Longwood Gardens fights to demolish cottages along Route 1

Photo by Fran Maye These three cottages along Route 1 could be demolished if Longwood Gardens gets approval from Kennett Township.

By Fran Maye

fmaye@journalregister.com

The Kennett Township Planning Commission last week voted 5-3 to grant a 90-day delay in Longwood Gardens’ petition to demolish three cottages located just off Route 1 at Conservatory Road-- The Wiley Sallade House, The Spanish Bungalow and the Italian Bungalow. The houses are in disrepair and haven’t been used for about 10 years.

The recommendation now goes before the full board of supervisors, who have the final say in the matter. That meeting is set for March 18.

Longwood Gardens wants the land on which those houses now sit to become a natural area, much like it was in the late 19th century.

The move by Longwood Gardens to demolish the buildings is an effort to improve the public’s experience of the land. The houses are close to the historic Webb Barn, built in the late 1860s, and will become an event facility.

“This will enhance the driving experience in that area of Route 1,” said Mary Ann Rossi, attorney representing Longwood Gardens. “The houses as they sit are not part of the vision of Longwood, nor do they contribute to the public experience of Longwood.”

The three houses are part of the Longwood National Register Historic District, listed in 1972. As such, they are protected under the Municipalities Planning Code relative to protection of historic resources. But to qualify as historic, the houses must meet certain criteria, specifically:

--The property must be associated with lives of people significant in the past.

--The property must embody distinctive characteristics of a type of method of construction or must represent work of master or represents highs artistic values.

--The property is likely to yield or has yielded information important to history.

--The property must have made a significant contribution to a broad pattern of history.

“These three bungalows have stood as the first visual element of the entrance to Pierre and Alice duPont’s Longwood Gardens for 87 years and they embody the Quaker heritage and horticultural magnificence of Chester County,” said Mary Sue Boyle, historic preservation consultant who presented on behalf of the Kennett Planning Commission. “One would hope when developing a master plan that the intent of the ordinances of the municipalities and respect for the national Register District contributing resources would be incorporated into the vision for the future.”

Rossi agreed the houses are significant, and they tell part of the story of Longwood Gardens, and that they were designed by an important architect.

But she said it’s important to demolish the structures because of the pending reconstruction of the nearby Webb Barn, which will become an event facility.

“People will be able to appreciate the new landscape that will be established,” Rossi said. “With the relocation of Route 52, if these houses are demolished, Longwood will be able to establish between Route 1 and the Web Barn, and the late 19th century agrarian landscape that represents the Chester County at that time. Visitors can then enjoy the horticultural excellence.”

It would cost Lognwood $300,000 to $500,000 to rehabilitate the houses and bring them up to code, Rossi said. And it could cost upward of $1 million to bring them to livable standards. Right now, it costs Longwood about $12,000 per year to heat the structures.

The Kennett Township supervisors will decide the fate of the three structures at the March 18 public meeting.