The HallA building reborn

It shares its heritage with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. But Lynn Hall, built in 1934 by Wright’s contractor in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania, sat empty and deteriorating for almost 25 years before it was rescued.

To Susan Hall-Wheeland, her childhood home was, “just a normal place.” The flat, cantilever roof and intricate stone wall patterns detailing the horizontal terraces layer the hillside. A cistern flows into the building and exits the front. Two rows of windows on the outside edge of the building overlook the valley.

Lynn Hall was once a restaurant and dance hall with a gas station in the front, commanding a prominent place along Route 6. But the locals and the tourists never came in the numbers needed to support the grand vision of its builder. And its no-booze policy probably didn’t help, either.

Frederick Young, now 91, recalls his wedding reception at Lynn Hall. “Everybody was supposedly drinking pop because the Halls objected to alcoholic beverages,” Young said, “But one of our Swedish relatives put vodka in the pop, and the Halls ran around saying this is the best pop they ever had.”

Walter Hall, the owner and builder of Lynn Hall, was later hired to work as Wright’s contractor for Fallingwater. It is not surprising to see many similarities between the two buildings: the “almost identical floors” (as Franklin Toker wrote in his book “Fallingwater Rising”), the design of the fireplaces and the windows, and more.

However, compared to Fallingwater, which is widely praised and attracts over 180,000 visitors a year to the Laurel Highlands in Western Pennsylvania, Lynn Hall led a modest existence. After Walter died in 1952, it became his son’s architectural office. Another portion served as a family apartment until it became too hard to maintain.

“The building sat empty since almost the year that R.V.(Walter’s son) died. And there were holes in the roof and it was rotten, probably animals living inside of it,” Gary Devore said. Gary and his wife, Sue, found a picture of Lynn Hall through a realtor– and they were smitten. They bought the property and started the Lynn Hall restoration project in 2013 and removed over 70 pine trees, all over 70 feet tall

In 2016, students in Cornell’s Historic Preservation Planning Program worked on Lynn Hall as their annual historic restoration weekend project. Working with Cornell, Gary came to realize the magnitude of the project.

“The best education I got working with Cornell is just what it cost to do quality historic restoration,” Gary said. “It’s out of your pocket and my pockets weren’t that deep.”

Eventually, Gary and Sue reached their limit. Enter Rick Sparkes and Adam Grant. They have been following Lynn Hall since Gary listed the property for sale in 2015. When they finally toured Lynn Hall with Gary and Sue, they were touched by the integrity of the house. They saw through the broken walls and leaking roofs. They saw the possibility of making their new home.

They purchased Lynn Hall in 2017 and have been working on its restoration ever since. They have finished the restoration of the restaurant and dance hall as their home. Now, Rick Sparks and Adam Grant are restoring the original family apartment and hope to rent it out as an Airbnb and community space.

“Our nightmare had always been selling off to somebody who would make an indoor antique shop and let it sit empty for another 20 years,” Gary said. “The negotiation didn’t last 15 minutes. Because once I realized what they were capable of… And so it was just, it was an ideal relationship.”

The new owners of Lynn Hall have given the building a second life. Hall-Wheeland is optimistic about the future of the building.

“Lynn Hall should last a long, long time as long as it’s cared for because of the way it was built,” Hall-Wheeland says.

~ 3.1.2022

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