Garman Theatre on preservation group’s ‘at risk’ list despite demolition

Preservation Pennsylvania doesn’t normally put demolished buildings on its annual at-risk building list, but it made an exception this time.

Bellefonte’s Garman Theatre joined eight other buildings on the list that seeks to bring statewide attention to preservation issues. The other sites are a train station, a hospital, a battlefield, a gristmill, a temple, a bank, a boxing arena and a residence.

Preservation Pennsylvania is a statewide, private nonprofit that aims to protect historically and architecturally significant resources, according to the organization’s website.

The annual list sometimes includes buildings that have been demolished by the release date, because it takes time to put together. But this year, the organization purposely included the Garman, knowing the demolition had started, field representative Erin Hammerstedt said.

“Basically, this is a case where all of the tools were available and, somehow, none of them were enough to save it,” she said.

The case of the Garman started when the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority took control of the building under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act. The building was damaged in a September 2012 fire that also destroyed the next-door Hotel Do De.

After a back-and-forth between developer Ara Kervandjian, who wanted to demolish the building and create workforce housing, and the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association, who wanted to restore it, the developer won control.

Kervandjian has razed the Garman and the Do De, and plans to combine it with the also fire-damaged Cadillac Building to create 32 apartments.

Hammerstedt said the organization is neither trying to say that Kervandjian is in the wrong nor that Bellefonte did not follow the proper procedures under the Conservatorship Act, but that it would like to shed additional light on the issue to find out what went wrong and further scrutinize an act that has yet to be thoroughly tested in court.

The BHCA filed a petition for review in the state Supreme Court system after being shut down at both the county and state levels.

Hammerstedt said it’s important to keep talking about the Garman situation to prevent similar losses of historic buildings. She added that it’s an opportunity to raise awareness for additional fire protection in old buildings.

The list comes out in a printed newsletter to all the organization’s subscribers and is also available in electronic copies to others that are interested. The selection process is conducted by a small group of judges who take suggestions and include personal knowledge of some buildings.

“It was at the judges’ discretion to decide whether it was feasible,” Hammerstedt said of the nominations.

Preservation Pennsylvania doesn’t receive any financial gain from the annual newsletter, but it hopes to shed additional light on some of the projects to possibly get them funded directly.