The West Chester Downtown Foundation (WCDF) hosted its fourth annual Historic Preservation Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at the Chester County Historical Society. More than 75 people attended the award presentation ceremony and stayed for the complimentary continental breakfast afterward.
The West Chester Downtown Foundation created this awards program to recognize and honor projects both large and small that help highlight and preserve West Chester’s historic character. By bringing attention to these projects, the WCDF hopes to encourage and engage business owners and residents of West Chester Borough in good preservation practices to strengthen the Borough’s historic fabric.
Every April, WCDF solicits nominations from throughout the Borough. This year, the Foundation had an outstanding selection of nominations from which to choose. On Tuesday, it presented five (5) awards in three (3) categories: Bricks and Mortar, Preservation Service, and Special Recognition. In addition, each recipient received a citation recognizing his or her achievement from the Pennsylvania Senate, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Chester County Commissioners, and West Chester’s Mayor.
The Bricks and Mortar Awards may be awarded to recognize construction projects of exceptional quality that have a positive impact on the preservation of West Chester’s historic fabric. This year’s Bricks and Mortar awards were presented to:
Chester County Courthouse, 3 West Market Street:
The first 2014 Bricks and Mortar Award was presented to the Chester County Commissioners for the rehabilitation and restoration of the ground floor of the Historic Chester County Courthouse. The Courthouse project is significant because this effort to rehabilitate and restore the primary symbol of the Borough of West Chester to active and useful service is an exceptional example of a renovation project that is sensitive not only to West Chester’s historic fabric, but also to the architectural nature of the building itself. In addition to restoring this centerpiece symbol -– now in active use by Chester County District Court — the rehabilitation and restoration uncovered hidden door frames and architectural details, allowing visitors to now see the courthouse as it could have looked in 1847 with vaulted ceilings, marble stairs and walls and trim painted in historic colors. The project also included the sensitive design and construction of a new wheelchair accessible exterior ramp. The visual impact of the new ramp was carefully integrated into the surrounding landscape and constructed of materials compatible with the original Courthouse structure. The design effectively minimized the new ramp’s impact on this significant Thomas U. Walter building. The courthouse renovation project clearly demonstrates how new compatible uses can be found for historic buildings, allowing them to be rehabilitated with little or no loss of historic fabric and integrity when undertaken with care and forethought. This project involved multiple architecture and construction firms. The Architect for the interior renovation was Frens and Frens, LLC and the interior General Contractor was F.W. Houder, Inc. The Architect for the exterior entrance ramp was Bernardon Haber Halloway and the exterior General Contractor was Balton Construction, Inc. Commissioner Costello accepted the award on behalf of the County Commissioners.
James and Margaret Hudgings Twin House, 409-411 West Union Street
James and Margaret Hudgings were honored with a Bricks and Mortar award for the stewardship of their Twin Houses on West Union Street. The Hudgings were honored for the careful maintenance of their home, and particularly the construction and design decisions that resulted in the replacement of the original slate roof with Vermont slate and a new standing seam copper front porch roof. This project is a fine example of how homeowners can show their respect for the historic character of a building, and the streetscape in which the house stands, by incorporating good preservation practices. Thoughtful stewardship by property owners such as James and Margaret Hudgings is the key to preserving West Chester’s historic character. The Roofing Contractor was T. Joseph Dunleavy, Inc. The Hudgings’ daughter, Meg Hudgings-Niiler, accepted the award on behalf of her parents.
First Presbyterian Church, 130 West Miner Street
The First Presbyterian Church was honored for its addition of a cupola to the church’s historic structure. Originally completed in 1834, the church was designed by famed architect Thomas U. Walter, and has been an integral part of the West Miner streetscape ever since. At the time of its original construction the church elders made provisions for the future construction of a cupola, but could not afford it. Walter left specifications for a 73 foot tall cupola and provided enlarged footings, masonry walls and timber roof framing to accommodate the future structure. Over the years other financial priorities prevented construction of the cupola. But, recently the church received a generous gift from the estate of a member that allowed the church to finally erect the cupola. The church retained John Milner Architects to research Walter’s original design intentions and to conduct a careful review of Walter’s similar church structures as the basis for the new cupola. The result is a sensitively designed cupola, compatible with the original church building. The belated execution of this original intention by today’s members of the church is an example of how historic buildings can successfully evolve and change. It illustrates how new construction can be completed with great respect to the historic fabric of the original building and the historic character of the streetscape. The Architect was John Milner Architects and the General Contractor was Caldwell Heckles and Egan. Dr. Greg Stovell, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, accepted the award on behalf of the First Presbyterian Church.
The Preservation Service Awards may be awarded to individuals and organizations in recognition of projects that promote a better understanding of the history of West Chester and the need to preserve the physical evidence of that history.
This year’s Preservation Service Award was presented to the Chester County Historical Society for its ongoing educational program, “A Walk Through History,” School Group Walking Tour. “A Walk through History” was honored as an educational project that promotes a better understanding of the history of the Borough of West Chester. The tour, developed and given by dedicated volunteers of the Chester County Historical Society for students in the 3rd – 12th grades, helps educate children (and others who participate) about the historic architecture and sites found throughout West Chester, but especially in the downtown commercial area and neighboring residential areas of the Borough. The tour was researched and written in 2000, making it the second oldest walking tour program in West Chester and the only one geared specifically to schoolchildren. The tour is an excellent example of how to instill the love of history and the need to preserve significant historical structures in the next generation. Rob Lukens, Carol Samuelson, and Vicki McKeefery accepted the award on behalf of the Chester County Historical Society.
The Special Recognition Award category was established by the Historic Preservation Awards Committee in order to recognize exceptional individual projects or individuals that promote the preservation, restoration, or rehabilitation of West Chester’s historic fabric and character, or that promote the advocacy thereof, thus encouraging a better understanding of West Chester’s history. The Special Recognition Award is unique for two reasons. First, while the public nominates projects in one of three categories, Bricks and Mortar, Preservation Service, and Preservation Legacy, only the Preservation Awards Committee has the ability to recommend nominated projects or individuals for a Special Recognition Award to the WCDF Board of Directors. And second, this award is not presented every year; in fact, this is only the second time that a Special Recognition Award has been given out.
The Award was presented to Jane E. Dorchester for her committed efforts to establish the West Chester Historic Preservation Awards program. Jane took on the challenge of developing an annual historic preservation awards program for West Chester. The awards committee wanted to recognize Jane Dorchester for her selfless dedication to establishing the West Chester Preservation Awards program.
About the West Chester Downtown Foundation
West Chester Downtown Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes community interest in the vitality, culture and liveability of downtown West Chester through education, historic preservation and collaboration. For more information, please visit: http://wcdf.org/