What does 'historic' mean in Lower Merion? By:Carla J.

Zambelli 11/17/2006 There is yet another small neighborhood joining the ranks of "at risk" neighborhoods in Lower Merion Township. This time it is the small neighborhood behind the Old Guard House Inn, in the village of Gladwyne.

This neighborhood is part of the Gladwyne Historic District, and the house with the latest future hanging in the balance is 254 Righters Mill Road. Welcome to our latest installment of "The Twilight Zone". The house in question is a Class 1 historic structure with an inventory index number in Lower Merion Township's database of "GL259" . This house has a historic designation, and is in a certified historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so why is it at risk? It is at risk, because the new property owner wishes to develop it. This is a house that should and can be preserved. It isn't a tear down. It should not be replaced with a new litter of McMansions or Garage Mahals, nor should it be super-sized into something that will no longer be, or resemble anything remotely historic. This house is a Victorian gem with a wide front porch that hazy summer days and cool fall evenings are made for, and it was built in 1880. This house is wonderful. The home's original owner was Eugene Winter. The Stirk family which sold it a few months ago to the current owner are direct descendants. Until recently, this house has stayed, amazingly enough, in the same family from generation to generation. I have also discovered that Stirk and Winter are among the older Gladwyne surnames, and when the house was built, the town was "Merion Square". The town was not called "Gladwyne" until around 1890. In its recent history, 254 Righters Mill Road has been a house containing three apartments. A friend of mine lived for many years in the first floor apartment, and having been inside this property, why couldn't it be restored to its original single family glory? Why build a faux Victorian McMansion, or a field of McMansions when it is possible to restore the real deal? Unlike what my own Haverford neighborhood is experiencing, this is not a "by right" development which is being proposed. To the contrary, 254 Righters Mill Road is a historic house in a historic district. Those salient facts should be the beginning and the end of this conversation, but apparently it is not, and this house is currently starring in front of the Zoning Hearing Board. Now we all get to wait and see how good a Class 1 Historic Designation is, and

once again watch as the limits of historic districts and historic preservation in Lower Merion are tested. As I see it, this is the most potentially dangerous thing we have seen since eminent domain for private gain targeted the Ardmore Historic Business District, and on that basis this development should be denied. After all, if a Class 1 historic house in a historic district can be monkeyed with, what hope is there at all for any preservation efforts in this area? This is just as bad as eminent domain. It is becoming more apparent than ever that our entire area is at risk. We need better and more realistic protections now: zoning code amendments and changes, historic preservation with more bite to it, a new comprehensive plan, and perhaps even a moratorium on development until a new comprehensive plan is in place. Can all of this be accomplished? I don't know. We need to be proactive, not just reactive. And we need to get busy before the entire architectural past of Lower Merion ceases to exist. Hasn't Gladwyne and the rest of this township lost enough old homes and historic structures already?

©Main Line Life 2008

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