News and Events

Farewell goes out sighing: A tribute to 246 W. 10th Street

The Tudor/Arts and Crafts style home that once sat between the buildings of Cathedral Prep at 246 W 10th Street, was built around 1906. Its original inhabitant was Henry A. Messenger and his wife, Myrtle. He was an insurance salesman who kept his office at 1119 State Street and was also a popular musician and vocalist who was active in local choruses. They lived there briefly and sold the home to Allan D. and Florence Robinson Skinner around 1913. The Skinners were the family who ultimately made the home what it was, as they lived there for over 30 years. 

A.D. Skinner took over the Presidency of Skinner Engine Company, “one of the largest engine building concerns in the world and a leader of Erie’s most progressive industries,” which was started by his father, LeGrand Skinner in 1868. They lived the life of the wealthy elite, collected art from around the world, and regularly traveled to exotic places, like Bermuda, Cuba, and Panama. Florence Robinson Skinner was a direct descendent of Oliver Hazard Perry. Her grandmother Deborah Perry was O. H. Perry’s first cousin, and according to an Erie Times News article in 1913, three relics of O.H. Perry were in Florence’s possession at 246 W 10th Street: a warming pan, a sword, and a scabbard and belt. Florence was also key in the committee that created the Niagara Drive in 1929, which collected $50,000 in donations to create the Niagara Preservation Fund to help save Perry’s famous ship from destruction. According to the 1930 census, the home’s value was $32,000, which is the equivalent of $511,000 today. 

In 2000, Tile Heritage Magazine featured information on the Messenger/Skinner house because of the rare, hand-painted tiles featured in the home’s mantels and bathrooms. The article noted that the home was designed by F.B. Meade and James Hamilton of Cleveland. One large fireplace in the right front room contained a mural of a ship made of 6 in. x 6 in. tiles set above the mantel constructed of buff bricks with a curved top. This also contained two 8-inch seahorse roundels as well as relief designs in glazed cream and blue. Another large fireplace in the left front room contained a custom tile mural depicting a country home flanked with pineapple tiles.  Set above the mantel were two tiles with shields flanking a lettered banner that read, “Welcome Ever Smiles and Farewell Goes Out Sighing.” The fireplace in the dining room featured tiles with magnolia branches in relief over pale vellum 6 in. x 6 in. tiles. Two upstairs bathrooms also featured handmade tiles, one with a water lily border and one with fish and frogs, both containing rich relief and border tiles. Given the exotic subject matter of the tiles and since the Skinner family was so wealthy and well-traveled, it stands to reason that they had these tiles installed sometime in the 1920s, which was the heyday of the family’s success.

A.D. Skinner died in 1942, and Florence just three years later. After her death, the family home was given to Bishop John Mark Gannon. In an article from the Erie Times News on November 14, 1945, “The beautiful residence will be used in conjunction with the new Cathedral Prep school which adjoins the Skinner home. While plans are indefinite, it is understood the home will be used either as a faculty residence or converted into additional classrooms.” It was the intention of the family who made the home the landmark it was, and of the Bishop also, that the home become part of the school. 

On Tuesday, May 18th, 2021, Cathedral Prep began demolition of the historic home at 246 W. 10th Street. The school publicly commented that they needed the land on which the house sat to complete a proposed 30,000 square foot addition. Unfortunately, attempts by interested parties to salvage some of the historic features of the home proved unsuccessful, and much, if not all, of the rare handmade tiles, woodwork, original windows, floors, trim, and millwork, were lost in the demolition.

What might have been done differently?

Planning is a key part of any project. Just as budget, goals and/or end function, and timeline are important to consider, so too is the value and potential use of historic resources that may be impacted by the proposed project. Rather than choosing demolition as a default option, it is important for property owners to consider questions like: Is removal of the historic resource necessary? Why? Have alternatives that allow the resource to be retained in its current location and adaptively reused been considered?

If, after thoughtful discussion and planning (ideally with the input of preservation groups and/or design professionals with experience working with historic properties) the historic resource as a whole must be removed, consider if building materials and architectural features can be reused. Elsewhere in the country, some cities are encouraging building reuse by requiring via ordinance the salvage and reuse of materials in place of destructive mechanical demolition that results in the bulk of building materials from demolished structures being shipped directly to landfills. Although from a preservation perspective deconstruction and salvage are not as beneficial as wholesale building reuse, they are an important step in the right direction for property owners who opt for demolition. Locally, Habitat for Humanity has assisted in salvaging materials from historic properties slated for demolition with the intent to make them available in their re-sale store.

We wish that the community had had the chance to tour this impressive residence during an open house prior to demolition, and we hope that Cathedral Prep had the foresight to photo-document the home and its one-of-a-kind craftsmanship.

Our cultural heritage (and the environment) suffers when buildings are treated as disposable.

Preservation Erie Announces 2021 Erie County’s Most Endangered Properties List

After accepting nominations from the public, assessing and considering each nominated property’s individual threat and significance to the community, Preservation Erie has published the 2021 list of Erie County’s Endangered Properties.

The list highlights Erie County’s Most Endangered Properties. The nine properties included on the list face an immediate threat of demolition, functional obsolescence, or neglect and slow decline. They are: 

  1. Former Greyhound Bus Terminal, North Park Row, Erie PA
  2. Continental Rubber Works Building, the block of W 20th and Liberty, Erie PA
  3. 59 W Main Street, North East PA
  4. Burton School, 1661 Buffalo Rd, Erie PA
  5. Irving School, 2310 Plum St, Erie PA
  6. Manchester Road/Swanville School, Rt 20 and Manchester Rd, Fairview PA
  7. Joshua C. Thornton House, W Lake Rd, Fairview Twp, PA
  8. Short Street Row Houses, 214, 216, 216 ½ Short Street, Erie PA
  9. East Erie Turners, 829 Parade Street, Erie PA
Joshua C. Thornton House

Preservation Erie has compiled this list as a way to bring community awareness to the historic resources in Erie County that are presently threatened and help Preservation Erie to focus outreach efforts with the intent to positively impact these important places. 

Preservation Erie plans to update this list yearly.

Short Street Rowhouses

214, 216, 216 1/2 Short Street, Erie, PA

According to county tax records, the trio of row houses at the start of Short Street at Sassafras were built between 1832-1835.  Originally, there were at least five houses comprising the original grouping of homes.  This neighborhood was established in the 1830s by abolitionist William Himrod as the “New Jerusalem” area of the city.  He purchased tracts of land from Sassafras Street to Cherry Street and North of 6th Street and gave the land to Black men and women escaping slavery, or who were free, for them to build homes and a community.  It stands to reason, given the construction date of these homes and their location, that they were likely a part of this early community.  

216 Short Street was purchased in 2006 by New Millennium Realty Development Corporation/Andrew Sisinni. This was the center of the group of three row houses remaining on Short Street.  In 2018, this center property was partially demolished, the facade removed, then left open to the elements without any barriers to the sidewalk and street.  Neighbors reported wild animals making nests in the rubble.  The home stayed in that condition for a year before the center row house was completely demolished, leaving the westernmost home (216 ½ Short Street) and 214 Short Street now as free standing houses.  In February of 2021, 214 Short Street was sold to an entity known as Phoenix Realty Development Group.  

These properties are considered endangered, since one has already been demolished by a development group and the other is now owned by a development group.  Preservation Erie has placed calls to the permit office to determine if a demolition permit has been obtained on this property, but have not heard back at this time.  These properties have a view of Erie’s bayfront which puts these homes at further risk of demolition for modern development as income property.

Joshua C. Thornton House

West Lake Road, Fairview Township

The Thornton house was built in 1870 by Joshua C. Thornton, who amassed great personal wealth through farming. It is a great example of the Italianate/Italian Villa architectural style. This home has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in the area of Architecture. It is one of just over 300 remaining examples of the Italianate style in Erie County, and the Thornton house represents the most common subtype in Erie County, which is the square building with a hipped or pyramidal roof capped by a cupola and featuring projecting eaves with decorative brackets. The home also reflects the rich agricultural history of Fairview Township and Erie County as a whole.

The Thornton house is located on West Lake Road in Fairview Township and is owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which acquired the property in 1972. The Commission recently submitted project plans to the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office for review that call for the demolition of the Joshua C. Thornton House. In response, the PA SHPO issued a letter which included the following statement, “The Joshua C. Thornton is a rare remaining example of Italianate style architecture in this region. Therefore, it is necessary to consider options for its preservation. Please provide documentation of consideration of a variety of alternatives that avoid or minimize effects to the identified historic properties. The analysis should clearly state the problems to be solved/needs of the project and outline with supporting data the alternatives considered. The analysis should provide sufficient data and supporting documentation to demonstrate why a particular alternative is or is not viable. The data should not be manipulated to support a predetermined outcome; rather, the selection of the preferred alternative should be supported by the data itself.”

Preservation Erie has also written to the PA Fish and Boat Commission in support of alternatives to demolition of the Joshua C. Thornton House.

Read Preservation Erie’s letter.

Read the PA State Historic Preservation Office’s letter.

Read the Fairview Area Historical Society’s letter.

Concerned citizens who wish to voice their opinion on the matter may use these letters as templates and submit their own letters to the PA Fish and Boat Commission. Contact information for the PA Fish and Boat Commission is included in the sample letters.

Manchester Road/Swanville Schoolhouse

Route 20 and Manchester Road, Fairview Township

The Swanville School was one of four brick school houses built in Fairview Township around the turn of the twentieth century. The others were Manchester School, Avonia School, and South High on Tannery Road just west of Route 98. The other three have been restored and put to new uses, while the Swanville School sits abandoned and in poor condition.  Swanville School was built in 1900 and was in use as a school until the early 1950’s when the one room schools were closed. Since then, it has been used as an auction house, a restaurant, and an audio store. It has now been empty for many years and is not being maintained. Without investment by the current property owner, or the investment of a new property owner, the condition of this resource will continue to degrade.

Erie’s Public Schools Decommissioned School Buildings

Over the last two decades (at least), enrollments in schools in rustbelt cities like Erie have declined, forcing consolidations of resources and closures of school buildings. Many of the schools that have been closed were built in the early 20th century and are outdated by modern academic standards – getting a good wifi signal may be a challenge, for example. These schools may also need significant upgrades to critical systems like plumbing and HVAC. However, these urban schools are often also integral parts of their communities, and leaving them vacant can negatively impact the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which they are located. While the challenges for these large, aging structures are great, their possibilities for adaptive reuse are extensive and can help provide stability to neighborhoods in transition. 

Burton School, 1660 Buffalo Road

Of the schools that were closed by Erie’s Public Schools in 2012, two remain vacant and on the market. After being listed for sale in 2017, Burton School is again on the market. In April 2021, the school board approved Erie’s Public Schools listing Burton School at 1660 Buffalo Road, built in 1894, for $389,000. 

Per the Erie Times News article “From Burton to Wayne: These Erie schools are for sale,” written by Ed Palatella and published July 7, 2017, “Burton was named after a family that helped settle that area, and the school originally was located in Millcreek Township and served as a small high school, according to the school district. Burton became part of Erie’s Public Schools following the annexation of land in 1920.”

The second unused school remaining is Irving, which was built around 1897 as Public School No. 6 and renamed in recognition of American author Washington Irving in 1914. It is located at 2310 Plum Street.

Irving School, 2310 Plum Street

In this instance, functional obsolescence is the threat. When their original intended function is no longer needed in the community, a new way of doing business exists, or users prefer a different type or style of space, buildings can be threatened with inappropriate alterations, physical deterioration, or even demolition. The futures of Burton and Irving Schools are unknown as the Erie City school district pursues buyers for the two vacant buildings.

59 W. Main Street, North East

This single family, 528 square foot home is located on the south side of North East’s Main Street. The condition of the property has declined significantly following a fire in December 2016 that damaged or destroyed the three structures located immediately to the east of 59 W. Main Street, including a second property – a two-story home – that shared the same address/house number.

Although the home is located just outside of the North East Historic District boundary, it was included in the 2014 countywide inventory of historic resources. For the purpose of the inventory, it was categorized as a Class 2 resource, which are “Properties containing historic resources at least 75 years old and of high architectural significance and architectural integrity; these properties, in the opinion of the inventory/preservation consultant, have the potential to be determined eligible for the National Register.”

The property was acquired by the Erie County Land Bank in May 2021. Presently, the building has boarded up doors and windows and is fully surrounded by orange construction fencing. At the publishing of this write-up, the home had not yet been evaluated by the Erie County Land Bank, nor had decisions been made regarding its future.

Former Greyhound Bus Terminal

North Park Row, Erie, PA

Built on the site of the demolished Park Opera House on North Park Row in 1939, Erie’s Greyhound Bus Terminal was designed by W. A. Arrasmith of Louisville, Kentucky, a nationally known transportation architect responsible for dozens of Greyhound facilities in nearby states. Greyhound believed having similar looks to their stations, would better establish their name in people’s memories. Many of their stations from the 1930s and 1940s were designed by this architectural firm, including the Washington, D. C. station of 1939. In Erie, Arrasmith used a curved corner, and ribbon windows to evoke images of speed and sleekness. The windows above the entry canopy have an arched end. The concrete and aluminum canopy once sheltering the bus bays remains on the west elevation.

 The Erie Greyhound Bus Terminal operated from this site from 1939 to 1986.

The building is Erie’s only pure example of the Art Moderne style and is a unique representation of Arrasmith’s work, as the Erie terminal is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, bus stations he designed. The glazed exterior surface, the sleek curvi-linear floor plan, the liberal use of glass brick and aluminum, make this Moderne building take on a streamlined, machine-like appearance expressive of America’s newfound fascination with high-speed highway transportation.

The interior of the terminal once included a twenty-three-seat lunch counter that was separated from the foyer by a curved wall. The waiting room featured self-service luggage lockers, ticket windows, and a baggage room. The waiting room included wooden benches that could seat up to sixty people, and there were two doorways that led to the bus concourses. A second level in the terminal contained restrooms and lounges that overlooked the restaurant, as well as a driver’s room and an office situated above the kitchen. Today, this second level serves as storage for the current tenant, which is a bar and nightclub.

Because the building was used as the Greyhound Bus Terminal for the City of Erie and surrounding communities for nearly 50 years, it is an incredibly recognized structure. 

Since the bus station closed in 1986, the building has seen several uses, including as a childcare center and bar/nightclub. When it was purchased by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation in 2018, the building tenant was Resolution Nightclub (http://resolutionnightclub.com/) and Coconut Joe’s Outdoor Bar (http://cjoes.com/).

Demolition of the Greyhound Bus Terminal is proposed by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation as part of the rehabilitation of the west Perry Square facing buildings (North Park Row) located in the National Register listed West Park Place Historic District. A rendering of the proposed arcade building which will infill the site of the bus terminal and an overview of the proposed project can be found at https://talkerie.com/2019/12/12/erie-downtown-development-corporation-and-flagship-opportunity-zone-development-company-represent-city-of-erie-as-leading-opportunity-zone-organizations-in-new-national-list/

Continental Rubber Works

W. 20th and Liberty Streets, Erie, PA

The history of the building at 20th and Liberty goes back to the late 1800s when the site was a manufacturing plant for The Black Manufacturing Company, which produced bicycles.  In 1903, the building became Continental Rubber Works, which was founded by Theron Palmer with the assistance of Alex and Charles Jarecki, who were prominent Erie manufacturers.  The Rubber Works added new machinery to the factory in order to produce it’s rubber products, much of which was still associated with bicycle manufacturing, including bicycle tires and tubes, as well as other molded products and hoses.  The building made up approximately 11,000 square feet of manufacturing space and was expanded to take up the entire block from Liberty to Plum in 1914.

Erie Forge and Steel purchased the plant in the 1960s and operations of the building as a plant ceased shortly thereafter.  In the 1980s and 1990s, a concert venue called the Continental Ballroom was run from a space in the building on the corner of 20th and Plum, but code and safety violations shut that operation down in the late 1990s.  The building was vacant and in severe disrepair for many years thereafter.  There are tenants in portions of the building now, but other areas of the building are seriously dilapidated, with crumbling bricks, broken out windows and structural damage.  This is a large, recognizable piece of Erie’s manufacturing, labor, and architectural history that could be adaptively reused in a variety of creative ways.  

The property was purchased in March of 2021 by Leon Commercial Leasing, LLC, who has appealed to the zoning board for permission to construct a new warehouse with a dimensional variance.  It seems that this building is in immediate danger of demolition or major departure from its current footprint with potential loss of the architectural elements that make it recognizable as a part of Erie’s manufacturing history.

Announcement of downtown master plan and historic district process

Girard Borough has begun a multi-year planning and historic preservation effort for downtown Girard that will include the development and adoption of a Master Plan and completion of a National Register of Historic Places nomination for a Downtown Historic District. The objective of this effort is to develop a plan to leverage the unique assets of downtown Girard in a manner that revitalizes the Borough’s central business district. Funding for the project has been secured through grants from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.

Topics to be addressed in the Downtown Master Plan include a market analysis of the town’s assets and history, a branding and marketing strategy for promoting downtown Girard to visitors, and design guidelines for building and infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance within the Borough’s downtown. The completed document will provide invaluable guidance for public officials and local stakeholders for overseeing the development of downtown Girard for the next two decades.

The Borough has hired Buffalo, New York based consultants Urban Vantage and Preservation Studios, to facilitate the planning and historic preservation process. Urban Vantage will assist with the preparation of the Downtown Master Plan, while Preservation Studios will prepare the Downtown Historic District National Register of Historic Places nomination.

Borough Manager Rob Stubenbort shared, “The master plan represents a unique opportunity for the community to provide input and ideas that will impact the downtown for decades to come. Our business district has made great strides in the recent years and must continue to evolve to meet the needs of our visitors and residents.”

As a central part of this process, the Borough is seeking input from the community to inform its efforts. Planned outreach efforts include public meetings, surveys, and personal interviews with interested individuals.

“We invite everyone to participate in the upcoming surveys, discussions, and other chances to be part of the planning process. The more ideas and comments, the better,” Stubenbort said.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, many of these efforts will be held virtually, but the Borough is both hopeful and committed to conducting in-person engagement efforts as well, where and when it is possible to do so safely and in accordance with the recommendations of public health guidelines. More information regarding public engagement efforts will be posted in the coming weeks.  Announcements will be available on the Borough’s website as well on social media as it becomes available.