HAVERFORD TWP. — A public hearing on a validity challenge to the township’s Historic Resource Overlay ordinance and Historic Resource Survey was postponed Monday, pending commissioners’ decision regarding a property at 18 Dartmouth Lane.
Attorney Carl Primavera said his client, Thomas Gravina, plans to file a validity challenge if his property is not removed from the Survey. Gravina unsuccessfully appealed the matter at a hearing before the township’s Historical Commission in Sept. 2010.
According to the ordinance, approved in December 2009, historic designation prohibits demolition by neglect and demolition of historic resources “in whole or in part, including the indiscriminate removal or stripping of significant architectural features” without a permit from the board of commissioners.
Speaking Monday, Historical Commission Chairman Stacey Mattox said the Commission recommended in 2010 and recommends again “that 18 Dartmouth Lane be retained on the township’s Historic Resource Survey.”
Mattox argued that the Gravina’s home, a 1920s Georgian Revival stone mansion, meets National Register Criteria for Evaluation.
Also known as Cobble Court, the house was originally commissioned by J. Hazeltine Carstairs, a prominent Haverford resident and Philadelphia distiller, Mattox said. It was later sold to Henry Breyer, another prominent township resident and owner of the ice cream company in his name.Additionally, it was designed by John Russell Pope, a nationally renowned architect known for the Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery of Art, Mattox said, adding that “It was somewhat unusual for out of town architects to be invited to the Main Line. Carstairs commissioned Pope to build his residence overlooking West Course of the new Merion Golf Club in 1924.”
Additionally, American master blacksmith Samuel Yellin created the front gate at his forge in Pennsylvania, Mattox said.
And the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission issued a National Register determination of eligibility letter in 1989 as part of its review of the property in context of surrounding historic resources in the area of Coopertown, Darby and Marple Roads, Mattox said.
The property has also appeared in books and magazines.
Primavera argued that the Gravinas “have taken meticulous care” of a home where they have lived and raised their family.
“This is not property that’s subject to demolition by neglect, where you need to encourage reinvestment, not a property where there’s risk,” Primavera said.
“We have nothing against historic preservation,” but the Gravinas “have shown excellent stewardship” and should be commended, not treated as suspect with regard to their intentions,” Primavera said.
Primavera added that if the house was more in the public domain and visible from the street such interest would be understandable.
However, “It’s off the beaten track. Anyone who goes to see it is going to be trespassing.” He voiced additional concerns regarding privacy issues, and possibly putting the Gravinas at risk.
Primavera said his client “Will aggressively pursue his rights. We think it would be a shame to spend government and taxpayer money where, if anything, there should be a resolution to support what they’ve done…It’s a showplace.”
Gravina told commissioners he bought the home 20 years ago at a bankruptcy proceeding, after it had been foreclosed on and sat empty for two years.
“It was an eyesore and no one had interest in,” he said. "We bought it, raised our children there. We’ve had zero thoughts of ever doing anything with the property other than keeping it in our family…To have people I’ve never had interaction with wanting to tell me what I can and can’t do with the property…is hard to ignore,” Gravina said.
Suzanna Barucco, Historical Commission vice chairman, acknowledged that the Gravina's have done a fantastic job with their home and should be celebrated.
However, “It’s important to remember the township ordinance is not for today or for the Gravinas.
“It’s for the future…It’s about protecting historic resources for the future,” Barucco said, adding that everyone is subject to zoning ordinances.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the matter Monday.