The final phase of an ongoing effort to restore a historic gateway on the border of Mt. Airy is set to commence thanks to modest funding from the city.
A $15,000 matching grant from the Philadelphia Activities fund will enable wood pergolas to be built and installed atop of newly refurbished Wissahickon schist piers.
Construction is anticipated to be completed by mid-autumn.
The Mt. Airy Gateway Project was spearheaded five years ago by J. Patrick Moran, of the Germantown Historic Society, and West Mt. Airy Neighbors. Working together with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, GHS and WMAN have amassed a force of volunteers and donor funding to reclaim a forgotten landmark.
Moran credits Eighth District City Councilwoman, Cindy Bass, for helping make it possible to finish the project this year.
“We are deeply indebted to her for matching the funds raised earlier,” he said.
A neighborhood’s gift
Built in 1901, the Stotesbury Gates were a gift to the city from financier Edward T. Stotesbury. Ornately carved arbors topped twin stone pillars flanking both sides of Lincoln Drive at the intersection of Johnson St., forming a gateway to the neighborhood.
Years of neglect and the widening of Lincoln Drive left only a single pier remaining on each side of the street and a total loss of the pergolas.
The first phase of the project involved masonry repointing which was completed in December.
Rebuilding the pergolas
Architect Peter DiCarlo, of Levy DiCarlo Architecture, the firm designing the new pergolas, said the aim is to be as historically sensitive as possible to the original silhouette.
The original woodwork was elaborately carved with a floral motif, however what will top the remaining two stone piers will be a more simplified version without any scrollwork.
The timber used will either be Pennsylvania-harvested white oak or cedar. While white oak is more historically accurate and costs less, cedar is easier to work with and less susceptible to weathering.
DiCarlo estimated the final phase to cost $25,000.
Pride and safety
Besides fostering community pride, increasing traffic safety on Lincoln Drive is a key goal for the project.
The hope is that passing motorists will notice the gateway and improvements to the surrounding landscape and greatly reduce their speeds, said Doris Kessler, landscape architect and chair of WMAN’s Streetscapes committee.
A car crash in late March exemplifies the need.
During the accident, a car collided with the western most wall. “Basically the mortar wasn’t even dry,” DiCarlo remarked.
The damage was extensive and will cost $6,500 to fix — more than half of the $12,500 that was already shelled out for the stonework restoration. Insurance will cover the repairs, which will take place after the pergolas are installed.
Keeping it intact
Kessler says WMAN intends to maintain the gateway by holding volunteer clean-ups in spring and fall. The civic’s grassroots fundraising will continue in order to raise addition monies for paid landscaping to supplement the volunteer work.
Native species and the labor to plant them have so far been donated.
Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation will maintain the grass around the pergolas, she said.
Only the beginning
Another goal is for the restoration to act as a catalyst for future enhancements to the area.
An example of this are improvements to wooded land behind the Lingelbach Elementary School. Invasive species have been removed and a picnic grove, gardens and walking trail with sculptures have been put in, Kessler noted.
Other targets for rehabilitation include an old fountain and seating area behind the westside of the gateway, adjacent to Clifford Park.
“One of the most positive intangibles to come out of gateway has been the community building that has occurred among the network of volunteers, community groups and city agencies that have and continue to be involved,” she said.