The restoration of two historic pillars erected as part of an entryway to Mount Airy is nearly complete.
Patrick Moran, of the Germantown Historic Society, sprung into action in 2009 after seeing a photo from the early 1900s of the Stotesbury Gateway on Lincoln Drive near Johnson Street.
“Three to four years ago [when I saw this photo], the site was basically completely overgrown with vines and trees,” said Moran. “You could see that there were structures there but you couldn’t see what they were or why they were there.”
Moran wanted to restore the pillars not only because they were a historic landmark, but because they mark the first part of the neighborhood drivers see as they ride along Lincoln Drive. He also hopes they’ll calm traffic on the road.
” Really clearly delineating where there’s an entrance has a tendency to make people slow down,” he said.
A look into the past
The gateway was a gift from Philadelphia financier Edward T. Stotesbury, who was at one point worth $100 million. The structure originally consisted of two pairs of twin pillars adorned with an arbor, or pergolas, with ivy creeping over the edges.
But when Lincoln Drive was expanded from two lanes to four in the 1950s, each pillar nearest to the road was removed. The city began neglecting the two remaining pillars soon after, Moran said.
The current project has required getting approval from city’s Department of Parks & Recreation on the project, which now owns the piers, enlisting the help of West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) and, of course, fundraising.
There were, and continue to be, no plans for adding the missing pillars. There isn’t enough room for them now.
Why it’s taken so long
The project has largely been a labor of volunteer love and, therefore, has moved along at a very slow pace, according to Moran.
Over the years, there have been seven core volunteers with several folks pitching in at various points to help.
“I would say that over the past three to four years, we’ve probably put in easily 100 volunteer hours,” he said,
At this point, Moran said most invasive plants that threaten to creep up and re-cover the structure have been removed. Landscaping around the base of each pillar has also been completed.
The gateway’s pergolas still need to be placed atop the twin structures. The ivy that will creep up the structures and the pergolas must be planted.
Saturday was the most recent work day where volunteers cleared weeds in preparation for the winter.
Moran said there will be more work days in the spring. Those dates are to be determined.
It’s unclear when the pergolas, designed by Peter DiCarlo Architecture, will be completed and put in place.
Moran noted that he hopes to have everything finished by spring 2013.
The project is still $40,000 short of its fundraising goal. Private donations have covered $50,000 of the $90,000 price tag.
Donors incude The Drumcliff Foundation of West Mount Airy and Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties in Chestnut Hill.
A community benefit
Doris Kessler, who chairs WMAN’s Streetscapes Committee, has helped with the project from the start.
The civic has a strong interest in the project, she said, due to concerns from residents about traffic safety on Lincoln Drive, a narrow four-lane road where speeding is the norm.
“The last workday we had, a motorcycle was coming in [while] it was slightly slippery and ended up here,” she said, pointing at a grassy spot in front of where she was standing. “[The driver] was able to jump off and there was a car involved that was dented.”
Kessler said she doesn’t expect the restoration and beautification project to dramatically calm traffic, but thinks the effort is worthwhile nonetheless.
“It’s a nice way to mark the entrance,” she said. “Restoring, making this more attractive, I think that is just the biggest benefit to the community.”