by Kevin Dicciani
The five places inducted last week into the Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s Architectural Hall of Fame are now forever a part of the neighborhood’s rich and diverse historical past.
The CHHS created the Hall of Fame in 2015 to honor the places in Chestnut Hill that are both historically and architecturally significant. This year 10 places were nominated, and more than 1,400 votes from the general public decided the winners, which were announced at a sold-out cocktail gala at the historic home of Hill residents Karen and Jeff Regan. This year’s inductees are as follows:
• Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
• Chestnut Hill Fire Station
• Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
• 614 St. Andrews Road
The winners join last year’s Hall of Fame inductees, which include: the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge (originally built 1731), Gravers Lane Station (Frank Furness, 1883), the Wissahickon Inn (G.W. and W.D. Hewitt, 1883-84), the Margaret Esherick House (Louis Kahn, 1960-61) and the Vanna Venturi House (Robert Venturi, 1962-64).
To join such an historical and important list of places and architects is for this year’s inductees, then, an honor of the highest degree. Below are their reactions to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The Chestnut Hill Fire Station, 101 West Highland Avenue
The Chestnut Hill Fire Station was designed in 1894 by architect John T. Windrim in the Richardsonian Romanesque-style. The building is the oldest active fire house in Philadelphia and was added to the city’s Register of Historic Places by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society in 2014. Windrim, along with others, also helped design the Franklin Institute.
Engine 37 Captain Timothy Gough told the Local that having the building inducted into the Hall of Fame brought pride and delight to the members of the historic fire house.
“The officers and members of this historic firehouse were honored to accept this great award from the CHHS,” Gough said. “The members of Engine 37 take great pride in being one of the cornerstones of this tight knit community. We love being involved with many events and activities throughout this neighborhood. Tradition and history is important in the fire service and the work that the historical society is involved with helps keep this area rich in history and traditions.”
Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane
Designed by G.W. and W.D. Hewitt and built by William C. Mackie for Henry Howard Houston in 1888, the High Victorian Gothic Church was a part of Houston’s planned development, Wissahickon Heights. Houston intended the church to be the center of the Chestnut Hill community, which at the time was beginning to grow both in space and residents. Theophilus P. Chandler Jr. added a baptistery to the church in 1889 and a new chancel in 1901, and in 1894 the Hewitts designed the church’s choir room. The interior on the church was restored to its original appearance in 2000.
Natalee Hill, the associate for communications and administration at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, said that having the church inducted into the Hall of Fame has validated what the church has sought in the past and will continue to seek in the future: being an integral part of the community.
“This honor solidifies our connection to the past, our regard in Chestnut Hill’s present, and looks forward to our place working in, with, and for the community and the world into the future,” Hill said. “This recognition allows us the opportunity to say that we are open to all, at any place in your spiritual journey. Whether simply to admire a piece of Chestnut Hill’s past, or to participate in its future. We look to the buildings in the Hall of Fame to remind us where the community has been and where it needs to go next.”
Hill said the church is “a key part of the founding of this entire community.”
“I believe that Houston intended to project that awe inspiring and welcoming spirit and certainly we continue to strive toward that here at St. Martin’s and across Chestnut Hill,” Hill said. “It is also a space where, for over 125 years people of Chestnut Hill and the surrounding area have come together and shared their deepest sorrows and greatest joys.”
Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, 100 East Northwestern Avenue
Morris Arboretum was designed in 1887 by American architect Theophilus P. Chandler Jr. as the summer home for brother and sister John and Lydia Morris.
Previously known as “Compton,” the Victoria-style estate features a varied landscape that includes a fernery, a rose garden, a swan pond and a Japanese overlook. The Morris’ traveled the world and brought many ideas, ascetics and plants back to their estate and infused them into the architecture as well as the abounding natural landscape.
In 1890 Chandler founded the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and over 40 years later, in 1932, in would become known as the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Krisheim, 7638 McCallum Street
Built for Henry Houston’s daughter, Gertrude Woodward, and her husband, Dr. George Woodward, Krisheim was designed by the architectural firm of Robert Swain Peabody and John Goddard Stearns Jr. and completed in 1912. The landscape surrounding the property had been in the works for a decade before the house was even built, with the Olmsted Brothers firm working on its designs. The Tudor-Jacobean building was the Woodward’s family residence for almost 50 years before it became a religious retreat in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Later on the home was split into apartments, but is now being restored to its original form by the Woodward family.
Chris Meyer, of Dennis F. Meyer Inc. & Meyer Woodworks Inc., which own the property, said it is “a tremendous honor and privilege for Krisheim to be inducted in the CHHS Hall of Fame.”
“Krisheim embodies the spirit of Chestnut Hill and the golden age of architecture in America,” Meyer said. “The mansion is a marvel of craftsmanship and planning. The iron work from Samuel Yellin graces all of the windows and doors. The meticulously chiseled Wissahickon schist and limestone adorn the inside and out. The finest quarter-sawn white oak flows throughout the house, with the figured ribbon pattern jumping off the floors and wall paneling. The famous Mercer tile is preserved throughout, as if it was installed only a few years ago. Krisheim is a living example of the culmination of every craftsmen working together to create a sum that is greater than all of its individual parts combined.”
The importance of the CHHS and its Hall of Fame can not be understated, Meyer said, adding that the Hall of Fame is “a great way to showcase the pinnacle of great craftsmanship and architecture.”
“It is extremely important to bring together the community to celebrate the wonderful architecture that brought all of us to Chestnut Hill,” he said. “We are all stewards who are responsible for preserving every detail that makes each and every home unique.”
614 St. Andrews Road
The most modern place this year to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, 614 St. Andrews Rd., was designed by owner and architect Elie-Antoine Atallah along with his firm, Studio of Metropolitan Design. The house, completed in 2013, features natural wood, brick and glass interiors and exteriors, a stormwater management system, and planting that is local to Pennsylvania. The goal, Atallah said, was to mesh facets of modern architecture with the traditional and classic aesthetics of Chestnut Hill.
Being added to this year’s Hall of Fame was “quite stunning,” Atallah said, and also a reflection of the community’s ability to appreciate quality architecture, be it classic or modern.
“Having a new, modern house being appreciated by the neighborhood is only to prove that the neighborhood is not as fuddy-duddy as most people make it to be, and the fact that people are open to new ideas and new architecture is fantastic,” Atallah said. “And being in the same league as the Esherick House and the Vanna Venturi House is phenomenal.”
Atallah said he and his firm wanted to design the home to keep the footprints as small as possible on the site. He said there were various zoning restrictions due to the site’s slope and the presence of the Wissahickon Watershed, which led to him installing a new stormwater management system in the front yard which uses existing paths to filter the water back to the Wissahickon. To further echo the surrounding natural environment in the designs, Atallah said almost all of the plantings on the property are native to the area, from the trees all the way down to the grass.
“The wildlife depends on native species,” he said. “The songbirds, the bees, the insects are all local and related to that same ecosystem, so we tried to preserve that.”
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Atallah said that having an institution like the CHHS is what helps the community bond over common issues as well as its love of architecture. He said the CHHS is important for many reasons, but its dedication to preserving the environment, nature and character of the neighborhood, in tandem with its willingness to take bold steps into the future, is something that he finds “amazing.”
“It’s very nice to acknowledge that there are wonderful buildings designed by Peabody and George Howe, and by preserving them we can see many examples of good architecture and good environments throughout the ages,” he said. “And by recognizing both old and new places and buildings, we can answer the question: ‘What are we leaving behind for the next generation, what is there for them to look at to see not only what happened in the early-19th century, but also the 21st century?”