A 'modest proposal' could save Eastern's log cabin

The Suburban and Wayne Times

Rachel Perry

13 March 2008

Who ever thought that a small, decaying log cabin could be the source of so much controversy? Although it has been closed up for years, the log clubhouse at Eastern University made news recently when the school planned to tear it down. According to Ted Pollard, president of the Radnor Historical Society, in October 2006 another society member was walking her dog on the campus and noticed that the cabin was taped off. Due to the protests of local preservation groups, Eastern administrators decided to postpone the demolition. Since then, Pollard and others have been working hard to ensure that the log clubhouse, which Pollard says is the "premier cabin of its type in the country," doesn't get knocked down.

The 1,700 sf cabin was built in 1912 as part of the Walmarthon estate of Charles Walton, and it has filled a variety of uses over the last 96 years: guest house, music practice studio, Eastern's student center and more. "They spent a lot of time on the design," Pollard said. "To me, it's the heart of the campus, and it would be an absolute disaster [to lose it]. When it's restored, it will be the jewel of the campus." But there's no promise that the cabin will even be restored, although 2006 architectural studies done by Richard Ortega, a local preservation and design professional, and Marcus Brandt, a log-cabin restoration specialist, claimed that the building is savable - a report that conflicted with an earlier study performed at the cabin.

"The university was worried because they'd gotten a couple of quote-experts, who told them it had a lot of bugs and was in danger of falling down," Pollard said. Archer & Buchanan recently published a report of the studies done by Ortega and Brandt, and proposed a four-phase restoration plan, carried out by the company itself, for the cabin.

"We recognize that full restoration of the log clubhouse will be an expensive, long-term endeavor that can take a commitment of time, money and resources that neither Eastern University nor the concerned preservation organizations are able to immediately provide," the published report, titled "A Modest Proposal for Saving the Log Club House at Eastern University," stated. "Therefore, we are proposing an incremental, phased approach to stabilizing and using the structure."

However, at this time, the university has not taken a clear stance on the proposed renovations and plans to take more time to review the phased plan. "We just received a proposal from the architect and a lot of time hasn't been given at this time for review," said Carl Altomare, executive director of campus services at Eastern. "[A decision] hasn't been made yet; it's being evaluated at all levels. Obviously, there's a significant cost involved with the renovation. I'm not sure what we'd actually use it for, but of course that will be studied as well. But I do know that a final decision has not been made ... "

Some suggested uses for the restored structure, proposed by the report, were an environmental study station, a small conference facility, a special-events facility, a coffee shop or a student club or small university department headquarters. "We need to continue the dialogue with the university to see what they want to do for an end use," Pollard said. "We'd like to ask the Eastern community, 'What would you like to use it for?"' But the students and alumni of the university already have a lot to say about the possible uses of a restored cabin - and the notion of restoring it at all.

"Amidst the questionable expansion of Eastern's - to this point - environmentally unconscious and architecturally mediocre facilities, I would be sad to see the loss of an important aspect of its vernacular architecture," said Eastern junior Josh Lore. "In my opinion, the cabin holds quantitative value on campus as well as qualitative - the former, in terms of usable space ... The latter, though, is obviously the main issue. It's part of the area's heritage. Its presence ties the island to the original estate, and it ties the campus to the past. It gives the contextual value that keeps Eastern from being merely identified as 'another institution."'

"I don't like any kind of home demolitions," said senior Peder Wiegner. "I think the cabin is a nice aesthetic presence on campus." I'd be sad if they demolished it," chimed in 2006 graduate Sarah Vanacore. Wiegner and Lore also expressed distaste about the idea of the building becoming a gift shop. "I think a gift shop is a bad idea. It should serve a higher purpose," said Lore. "An environmental study center is a good idea. Another possibility would be a museum. Not necessarily an 'Eastern museum,' but perhaps for the anthropology or some other department. That may or may not be practical; I don't know for sure."

2005 alumnus Pat Gann said, "I was totally upset when I learned the cabin would be demolished. When the plans were put on hold, I was happy." While Gann said that he doesn't know that he would consider the cabin to be an "important asset" to Eastern's campus, at least "not from a utilitarian/functional standpoint,'' he doesn't want to see it demolished.

"Ultimately, it's just a really pretty building. I'd like to see it stay," he said. "I don't think the restored cabin ought to be used for anything fancy. A club meeting place would probably be best." "I always hate to see beautiful architectural and historical buildings demolished just because they are no longer useful or functional," said Lauren Russin Stouten, another 2005 alumnus of the university. "I don't think we have to come up with a utilitarian use for the cabin in order to justify its presence on campus. It should remain standing because it's a part of Eastern and Radnor history. Even though it's not one of the most prominent Eastern landmarks, it is still a landmark and I always enjoyed seeing it on campus. After all, how many campuses in the country can boast that they have their own log cabin?"

"The cabin by the lake at Eastern University is one of my favorite landmarks on campus," added Shellie Sauder Aseltine, who also graduated from Eastern in 2005. "Whenever I return to campus, I enjoy spending time by the cabin and the lake. This cabin represents a piece of Eastern's history. When I worked in the admissions office giving tours to prospective students and their families, the cabin was often a notable place to stop for pictures. If restoration is feasibly possible, I would be greatly disappointed with Eastern's students, faculty and administration if they instead decided to demolish this architectural landmark."

But one student didn't find as much value in the cabin's presence as some of the others. "I would say the cabin is not as important an asset to the campus as, say, the waterwheel, which appears on far more EU publications and advertisements," said Brian Baker, a 2005 alumnus. "If the cabin is to be restored, however, it could not be used for events until some way is paved for ambulances and fire trucks to have access to it. And such renovation is bound to further threaten the beauty of the campus. Part of my ardor for EU is its tranquility, its rusticness, its counterutilitarian serenity; in and of itself I have no qualms about the proposed demolition of the cabin, but I'd hate to see the whole campus suffer what the entranceway suffered when Eagle Hall was erected."

As for Baker's claim that the cabin could not be used until it's accessible by rescue vehicles, Altomare said that that's not actually been proven yet - the Radnor Fire Department would need to come out and assess the site. The cabin is accessible to certain types of vehicles, via a paved section of ground under a shallow part of the lake, but it's not certain whether fire trucks or ambulances would be able to drive through the water.

Right now, though, the cabin is in apparent disrepair - a recent visit by Suburban staff found it to be full of trash, leaves, holes and even the decaying carcass of a raccoon. But in the opinions of Ted Pollard and other cabin preservation activists, the vaulted ceiling in the main room, the original stone fireplace and the feeling of genuine history that fills the cabin are more than enough to make the restoration worthwhile for the university. A lot of renovations will be needed if the plan is carried out - to the tune of $ 1 million or $1.5 million dollars, which the proposal said would hopefully be funded at least in part by grants.

"In writing this report and formulating our Modest Proposal, we recognize that making impassioned pleas, outlining a logical viable approach to restoration and citing inspired goals for others is far easier than raising the funds, committing institutional and organization resources and marshaling a complex and delicate process over an extended period of time," the proposal concluded. "The real work has yet to begin and it will take a long-term commitment of time, materials and money. We believe this report proposes a realistic and viable approach to taking on a complex challenge in small steps over time."

This log cabin that sits in the middle of Eastern University's campus was slated for demolition, but university administrators put a hold on the process as per a request from local preservation groups. A four-phase architectural proposal from Archer & Buchanan, was recently sent to the Radnor Historical Society and Eastern University but has not yet been approved.

Houzz Pro Spotlight: How Rural Regulations Can Enrich Your Country Estate

A West Chester architect shares design opportunities - 27 March 2017

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

AIA Philadelphia - 25 November 2013

50 Years of Stuckeman Works

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Feature - 1 May 2013

AIA Small Projects Structure Winner

Architectural Products
 - 1 July 2008

Please Vote for ABA's Cor-Ten Cattails

Architizer - 3 March 2015

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit House in PA

Associated Press - 12 December 2012

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit house in PA Country

Associated Press Video - 12 December 2012

Digital Underground

Bucks Life - 1 September 2013

On the drawing board

Building Design + Construction - 1 July 2013

Historic Stonework Defines New Residential Design

Building Stone Magazine - 28 June 2017

Estates of Excellence

Chester County Town & Country Living - 1 October 2001

Bucolic Beauty, Classic Charm

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 June 2005

Preserving Land and History

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 April 2005

An Epic in the Making

Chester County Town & Country 
Living - 23 October 2008

Unique Homes - A House fit for a Hobbit

CNN Money - 28 November 2011

Vision Becomes Reality for Tolkien Collector

Collector’s News - 1 October 2006

Fit for a Hobbit

Cottages & Bungalows - 1 February 2009

Home of the Month

County Lines - 1 March 2013

All Around Farm

County Lines - 1 February 2013

73rd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2013

Kimberton Sanctuary

County Lines - 1 September 2012

72nd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2012

Arts & Crafts Inspiration

County Lines - 1 February 2010

71st Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2011

Preserving & Celebrating History

County Lines Magazine - 31 January 2017

Mercer Hill Farm

Covertside - 1 December 2007

Ground broken for Lenfest Center

Daily Local News - 24 May 2012

The return of an old favorite is brewing in Greenville

Delaware Community News - 16 August 2009

Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve dedication planned

Delaware County News Network - 1 June 2013

Archer & Buchanan's Cattail Fence Wins Design Award

Dexigner.com - 20 September 2012

Soundproof Theater Fits Country Lifestyle

Electronic House
 - 1 May 2008

A cottage fit for a hobbit

Fine Homebuilding - 1 May 2007

Adirondack, Shingle Style

Fine Homebuilding - 1 April 2005

Sounds as Good as it Looks

Fine Homebuilding - 1 March 2005

Mud Room's the Name, Organizing's the Aim

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 24 September 2015

Arts & Crafts and Automobiles

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 1 March 2017

Swarthmore's New Greenhouse

Garden Design - 24 February 2010

On the Fence

Gardening Australia Magazine - 1 June 2015

Scott's new Wister Center receives Green Building of America Award

Greater Philadelphia Gardens - 20 August 2009

Old-fashioned Entertainment

HD Living - 1 January 2008

"Home Sweet Home" in a Barn

HGTV - 23 February 2017

5 Houses Where You Can Pretend to Be a Hobbit

HGTV Front Door - 9 December 2013

Can't go wrong with...

HGTV Magazine - 1 April 2013

Converting an Old Horse Barn in Pennsylvania

Hooked on Houses - 5 September 2013

15 Dream Closets to Admire

Houzz - 23 January 2017

Renovation Detail: The Transom Window

Houzz.com - 3 May 2012

Groom your Rooms with Kentucky Derby Decor

Houzz.com - 29 April 2012

Staircase Landings Worth a Linger

Houzz.com - 10 November 2012

8 Fireplaces to Feed Your Kitchen's Style

Houzz.com - 21 January 2013

Fall in Love with Lacquer

Houzz.com - 7 January 2016

Sample Bright Color in the Kitchen

Houzz.com - 27 February 2012

Beauty Goes Beyond the Eye of the Beholder

Houzz.com - 28 August 2013

14 Gardens Straight out of Fairy Tales

Houzz.com - 31 January 2015

25 Most Bookmarked Houzz Tours of 2012

Houzz.com - 1 January 2013

25 Dream Homes to Satisfy Your Soul

Houzz.com - 17 June 2012

Help Your Stair Landing Take Off

Houzz.com - 6 June 2012

9 Ways to Boost Winter Curb Appeal

Houzz.com - 28 November 2013

4 Hobbit Houses Bring Charm to the Landscape

Houzz.com - 1 December 2012

Academy Attic Hearth Uncovered

Lower Merion Historical Society Milestones - 1 April 2009

Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd.

Luxury Home Quarterly - 1 April 2011

Mod Men

Main Line - 1 October 2009

A Celebration of Preservation

Main Line Suburban Life
 - 1 September 2010

Custom Cozy

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Peeling Back the Layers

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Country Living

Main Line Today - 25 January 2011

A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

Main Line Today - 5 February 2016

Handmade Marvel

Main Line Today - 1 December 2006

Homage to Okie

Main Line Today - 14 January 2009

Artsy Elegance

Main Line Today - 1 June 2008

Element of Surprise

Main Line Today - 22 January 2010

Going to The Whip

Main Line Today - 1 March 2008

101 Reasons to Love the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Main Line Today Magazine - 1 March 2015

Music Recording, Down on the Farm

Mix - 1 August 2002

The New Hampshire House

Montco Homes, Gardens, & Lifestyle - 1 November 2016

Take a Tour of the Lenfest Center…

Natural Lands Spring/Summer 2013 - 1 June 2013

Chester Co. Hobbit House Belongs to Lifelong Tolkien Fan

NBC 10 Philadelphia - 14 December 2012

Okie Inspired

New Old House - 1 April 2009

Starry Night Farm

New Old House - 1 January 2008

Small Comfort

Period Homes - 1 July 2007

Built to Last

Period Homes - 1 January 2007

Pure and Simple

Period Homes - 1 November 2009

Fluid Forms

Period Homes - 1 September 2006

Equestrian Lifestyle

Period Homes - 1 May 2013

Palladio Through the Years

Period Homes - 1 January 2011

A Place in the Sun

Period Homes
 - 1 March 2006

Stable R&R

Period Homes
 - 1 July 2005

Great Expectations

Philadelphia - 1 June 2009

Making New Look Old

Philadelphia Business Journal - 8 June 2007

Finding an Architect

Philadelphia Home & Garden - 1 January 2007

Cool Rooms

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 October 2003

Safe Harbor

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 June 2006

Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 June 2011

Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 May 2014

A Newfangled, Old-Fashioned Mash Up

Philadelphia Inquirer - 6 July 2013

Decorator unleashes the potential of her own home

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 July 2011

Jawdropper of the Week: Nirvana in Devon for $8M

Philadelphia Magazine - 9 February 2017

The Stunning New Farmhouse on Historic Ardrossan Estate


Back to the barn

Philadelphia Style - 1 November 2007

Architectural Portfolio "Outstanding Designs"

Press Release - 1 November 2008

Archer & Buchanan’s Land Preserve Wins Design Award

Press Release - 23 September 2013

Christian Activities Building

Press Release - 1 May 2009

Archer & Buchanan Student Activities Center Opens

Press Release - 1 October 2012

Wister Center Wins GOLD

Press Release - 1 November 2010

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

Press Release - 1 November 2013

Archer & Buchanan Names New Senior Associate

Press Release - 1 August 2012

Archer & Buchanan Bring on New Principal

Press Release - 1 June 2012

New Life for Water Works Building

Press Release - 1 November 2011

Archer & Buchanan Receives Best of Houzz 2014 Award

Press Release - 4 February 2014

Archer & Buchanan Receives 2014 Palladio Award

Press Release - 10 March 2014

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Wins First Outstanding Firm Award

Society of American Registered Architects, Pennsylvania Council honors firm and new project - 30 November 2015

Remaking History

Suburban Life - 1 March 2012

Big Building Projects at Grove City College

The Business Journal - 9 February 2011

Down on the Farm

The Hunt - 1 April 2008

The Custom Home - Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt - 1 December 2012

The Custom Home: Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt Magazine - 1 December 2013

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Lenfest Center Opens at the ChesLen Preserve

The Hunt Magazine - 22 July 2013

Modernizing an 18th Century Farmhouse

The Hunt Magazine - 20 June 2017

A Barn For all Reasons-- Especially Parties

The Hunt Magazine - 4 May 2016

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Giving Antique Objects a Second Chance

The Hunt Magazine - 19 January 2017

The Wister Education Center and Greenhouse

The Journal of Green Building - 1 April 2010

Pet Projects

The Philadelphia Inquirer - 11 December 2015

A 'modest proposal' could save Eastern's log cabin

The Suburban and Wayne Times - 13 March 2008

Stars Align to Spotlight Preserve’s Latest Addition

The Unionville Times - 18 June 2013

Complementing History

Traditional Building Magazine - 23 June 2014

Planting Ideas

Traditional Building
 - 1 October 2010

All-Around Adaption

Untacked Magazine - 4 May 2015

Happy Days

Veranda - 1 January 2013

Loading tweets...