P.R.D. , a cluster of 107 town- 
houses, each to cost about $275,000, adjacent to "La Ron- 
da," the Foerderer house off Mount Pleasant Road in Glad- 
wyne. (Illustration 24). 

Though in principle, planned development is preferable 
to conventional, haphazard subdivision, serious problems 
still arose. Because the condominiums are clustered toge- 
ther, large portions of the land remain as open space. Yet 
the development that resulted, the "Hermitage," is disap- 
pointing in its integration of the new townhouses with the 
existing Foerderer house. Architecturally, no attempt is 
made to create either a successful cohesion or dialogue 
between old and new. The new homes are stylistically 
nondescript where they might have ref erred--through mate- 



50 



rials, scale, and architectural details--to "La Ronda." 

More alarming, however, was the disregard for the exis- 
ting landscape which allowed virtually all of the estate's 
trees to be cut down. In their place, giant boulders were 
substituted, and the essential character of the estate's 
natural landscape was lost. (Illustration 25). When dri- 
ving through this area, one has the curious sensation of 
being in a misplaced suburban neighborhood in the Southwest 
rather than in Main Line Philadelphia. Somewhat ironical- 
ly, Hal Davis of Realty Engineering Company describes the 
Hermitage as offering "the quality, amenities and privacy 
of a Main Line mansion on a smaller scale. "^ 

Another recently completed P.R.D. is "Wrenfield" on 
Spring Mill Road in Bryn Mawr . The site is one on which 
Dr. and Mrs. Frank Ryckel reside in "Framar," a Jacobean- 
mode home which was originally the estate of the Luden 
(cough drop) family. (Illustration 26). Here, the overall 
scheme, again with clustered luxury houses, is far more 
effective in its integration of new construction adjacent 
to the existing mansion. There are several reasons for its 
success . 

First, the Ryckel family took an active role in preser- 
ving the integrity of their property by collaberating with 
the architect, landscape architect and developer, the Li- 
shon Construction Company. The Ryckels' arrangement in- 



51 



eluded provisions that they would retain "Framar" on a 
five-acre tract and that few trees and other natural fea- 
tures of the landscape would be destroyed to construct the 
new homes. ■'■'^ (Illustration 27). 

Additionally, the homes closest to the Ryckel house are 
attached so that their overall scale is consistent with the 
great scale of the house; the smaller, single-family de- 
tached homes are further removed from "Framar." Finally, 
the homes, which are priced at $500,000 and up, are designed 
with materials and a general form which complement the 
Ryckel home. The roof pitch, fenestration and other archi- 
tectural treatments allow the new homes to coexist in an 
arrangement that flatters both the old and the new. (Illus- 
tration 28 ) . 

An alternate provision that Lower Merion Township has 
added to its zoning code is the option for developers to 
construct what is known as a life-care community. Life- 
care communities for the elderly, which require substantial 
entry fees and additional monthly fees, provide housing, 
meals, activities, and, if the resident becomes ill, long- 
term nursing care at no extra charge. There are about 7 00 
such communities around the country, but the largest con- 
centration--thirty-six--is in the Philadelphia region. ^^ 

Two of these facilities are located in Lower Merion 
Township and both utilize estates as their development 



52 



site. The older of the two, "Waver ly Heights," takes its 
name from the estate on which it was built, the 103-acre 
Gladwyne property of Pennsylvania Railroad president Samuel 
Rea. In 1982, then-owner Ruth Junkin sold the entire 
estate to the developers of the life-care facility. 

The developers of "Waverly Heights" have very effec- 
tively used the mansion as a community center for the 
residents. Because of the placement of the new buildings, 
to the side and rear of the house, and the house's loca- 
tion--the first building one encounters when arriving by 
car--the house maintains a prominent role by serving as a 
center and a symbolic home for the facility as a whole. 
(Illustration 29). Further, the house remains essentially 
unchanged on the exterior with the new facilities discreet- 
ly attached, using similar materials and scale. Like 
"Wrenfield," the new buildings were designed in a manner 
sympathetic to the house with many of the existing trees 
retained. (Illustration 30). 

Another life-care complex currently under construction, 
on the other hand, exploits unnecessarily the estate on 
which it is located. "Beaumont" in Bryn Mawr was the 1912 
mansion of another Pennsylvania Railroad president, William 
L. Austin. (Illustration 31). Conveying stability and 
masssiveness in its stony exterior, it is a quintessential 
Gilded Age mansion. The magnificent interior still fea- 



53 



tures built-in carved furniture, original light fixtures, 
and frescoed walls and ceilings which are in dire need of 
restoration. The music room contains a pipe organ. 

Inexplicably, the developer, Arthur Wheeler, has en- 
dorsed a design for his complex which will irrevocably 
destroy rather than enhance the Austin mansion. Where he 
could have created a meaningful center for the facility by 
capitalizing on the existing house, as achieved at "Waverly 
Heights," the Austin house is instead surrounded on all 
sides by new construction, and all but invisible from the 
exterior. (Illustration 32). Unsympathetic additions and a 
non-hierarchical layout of the new housing units have obli- 
terated the original integrity and siting of the once-grand 
home. {Illustration 33). 

Construction at the site, which was heavily wooded, 
(illustration 34) began in 1986 and is scheduled for com- 
pletion in the fall of 1987. The thick forest that once 
covered the property has been almost completely cut down; 
according to Wheeler, thirty acres of trees were removed to 
clear the site for construction. ^^ Li]^e "Waverly 
Heights," the house itself will become a community center 
for the residents. What remains to be seen is to what 
extent the interior spaces will be restored. Currently, 
many of the rooms are serving as storage areas for the 
construction supplies, a use which has seriously damaged 



54 



many of the wood floors. Clearly, this development is not 
being executed with sensitivity and respect to the Austin 
estate. 



55 



NOTES FOR CHAPTER IV 

1. William C. Shopsin and Grania Bolton Marcus, Saving 
Large Estates; Conservation, Historic Preservation, 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977), 7. 

2. Phyllis C. Maier, Montgomery County: The Next Two 
Hundred Years (Montgomery County, PA, 1977), 327. 

3. Ibid., 328. 

4. Ibid., 318. 

5. Shopsin and Marcus, 32. 

6. Maier, 319. 

7. Shopsin and Marcus, 7. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Philadelphia Inquirer , 17 October 1986, 15. 

10. Interview with Sandra Handford, Director of the 
Lower Merion Township Planning Department, 1 October 1986. 

11. "A Growing Role for Life-care Communities," 
Philadelphia Inquirer , 15 January 1987, 2. 

12. Interview with Arthur Wheeler, October 1986. 



56 



CHAPTER V 
PRESERVATION POLICY IN LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP 

In 1939, the Lower Merion Planning Conunission wrote, 
"The charm of the township is in its open character. Wise 
planning will help to retain this charm even though the 
density of population is considerably increased."-^ The 
solutions described in the preceding chapter indicate that 
the land use planning and preservation techniques currently 
available do not adequately protect the few properties 
which remain. An analysis of the solutions which have been 
employed in the past--institutionalization as with "Wood- 
mont", allowing the free marketplace to control develop- 
ment, as with "Pencoyd" , or imposing limited restrictions 
on development, as at "Beaumont" --can only lead to the 
conclusion that they are not consistently adequate in 
ensuring the welfare of the estates. 

What is needed is the implementation by the township 
of creative but focused solutions which relieve the owners 
of the burden of the estate while simultaneously preserving 
the character, architectural integrity and local traditions 
of their properties. It is important to examine the tools 
currently available to Lower Merion Township in greater 
detail in order to understand their inadequacy in protec- 
ting the local Gilded Age estates. 



57 



In general, local government's role in historic pre- 
servation takes one of two forms. It can be a direct 
exercise of the government's police powers, as with an 
historic district ordinance, or it can provide incentives 
for historic preservation, such as through special zoning 
provisions. Historic district laws have been the most 
visible form of local regulation in recent years. ^ Penn- 
sylvania enacted a statewide historic district enabling act 
in 1961. Act 167 authorizes all municipalities to create 
historic districts within their boundaries and to appoint 
boards of historical architectural review to oversee "the 
erection, reconstruction, alteration, restoration, demoli- 
tion, or razing" of buildings within the districts.^ 

Lower Merion currently has three historic districts-- 
Harriton in Bryn Mawr and Mill Creek and Merion Square in 
Gladwyne. Its Board of Historical Architectural Review 
(BOHAR) , a seven-member board appointed in 19 8 by the 
township's Board of Commissioners, is responsible for re- 
viewing exterior change, signage, and new construction to 
structures within the districts. Recommendations of the 
Board are considered by the township's Building and Plan- 
ning Commission. 

The Board of Historical Architectural Review is 
presently compiling an inventory of historic structures 
within the township, using the same criteria adopted by the 



58 



National Register of Historic Places.'^ Surveys such as this 
can act as a crucial historic preservation tool by dis- 
covering and promoting public awareness of overlooked estates 
and by aiding the Planning Commission in establishing its 
comprehensive planning and zoning. A community that has 
both surveyed and established priorities for its resources 
is better equipped to make intelligent decisions about 
public expenditures to preserve these resources. Yet Lower 
Merion Review Board Chairman Robert De Silets admits that 
because of a lack of manpower, the township's resources are 
not yet exhaustively surveyed.^ The result is that many of 
the Gilded Age estates are not listed, although clearly, 
many would qualify based on the National Register criteria. 

The estates listed on neither the local nor National 
Registers include "Afterall," the Arthur Edwards house 
surrounded by thirty-two acres in Rosemont, "La Ronda," the 
Foerderer mansion in Gladwyne, "Framar," the Reichel house 
in Bryn Mawr , and "Bryntydden, " a house near "Woodmont" in 
Gladwyne built by another member of the Wood family. The 
omission of these and other mansions allows them to exist 
unrecognized both by the public and by legislators. 

Another serious shortcoming with the existing legisla- 
tion is that most architecturally significant buildings do 
not lie within geographically-defined historic districts. 
Gilded Age estates are scattered throughout Lower Merion, 

59 



yet enabling legislation does not allow the municipality to 
protect individual landmarks. Until the necessary legisla- 
tion is enacted, no township agency has the authorization 
to designate individual landmarks to control their preser- 
vation. ° 

Furthermore, the establishment of historic district 
controls allows a municipality like Lower Merion to over- 
look a fundamental item: the appropriateness of its under- 
lying zoning code to the achievement of historic preserva- 
tion objectives. As stated in the Brandywine Conservancy's 
Protecting Historic Properties , 

Historic preservation has rarely been addressed 
in suburban areas in the zoning code revision 
process. As a consequence, municipal officials 
are often reluctant to allow changes to accomodate 
a particular property owner when there is 
inadequate time to consider long-term 
ramifications . ' 

If a thorough historic survey were reviewed during the 
updating of comprehensive plans and of zoning codes, appro- 
priate zoning regulations could then be drafted. 

Zoning, of course, is the tool most widely used in 
suburban communities to regulate land use. Lower Merion' s 
zoning ordinance, originally written in 1927, was compre- 
hensively revised in 1979. It provides for ten residential 
zones, ranging in density from .4 units per acre (R-AA) to 
17.4 units per acre (R-7). Nearly all of the remaining 
estates of five acres or more are in zones of R-A or R-AA, 



60 



the two highest categories. ° 

Lower Merion planners restrict development through 
zoning ordinances which confine commercial buildings to 
Lancaster Avenue and City Line Avenue, while devoting Mont- 
gomery Avenue west of Narberth to apartment houses and 
townhouses. To allow for the reuse of mansions which are 
too large for single-family use, the township does allow, 
by special exception, division of a dwelling into more than 
one dwelling unit--even in an area that only permits con- 
struction of single-family detached dwellings. For the 
same reason, institutions are also permitted by special 
exception in residential areas. 

But because this provision is allowed by special 
exception, rather than by right, the burden of proof is on 
the developer to prove that the conversion is not contrary 
to public interest.^ Obviously, developers are dissuaded 
from attempting such a conversion if each time they are 
forced to challenge the neighbors, often hostile and in 
great numbers, who fear that the conversion will lower 
their property values, create traffic problems, and encou- 
rage habitation by college students from nearby universi- 
ties. 

Planned residential development, discussed in the last 
chapter, allows for cluster development on parcels of land 
with a minimum of twenty-five acres. It usually serves as 



61 



a means of preserving more open space and natural amenities 
than would single-family developments. In February of 
1987, however, a special ad hoc zoning committee of the 
Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners approved chan- 
ges to the zoning codes that will reduce the density for 
planned residential developments. 

Under prior density rules, developers who built mul- 
tifamily projects were permitted 1.25 units per acre in 
both the R-A and R-AA zones. For single-family houses, the 
R-A zones allowed one unit per acre; in the R-AA zone two 
acres per house were required. It was felt that as a 
result, developers were encouraged to build pockets of 
dense multifamily housing in areas, particularly in Glad- 
wyne, characterized by single-family houses on large 
tracts.-'-'^ Under the new regulations, the density will 
remain the same in the R-A district, but will be reduced by 
nearly half in the R-AA zones. In adopting a new formula 
to determine the density of multifamily developments, the 
board reduced the number of units permitted in the large 
open areas of the township. The new formula does, however, 
include a twenty-five percent density bonus for multifamily 
construction over what would be permitted for single-family 
homes . 

Those on the Board cited stopping the development of 
estates in ways consistent with the zoning, but uncharac- 



62 



teristic of the neighborhood, as a motivating factor in 
changing the ordinance, -^^ but curiously, the Board of His- 
torical Architectural Review played no part, even in an 
advisory capacity, in the zoning change process. At no 
time was its historic structures inventory ever eva- 
luated. ■'-^ Additionally, several developers say that the 
new density reductions will only serve to discourage 
developers from creating multifamily houses. 

Peter Simone, a land planner representing Walter Pew, 
whose 104-acre Gladwyne estate is the township's largest 
privately-owned undeveloped tract, said that the multifami- 
ly provisions are now overly restrictive. ■'■^ Overly re- 
strictive zoning may prevent the creative reuse of large 
estates or the innovative development of the property. A 
one-acre subdivision designed without regard to the origi- 
nal landscaping features and the natural contours of the 
property may be much more destructive of the character of 
the original estate and community than a well-planned, but 
denser, cluster development . ■'■^ 

Thus, while historic neighborhoods in cities often 
have problems relating to permissive zoning codes which 
allow overly intensive use of buildings, it is ironic that 
quite the opposite problem arises in suburban communities 
such as Lower Merion, where the zoning is overly restric- 
tive. A nonresidential use that would permit rehabilita- 

63 



tion of the buildings and grounds with only minimal impact 
on the neighborhood is not permitted by right in the zoning 
code. Similarly, where the only economically feasible 
means of restoring a "white elephant" mansion is by split- 
ting it into several dwelling units, zoning regulations 
discourage conversions of this type. 



64 



NOTES FOR CHAPTER V 



1. Plan for Lower Merion Township (Montgomery County, 
PA, April 1937) . 

2 . Protecting Historic Properties: A Guide to 
Research and Preservation ( Chadds Ford, PA, 1984), 80. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Historical and Architectural Inventory: List of 
Accepted Resources (Lower Merion Township, 1987). 

5. Interview with Robert De Silets, Chairman, Lower 
Merion Township Board of Historical Architectural Review, 
2 March 1987. 

6. House Bill 1308, enabling municipalities to 
designate individual landmarks, was defeated in 1985. 
Lower Merion Township's HAARB could, however, propose the 
creation of a thematic historic district, the theme being 
"Gilded Age Estates." 

7 . Protecting Historic Properties: A Guide to Research 
and Preservation . 

8. Zoning and Zoning Hearing Board (Code of the 
Township of Lower Merion, 1986), chaps. 155 and A 172. 

9. Ibid. 

10. "Changes to Zoning Code Could Limit Development," 
Philadelphia Inguirer , February 1986. 

11. "Ad Hoc Zoning Committee Sets Goals," Main Line 
Times , 25 September 19 86, 3. 

12. Interview with Robert De Silets, 2 March 1987. 

13. Philadelphia Inguirer , February 1987. 

14. William C. Shopsin and Grania Bolton Marcus, 
Saving Large Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation, 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977). 



65 



CONCLUSION: 
PRESERVATION STRATEGIES TO GUIDE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT 

It is clear that many of the few remaining Gilded Age 
estates are highly significant elements of the architectu- 
ral and historical heritage of Lower Merion Township. 
Their preservation is of critical and immediate importance 
as their numbers rapidly dwindle. Yet as William C. Shop- 
sin explains in his Saving Large Estates , 

Sophisticated urban planning concepts and 
complex design control mechanisms are often 
anathema to suburban and rural communites. 
Yet the residents of such communities may 
also express considerable alarm at the urban 
sprawl and speculation afflicting the once 
bucolic and sparsely populated countryside. 
Many fiercely independent suburban residents 
cling to the conviction that the rights of 
property are inviolate. .. and may not 
understand that unfettered privatisra and 
lack of regulation have contributed to 
the result they deplore. If we are to 
achieve any success in saving large estates, 
much of the traditional antipathy of small 
communities to planning and controls will 
have to be modified. •'■ 

The existing zoning and historic preservation mechanisms in 
Lower Merion Township are plagued by the problems he de- 
scribes. The various local controls are not coordinated to 
the common goal of safeguarding the welfare of some of 
Lower Merlon's most valuable resources, its country es- 
tates. What is needed is a provision in the existing 
zoning code which directly confronts the problem of what to 
do with the few remaining large properties. 



66 



An examination of the different methods of reuse leads 
to the conclusion that the best hope for these grand homes, 
which have outlived their use as single-family residences, 
is to convert them into multi-family dwellings. As indi- 
cated in the last chapter, conversion of estates for insti- 
tutional use, such as schools and life-care facilities, is 
not a realistic solution for the plight of every large 
estate. 

Instead, condominium conversions must be promoted. In 
order to illustrate the potential of this method, the third 
largest privately-owned tract in the township serves as an 
excellent example. The parents-in-law of architectural 
historian George E. Thomas live with their siblings at 
"Harriton" (illustration 35), a fifty-five acre Bryn Mawr 
estate off Old Gulph Road (of no connection to the "Harri- 
ton Historic District", also in Bryn Mawr). All those now 
living at "Harriton" are approaching old age, and Dr. 
Thomas says that none of the next generation has a desire 
to bear the burden of maintaining the estate. He believes 
that the main house, which has eighteen rooms, might lend 
itself to being divided into three condominiums, each with 
two or three bedrooms. Other units could be added away 
from the main house, and the existing outbuildings, inclu- 
ding a barn, could be converted into facilities shared in 
common by the residents. 



67 



Conversions of this type have been successfully 
achieved in many communities, including Chestnut Hill in 
northwest Philadelphia, where a 1883 Wilson Eyre-designed 
house, "Anglecot," the Charles Potter residence, was di- 
vided into condominiums by developer Richard Snowden. From 
the exterior, the house remains essentially unaltered from 
its appearance as a single-family dwelling. Attached ga- 
rages added behind complement the Shingle Style mode of the 
house. Only on its interior does one discover that the 
house, because of a well-planned and well-executed conver- 
sion, has a renewed purpose for the future. 

One of the first mansions where this type of conversion 
was successfully treated is "Guernsey Hall," a Princeton, 
New Jersey mansion designed by John Notman. "Guernsey 
Hall" came up for sale in 1970 after the death of its last 
private owner. Architect William Short believed that a 
multiple dwelling would be the most feasible way to save 
the landinark, and he formed a corporation with eight other 
investors called Guernsey Hall, Inc., with the intent of 
purchasing the property for conversion to a multifamily 
dwelling under a condominium form of ownership. 

The mansion is located in an area of Princeton zoned 
for single-family detached houses on large lots, and there 
were complaints that the condominiums would be the catalyst 
for turning other large and historic houses into apart- 



68 



ments--a precedent which some neighbors felt would begin 
the area's decline. Nevertheless, Short was able to con- 
vince the local zoning board that his development plan for 
the mansion merited a zoning variance, and Guernsey Hall, 
Inc. took possession in 1972.^ 

The two overriding design objectives of Short, who 
served as architect for his own project, were to save the 
residence and keep as many of the original details as 
possible.-^ Interior reconstruction consisted of dividing 
the forty-two rooms into six apartments. The last unit was 
occupied in July 1974. With the exception of improved main 
entrance security, an elevator and two new garages, the 
mansion looks much as it did at the turn of the century. 
Situated on an extensively landscaped site, the mansion 
contains parking for residents and guests and a formal 
garden. The garden, which is held in common by the resi- 
dents, is maintained by a caretaker. No trees were re- 
moved, so the site remains heavily wooded. 

By all accounts the conversion has been a success. 
Even taxes collected at "Guernsey Hall" exceed the taxes 
that would be levied if five single-family houses had 
instead been built. In addition, the reuse plan created 
less of a burden on city services, such as roads and se- 
wars, than would have five single-family dwellings.'^ 

In order to encourage and facilitate conversions of 



69 



this type in Lower Merion, there could be a clear-cut 
provision incorporated into the code, perhaps called an 
"Historic Structure Planned Residential Development Ordi- 
nance," which provides for special subdivision of certain 
historically-significant houses and their grounds of five 
acres or more. The determination as to which estates are 
worthy of this treatment could be based on the National 
Register criteria which are already used by the local Board 
of Historical Architectural Review. 

Once this designation has been made, the zoning code 
could allow, by right, the dividing up of the mansions into 
multiple dwellings, each with independent mechanical sy- 
stems and proper f ireproof ing, and the carefully controlled 
development of the surrounding grounds. General criteria 
followed by the legislative body charged with overseeing 
the development could comprise these points: the changes to 
the estate must be as invisible as possible, the design of 
new units should be compatible with the old, and new mate- 
rials should blend sympathetically with the old.^ 

There could also be strictly controlled requirements as 
to the density of the new units and their placement in 
relation to the main house, to ensure that enough space 
remains to preserve the house's character. The ordinance 
must encourage the reuse of as many of the estate's out- 
buildings as possible and the placement of any new housing 



70 



near the perimeter of the tract. The extent to which trees 
are allowed to be razed to contract the new units could 
also be stipulated. 

Part of the income derived from the development could 
be designated toward endowing the house, and the condomi- 
nium owners could share an interest in the land surrounding 
it. The value of the new units can be required to be 
comparable to the value of adjacent houses so that neigh- 
boring property values would not be adversely affected. 
Additionally, facade and open space easements could be 
arranged with such easement-holding organizations as the 
Brandywine Conservancy and the Natural Lands Trust. 

In summary, then. Lower Merion Township must: 

1. recognize significant estates by adding them to its 
Historic Structures Inventory and possibly creating a 
thematic "Gilded Age Estate Historic District;" 

2. evaluate the solutions outlined above for the reuse of 
those estates that are succeptible to development 
pressures, and propose these solutions to estate-owners 
and developers; 

3. prepare an amendment to its zoning ordinance; and 

4. educate the community about the cultural significance of 

its mansions and open spaces. 



71 



The time has come for Lower Merion Township, like a 
rising number of municipalities faced with similar situa- 
tions, to recognize the value of one of one of its chief 
cultural resources: its Gilded Age estates. These mansions 
and great tracts of open space gave "Main Line" Lower 
Merion its distinctive character and reputation--a reputa- 
tion which has encouraged its appeal and current develop- 
ment pressures. The Gilded Age estates endow their land- 
scape with great richness; they must not be allowed to be 
swallowed up by suburbanization. 



72 



NOTES TO CONCLUSION 



1. William C. Shopsin and Crania Bolton Marcus, Saving 
Large Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation, 
Adaptive Reuse (Setauket, NY, 1977), 32. 

2. "Economic Analyses of Adaptive Use Projects: 
Guernsey Hall." Information pamphlet. National Trust for 
Historic Preservation. Washington, D.C., 1976. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Shopsin and Marcus, 32. 



73 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



74 



JLOWER MERION 




fVli-'Tiii 'fi— iTlf hr t-'"-^--^-fa--< "- — t-ijc^— itJ 

1. JOHN LEVERING 'S 1851 MAP OF LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP. 
The boundary dividing Lower Merion from Philadelphia is at extreme right. 




2. PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD OFFICIALS, 1901. 
Top left: Alexander Cassatt of "Cheswold." Bottom left: Samuel Rea of "Waverly Heights. 



75 




3. CHESWOLD, Alexander Cassatt residence, Haverford, Pa. Demolished. 




4. DOLOBRAN, Clement Grlscom residence, Haverford, Pa. 



76 




5. TY'N-Y-COED, Effingham Morris residence, Arditiore, Pa. 




6. RESTROVER, Samuel B. Brown residence, Haverford, Pa. Demolished. 



77 







7. INGEBORG, Williaiti Simpson Jr. residence, Wynnewood, Pa. Demolished. 




8. REDSTONE, Rosemont, Pa., 1901. Demolished. 




9. LA RONDA, Percival Foerderer residence, Gladwyne, Pa. 




10. WAVERLY HEIGHTS, Samuel Rea residence, Gladwyne, Pa. 



79 




11. MAYBROOK, Henry Gibson residence, Wynnewood, Pa., 1886. 




12. 1946 ATLAS VIEW OF MAYBROOK, Wynnewood, Pa. 



80 




13. BRIAR CREST, William Henry Maule residence, Villanova, PA., 1901. Demolished. 




14. RATHALLA, Joseph Sinnott residence, Rosemont, Pa. 



81 






i 


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mtHmtlk^ 


IRhH 






. .flJ^ij 




'■^11^. 







15. WOODMONT, Alan Wood Jr. residence, Gladwyne, Pa. 




16. 1908 ATLAS VIEW OF PENSHURST, Perm Valley, Pa. Demolished. 




17. PENCOYD, John Roberts residence, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., 1878. Demolished. 



*>. _. 




18. PENCOYD, 1915, after alterations by Frank Fumess 



83 




19. CLAIREMONT FARM, Villanova, Pa., now Northeastern Christian Junior College. 




0. 1 -W^W&t 






,iJ''*^ 



0§§ 



-.»^ 

"^"^i 







20. BALLYTORE, Isaac Clothier residence, Wynnewood, Pa., 1886. 



84 




21. BALLYTORE, now the Armenian Church of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob. 




22. WILLIAM JOYCE RESIDENCE, Rosemont, Pa., now Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus. 




23. SUBDIVISION, Villanova, Pa., 1987. 




24. 1946 ATLAS VIEW OF LA RONDA, Gladwyne, Pa. 



86 




25. THE HERMITAGE, Gladwyne, Pa. Boulders were substituted for the trees that were cut 



down. 




•r*«^V#t~?: -r t.' 



■**^^fi*S&^^jpfsg^«^ 



26. FRAMAR, Frank Ryckel residence, Gladwyne) Pa. 



87 




27. WRENFIELD, Gladwyne, Pa. Ryckel estate is in background. 




'^%^ 




28. WRENFIELD. New attached dwellings. 




29. WAVERLY HEIGHTS, Gladwyne, Pa. Original mansion on right; new units on left. 




30. WAVERLY HEIGHTS. New life-care facilities. 



89 



m// , 




Zf^'K- 




31. 1946 ATLAS VIEW OF BEAUMONT, William Austin estate, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 




32. BEAUMONT. Model showing Austin mansion in the center of new complex. 



90 







33. BEAUMONT. Life-care faciities under construction in October, 1986. 




34. AERIAL VIEW OF BEAUMONT BEFORE DEVELOPMENT. Grounds were once densely wooded. 



91 




35. HARRITON, Anna Shinn Maier estate, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 



92 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 



Andrews, Wayne. Architecture, Ambition and Americans . New 
York, 1947. 

Baker, Paul R. Richard Morris Hunt . Cambridge, MA, 1980. 

Baltzell, E. Digby. Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia , 
New York, 1979. 

Becker, Gloria 0. Gladwyne Historic Preservation Study . 
Privately printed, 1980. 

Cable, Mary. Top Drawer: American High Society from the 
Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties . New York, 1984. 

Chase, David. "Superb Privacies" in Architecture of 

Richard Morris Hunt . Susan R. Stein, ed. Chicago, 
1985. 

Closs, Christopher W. Preserving Large Estates . 

Information Series: National Trust for Historic 
Preservation. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 
1982. 

De Silets, Robert. Lower Merion Township Board of ' 
Historical Architectural Review, Ardmore, PA. 
Interview, 2 March 1987. 

Doebley, Carl E. Lower Merion--A Portrait . Montgomery 
County: Lower Merion Historical Society, 1976. 

Feree, Barr. American Estates and Gardens . New York, 
1904. 

Fitch, James Marston. American Building I: The Historical 
Forces that Shaped It . Boston, 1966. 

"Guernsey Hall: Economic Analysis of Adaptive Use 

Projects," Information Series: National Trust for 
Historic Preservation, 1975. 

Godkin, E.L. "The Expenditure of Rich Men" in Scribner ' s 
Magazine 20, no. 4, October 1895. 

Guidelines for Residential Development: An Element of the 
Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan . Montgomery 
County: Montgomery County Planning Commission, 1978. 



93 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY, continued 



Hanford, Sandra. Lower Merion Township Planning 

Department, Ardmore, PA. Interview, 1 October 1985. 

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The 

Suburbanization of the United States . New York, 
1985. 

James, Henry. The American Scene . New York, 1907. 

King, Moses. Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians . New 
York, 1901. 

Lee, Joseph. "Expensive Living, the Blight on America" in 
New England Magazine 18, March 1890, 

Lewis, Arnold. American Country Houses of the Gilded Age . 
Mineola, NY, 1982. (Republication of pictorial 
material from Artistic Country-Seats : Types of 
Recent American Villa and Cottage Architecture with 
Instances of Country Club-Houses, by George William 
Sheldon (New York, 1886- 87). 

Maher, James T. Twilight of Splendor . -Boston, 1975. 

Longstreth, Richard W. A Survey of Architecture in 
Philadelphia . Privately printed, 1968. 

"Lower Merion Planning Commission Developable Land Survey." 
Ardmore, PA, 1986. 

Lower Merion Township, PA. Zoning and Hearing Board, from 
the Code (1986), chapters 155 and A 172. 

"Lower Merion Land Use Survey," Montgomery County Planning 
Commission, February, 1987. 

Maier, Phyllis in Montgomery County: The Second Hundred 
Years. Volume 7. Norristown, PA: Montgomery County 
Federation of Historical Societies, 1983. 

"Montgomery County Planning Commission Inventory of 
Historic and Cultural Resources," 1975. 

Plan for Lower Merion Township . Montgomery County, PA: 
Planning Commission, April 1937. 



94 



SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY, continued 



Randall, Monica. The Mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast . 
New York, 1979. 

Roth, Leland M. McKim, Mead and White, Architects . New 
York, 1983. 

Scully, Vincent J. Jr. The Architectural Heritage of 
Newport . New York, 1967. 

Shingle Style and the Stick Style . New 



Haven: Yale University Press, 1955 

Shopsin, William C. and Grania Bolton Marcus. Saving Large 

Estates: Conservation, Historic Preservation, Adaptive 
Reuse. Setauket, N.Y.: Society for the Preservation 
for Long Island Antiquities, 1977. 

Sobin, Dennis P. Dynamics of Community Change: the Case of 
Long Island's Declining "Gold Coast ." New York, 1968. 

Tatman, Sandra L. and Roger W. Moss. Biographical 

Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects . Boston, 1985. 

Thomas, George E. "Architectural Patronage and Social 

Stratification in Philadelphia Between 1840 and 1920" in 
The Divided Metropolis . William Cutler and Howard 
Gillette, eds . Westport, CN. , 1980. 

"William Price: Builder of Men and 



Buildings." Ph.D. Dissertation, University of 
Pennsylvania, 1975. 

Van Rensselaer, Mrs. John King. The Social Ladder . New 
York: Henry Holt & Co., 1924, 



95 




'fine arts ubrarv 

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