In the News

Dilapidated Jones building in Cambria at center of dispute

By Rick Wills
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An association seeking to save a dilapidated Gilded Age summer cottage in Cambria County asked for a stay while it appeals a judge’s Tuesday order giving permission for the home’s immediate demolition.

Cambria County Judge David Tulowitski denied a request by Cresson Area Historical Association, owner of the Benjamin Franklin Jones Cottage in Cresson, to delay demolition.

Separately, under the state’s Right To Know Act, the association is demanding that Cresson officials release records authorizing demolition, along with bids and a copy of the public advertisement requesting bids for the demolition project.

“There are rules and laws that have to be followed,” Timothy Burns, an Ebensburg lawyer who represents the association, said about the request.

The township intends to destroy the blighted cottage before Nov. 15, said Solicitor Gerald P. Neugebauer Jr. He would not say what company is demolishing the building or explain how it is being paid for.

“A good citizen, a community-minded person, is paying for this,” he said, noting there would be no cost to the township.

Lawyers representing the association say the township is violating state law designed to give the public access to government agencies.

“The township can not have private contracts. I am shocked. If they have not gone through the process for contract approval, then they can’t demolish the building,” Joseph Lawrence, a Pittsburgh lawyer the association enlisted for help.

Lawrence and his wife Heidi are preservationists who restored two other Jones homes in Pittsburgh’s North Side. He applied for a foundation grant to “stabilize” the Cresson home, work he said would cost about $150,000.

Lawrence expects to know this week whether the money is approved.

Brenda Kalwasinski, the historical association’s president, said she is hopeful the house can be saved.

Tulowitski earlier this year ordered the cottage to be burned by Sept. 9. Under an August agreement between Cresson supervisors and the historical association, the deadline for demolition was extended to Nov. 15.

“I expect it to be demolished within a week,” Scott Decoskey, a Cresson supervisor, said about the cottage.

The Queen Anne-style home was used by Jones, founder of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. and a chairman of the Republican National Committee in the 1880s.

It is one of the last standing relics of Cresson Springs, a mountain retreat popular during the late 19th century with Pittsburgh’s wealthiest citizens.

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