Buildings At Risk

Name: The Mayer Farmstead

Address: 1580 Fruitville Pike, Manheim Township

Built: 1867

The Mayer Farmstead is a proud but abandoned hamlet of nineteenth-century barns and outbuildings anchored by a forlorn Italianate mansionette along Fruitville Pike.  Surrounded by industrial parks, shopping centers, and freeway on-ramps, this architectural apparition stands like a mothballed diorama of slow demise and obsolete grandeur.

Its hard to imagine anything but impending doom for the site, even if our lame economy has just emptied a few of the big boxes at the Red Rose Commons shopping center next door.  While new retail construction here seems redundant at best, it also seems inevitable.  The site, which includes some of the last actively farmed land in the city’s oldest and closest ring of suburban development, recently sold to a commercial developer with unknown but predictable intentions.

Not that exploiting this land for profit is anything new, of course.  The site’s patriarch, David M. Mayer, was a catch-as-catch-can entrepreneur who had stakes in farming, lumber, and mining, and who established a lime quarry and kiln on the property around the same time his house was built.  Both are featured views in Everts & Stewart’s 1875 New Historical Atlas of Lancaster County, illustrating a fascinating juxtaposition of nineteenth-century tastes and norms.  That an ostentatiously  genteel, lavishly landscaped estate would stand directly across from a smoke-belching pit mine, and indeed, that both would be proud trophies, posed no contradiction to the captains of nineteenth-century industry.  That Mayer’s teenage daughter Lyda (perhaps the young child in the tree swing?) died of consumption in 1888, reportedly in the cupola atop the house, is a cynical parallel drawn purely in hindsight.


Italian Villa

True, not every old building can be saved.  And true, Lincoln Highway East is as close to an architectural lost cause as any four-mile-long parking lot could be.  But catching up on some old news items, this Intel article from March announcing the planned demolition of the former Italian Villa (2331 Lincoln Highway East) begs a few incredulous comments. (Article copied below for when the link expires).

To wit:  “Mark A. Magrecki, director of land development with Steckbeck Engineering & Surveying Inc., told supervisors that NBA Hotel LLC wants to update its site to maintain a competitive edge because there are ‘plenty of hotels popping up.’  Magrecki said the owners want to raze the former Italian Villa East restaurant and comedy club and build an 83-room hotel at the site and connect it with Rodeway Inn’s 39-room motel.

Translation: We need another hotel because we have enough hotels already.  Genius.

Another excerpt:  “Magrecki said after a search on the Internet and talking with Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, he couldn’t come up with any records that the dwelling would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.”

Translation: I didn’t read it on the Internet, so it must not be true.  Google uber alles?

And last but not least: “The supervisors, however, still recommended the owners look into somehow reusing materials from the dwelling in the new structure to give it a local flavor.”

Translation:  Don’t lick the bricks.  They taste Amish.

As a preservation approach encouraged by elected officials, this sets a phenomenally misguided precedent.  A mink coat is not a mink.  A bearskin rug is not a bear.  And a few “historic” stones glued to a new motel is not local heritage.