Laurel Hill Cemetery restoration effort wins preservation award

A restoration project in the heart of Laurel Hill Cemetery that was more than 30 years in the making is among the winners of this year’s Preservation Achievement Awards, selected by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

The Medallion Garden at Laurel Hill, 3822 Ridge Ave., is the oldest part of the cemetery and accepted its first burial in Oct. 1836, according to its nomination by the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Originally called “The Shrubbery” and later dubbed the Medallion Garden because of its circular layout and arching interconnected walkways, the area wasn’t originally meant for grave sites, but as a formal garden and recreation space within the park-like cemetery.

Disrepair spawned repair

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Like much of the rest of Laurel Hill — the first cemetery in the nation designated a National Historic Landmark — the Medallion Garden had fallen into disrepair in recent decades, with aging monuments and overgrown bushes obscuring pathways.

The restoration completed last year was a long time coming, said Gwen Kaminski, director of development and programs for the Friends of Laurel Hill.

“The Medallion Garden was the first major preservation project for which the Friends began to raise funds upon their founding in 1978,” Kaminski said via email. “At the time, they were able to complete the plans for the project, working with the renowned late architect John Dickey.”

The effort never got off the ground, and Dickey’s plans remained in Laurel Hill’s archives until recent fundraising, along with a $100,000 challenge grant, revived them.

The effort project saw historic marble monuments and gravetones cleaned and restored, new plantings including 19th-century era vines and shrub species added, and walkways repaired. Formal re-dedication took place in June.

One of many honored

The Historic Preservation Alliance selected the Medallion Garden restoration as one of 17 projects it will honor this year in recognition of the role historic preservation plays in the city’s economy and neighborhood revitalization.

Other winners include: Chestnut Hill’s Vanna Venturi House, recognized as the 2012 AIA Philadelphia Landmark Building; the Friends of Mt. Moriah Cemetery; and the Termini Bros. Bakery in South Philadelphia. Winners will be recognized at a ceremony May 8. The alliance’s website offers a full list of winners and further details.

With the Medallion Garden project complete, Kaminski said the Friends of Laurel Hill are now seeking funding for their next landscape restoration project, expanding outward into the Chapel section and again using 19th-century documentation for guidance.

Also, the Friends plan to build on Laurel Hill’s connections to the Civil War and upcoming commemorations of its 150th anniversary by restoring the landscape and grave of Gen. George Gordon Meade.


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