It is hard to believe that just a few years ago, the Pennsylvania National Bank building was in danger of falling to the wrecking ball. Today, the handsome structure anchors a prominent intersection in the city's resurgent Lawrenceville community.
But since its original owner folded during the Great Depression, the building has housed a succession of short-term tenants with little regard for preservation. In the 15 years before it underwent its lifesaving restoration, the building was vacant, serving mainly as "a retirement village for pigeons," says Luke Desmone, CEO of Desmone & Associates Architects, the architectural firm that now calls it home.
Despite the dilapidated condition of the building, Desmone & Associates teamed with the Lawrenceville Development Corp. in 1995 for a $600,000 project to resurrect the structure. Early next year, it will take over the entire building, as Lawrenceville Development moves into another building that is undergoing renewal.
The building presented a number of opportunities for Desmone. It offered a chance to move from its less-than-ideal quarters in Point Breeze. It could provide a showcase for the firm's restoration practice, which accounts for between 60 percent and 70 percent of its business. It had a large, open space to promote teamwork and creativity. Finally, its design and orientation, with 30-foot ceilings and tall windows, allow natural light to illuminate the 3,800-square-foot space.
The firm's employees had hands-on involvement in the project from the beginning. For instance, Jimmy DeCecco, a senior architect, designed and built the furniture.
Says Desmone: "We're looking for the challenging projects."
Ultimately, the Pennsylvania National Bank building is something of a bargain for the architectural firm.
Says Desmone: "No one could afford in today's market to recreate this building." How to reach: Desmone & Associates, www.desmone.com
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.