Preserving Pennsylania: A Journey Through the Last 20 Years, Part 17

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.


2010 — Neuweiler Brewery, Lehigh County

Lehigh County

One of the most modern breweries in the United States when it opened in 1913, Neuweiler Brewery survived prohibition and continued to operate until 1968. The property has been largely vacant for more than 40 years, its buildings neglected and deteriorated. As a result of condemnation proceedings that concluded in September 2009, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Allentown (RACA) took ownership of the property. They commissioned a structural assessment of the property, which showed that the surviving elements of the industrial complex are structurally sound. In June 2011, the site was included in a 128-acre area designated as the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), which allows qualified state and local tax revenues to be used for payment of debt service on bonds or loans issued for the development project. RACA conducted a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the property in October 2011; cleanup of the site and remediation of hazardous materials is in progress. In November of 2011, the public Allentown Commercial & Industrial Development Authority (ACIDA) acquired the property and continued RACA’s effort to prepare the property for redevelopment. In July 2012, a Site Reuse Study was completed for the property. This study included a comprehensive analysis of physical facilities, historic structures, and financial feasibility and tested five proposed reuse alternatives for the site. Several potential new uses for the historic brewery property exist, but none are economically viable without significant financial intervention. The Site Reuse Study concluded that the preferred alternative was to demolish two of the complex’s buildings and rehabilitate the remaining buildings for use as a combination of residential apartments, retail and office space, and a restaurant and brew pub. However, the demolition may mean that the property is not eligible for rehabilitation investment tax credits. Without the financial incentive provided by the tax credits, the Site Reuse Study found that it was then more feasible to preserve all of the historic buildings for a mixed-use rehabilitation.

Neuweiler Brewery features prominently in the 2012 Lehigh River Waterfront Master Plan, which provides an overall strategy to direct a phased development approach to the redevelopment of approximately 120 acres along the river, utilizing the unique character and heritage of the area. With the inclusion in the NIZ, site cleanup complete, and the guidance of the Existing Conditions, Site Reuse Study and Waterfront Master Plan, prospective developers have the tools they need to develop the property. Development proposals are currently being considered.


2011 — Hanover Theater, York County

York County

Originally known as the State Theater, the Hanover Theater began its 58-year run as a movie and live performance venue in 1928. The theater combines elements of the Spanish Colonial

Revival and Moderne styles and has an extravagant Arthur Brounet interior. The building was used as a theater until 1986, but has been used minimally for storage purposes since then.  The theater is in need of repairs and modernization of amenities. Under the impression that an organization called Casual Arts would acquire the theater and begin rehabilitating it after two years, a group of committed individuals formed a holding company called Historic Hanover Theater, LLC in 2007 and paid $500,000 to purchase and stabilize the building. Casual Arts did not follow through in 2009. Without the financial resources to rehabilitate the building themselves, Historic Hanover Theater began seeking a new owner with the intention and capacity to acquire and restore the unique venue. By June of 2011, no interested parties stepped forward, so Historic Hanover Theater was forced to offer it for sale on the open market. The resident caretaker moved out of the building, making it more susceptible to vandalism. The size and location of the Hanover Theater make it vulnerable to conversion to apartments, retail or other uses that would not allow for the retention of the theater’s character-defining features. With parking at a premium and a common community perception that the building is unattractive and perhaps unstable, many are calling for the demolition of this historic downtown theater. During the past year, there has been significant activity in Hanover that could help to preserve this resource and revitalize the downtown. A group interested in acquiring the Hanover Theater and rehabilitating it as a performance venue is organizing and working to develop the capacity to take on a project of this nature and scale. This is happening in conjunction with significant momentum in the community to hire a Main Street Manager and develop a convention center in other historic buildings downtown, among other activities. While the Hanover Theater is still at risk of damage from neglect, incompatible alterations and even demolition, it appears that the community of Hanover is taking the right steps to work toward downtown preservation and revitalization, likely including the Hanover Theater.