Restoring the character of Lyceum Ave. one home at a time

Nearly two dozen Lyceum Avenue residents packed into a room in the Roxborough Development Corporation’s office on Wednesday night to learn how to score a big chunk of change to help restore their historic Victorian homes.

As part of a citywide effort to restore historic neighborhoods that have slowly withered in the last couple of decades, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia awarded the Roxborough Development Corporation a $30,000 grant through its Vital Neighborhoods Initiative. The RDC plans to use the grant on homes along the 400 block of Lyceum Avenue, which runs from Ridge Avenue to Pechin Street.

Director of neighborhood preservation programs Patrick Hauck said home restoration is important to single blocks rather than spread across a large area because it helps encourage other nearby homeowners to give their house a pick-me-up too.

“Usually what happens is that people are used to seeing the slow erosion and loss of details to buildings,” he said. “By putting things back, it helps people more clearly see the historic character of their block and helps them to value it in a different way.”

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Homeowners at the meeting seemed excited by the idea of redoing their homes, and even exchanged some compliments of architectural details on porches and fronts of buildings.

Debora Thornton-Mallard, a Lyceum Avenue resident, said she’s interested in applying for the grant and has been thinking about redoing her porch for quite some time.

“I thought if I attended the workshop, it would give me ideas in reference to restoring my porch,” she said. “I like the way historic homes look so welcoming and I’d like my porch to be welcoming.”

Andrew Lazur, another resident who’s lived on the block for six years, said he’s relieved at being able to have grant money for work he already constantly does to his home.

“With old wooden houses and stone structures they’re constantly in need of updating,” he said. “You start at the front and you get to the back and then you start at the front again.”

In addition to giving the block a facelift, James Calamia, operations manager for the RDC, said he hopes the project will help initiate revitalization of the neighborhood in general, and hinted at doing some other work to the area.

“What we want to start looking more closely [at] is things that are going to happen in the future for Lyceum,” he said. “We want to start opening up a door into the past and possibly talking about opening up a new one.”

Those possibilities might include things like streetlights, trash receptacles, a bike lane, trees or a median on the unnaturally wide street.

But before the future can be considered, houses on the block will receive not only a facelift, but an accurate historic representation of their Victorian homes.

Hauck said there will be a committee to review applications, and that group will be able to put stipulations on work being done to ensure historic accuracy.

In addition to approving the nature of the work done, the committee will also decide how much of the cost the grant will cover as well as supply the homeowner with an already-approved contractor.

Residents can receive anywhere from $100 to $5,000 in grant money to help restore the exterior of their homes—meaning porches, the front of the home and possibly some landscaping. The percentage paid for any given project cannot exceed over 70 percent of the cost.

Hauck said he expects the money to run out before every grant hopeful is approved, and money will be granted on a first come, first serve basis.

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