|THE ARTS |
The Main Line Center of the Arts, located at Old Buck Road and Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, has more than thirty-two professional teachers giving instruction in the performing and visual arts. The Bryn Mawr Art Center, incorporated in 1936, merged in 1963 with the Suburban Art Center working out of junior and senior high school facilities. This art center, although just south of the border of Montgomery County, is the chief center for Lower Merion.
Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and Rosemont College have art galleries and exhibit programs. Bryn Mawr College also owns the Hobson Pittman House at 560 New Gulph Road, a converted carriage house formerly the home and studio of Hobson Pittman (1900-1972). Some of his work and that of others are exhibited there, as well as his eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques, Roman and Greek sculpture, and tribal African pieces.
The Barnes Foundation, 300 North Latch's Lane, Merion, has one of the greatest post-Impressionist French collections in the world, including numerous paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse, as well as masterpieces of other periods and cultures. Dr. Albert Coombs Barnes (1872-1951), himself, and through others, purchased paintings and sculpture in France, and collected early Pennsylvania furniture and handicrafts. A public interest law suit opened the gallery to the general public in 1961. Chartered in 1922, the foundation has offered art appreciation courses that apply John Dewey's philosophy to the collection. The building, designed by Paul Philippe Cret and completed in 1923, has reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz and murals by Matisse.
The Buten Museum of Wedgwood at 246 North Bowman Avenue, Merion, founded in 1957, displays over ten thousand pieces of Wedgwood and offers lectures on the collection.
The Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary art collection contains, in particular, six portraits by Thomas Eakins of distinguished clerics at the seminary. In the 1970s St. Charles Borromeo started a collection of important modern prints.
Lower Merion Township resident and Philadelphia editor Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) contributed to popular education in art by publishing reproductions of old and modern paintings in his influential Ladies' Home Journal, beginning in 1912.
Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was a student at Haverford College where some of his illustrated notebooks are preserved.
Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) worked most of her life in France, but from time to time painted at Cheswold, the Haverford home of her brother, Alexander Cassatt.
The subjects of Vernon Kiehl Newswanger (1900-1980), an instructor in art at Haverford School (1940-1945), were mainly the Amish people and circus scenes.
George M. Harding of Wynnewood painted the murals (1950) for the county Court House rooms in Norristown on local history subjects.
Francis J. Barone of Merion, a member of the art faculty at Temple University and a board member of the Main Line Center of the Arts, combined sculpture and mosaics in several works, notably his abstract mural on a religious theme in the Main Line Reform Temple on Montgomery Avenue in Wynnewood.
Martha Armstrong (1940- ), Haverford resident, has had several gallery shows of her paintings, including those of Lower Merion suburban scenes.
Ranulph Bye (1916- ) of the Moore College of Art included a Main Line railway station in his book The Vanishing Depot (Wynnewood, 1973).
Lower Merion Township's architecture took its characteristic Victorian American flavor in close association with the Pennsylvania Railroad in the1870s. It built new stations, mostly designed by Joseph Wilson in stick style; the best extant example is the Wynnewood Station.
The first wave of Lower Merion Township building in the 1870s and 1880s was mainly high-style residences, hotels, and mansions, often for summer use. Its rich architecture is described in an excellent up to date survey by Carl E. Doebley, edited by Phyllis C. Maier: Lower Merion--A Portrait (Philadelphia, 1976). Often the residences are in a generally brutalist, many-towered style, as if to indicate the wealth of the owner. A characteristic example in the popular Scottish medieval castle style is Maybrook (Penn Road, Wynnewood), designed by George and William Hewitt in 1881.
William L. Price specialized in designing mansions such as Alan Wood's Woodmont (1890), now the center of the Peace Mission Movement.
Rathalla, designed in 1889 by Hazelhurst and Huckle and completed in 1891 in a French chateau style, is now part of Rosemont College.
The Frank Furness mansion type can be seen in Dolobran, Haverford (1881, 1894). In the general style, with a magnificent interior and ceiling treatment (one wing demolished) is the Otto Haas residence, Spring Mill and County Line Roads, Villanova.
Colonial Revival is the style of the often re-built Appleford (1728, 1890s, and in 1926 by R. B. Okie), now managed by Lower Merion Township. Numerous examples of the English country house survive, notably the Caspar Wistar Morris house by Mellor and Meigs on Rose Lane in Haverford (1916).
Trained in the Beaux Arts style, Paul Philippe Cret designed along simpler lines the residence and museum of the Barnes Foundation, completed in 1923.
More modest but still substantial homes appeared, often with towers, but now in a shingle style or in so called Queen Anne, with a free mixture of historic styles; examples on the Haverford College campus date generally from about the 1880s.
Quaker architect Addison Hutton (1834-1916) designed college architecture in the Victorian manner: Barclay Hall at Haverford College (1875), its original tower now demolished; and Taylor Hall (1878-85) at Bryn Mawr College. Hutton was replaced at Bryn Mawr College by Cope and Stewardson, who did the next six academic Victorian Gothic buildings in a Collegiate Gothic derived from Oxford.
Ecclesiastical Gothic is the style of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, designed by architect Charles M. Burns in 1879-81 and 1901. Many smaller churches along the Main Line followed this model. Sloan and Hutton used the Italian style in designing St. Charles Borromeo Theological Seminary (1868), while Edwin F. Durang chose an angular Gothic style for Our Lady of Good Counsel (1896) in Bryn Mawr.
Frank Furness designed the original building of the Bryn Mawr Hospital (1893) in a strongly Romanesque vein, and the Bryn Mawr Hotel (1891), now the Baldwin School, in a heavily towered and chimneyed style. The firm of Furness and Evans did the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford (1895 and 1897), with the usual Furness-Victorian interest in contrasting interior and exterior surfaces.
In the 1920s country-style houses were popular in the township, as well as a number of revival styles, most notably the S. A. Love English Village in Wynnewood, based on English Cotswold cottages. Quite by itself is the uniquely Moorish Albrecht Flower Shop (1928), Meeting House Lane and Montgomery Avenue, a startling contrast to its Quaker plain-style neighbor, Merion Meetinghouse (1695).
After World War II new commercial building developed along City Line, badly planned from a parking and shopping viewpoint, and the designs, with only one or two exceptions, clichés.
The failure of planning and design in this important area, a business tax haven from Philadelphia, contrasts with the sensitive Art Deco style of Suburban Square in Ardmore by Dreher and Churchman (1928). Suburban Square was remodeled (1979-80) as a suburban mall with no loss of integrity.
Architect Robert Venturi has taught "the lesson of Las Vegas," a new respect for strip architecture, and Lower Merion contains a magnificent example--Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, between Wynnewood and Haverford. Here is a rich visual succession of signs, a factory building, a new shopping area, an older Art Deco block (No. 60 West), an old movie facade outlined by light bulbs, a converted gallery, auto lots, and so forth.
Lower Merion has few examples of the Modern style. Unique are the Suntop Houses of Frank Lloyd Wright (1939) in Ardmore, four joined houses in a Prairie style. The WCAU Studios (1952) designed by George Howe on City Line are internationally respected. More controversial is modernist architecture such as Lankenau Hospital (1953) on Lancaster Avenue in Overbrook, designed by Vincent G. Kling, and the Temple Beth Hillel (1966), designed by Norman Rice, at Lancaster Avenue and Remington Road in Wynnewood. Erdman Hall (1965) at Bryn Mawr College, designed by Louis Kahn, is probably the best-known postmodern building on the Main Line, with its three linked squares, surfaced in panels of Quaker gray slate outlined by strips of irregular white concrete.
Since 1946 residential building in the township includes modern duplicates of the original Welsh farmhouses, many mansions or country-style houses in miniature, as well as small French-style houses scrunched together around a central lane in the manner of Love's English Village and Place Maison on Pennswood Road in Haverford. Lower Merion planners restrict such developments by zoning ordinances, confining commercial and multifamily buildings to Lancaster Avenue, City Line, centers near transportation, while devoting Montgomery Avenue west of Narberth to apartment houses and town houses.
In the 1970s an inexorable movement toward condominiums, both low- and high-rise, virtually wiped out the township's fine Victorian mansions, the most vulnerable and least understood architecture of the area. This trend will continue if the newly approved Blue Route is completed in 1985 or later with a consequent population increase. Lower Merion's treasures on the National Register of Historic Places are listed in the Local History section.
In 1869 returning Union Army bandsmen formed the Bryn Mawr Brass Band, dropping "brass" from its name as clarinets joined in the playing of schottisches, reels, and marches. The band survived well into the 1970s. Other township bands included Ardmore's Gray Cornet Band and Gladwyne's Barker Cornet Band. In 1978 the Merion Musical Society started a band.
The Main Line Orchestra was formed in 1922, and that spring participated at the opening of the Ardmore movie theater. It played music for the silent films and featured local talent for many years. The orchestra dissolved in the 1940s, but local instrumentalists missed it enough to establish the Main Line Community Orchestra, now called the Main Line Symphony. In 1977 the Merion Music Society Symphony Orchestra began; it performs at the Bala-Cynwyd Middle School.
Horace Alwyne joined the Bryn Mawr College faculty in 1921 and developed a complete musical curriculum for undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Friends of Music formed an association in 1957 to bring artists to students and subscribing members. Alfred Swann started music at Haverford College in 1926. Since 1929 the local elementary schools have had instrumental instruction.
Joseph Barone founded the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music on Montgomery Avenue in 1934. Andor and Joy Kiszely started the Main Line Conservatory of Music in Ardmore in 1967.
The large homes of Lower Merion have been the scene of much music making. Maybrook, built in 1881 in Wynnewood, added an especially large music room in1902, with a ceiling 48 feet high. The room, l50 by 100 feet, accommodates several hundred people, and was once the scene of an opera. In 1924 pianist Josef Hofmann, director of the Curtis Institute of Music from 1926 until 1938, lived at 246 North Bowman Avenue (now the Buten Museum) in Merion. He added a music room.
Henry and Sophie Drinker's home in Merion was the scene of several distinctive musicales from 1930 to 1960. Many Sunday evenings they invited a hundred friends to sing Bach cantatas and other classical choral repertoire. The music started promptly at 5:30, and supper was served at 7:30, followed by an additional hour of music. The Drinkers befriended the Von Trapp family of singers when they first escaped to America from Austria, giving them opportunities to perform and to secure a house across the street from the Drinkers' home.
The Musical Coterie of Wayne, initiated in 1911 and drawing members from Lower Merion, and the Music Study Club, begun in Bryn Mawr in 1922, present afternoon chamber music in homes. The Bala-Cynwyd Library sponsors Friday morning concerts for senior citizens and a Sunday afternoon concert series.
The Theodore Presser Company moved its publishing activities to Bryn Mawr in 1950, and in the early 1970s acquired the Elkan-Vogel music publishing company. Presser publishes music for an international market and has a retail store to sell music to local musicians.
[The Theater and Dance sections are available in the archival copy of Lower Merion chapter at the Historical Society of Montgomery County.]