Profiles on some of the more compelling players in the ongoing battle to keep history alive on the Main Line.
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Ted Pollard and his Radnor Community Preservation Coalition rescue and revive history.
In the coming months, when Ted Pollard is living comfortably as an expatriate in the Yucatán city of Mérida, he’ll either relish what he’s accomplished on the Main Line or regret that he couldn’t have done more. Either way, the president of the Radnor Historical Society will know exactly why he fled to Mexico.
There, he’ll live in a 2,500-square-foot home that cost him just $40,000. Founded in 1542 and organized around cathedral squares brimming with culture, Mérida is a United Nations World Heritage Site, with a local government empowered to protect and preserve its past. Once in town, Pollard will develop a holistic wellness center—and he’ll continue to hope Radnor Township and other Main Line communities adopt a similar sort of long-range vision.
In a final local push, Pollard’s Radnor Community Preservation Coalition celebrates its second anniversary this month. RCPC is a nonpartisan association of neighborhood groups, residents and business owners that stresses community stewardship. It defends the principles that guided initial development in Radnor and the laws that protect its neighborhoods, all to preserve and protect the local quality of life through information, education and communication.
RCPC’s widespread interests include neighborhoods and their cohesiveness, population diversity, affordable housing, open space, historic assets, physical character, natural beauty and environmental issues, parking, storm-water management, density, scale, and traffic. It’s also concerned with the residual effects of housing an increasing number of local college students.
At 64, Pollard isn’t shying away from making RCPC his legacy. Even as he’s gone about resettling in Mexico, each project here has a team leader (some 30 of them) charged with bolstering support. “My goal is to have a foundation or heritage center outside of government to be a watchdog,” says Pollard. “Up to now, we’re still too staggered, too scattered.”
A Radnor Township commissioner from 1992 to 1996, Pollard prefers the grassroots sector. Since returning from Mexico over a year ago, he’s focused entirely on preservation.
To ensure posterity, Pollard says, Main Line communities must unite to form identical protective ordinances to keep developers from hopping from stronger townships to weaker ones. Right now, proper ones don’t exist to support even long-range planning. With no legal guidelines or recourse, townships can waste enormous amounts of time and money. Even Radnor’s Historical and Architectural Review Board ordinance that passed two years ago was 20 years too late, Pollard says. And the commissioners don’t always uphold its recommendations.
“Right now, dollar figures drive projects—not ordinances,” says Pollard. “And it’s frying my buns because it’s ruining the flavor of our town. Inappropriate development can ruin a community.”
Take the destruction last fall of La Ronda in Bryn Mawr. “It’s so sad,” says Pollard, who can’t bring himself to even drive past the site of what was architect Addison Mizner’s only surviving work north of the Mason-Dixon Line. “I’m incensed, really. Shame on Lower Merion Township. La Ronda should’ve been a sacred cow. We have our hands full with Radnor, but this ought to be a wake-up call to everyone for the need for much stronger historic preservation ordinances.”
Of all the RCPC-supported projects, the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Willows Cottage may be the best example. The two-story, 3,000-square-foot linear gatehouse of the historic Willows estate neighbors the famed Ardrossan property on Darby-Paoli Road in Villanova. With $150,000 of in-kind services and another $50,000 in donations, the cottage has been stabilized just in time for its 100th anniversary this year. It’s also the distribution point for Skunk Hollow Farm’s 2-acre community-supported agriculture facility. The initial effort has won several regional and state awards.
Next up: preserving the building and turning it into a full-time endowed environmental education center—that is, if the Friends of the Willows Cottage can raise another $400,000 in partnership with the Radnor Conservancy. “Our partnerships have propelled us,” says Mark Janiczek, the project’s team leader and a residential builder who lives a few blocks from the site. “The community has embraced and encouraged the sustainability movement. We have some great momentum going.”
Other projects on RCPC’s plate include rescuing the Radnor Baptist Cemetery (also called First Baptist Cemetery) in Wayne. Abandoned in 1952, its trust fund went broke, and the bank turned over the burial records for its 400 graves. The historical society matched them with federal Work Projects Administration records, then made a database. Capitalizing on the energy and willingness of groups like the Villanova University women’s cross-country team and local Boy Scouts, volunteers have been cleaning up the 1-acre tract.
Pollard says he could force the township to assume responsibility for the property, based on a 1922 state law written to prevent abandoned cemeteries from causing blight. But as with all the coalition’s work, he’s chosen an educational approach over a confrontational one. Many of the neighbors have applauded the preservation effort—and offered to help.