Look Up! Modernist lines along Haverford Road

Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

They sit above and away from the busy street, but it’s hard to miss the row of 11 mid-century houses at 223 to 251 Haverford Road. Distinguished by their straight lines broken by semi-circles and their light, rectangular stone, the one-story homes look like dwellings in a South Florida or Southern California neighborhood, rather than more traditional Penn Wynne.

They appear to be part of a larger development on the north side of Haverford Road, between Remington Road and Drayton Lane, according to Lori Salgonicoff, historic preservation coordinator for the Lower Merion Conservancy. The builder was apparently the Sycamore Corporation, a company created in 1947 and since dissolved, Salgonicoff found in her research.

The rest of the homes in the development are built of the same materials in a variety of more traditional styles. But like the houses on Haverford, they all “sit off-kilter with their lot lines,” she notes.

The Haverford Road homes “nod toward” the grand Penn Wynne Elementary School across the street, Salgonicoff said. The school was designed in 1930-31 by Ralph E. White. Tracing the architect of the houses is tougher. They were built in 1949-50, according to county records, though they have Art Deco characteristics.

Gary B. Steinberg, an agent with Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, is currently handling the sale of the home at 225 Haverford. “I was hoping to mine some information on the architectural pedigree of this development, but I’ve only been able to categorize the block as designed by Frank Lloyd ‘Wrong,’” he joked. Though the original occupant of the house had “compromised the design with incongruous awning work, the interior features 10-foot ceiling heights and rounded walls, which carry through with the architectural premise. Some on the block have squared, more traditional wall configurations,” Steinberg said.

The current occupant of one of the Haverford properties unlocks the mystery of the homes’ designer. Ricky Zhu, an architect himself who  was attracted to the unique design of the houses, has a copy of the original plans and learned that “Home #2” was designed by John M. Arovitch. Nancy Thorne, archivist at the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives, did not find a biography for Arovitch, but did discover that he worked on four projects in the Parkside section of Philadelphia.

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Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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